Having said ‘goodbye’ to Blighty, we are now rocking and rolling with the waves of the notorious Bay of Biscay, which gives me time to reflect on the last six months leading up to our nomadic lifestyle. And what an interesting journey it’s been, with so many lessons. Here are my Top 10 Tips for navigating this period sanely:
1. Time flies
I can’t quite believe what we’ve done in six months. It has been epic when I stop to think how it was only April 2015 when Myles put forward the idea of locking up and leaving Somerset and going travelling in a motorhome. It took me until the end of August, with a little help from my mum, to work through my potentially sabotaging fears and sign up to his vision. In that moment, life turned on a six pence and the months seemed to fly by, even though the waiting often seemed painful.
However far away your D-Day is, watch how quickly the days dissolve. It is imperative to have plans in place, otherwise time will bite you on the bum.
2. Time also drags – especially the last two months
Whilst tempus fugit, there were moments where it felt like we were walking through treacle, in particular the last two months. After New Year we had two months to D-Day. Excitement was building, although each day seemed to have a ball and chain wrapped around its timepiece. I think when you want something so badly, the Universe has a very subtle way of keeping humility ever present.
Be aware that depending upon how you are feeling, time will speed up or slow down in response to your own energy. Just be mindful of this and you will navigate it just fine.
3. Stay grounded – life is now – avoid counting down the days
Myles put a time counter on the website and I remember feeling super excited when we reached 100 days. From this point we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and we began to count down the days. On reflection, I think this is really dangerous. As a Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher, I knew that spending too much time in the future was losing my life in the here and now. Yet when you’re doing something so life-changing, it’s so easy to get caught up in the dream.
So bare in mind that your excitement and expectation will hold you in an empty future – remind yourself to come back to this moment. Life is too precious to waste it wishing for a date to come quickly. We must honour the life that is happening for us right now.
4. Focus on the practicalities
Whatever shape your life-change is taking, there will be a bucket load of tasks to do and even more research needed to bring everything together. The ideal is to have everything in its place so that there is as little noise as possible when you set off on your adventure. We found it very easy to get lost in the dream of what we were about to do and forget the detail that would make it a great experience. And that detail has now paid off.
Being the organised one of us, I drew up a timeline of tasks, which we took individual responsibility for. It’s easy in the wave of excitement to miss something off the list, so the plans help you keep focused and work through the ‘To Do List’.
One a very practical note, watch out for anything that involves UK Government – they always take a lot longer than you think. Our Driving Licences are one such example. You should be able to do a change of address on-line and a new licence issued within 24hrs – unfortunately there are a small number of cases where the system fails. Being part of that ‘Club’, we had to do a paper application, which can take up to three weeks. After a few sobs down the phone when I explained we didn’t have three weeks, the DVLA offered me a high priority department to deal with our request. There is always a way around things, although they often add to the stress load that is an inevitable visitor.
5. Make emotion your friend
The practicalities are easy in many ways – it comes naturally to us as human beings to have a ‘To Do List’. What is perhaps more tricky is the emotional rollercoaster that will stealthily creep up on you and pounce when you least expect it. Change evokes some very primal responses, especially if you are letting go of your home, job and everything that defines you on a day to day basis.
Be aware of your sensitive points – what triggers you to feel unhappy, angry, fearful, tired. If you can go into this period with your eyes open, you will navigate the emotions with dexterity. Listen to your body, your mind, your heart and tune into how they are feeling. The emotions are not to be judged, just understood. Be mindful of your emotions and make them your friend.
6. Work together
If you are making plans with a partner, family or friends, it’s essential to work as a team. Once again, with the primal nature of change, even a good change, we can find ourselves in different places at different times, creating potential conflict.
We had regular check-in points with each other – often in the evening, when we talked about our days and the progress we had made – or not! We always gave each other the space for arising emotions and tried not to fix them. If we became snappy, we both recognised why we were feeling this way and rather than cobra-bate the situation, we simply gave each other space to be, at that moment in time and let it pass.
Communication is key. Talking through where you are emotionally and practically is really important as you navigate these life-changing waves. Whilst they may not be as tempestuous as the Bay of Biscay, they will exist from time to time. Be open, listen, understand, appreciate and support.
7. Learn to let go and release
Locking up and leaving for us was the chance to declutter our lives from the stuff that we think defines us. We’ve done a couple of huge moves in the last five years and yet every time we engage in a clear out, we still seem to chuck out a load more non-essential items. I guess we outgrow household ornaments and clothes, so they’re easy to let go.
Other elements are less easy to release. Friendships, jobs, passions, activities and hobbies that used to fill your life with some sort of meaning. I was holding on to a corporate client from my old life and yet it was causing me all sorts of stress – yet the money was good. In the end, I chose to let that go as the money versus the stress equation was seriously out of balance. I also had a job, as part of my new life, at a local school, teaching children relaxation and meditation. Yet this life-change meant I needed to let go of this and the voluntary work I did at the local Donkey Sanctuary. It was hard, although necessary if we were free to follow this dream.
