Life is an Adventure

Life is an Adventure

We love that travel introduces you to new people who glide gracefully into your life and provides the chance to reconnect you to old friends. Old friends who travel from your past and settle firmly in your present.  This year we had a chance to meet up with old work colleagues from nearly 30 years ago. What a lovely rendezvous it was too. We swapped stories and their tale of life-change and adventure inspired us so much that we asked them to share it as part of our Guest Post series.  So we are delighted to introduce Tracy and Martin who take you on their journey from the deserts of the Middle East to rural France and how they created their very own ‘Good Life’.  Over to you, guys….

 

Oh my, life really is an adventure. Neither of us planned to have careers in the insurance industry… it’s just not something you choose when you talk to your careers teacher, unless you want to be an actuary of course!  But we both did, and it opened lots of doors for us. The door to travelling the world, to living overseas and more importantly, to financial independence.  

Martin is Irish, but lived in Royal Leamington Spa for most of his life and I’m from the Isle of Man. We both worked in insurance for over 20 years in life and general insurance & takaful (insurance products built on islamic principles). We lived in the Middle East for a combined total of 26 years in a variety of countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE (Dubai) & Bahrain.  We had a great life and loved every minute of it… even during the Arab Spring which saw the Saudi Army on the streets of Bahrain for 6 months.  Tanks at traffic lights is just not something the Highway Code prepares you for!

Living and working in a tax-free environment helped us save more than would ever have been possible in the UK and this enabled us to plan and prepare for a different future.  Bahrain is a fabulous place, but isn’t where we saw ourselves living long term.  We were there for the experience of living & working in a different culture and to achieve something else… a future that enabled us to live how we wanted; working outdoors, having adventures and more importantly, being our own bosses.    

 

For us it’s adventure all the way. 

 

It all started in 2012 when we bought a house in France. We knew we wanted to come back to Europe, but didn’t want to return to where we’d grown up. We’d been on this amazing adventure in the Middle East and didn’t want the adventure part to end.  We didn’t know much about France and pretty much picked it by putting a pin in a map, but when we visited, we loved it. The next thing we knew we’d bought a house and were visiting at every opportunity. 

After every trip it got harder and harder to leave our French idyll and in 2014 we seriously started planning for what life might be like A.B, (After Bahrain!) Whilst living overseas, one of the things we struggled with was finding someone to look after and care for our French home the way we would look after it.  We wanted to turn up on holiday and not have to wrangle the garden back into shape! Martin was always happy to give the ride-on mower a spin, but wrestling with chainsaws and taking 5ft of growth of hedges was not our idea of a holiday!      

On a visit in the summer of 2014 we saw a little cottage for sale in the next village and decided to buy it as a gîte. And from this point we knew we would be leaving Bahrain and moving to France sooner rather than later. After all, preparing a gîte for guests from 3,000 miles away, is a bit tricky!

During this time we also had to sort out ‘stuff’. At one point, we had 4 houses; one in the Isle of Man, two in France and the one we rented in Bahrain! That’s a heck of a lot of ‘stuff’ to sort out! We sold the house in the Isle of Man and rehomed or gave away belongings that we no longer needed and then did a similar thing in Bahrain. However, having done all of this we still managed to have a 20ft container when we left Bahrain!

The last few months of 2014 were all about planning what we would do when we got to France and how to maximise our incomes, once we stopped being employed. People have said to us that we must have been mad to walk away from permanent sunshine, tax-free income and a life where pretty much everything is done for you. However, although we were sad to leave our friends, in April 2015 we galloped towards our French adventure without a second thought.

The first few weeks were idyllic.  There was a warm, early spring in 2015 and it was wonderful.  We brought our 3 dogs and our cat with us from Bahrain and it was amazing to explore the area with animals who had essentially lived in the desert all their lives. One of the things we missed most when living in Bahrain were the seasons; it was either hot, or less hot. Here in France we get such a variety of weather and we love it all. Even on the coldest, crisp French day there is something wonderful about being outside and then sitting in front of a roaring fire.

