We’re in our third month of travelling now and it’s been a real journey in lots of ways. One of the biggest transitions is going from certainty to uncertainty. In my working life I knew what I would be doing, where and when, for months in advance. Now I don’t know where I will be until hours or sometimes even minutes beforehand. Decisions are made at the last minute or on the hoof and I have no idea what our destination will really be like or what delights or problems will present themselves. It’s a bit different to say the least!
We take small risks all the time – driving around Europe in a massive vehicle (4.5 tons heavy, 8.75 metres long, 3.4 metres high and 2.4 metres wide) involves navigating unknown roads, with unknown obstacles around every corner.
For example, a roadworks diversion forced us down a narrow town street with overhanging balconies that we only just squeezed through.
One time in Somiedo, a mountain road turned into a narrow, winding gorge and then presented us with a tunnel height warning that we were too high for. I had to get out and run down the road to see if there was a turning space rather than risk having to do a long and challenging reversing manoeuvre. Luckily there was, but we had to drive all the way back where we came from.
Another time as you may know we also reversed into a lamp post and damaged the Elf. The biggest learning is to try stick to larger roads rather than use the back doubles that Google Maps suggests and risk unexpected weight, height or width restrictions in a place. Sometimes however we weigh up the risks and benefits and take the smaller roads anyway, we’ve seen some wonderful countryside this way. Luckily Tim enjoys mixing up the driving.
I’m also learning what works and doesn’t work in terms of our itinerary and activities. I’m finding that doing less and having an unstructured lifestyle is challenging for someone that has associated with a very strong work ethic for the last 25 years. The key is to keep busy and do something every day, preferably to include some physical exercise like walking or cycling. Sitting around doing not much is nice for a few hours but I can’t do it all day as that leads to a downward spiral! I’ve brought along some crafts, paints and pads but I have not used them apart from once. So it’s not all a bed of roses, despite how it may look !
The other aspect we have found is that staying in one place too long (especially if there is very little to do or see) has a negative impact on mood. We usually stay places for one to two days. The longest we’ve stayed anywhere is 3 days and that is for somewhere quite special. There have been a handful of places where we could have stayed longer but we needed to move on for practical reasons such as bad weather, low battery or another aspect (like noisy works on a campsite which happened once in the Picos de Europa). Equally you can overdo sightseeing, especially if everything is of a similar nature. So we haven’t tried to do everything in an area or region in this trip, as that also gives us an excuse to return!
However the upsides are amazing. Getting enough sleep and not feeling tired is a luxury I don’t take for granted. Seeing beautiful scenery has become the norm, even if sometimes we stay in a less than picturesque car park from time to time. The pleasure of being free is immense, and travelling almost daily is wonderful. We’re with the dogs all the time and we love that part too.
As we head back to the UK there are still a lot of places I’ve got on my list to return to. The South Coast of Portugal, the mountain regions of Asturias, the West Coast of France, the list goes on – and then there’s the rest of Europe… Bring it on, we are ready.