Be prepared to let go of things that could be excuses holding you back from making your life-changing decision. Whilst it may be hard to do, your dream holds another, more important purpose for you. You can always re-engage with these things at another time. The letting go can be a really cathartic process so challenge yourself around it and then let go some more.
8. Make time for good byes
When we choose a new way of life, we inevitably leave something or someone behind. Ensure that your precious relationships are handled sensitively and with respect. Family need nurturing with reassurance of connection as you leave for new horizons. Although it might feel like lots of time is invested in saying goodbye, it is as important for your friends to have the opportunity to say farewell as it is for you. Whilst it’s not a true grieving process, important relationships need holding with love as you set off on your adventures. Give space and time to them all and work out how stay in touch. True relationships will survive all the twists and turns of life’s adventures and in this period of your life, it will be no different.
9. During tough times, hold the dream
There are going to be difficult times before you reach your D-Day, be assured of that. Our expectations and fears will always throw up hurdles to climb over. If we understand this natural passage of things, then it will be far easier to navigate. When you find yourself stressed, then take time to refocus on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Picture how your life will look and all the treasure that will enrich your lives. Keeping the dream alive is really important when you feel like you are struggling.
10. The journey starts now
Our philosophy is that it is our inner journey that will define us far more than the miles Scoobie’s tyre tracks travel. And we decided at the outset, that our journey started the very moment I overcame my fears and committed to the dream. Every twist and turn is shaping you and ultimately is remoulding the very fabric of your life. Allow this part of the journey to be as meaningful as the eventual adventure you are about to take.
And so I hope these Top 10 Tips of how to navigate the Lock up and Leave journey can help you as you, tread this exciting life-changing path.
‘Make every day an adventure and each moment count.’
With travel blessings
Karen and Myles
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
Now don’t get me wrong, Barcelona is such a vibrant, engaging and enthralling city, that a weekend will more than do its streets and monuments justice. (Here is a Guide to a blister-free Barcelona trip.) Although there is always so much more to a city than just within its walls. Peek outside of her boundaries and you will find many more highlights.
We certainly found this to be true of the Barcelona Province as we stepped out into the further reaches of her kingdom. Two areas in particular made our trip to this region memorable; the Monastery of Monserrat to the west and the quaint seaside village of Sitges to the south. Both so different and yet equally captivating to the curious and eager tourist and travelling explorer.
In deep contrast to the hubbub of Barcelona and with only 40 minutes driving west of the city, you start to feel cleansed. As you navigate the spaghetti motorway links leaving the metropolis behind, the mountains sit on the horizon, beckoning you to their own natural version of a tourist hot-spot. Mother Nature has carved her own architectural monuments that will have you gasping and wondering how on earth such amazing formations have been crafted. Surely geology was not the only artistic hand?
1. The Monastery at Monserrat is a must-see diversion from your city tour as it offers such a contrast to the sometimes claustrophobic composition of avenues and four-storey buildings. High in the Monserrat mountains, which is Spain’s first National Park and pride of Catalan, whether you are sporty, love nature or are spiritual, this whole area will certainly appeal. ‘Monserrat’ is translated as ‘the serrated mountain’ and is unique in this area, as it reaches up from the river below with its limestone outcrops and boulders.
The monastery, albeit not in its current form, dates back to 880AD, where children are said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary and after showing their parents what they had seen, the area became a religious sanctuary. Today many people make the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna, which is the patron saint of Catalan, whilst the rest of us mere mortals explore this area for the beauty of the architecture, to seek sanctuary or just breathe in the peace that this hidden monastery harbours, tucked away in the bosom of its limestone domain.
There are a couple of car parks on the main road at the base of the mountains, that offer you a chance to trek, cable car or take the train to this wonderful spiritual retreat. We chose to take the train and for €9.90 out of season, you meander gracefully up the mountain side to reach the eagle’s nest.
Even if you have seen pictures of the monastery in your Guide Book, nothing will prepare you for the breathtaking vision in front of you. A stunningly restored building that offers peace and tranquility for visitors who wish to soak up the atmosphere, beyond the throng of day-trippers looking to experience the choir at 13hr each day. (Some Guides say the choir begins at 12.00, although when we arrived, the chapel was full for a Mass at 13hr. So you may need to contact the monastery for confirmation if this is something you would like to experience.
In a dedicated ante-room off the Chapel’s courtyard, hundreds of candles burn in memory of loved ones, and for €2 you too can show your respect by lighting your own candle; and whether you are religious or not, this has a deeply profound effect on you. In fact the whole place, despite the crowds, has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it. As a venue, it commands humility and demands you to be still.