Eventually our container arrived and for me this marked the day that the ‘holiday’ ended and ‘living’ in France really began. As there was no turning area at our house the poor driver had to reverse the lorry all the way up a 1km lane to reach our house and then the unpacking started. During that time we asked ourselves many times why we had brought so much, and where are we going to put it all. Well over the last 4 years we have rationalised and organised and now, eventually, we fit nicely in our French home!

With some help from a local business set up to help English speakers in France, we got our businesses organised. We decided to set up 2; one for gîtes and property letting; and another one to provide property management and security services to owners who didn’t live in France but who wanted their properties looked after. We called it Mayenne Cottages as we’re based in Department 53, La Mayenne. We knew what we would have wanted from a business like ours, so this became our offering.  Owning a French house for many people is an asset, but is also a place to breathe, a chance to explore different cultures and their home – we’ve found it really enjoyable to work with our customers over the last 4 years.

 

You reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff.

 

We’re often asked if we miss life in the Middle East and the honest answer to that is… sometimes. We miss the friends we made and I miss having a cleaner and someone to do the ironing!  However, the world is a really small place and with today’s technology it’s easy to keep in touch with our friends around the world. And with regards to the cleaning and ironing, I can honestly say I’ve become a different person! I used to be really uptight about everything being spotless, tidy and in its right place. My family used to move things for a laugh just to see if I’d notice!  Yes our own home isn’t the tidiest all the time, but we don’t worry about it and I save my uptight nature for when we’re preparing the gîte for our guests!  

Life is short. Since we moved back to Europe we’ve lost 2 close family members and we’re determined to enjoy and make the most of our lives.  We have no regrets for giving up our life in the Middle East and moving to a different way of living.  Oh boy, we’ve had to learn fast!  We were essentially a couple of townies now living in rural France. With the help of the YouTube Angel and God of Google we acquired a huge number of new skills.  Martin has become the master of the chainsaws, mowers and whatever other equipment he has stashed in his workshop!   And I’ve had to learn how to create a vegetable garden, set up a greenhouse and then store, preserve and make the most of the masses of fruit and vegetables that nature provides. 

Some of our friends and family think we’re ‘retired’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.   We’re just as busy now, but not desk jockeys working 15 hr days and travelling all the time.  We used to be in airports on average twice a week and now perhaps only once a year.  In fact our time in France is the most amount of time we’ve actually spent together since we got married!  That in itself was a challenge; we both had good, responsible careers and both have our own ways of doing things so we do butt heads occasionally.  It has all taken a bit of adapting to, but we’ve now found a more balanced way of living and have learned that having new things all the time or the latest gadgets really isn’t that important. We still have goals, they are just different now and generally involve making things, learning new skills, growing things and in the next couple of years getting some chickens!  Yes you’re right…we’ve turned into Tom and Barbara Good and if you’re too young to remember them, the YouTube Angel will help you out!

 

How did we do it?

So if you’re wondering what our process was to get to this point, here’s what we did.

  • Prepare as much as you can in advance. We love a good spreadsheet and prior to moving we went into spreadsheet overdrive! We thought about what would we do with our time because neither of us were ready to stop working completely; how would we deal with the language issue; and what budget would we set using 3 options; (the doomsday scenario – no income; a medium level of income; and a high level of income). The key point being to answer the question – If the doomsday scenario kicked in, could we still live?   
  • However, you have to accept that even with the best preparation there will be many unknowns. You have to have the confidence in yourselves and each other to know that, whatever crops up, you can deal with it together.
  • And ultimately, you reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff. If you only prepare and never take the next step, there is a danger that you’ll spend your life saying ‘We would have;  We could have;  We should have’.

