One year on – and travel rocks!

One year on – and travel rocks!

As those lovely Roman chaps used to say, ‘Tempus fugit’ – and you know what?  They were right, time really does fly.  I can’t believe where the last year has gone; a whole twelve months has past since we embarked on the biggest week of our lives, EVER!

From the humble and yet inspiring beginnings of a Silver anniversary road-trip in New Zealand, we packed up our belongings, said ‘goodbye’ to jobs and handed the keys back to the rented house we had called ‘home’ for four years.  We stuck two fingers up to conformity, leaving behind what society classes as normality – after all who wants normal when you can have adventure and a life on the road?  I get that this isn’t for everyone and, if truth be known, four years ago I would have said that it wasn’t for me either.  Yet we’ve never been scared to do things differently and boy, this was seriously different.

So on 4 March 2016 we left English shores for our European road trip, yet as we said au revoir to Plymouth’s port, little did we know how life on the road, with our trusty chariot Scoobie, would change our lives, possibly forever. Read more about our pre-road trip preparation and tips here…

As I look back now, on the cusp of our first anniversary, I’m wondering how appropriate it is to celebrate this landmark. Is it with champagne? Is it with a meal or do we simply acknowledge with a huge amount of gratitude how life has unfolded for us?  The latter certainly seems like the only way to mark this significant date.  No doubt we will reflect on the months that have passed and reminisce over the ups and downs of our nomadic life and the people we’ve met along the way.

Although the thing that will hit us the most will be the lessons we’ve learnt, and are still learning, as we meander our way through this new lifestyle.  So, what are those lessons?

Here are our TOP 10 Lessons from our Nomadic Classroom.

1. The first is, how fear can take over your dreams.  Fear of what others might think, fear of what could happen in the future or fear of how safe you will be in a strange country.  Fears so big, that if not addressed can consume you and hold you back from living the life you deserve.  Realising that fear is only a self-constructed thought can release you from its grasp and enable you to live your dreams. We challenged each fear and looked at them with logical eyes and common sense.  We worked out the likelihood that those fears ever materialising and generated contingency plans should the worst ever happen. Once you strip away fear’s power you fly free. See more about overcoming fear here…

2. Have the courage to be different.  Conforming to society’s expectations can be a comforting blanket to be enwrapped by, although this has its limitations, especially if your wanderlust is calling. We came to the conclusions that however others may judge us, this is our life, our dream and life is too short to accommodate norms that no longer fit your dreams. This is our time to fulfil our potential.

3. Remember this isn’t a holiday, this is a lifestyle.  For our first three months, we grabbed at everything; visited every UNESCO site there was and ticked off Natural Parks, cathedrals and cities as though they were going out of fashion. We soon realised that we needed to evolve from tourist travellers into nomadic travellers if we were going to stay sane. So stopping in one place for more than two nights became an important ingredient in our adventures.  You don’t need to see everything all in one go. Hopefully there is always tomorrow (finger’s crossed.)

      It’s all about balance.

4. Balance is important – learn the art of stillness and movement. Our first six months was a lovely yet a busy period as we not only settled into a rhythm, we committed to seeing friends and family. We hadn’t quite got used to creating a kinder schedule for ourselves. We soon realised that travelling is tiring and needs respect. Whilst we have no regrets of any one of our visits, we could have been more mindful of our needs and stresses. In twelve months we’ve covered nearly 13500 miles and 10 countries during that time, which is phenomenal.  Although at the other end of the spectrum we had five weeks at one place in January, which had us itching to travel again. So finding a balance between being still and smelling the roses whilst travelling to a new ‘home’ is really important and has taken us a year to work out.  And we think we’ve finally grasped it, although I’m not sure you ever get it ‘right’!