After a walk around the monastery and perhaps the artisan market, which seems to only sell bee products and cheese, you may be sorely tempted by the many vistas and pathways perched way above you. These walking routes have been made accessible by either the Sant Joan funicular or the cable car. We chose the vertical funicular that ascends the mountain with dexterity and precision. As you journey upwards, you get a bird’s eye view of the monastery and surrounding area. For €12.50 return, you feel like a child getting into a fun-fare ride, excited and a little scared as you hold onto the railings and feel the lift of the tram as it climbs steadily up the mountain. After 10 minutes of stunning, camera clicking views, you arrive at the top. If you thought you were impressed at the bottom, you wait until you reach this pinnacle of beauty. You really feel like you are on top of the world. Fingers and boulders of limestone rise from the earth like a phoenix from the flames, stretching up to the sky. Chapels and hermitages are sprinkled around every corner and caves are built into the rock face, revealing a history of mountain people dating back hundreds of years. What a contrast to city life.
I defy you not to be moved by the stillness up in the mountains. The crowds have gone, just serious walkers, nature-lovers and rock climbers come here. So there is no sharing to be done – you have your own little slice of heaven. Here it is only the wind that talks, the foliage that moves and the skyline that provides your movie background. If you’re feeling energetic, take the walk back down to the Monastery and be rewarded, beyond sore knees by the ever-changing vistas and casting shadows around each corner. It’s a good 3.5km walk, although worth the stress on the knees to see this Monserrat kingdom in all its glory.
Take a picnic, take your camera and be prepared to be offered a sanctuary that goes beyond just the magnificent monastic architecture. Religion, contemplation and prayer have been blended seamlessly into Mother Nature’s realm to create a spiritual sanctuary that offers everyone, from every belief, a chance to breathe clean air, still their racing heart and, for a short moment, be very present in this magnificent province of Barcelona. You will not be disappointed.
Monserrat Mountain panorama
2. Sitges, via the road-less travelled. Barcelona will impress you with her cultural offerings and diversity although to experience the true essence of Catalonia you must also see the contrast that Sitges offers.
The Catalan coastline is simply stunning. As part of the Costa Brava, this craggy seafront delights with its clifftop views, road hugging highway, harbours and beaches. One of these examples is only 20km south of Barcelona – Sitges. Unlike some other resorts that have high-rise buildings blocking out the sun or wall-to-wall ‘Kiss me Quick’ hats more at home in the southern provinces, Sitges has a classy feel to it.
Your Sitges experience begins well before entering the town’s boundaries. Leaving Barcelona, it would be tempting to blast down the motorway, reaching your destination in super quick time. Although we recommend you avoid this traditional, ‘let’s get there fast’ mindset of the modern world. Instead take the Road Less Travelled, which you can find just outside Castelldefels – C-31. This coastal road will weave you up, down and around the craggy coastline, giving you beautiful glimpses of the Parc del Garraf on your right and the sparkling Mediterranean sea on your left. Little harbours and marinas dot the route, which is only 13km long, although so worth the rollercoaster ride. It will impress and prepares you for this intriguing seaside town. With the marina one end and the golf course the other, in a very short time you will sense Sitges’ unique persona. Quaint, charming and appealing in so many ways. The promenade takes you past the Parròquia de Sant Bartomeu church with its sandy coloured walls and imposing tower, along the seafront of classic looking buildings, restaurants one side and windsurfers looking to master the waves on the other. Sadly the tacky-tacky men make their appearance, although we are still in tourist heaven for them, so it just goes with the territory. At least they don’t hassle you for a sale.
Sitges’ Church, Spain
Deviating from the salty seafront, you will be intrigued by the network of alleyways that ooze gorgeousness, presenting classy boutiques, many of them focused on the male population, interestingly and somewhat disappointingly for the female shopper. Although do not despair there are a couple of lovely shops that you just don’t expect in Spanish towns where you can purchase unique items for your awaiting family back home. Now these alleyways aren’t just full of shops; look skywards and you will see the pretty style fishing cottages, decorated in white and blue, with balconies full of plants and flowers. It just creates a really warm feeling inside.
Sitges deserves your adoration and your time. Have coffee, a beer or a frozen yoghurt whilst you watch the world sail or walk by, soaking up the atmosphere and character that this sultry corner of Catalan offers you. Wander around the shops, walk the Promenade and take time to look up and see the detail of the arty buildings that make this place their home. You will be charmed by the inner-sanctum of Sitges and the personality that oozes from every street.
So Barcelona and her Province are well worth the time to explore. Put it on your list, make the time to indulge yourself in the treats that she offers and you will leave the area feeling like you’ve done more than just a city-break – you will have experienced just a little bit of authentic Catalan countryside. Adiós. Kx