 

I guess reading this everything sounds simple and easy – I just want to say that moving countries is never easy.   You’re adapting to a new culture, a new way of life and, in some cases, a new language.  Our French was rubbish before we moved here and we’ve had to learn on the ground and fast. Our language skills still aren’t brilliant, but we improve a little bit every day.  We’ve had our ups and downs; like the day Martin couldn’t work out how to get cash out of the ATM machine because he couldn’t understand it; or the time we tried to exchange our Isle of Man and Bahrain driving licenses for EU ones and came up against the legendary French bureaucracy! However, it’s all about your mental approach to it.  Do you see it as an insurmountable obstacle, or do you see it as an adventure?  For us it’s adventure all the way. 

So whilst we don’t know what’s round the corner, especially with the changes happening within the EU, we know one thing, that whatever comes along we have faith in our ability to manage and adapt and it’ll just be the next stage in our adventure. 

For more information about Mayenne Cottages services check out their website here.

 

Pin for later?

 

Other Guest Posts you might like that inspire life-change:

New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand – The trip that Changed our Lives

New Zealand 2015 – a trip that unwittingly shaped our lives into one we never need to escape from.

 

New Zealand – Our ‘where it all began’ story

The years have treated us well and we often look in the mirror and gasp at where the years have gone – nearly 30 years married – really? Where did that time go?  In October 2014, we started to plan a celebratory trip for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and decided it was a significant milestone to tick something from our Bucket List. And New Zealand was on both of our lists. After some deliberation, we agreed that the best way to experience it was to hire a motorhome, enabling us to get into the real heart of the place.

We splashed out on a six week tour and hired our van from Iconic Motorhomes. After years of running three businesses, having 12 hour days and working 7 days a week for far too many years, we agreed we were worth it.  With my love for organisation we had ourselves a rough route and highlights. One of these were tickets for ICC Cricket World Cup in Wellington and, high on the list was a White Water Rafting adventure somewhere along the line.  What a great trip this was going to be.  One of my dear friends, the wise old bird that she is, said that New Zealand would have a profound impact on us – although we were not expecting her prophecy to evolve as it did.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

Prior to us leaving for our trip, I shared some concerns about how we would cope for such a long time in a 7 metre van. We had 25 years together as a couple yet with a certain amount of independence thanks to our careers – and now, suddenly we’d be in each other’s space – how would we fare? Would my high maintenance tendencies be all too much to bear?

After our 24hr flight to Auckland and then onto Christchurch, we were ready to collect our temporary home – Baz we called him.  We loved the idea of travelling with our home, allowing us to explore every nook and cranny. A bit of wild camping was on the agenda too and thanks to a great freebie app CamperMate we were able to source some incredible spots along the way.

That sense of freedom was as potent as the fields of lavender in Provence; powerful, heady and very here and now. A real sense of the canary released from its cage as it flew with wild abandon and joy. That was how we felt in our early days as we chalked up our experiences.

And some of those experiences are now priceless memories, sunk deep into our subconscious photo album. I will never forget my first sight of Lake Tekapo en route to Queenstown. The colour of the water was indescribably blue, a blue that I’d never set eyes on before. And it was one of the first times I remember crying, feeling so overwhelmed at the beauty of it. Now I use my tears as a true measure of how a place feels to me and how its beauty gets caught underneath my skin.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand
Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

As we sat in comfort in our motorhome, we were amazed by the eclectic mix of campers. Motorhomes like ours, vans, trucks and cars – each with their own home-from-home touches, albeit sometimes a bit rustic. Camping is just a way of life here for locals and visitors alike and it was starting to stir something deep within us. I loved the wildness of everyone ‘getting away from it all’ and how we all shared a love of our natural environment. And sometimes those campers had a real influence on our journey because of their stories. And sometimes they became life-long friends. 