5. Embrace simplicity.  I’ve never been a Madonna – material girl, although Myles might disagree with the number of shoes I’ve brought with me.  Yet we’ve stripped back a three bedroomed house and fully functioning kitchen to all the bare essentials for our 7.5 metre space.  And there’s absolutely nothing we want for – at all.  Although what we have learned is to be creative with the resources we do have, be inventive in how we store things and embrace simplicity.  We cook more simply, we live more simply and we dress in a way that feels comfortable.  We regularly stream-line what we have by doing a bi-annual cull – anything not used or worn during that time is recycled.  A number of my shoes have found themselves back in my mum’s care because I hadn’t worn them.  Life on the road demands simplicity and it’s such a lovely value to embrace as it brings so much more peace to daily life.

Wild camping in Playa de Carolina, Aguilas, Murcia

6. Wilding versus campsite.  Over the last year we have done a fair bit of wild camping, although not as much as I thought we might.  I’m not sure it was anything to do with confidence or safety – perhaps more to do with internet connection and a decent signal so we could work. Sometimes it depended on the country, for example Slovenia and Italy don’t encourage wild camping, so places are hard to find.  There are some definite periods during the year when wilding is a ideal; Easter, July/August (when campsite fees are crazily expensive and you can’t use ACSI) and January/February when lots of us ‘snow birds’ are looking for some winter warmth.  In between, we’ve found a rhythm that gives us a bit of wild camping and then a top up on a site so we can juice up, do washing and get some good wifi.  Don’t miss out on wild camping though, as you get to meet some amazing characters and the sites do just what they say on the tin; wild, wonderful and warming to the soul. Read more about our wilding perspective…

Living life together in a small space is doable.

7. You can have harmony in a small space.  Who would have thought that two people (or more in some cases) could live harmoniously in such a small space.  Whilst we have met people for whom it hasn’t worked out, as it has put too much pressure on their relationship, for us we are stronger.  We have found a way to live, work and move around the van such that it doesn’t invade each other’s space and we regularly talk about how we’re doing and iron out any frustrations.  Of course during the summer we have a whole ‘outside’ space to luxuriate in.  Winter can be more compromising, although we have baggsyed our own ‘office’ space and we have a couple of rules like, only one person in the kitchen at one time and always make the bed.  Otherwise we are so pleased at how well we flow, even after nearly 30 years together.

8. Be a gracious teacher and student.  We came into our road-trip with a little experience of owning and travelling in motorhomes before.  Although having a holiday or short-break to living full-time are miles apart and we never underestimated the transition we knew we would have to make.  So we studied, researched and honed our skills before we left and soon realised how much more there was to learn on the road.  Like to how fix a punctured toilet miles from anywhere and getting off wet ground, even with grip mats.  We really do feel like every day is a school day.  Although it’s lovely to talk about our experiences and choices with others, if they ask.  We love to share and receive and we have adjusted so much of what we do based on other people’s experiences.

 Root yourselves not in one place.

9. You root yourself wherever your tyres stop.  One of my worst fears before we embarked on our nomadic journey, was not being rooted in a home that I could call my own.  I’ve always been a home bird and loved coming back after a holiday.  So how would I cope not having the security of a roof and four walls?  This has been my biggest revelation of the whole year really.  Roots are not in bricks and mortar; roots are wherever you stop for the night; roots come from your own feet and not from an address that you can return to.  Scoobie is our home and he provides our roots and our routes.  And although we’re loving this now, it might not always be this way – so when or if that time arrives, then we will create new roots, in a new way.  As Paul Young sang way back when, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.’ Let go of roots and your freedom to explore expands exponentially.

10. You never really escape The Matrix.  And finally, one of our biggest lessons that we learned early on was, although we had chosen to move away from what we call The Matrix (which contains all the ties, rules and regulations of life in the System), actually it’s everywhere.  You never quite escape it completely. If, like us you still have a property that you rent out for income, then there are still landlord issues to deal with, bank incompetences, tax issues to sort out and rules that still require you to comply to some degree.  So if escape is the thing you long for most, then the harsh reality is that you can’t.  The quicker you realise this, the more freedom you will gain ironically. Stress still exists in our lives, although it is only ever self-induced.  As long as you still have a NI number you will always have some ties and links to the System.  That said, the hoops you have to jump through are significantly reduced, and now our stress, after years of depression, debt and anxiety, are at an all-time low.

