One year ago (at Christmas) my mother-in-law passed away.
Yeah, that’s not how I thought this post was going to start either, but the truth is that horrible period in our life has completely altered our path.
In October 2016, she was having Sunday lunch with us and we were planning Christmas and trips for 2017. By the end of December she was in a coma which she never recovered from. Watching that lovely woman fade before our eyes, listening to her talk about the things she’d done and the regrets she had, knocked us around the head. Hard. We’ve all said it a million times but this really brought it home to us- life is too fricking short.
A year ago there was no Wandering Bird. We didn’t own Triumph Scramblers, or a motorhome, or have any followers on social media. We hadn’t even considered changing our lifestyle, slowing down to smell the roses and going for adventures around the world. We were too busy working & earning for all of that. But after this tragedy we sat down and really looked at our lives. Were we happy? Were we fulfilled? Did we look forward to the next year? It was surprising and a little terrifying to realise we had fallen prey to the ‘rat race’ and most of our decisions were governed by money and work. Very few of our choices were about fun and living life to the full.
In December 2016, I tried to distract my heartbroken husband by dragging him down to our local Triumph motorbike dealership to look at the pretty bikes- just to LOOK! Yet somehow ended up coming home with a brand new Bonneville Scrambler- his dream bike. Those sales guys saw us coming a mile away!
Of course, this started a whole new problem. Mr WB had his nice shiny new bike, but I hated riding my old Suzuki. As in- I’d ridden it twice in 3 years and once was to take it for it’s MOT! Given our daughter (Baby Bird) was now old enough to join our adventures and she would be riding pillion behind Mr WB, there was no space left for me. I either had to (re)learn to ride or get left behind whilst they rode off on adventures. That was NOT happening!
Having sat on the Scrambler, I instantly preferred it to my Suzuki. It was bigger, meaner and slower- I was much less likely to kill myself on one of these. It felt rugged- a bike which could take you anywhere and deal with whatever terrain you were crazy/ stupid enough to throw at it. So in January 2017 we went back online and found another Scrambler- this time in a beautiful matt blue. It was a couple of years older- I didn’t want a shiny new one in case I dropped it! But it still had all the beautiful chrome work which I love. However, it’s one thing buying a pretty bike- it’s quite another learning to ride it. I couldn’t even remember how to change gear.
I was so scared that I wouldn’t take it out on the road at first. Mr WB had to ride it to an industrial estate after hours and then he sat in the car with the heater on full whilst I rode it around and around the car park (this was January/ February in England- it was COLD!) He patiently helped me learn clutch control again and how to turn corners- weird the things you forget when you don’t do it often. This went on for about a week, until eventually I worked myself up to going on an actual road- and then there was no stopping us! Between January and March 2017 I think we covered about 800 miles- all local country lanes, all in the cold and ice. Even though I could barely feel my hands, we spent so much time together outdoors, exploring new places, finding new cafes to warm up in. It felt like the best adventure- but more was to come…
In April, we put the motorbikes on a trailer and towed them behind our car down to Bordeaux, France, where we hired a gite. Hiring the gite was not an easy task as we tried to find somewhere where we weren’t going to be hated for having motorbikes- especially as these aren’t the quietest of engines. As it turns out, the French are a lot more tolerant of bikers than the British- but we didn’t know this. Finding somewhere around Bordeaux which was biker friendly and available over Easter holidays was not easy. We found somewhere eventually and had a brilliant time. You can read about the story here. It was during that trip we first saw a motorhome pulling a trailer with a bike on it. Why had we never thought of that??!!
We’d often discussed getting a motorhome or a caravan. Mr WB had grown up caravanning with his parents on a weekend. I’d never really spent any time in them at all and I’d never been in a motorhome except for the posh ones in a showroom. Because we had the boat, we thought we’d never really use one. But now that we had bikes and a trailer, it was easy to see the advantages of owning a motorhome (not a caravan- can’t tow a van AND a trailer!) It seemed perfect for us- especially when we like to spend only a day or two in one place and then move on somewhere new.
So in May we started looking at vans. We had no idea what we wanted- or what layout would suit us a family. We debated a cool VW van, but with 3 of us there just isn’t the room. We debated stealth vans- but space and no bathroom was again an issue. I wanted a dinette area, Mr WB wanted an end lounge. I didn’t want to make up a bed (or two!) every day, he wanted something with large water and waste tanks so we would be able to wild camp for longer. We looked at loads of different styles- and eventually found ‘Little Ship’, a McLouis Tandy 6 berth motorhome with an overcab bed, a dinette and fixed bunk beds at the back which were double sized! As soon as we walked in, the van had such a lovely feel to it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was within our budget and it was in pretty good condition. We bought it there and then.
Within two months, we’d spent over 20 nights in her, exploring Wales, western England and local areas to us. Not bad considering this time period was when Baby Bird had her GCSEs and we were all stressed to high hell. In fact, the motorhome was a quiet haven away from the chaos of revision, my work which gets crazy busy in the summer and Mr WB’s work which was also creating it’s own problems. Just a night down the road in the local campsite had us all feeling utterly rejuvenated. What’s more, vanlife is so much EASIER than boating. No storms, no tides, no worrying if we’d find a weather window to get home in time. Even the occasion where we got stuck in a tiny road in Wales and had to reverse for 2 MILES up a steep hill- with the bike trailer behind us didn’t dent our joy for our new toy**. We LOVED it. (**Mr WB is freaking awesome. I would NOT have wanted to do that drive.)