Seeing how people travelled in New Zealand was a complete eye-opener. Sheltered from the opportunity to travel by our corporate hamster-wheel, we learnt how life outside package tours really thrives. And more importantly travel provides an authentic connection with life, nature and culture. Don’t get me wrong we had some very nice short breaks although nothing with a genuine submersion into a country’s customs. And our motorhome journey exposed us to this connection and we were hooked. I knew that our holidays, from this point forward, would change beyond all recognition.  

My other profound insight was how nourishing I found the transience of our travels. Whilst I love people and their experiences, as an introvert I also love my own company.  I remember when Myles asked me how I found our NZ trip – for me it was the freedom to move I enjoyed most. And bear in mind that this comes from the woman who always needed roots and direction. Yet this trip taught me about my love for exploration, how much I adored going to a new spot every day and the fluidity that our lives were richly abundant with.  I relished the space we found in between our connections with other travellers and, paradoxically enjoyed the distance we could create if we needed it. What a joyous realisation this was about life on the road.

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

And what of the ‘living in a box’ concern, I hear you ask?  Well I had no reason to worry as we soon found our groove. When you have a deep relationship, it matters not a jot whether you are in the same room or apart, you have a thread that binds you as fine as silk and as strong as metal. And whilst it wasn’t all plain sailing, our ability to work out our niggles brought us closer together. I wasn’t a nightmare and I surprised myself how easily I adapted to the small space. 

By the end though we were both ready to go home. Our six weeks had been amazing although we felt it was time to return. We often reflect back on our highlights and experiences and really do feel that we celebrated our 25 years together in style and honoured our marriage – without doubt.

 

Our Business Class Flight to New Zealand

So how did this trip change our lives?

In isolation it was easy to put our New Zealand trip into a ‘bucket list’ box and see it for what it was. Super memories and incredible experiences. Although when two weeks later, your introvert husband who had clearly been mulling things over said, “How do you fancy going travelling for a year”, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

Until that moment, life had resumed its normal rhythm.  I returned to the school where I was teaching meditation and my weekly volunteering job at the Donkey Sanctuary. Myles took to his office and had the odd game of golf. And I got back to my healthy regimes.  

It was a defining moment. The world stood still as I took in Myles’ question and contemplated the enormity of what he was suggesting. You see we had got ourselves caught up in a new hamster wheel. Whilst our move from the stress of our corporate days had to some extent ceased, we had created a new norm with a new wheel in Somerset. Whilst many of our routines were nourishing ones, we both still felt the chasm that our New Zealand trip had filled. We didn’t feel complete and we found ourselves drawn back into the Matrix of conformity, where Sundays were set aside for roast dinners and Monday-Friday norms were honoured for fear of failing our peer group expectations.

And it was New Zealand that showed us how travel could enrich our lives; its simplicity, choice and freedom all filling that gap which had crept into our lives.  New Zealand suddenly became a profound event and not the extended holiday we had imagined.

So what did we do with this realisation that our missing jigsaw piece was travel? Well our circumstances supported Myles’ ‘gap year’ plan giving us the budget to travel and get our ‘house’ in order. Then after our year we could come back to truly settle down with travel being the centre-piece of our lives. 

From that point our search began for a motorhome that would suit our needs. Yet a weird mix of excitement and fear crept into my mind as I battled with the shadow of doubt and anxiety. It felt like such a big change; letting go of so much. Was I ready to be a nomad – albeit for a year? 

My fear played havoc as ‘What if’s’ clouded my mind and storms of anxiety brewed in my heart at the prospect of leaving everything behind. Although the turning point was my mum saying how she had regretted not doing something similar with my dad years back. Her need for security and roots were so strong that she couldn’t leave. “Life is too short not to,” she said supportively.  So the decision was made in that moment – we were going to make this happen.

Within four months the van was ordered, delivered, insured and all our material ties severed. Plans were in place with military precision and checklists in every room. And on 4th March 2016, we said our goodbyes and set off for the European sunset with a year of adventure. Although neither of us said it, we wondered how we would feel after six weeks, given our New Zealand wall?