So how would we sum up our experiences over the last twelve months?  Although perhaps over-used, life changing definitely feels an appropriate phrase. We had a dream, overcame fears, worked together to make it happen and feel grateful for every moment that we are blessed to enjoy.  And we can honestly say that we are happier than we’ve ever been thanks to those courageous actions and a whole heap of support from family and friends.  We now play hard, work hard and live well, giving life a good old workout.  We cherish every moment and each moment inspires us to keep on trucking. May the next year be equally blessed with health, adventure and happiness as we continue our exploration of eastern European shores.  We hope you’ll join us along the way. Cheers!

Ms Moneypenny and Mr Rainman xxx

Gorgeous Guadalest – oasis amidst the high rise

Gorgeous Guadalest – oasis amidst the high rise

We’re not great fans of cities and built up areas – and in truth we already knew this about ourselves before we embarked on our nomadic journey.  Although nothing reminded us more of our appreciation of the natural world versus suburbia than Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Although we chose to by-pass the area completely last year, we have come to embrace the fact that everything should be experienced just once – allowing you to make your own mind up as you travel amidst the maze of reviews from fellow journeymen.

So when my mum came to stay in Albir in between Altea and Benidorm for two weeks, it was an ideal opportunity to check out whether these areas had a piece of magic that would send us away with our tails between our legs.  Keep open minded to the possibilities, I kept telling myself.

Alas, as we drove from Dénia to pick her up, my fears had been realised.  Tower block hotels, wall to wall shops and buildings, main roads, motorways and traffic.  All the things we hate most about urban life’s suffocating energy.  Still, perhaps there would be something around the corner to change our minds.  After tauntingly missing our junction for Albir, as if to prove a point, the N332 took us all the way to Benidorm – ‘That’ll teach you’ it whispered in tune with Scoobie’s tyre tracks. The high rises that took charge of the horizon, creating their own concrete landscape reached out to us like monsters in a nightmare and we struggled for twenty minutes to get out of the area and back on track to Albir.

Now Albir certainly wasn’t quite as bad as its partying neighbour, although there was just something about the whole coastline that made us feel hemmed in and breathless.  We saw the same landmarks in Calpe, that we thought would be a quaint fishing village.  Disappointment certainly visited us that day.  So you can imagine our relief when we took refuge for the night in the mountains a short drive from the tawdry coastline.  As we moved mile by mile towards the mountain metropolis we knew our souls would be reset very soon.

The higher we climbed, the more Mother Nature’s high rises drew us into her raw magnetism.  Our destination was El Castell de Guadalest, not more than 30 minutes away on the CV70, that had been recommended by a friend.  My mum had also been there the week before on an excursion with the hotel and had enjoyed it, so it was a must for us.  We were not disappointed, aided by the fact that we arrived after the crowds had long since gone.

                            

We found a Motorhome dedicated parking spot, that for €4 for the night, gave us a peaceful and beautiful spot to rest our heads.  And the views were to die for!  Now this was far more ‘us’ and we felt like we’d come home.

Because of the area’s historical popularity, coaches arrive in their droves, winding up the mountain roadway to reach this little oasis of gorgeousness.  So having been there overnight, we had a head start and, pretty much the place to ourselves.  Whilst there are the expected tourist shops and photo-capturing entrepreneurs looking to sell you unwelcome images as you enter the castle walls, beyond these there is a real authentic air to the place.

Perched up high in what looks like a sanctuary protected by three different mountain ranges, bizarrely Guadalest shows plenty of military scars from Moorish battles dating back to 700AD, the earthquake of 1644 and a mine explosion.  Yet this small mountain settlement stands firm and resilient against human and natural tragedies.  It is a testimony to how people work together to keep their communities in tact.

Today the ‘Grand House’ built after the earthquake, the castle remnants, the clock tower and white-washed village of quaint homes, all offer the visitor a welcome sense of reality, history and substance.  The views down to the coast are the only reminder of the concrete seaside conurbation, as this Eagle’s Nest spectacular gives you a taste of real Spain and the struggles that gave the country its character and charm.