Over the summer holidays, we only had three weeks we could take off work, in two sections of 10 days each. The whole of Europe was open to us- where would we go?
Firstly we decided to explore Scotland & Orkney in July. You can read about that trip here.
In August, we decided on the Italian lakes- I have ALWAYS wanted to visit that area. We did a little research…. but mainly we winged it (I want to say ‘wang’ it- why isn’t that a word??)
The trip to the Italian lakes was amazing! I loved Lake Maggiore and there were so many things to do in Lake Como. That trip unexpectedly took a northerly turn through the Swiss Alps. At this point, I’d started this little blog and was enjoying keeping you all up to speed with our travels- although it’s a lot harder work blogging than I thought it would be!! I’m still miles behind sorry- I’ll work hard on it over the winter.
Some of the highlights from the summer were:
- Riding the road through the cliff in Italy. That was insane and just so freaking cool.
- Finding Harry Potter- going to various locations which were used in the films
- Making it to John o’Groats
- Orkney (NEVER the Orkneys…. even though there are many islands!)
- Climbing Mont Blanc
- The Swiss Alps- and seeing the Milky Way. That was just incredible.
By the end of the summer, we’d put 10,000 miles on Little Ship and loved every minute of it. We all slept better in the van, we got out and did things as a family, we explored new places on the bikes and we spent less money. We didn’t eat junk food as often and we NEVER watched TV. Not once. We played games and sang songs and were silly together. It was magical and I never, ever wanted to come home.
But summer ended, as summers do, and work was demanding our return. Baby Bird got EPIC grades from our time homeschooling and was been accepted into the college she wanted to go to. We are ridiculously proud of her and all the effort we put in this year. But her being at college means we are a lot less free to go off for long periods- we have to stick to the school holidays for another couple of years.
Still, we continued to use the van as much as possible. A particular favourite was wild camping next to Stonehenge and watching the more incredible sunrise. Click the video below.
However, one thing we learnt when exploring Europe was that having a motorhome which was 3.2 high turned us into a truck (Cat 4) on the toll roads- of which there are many! This made the toll roads pretty expensive- almost three times the cost of a car. We also had nowhere in the van we could spread out- the only seating area was the small dinette table or our bed. Poor Baby Bird couldn’t even sit up in her over-cab bed. Having proven the theory of vanlife as a family, we decided to upgrade Little Ship.
We started with a list of NEEDs, WANTs and WOULD LIKEs. We still needed two sleeping areas which are far apart, a dinette, lower than 3.1m high with decent storage and water carrying potential; we wanted an end lounge, a decent kitchen and a low profile; we would like a European door (ie- door on the right hand side, which works best in Europe.). We also wanted something we would still go and drive down a muddy road full of potholes- not something so new and expensive we would be scared to scratch the paintwork. We searched for ages, slowly working through our options and found one at a motorhome show which we loved- but when we went back for a second look it had already been sold. I was gutted- but that same night I found Little Ship 2 on the internet which we liked even better. Some things are just meant to be!
Little Ship 2 is nearly perfect for us. It has a drop down bed, low profile, a SUNROOF, end lounge, decent kitchen, a dinette and more light than we have in our boat. The downsides were a tiny bathroom, less storage than was ideal and the door on the wrong side. Still, once again, as soon as we went to see her, she just felt like home.
Within a week, we’d set off to go to Norfolk- only to end up in Cornwall. You can read about our trip here. We wild camped for most of the trip and the van is utterly brilliant.
A lot of the sites are now closed for the winter, but we still keep exploring. We go to my parents regularly and sleep in the van- it means my brother can stay in their spare room and no one has to sleep on the floor. We’re planning the most incredible trip around Norway, Sweden and the Baltic for next summer.
Talking of which, another MASSIVE change for this year is I have now handed in my notice at work. How’s that for terrifying?!?! But we know we can downsize even more in order to accommodate the loss of my wage- and the extra freedom it will give us is indescribable. I’m basically trading money for more time with my family. We now have 7 weeks over the summer to travel- as well as all the other holidays throughout the year and weekends away. We are so excited for the possibilities in 2018, whatever they might be.
It’s weird that within 12 months we have set up a new business blogging, got nearly 10,000 followers on social media, started a YouTube channel with stories of our adventures and totally changed our lifestyle. We are going to have less money in 2018, but I get the feeling we’re going to be a lot happier.
Here’s a summary:
Favourite place we visited: Swiss Alps
The quote that most changed my life: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Robin S. Sharma
Favourite new life skill: Riding a motorbike / learning how to wild camp
Favourite photo: The one at the head of this review- the beautiful lake in the Swiss Alps
Funniest moment: Too many to choose from- we spent most of the year in the van laughing together. But occasionally Cards against Humanity makes me unable to breathe for laughing too hard.
Scariest moment: Getting stuck down a road in Wales which in no way indicated it was too small for motorhomes. I honestly didn’t think we were going to get out of it!
Sum up 2017 in one sentence: This is the year we got our mojo back. We listened to our instincts and led with our hearts. We took back control and are working hard to do what we WANT to do, rather than living a life we don’t really enjoy.
Here is the video of our adventures this year:
How about you? How has your life changed in 2017? Let me know below- I’d love to hear from you.