In fact it was a positive milestone, a moment of realisation. The awakening you get when suddenly you find a rhythm that you have been searching for all your life. An ease, a simplicity and a sense of happiness that filled every cell in our body.  I knew that I had found my missing jigsaw piece and that this was going to be so much more than just a gap year. In the same way that New Zealand was always more than just a holiday.

I fell in love with the simplicity of life on the road. I woke up to the notion that material things don’t define life or happiness. I connected with all the things that really brought out the best in me; like writing, photography, nature, learning about different cultures and quite simply being! Watching sunrises and sunsets, feeling grateful for each day that graced my life, gaining a new sense of purpose. We found digital work that embraced our talents and the world became brighter, lighter and multi-dimensional. Sounds became deeper and life’s experiences more meaningful as we delved into languages that were alien to us and cultures that offered us an alternative perspective.

Lots of people have called us lucky to live the life we do and for sure we feel incredibly blessed, although we have not arrived here by luck. As the famous quote from golfer Arnold Palmer says,

 The more I practise the luckier I get.

Over the years we have worked our fingers to the bone to reach a position of comfort which by its very nature has been difficult and often painful. Although our commitment to our long-term future has paid off and despite a nervous break down or two between us, we have rallied through, become stronger and more determined to be in that state of happiness and contentment. So luck is not the driver of our chariot – we are and continue to be so.

With travel as our teacher and the world as our classroom, we look back at New Zealand and all that it showed us and realise how pertinent that experience was to the rest of our lives. And however long we are blessed to do this, we will always be thankful to The Land of the Long White Cloud for creating a fire in our bellies for exploration and the inspiration to change our lives to one that we no longer need to escape from.

Change is possible, fear can be overcome and life can be the happy place that we all desire if you have vision, work hard and have the determination to turn your dreams into reality.

 

Dreams come a size too big so that we can grow into them.

Like it? Pin it!

New Zealand

If you love New Zealand, you might like these…

Our Leap of Faith

Our Leap of Faith

“One day I’m gonna write, 

the story of my life, 

I tell of the night we met…”

My God, I had the Marty Robbins classic stuck in my head for the whole day after I met Myles and Karen, The Motoroamers, whilst sat on a cliff top overlooking the Black Sea. It one of those infectious songs you just have to hum along to and that can’t be done without a smile on your face.

A few months back I’m not really sure if I had a smile, it could well have been a grimace.

A bout of stress and depression left me jaded towards a job and a life I should have loved.

Michele and I had the classic aspirational lifestyle, if we wanted it, we bought it. We had to have the lot; the sports car, a German Chelsea tractor,  a 55” plasma downstairs and a 40” in the bedroom and the Caribbean holiday at least once a year.  Come to think of it, I didn’t own any clothes without a brand name on them ( I still don’t, but that is because it will be a long time before I need anything new.)

And to pay for this lifestyle, I worked a  60 hour week, getting into the office at 0630 and leaving 12 hours later, having not even stopped for lunch.  Once I was home, I was then plagued by the phone ringing or that annoying ping of another e-mail arriving. The side-effect of being on the go, was that sleep felt like a waste of time.  So I was existing on about 3 hours a night; it was normal to wake after an hour or so get up for a bit, potter about and then go back to bed.

Then one day…

Me, of course!

.. it was all too much. I cracked and toys came out of the pram. It was just all too much. Thankfully we had a friendly GP whose only real question was “how long do you need”. That’s not the question you ask a man whose only other time off sick was 6 weeks to recover from an operation, of which I took 2!  Apparently I had to admit that I had a problem.

I opted for a week off, leaving that morning with my prescription for a course of sleeping pills. I felt like a failure. One week passed and with loads of sleep I started to feel normal.  I went from eating one meal a day to two or three.  After the second week, the fog had lifted and I was in need of something to fill my days.  At the time we had an old campervan and I threw myself into updating her, on the dry days and, when it rained (you get a lot of these in March) I started to read a travel blog called “Europe by Camper” – a young couple Adam and Sophie had taken a year out and were driving around Europe.