The Guadalest Reservoir nestled far below the village’s lofty strong-hold is an emerald green gem that has every form of photographic tool clicking away to capture the artist palette of colours.

The reservoir is worthy of the short drive, so you can take in the scene from a completely different perspective.  Looking up towards the village you get a real sense of its dominant position whilst feeling in the heart of a haven of beauty.  The mountains tower above you and the chalky curves of the lake’s edges entice you to wander its perimeter and share lunch on its shores. And here there are no tourists; certainly out of season you will have this place to yourselves, capturing your heart as you try to imagine the history that has been carved here.

Guadalest is such an incredible oasis of beauty that must be seen.  Don’t drive past on the motorway in pursuit of quieter shores without stopping to marvel at its magic. It cries out to be loved, admired and valued and, in return you will be treated to a natural piece of heaven away from the vibrations of Europe’s party capital.

Additional extras

Additional extras

So we finally took the plunge and bought our brand new motorhome- a Pilote 740c. We chose this particular one because we liked the build quality of the Pilote and the model offered an Island fixed bed. Having toured New Zealand in a Swift Bolero with a french bed we thought we could compromise but we are spending a lot longer in our new ‘home’ we decided at the 11th hour on the ‘upgrade’. We think we’ve made the right decision but only time will tell.
Having finally made the decision on make and model it was time for the extras and what a selection there is. From electric lift up beds to rear view cameras- you can have the lot but in the end we chose the following.

1. A 120W solar panel
2. 1 Extra 105ah leisure battery
3. a gaslow LPG filling system
4. an outside BBQ point
5. An external shower point.
6. An inverter to convert 12v to 240v on 1 extra socket in the kitchen
7. The additional sleeping bits for a second double bed
8. A bike rack
9 An engine upgrade to 150BHP
10. A catgeory 1 Alarm

In addition we will have a drive away awning instead of a fiamma pull down sun screen ( this may in time prove to be a mistake), a cadac safari external gas BBQ, a 12v towel rail, anti skid wheels (to stop the rear skirt catching the floor) and a Wifi/Broadband system to stay connected.

Our thought process took us down the following path.

1. Running out of electricity while wild camping is not an option.
2. The inverter is necessary to charge up devices when not a electric hook up and standard kitchen appliances (juicers, blenders etc) can be used
3. On his return from a recent trip to Europe a friend of mine recommended the gaslow system as he couldn’t fill up his bottles unless he was in Germany. He also advised to install the skid wheels (served him well on a number of occasions) and the towel rail. ‘Always nice to have dry towels in the morning’ he argued.
4. Many people in New Zealand complained that their hire motorhome was pants going up hill hence the engine upgrade (especially if we’re going to tow a smart car or Qpod- the jury is still out here)
5. I’m a side mirror kinda person and did’t use a camera when I had one.
6. For convenience an external shower and BBQ point seemed logical
7. I was all prepared for the investment of an Oyster satellite dish on the roof when the same friend lamented whether his was money well spent. ‘ You can always get a mobile or wifi signal most places’ he said. ‘ We’ve only used the thing once and it was pretty slow. So I’ve plumbed for the latest wifi/mobile boosting roof mounted aerials in the hopes this will suffice.
8. Having had a puncture recently and used the glue stuff you squirt in to good effect I am refraining from a spare tyre and the long lasting residue they pump into all tyres for the tie being.

And that’s about it. I’m positive we haven’t thought about everything and that this is only a starting point but I don’t think we’ll be too far off.

TTFN Smiley…. Next Blog…. The dreaded Payload.

Scoobie’s Coming

Scoobie’s Coming

I quick telephone call to Mick the salesman and it would appear that our new Pilote 740c hasn’t even reached the production line yet. Week 47 he said it’s scheduled for commencement and that is 23rd November. We ordered it in September and they haven’t even started it yet… Ah, he said, if you had ordered it at the Motorhome show at the N.E.C in October I would be telling you that delivery time is 10 months from now so you have been lucky.. OK, I said, I’ll let you off. Seems our delivery date is still on schedule for mid- December after all so we just have to be patient for a little while longer…