A 5-year Plan was hatched

It was one of those ‘daydreaming – never really going to happen’ type of plans.  After a couple of month’s rest I went back to work and I was determined, at the beginning, that I wasn’t going to slip back into the old habits.  But as the months rolled on it was too easy to step backwards.

That moment you never forget, happened one Wednesday morning on a cold September day and I pulled into the car park, parked in my normal space and just sat there.  I sat and sat.  I couldn’t go in. Eventually I manned-up and went to work, but the whole day I was a mess…

Michele and I had discussed my hair-brain scheme, and we decided that we would need 5 years so we could be debt-free, buy a nearly-new motorhome and be able to afford to travel for a year.

Michele

That weekend, that plan changed.  During a typical trip into town for some retail therapy, Michele pulled off the dual carriageway onto the roundabout and straight off the other side.  Not once did she look; not once did she see the oncoming car. Thankfully after a lot of hooting and some angry looking drivers we got back on track.  But what had happened? She had suffered a panic attack.

A trip to the GP for Michele left her with more fear, after rounds and rounds of blood tests and high plasma readings – it felt like it would never end.

After a long, late night heart to heart, we decided that we both needed to get out of the rat race – but how where we going to do it?  We had originally said 5 years, but now it needed to happen yesterday.  So our dear old campervan ‘Roxy’ was sold, the X5, that I had craved for years but only driven 2000 miles, was sold and we started looking for a larger motorhome.  Night after night we scrolled through eBay and Autotrader and, eventually. we found the one.

Enter Paloma – it was time to travel

After a bit of haggling, ‘Paloma’ was ours; a 7m, 6 berth, left-hand drive van ready to travel Europe.  Just the small question of sorting out all the loose ends.

Our Paloma

We knuckled down, choosing rather than to go shopping at the weekends, to work on the van, doing all the bits and bobs to make her ready to be our home for the next 12 months.

The next hurdle was Christmas.  This year, like the last, we agreed to not buy presents and, for once I stood by it (last year the diamonds, this year not a bean) – but that meant a whole heap of money directed into our savings for the big trip. We also told all of our family on Christmas Day that we were travelling for a year; they were very supportive and didn’t let on how much they would miss us.

Fast forward to the middle of January 2017, where I’m sat at my computer typing that resignation letter and it was probably the one of the happiest days of my life.  Although with only three months to go, we had a lot to do !

With pretty much all the unused stuff we had collected over years, (why had I got so many screwdrivers?  Probably because I couldn’t find one, so just bought some more) we were ready.  It felt like a long time, almost living a half-life, as the end approached we were trying to live off all the odds and ends in the kitchen cupboards, whilst sitting in deck chairs in our now empty front room, with no tv, no phone and no internet connection.

There’s no ‘going back’

Me and ‘er!

Although the day did come and we hit the ferry port on the 26th of April and we haven’t looked back once!

Someone once said to me that you measure success, by what you had to give up to achieve it, but I now know that I have only given up things that meant nothing to me.  We are so rich in time, that we have reconnected with each other and have fresh faces to take on the world.  And all because Michele was willing to take a jump out of her comfort zone, give up her cosy life and blindly follow me off into the sunset, with my ‘let’s see how it goes’ type of plan.

A few months in and we are not thinking “This will be over next year.”  Instead our mindset is changing to “How do we make this real life last a lifetime?”  I’m not sure either of us could ever, wholeheartedly get back onto the treadmill of work, sleep, work …..

Bentley, our travel companion

“So Michele it …..

Starts and ends,

Starts and ends,

Starts and ends with you.”

Paul and Michele Kingston-Ford

 

 

Read more about our travels over at; www.ourleapoffaith.co.uk