Q. Are you really running off into the sunset?
A. The whole question of when and what do you come back to is an interesting one. As far as I can gather full-timing means lots of different things to lots of people. In the US over a million people do it as their only method of being – they live in huge RVs instead of a house. They work from them and, I guess, retire into them and at some point fall off the perch from them.
As an Englishman’s home is his castle it seems that the sensible way in this country is to move out of your house and use the rental income to supplement the journey. Here chattels are stuck in a loft, or at Mum’s house, and full-timers opt out (or opt back in, dependent on your view) when they had enough of traveling. Chris and Catherine, one of our inspirations at Our World is Our Lobster, have done just that after 4 years on the road. However many go the whole hog and sell everything, taking photos of their most precious possessions, and pootle off into the sunset without a care in the world – other than a clear answer on “what next?”. I admire this group of people. They are brave and really do not have any immediate shackles. No rental agreements, no mortgages, no house insurance, no nothing….. They are free from the materialism that drives this world – and that drives us (and I guess more and more of us) potty.
We are the cowardly type. We are blessed with a sensible military pension and some property income. We have (pretty much) always lived in rental accommodation, so leaving a ‘home’ is not a wrench. But we also have a lot of stuff, some of which is in a number of ways, irreplaceable. And, with a pragmatic eye, we have also decided to keep stuff that has longevity and would only cost to replace when we come out of the other end. We are, for example, keeping some smart clothes. Yes, we’ve every intention of spending the next ‘n’ years in Lord of the Flies mode with our knees exposed and pony tails a-dangling, but we’re young enough to see that this may not always be the case. And why get rid of a posh frock or a kitchen table that one day we might need?
We are also lucky enough to have a little bit of space: our grown-up girls will babysit furniture and crockery (doing them a bit of a favour), we have a dry lock-up garage and a spare attic that will/should take the rest. But what’s interesting is the cathartic nature of getting rid of tat. C has enjoyed it much more than me, and we still have 6 weeks to declutter further. We have gone down from 1.5 huge removal lorries to a small garage and feel much the better for it.
So we’re cowards. This is a sojourn for us. It could last forever. But when it doesn’t, we have the makings of a homelife based round brick and mortar. And I have enough shirts to look smart at an interview. Bug**r, that’s made me come over all unwell.
Best of both worlds?
Q. What about money?
A. Well that’s a personal question.
I have an Army pension and we have some property income. But trust me – it all adds up to not a great deal. So can we afford to do it? My point is can we afford not to do it? The bottom line is that, if necessary, I will get a job at some juncture in order to re-make ends meet.
In the meantime. We are renting our property. This is helping us cover all of our recurring costs (insurances, mortgages, tax, servicing, MoT etc). If I have done our sums correctly the plan is to live off £50 a day indefinitely. C has £40 to pay for everything including campsites, food, eating out, clothes, gas and everything else; I have £10 to cover diesel, ferries and tolls. The only allowance I have made is our telephone costs (two SIM only cheapish contracts) will be covered under the recurring costs. We have tested these figures twice this year on a two and a three-week holiday and, whilst I have always overspent with diesel, we have always been under on day-to-day costs. The diesel should sort itself out as we will be travelling less and slower. And if we run out of money we will just stop until we can afford to move again – it ends up being an environmental factor reducing the oil we burn. So that’s a good thing.
We have put aside a smallish emergency pot in both £s and €s. And we aim to save in order to allow us to travel wider, say the US or the Far East, at some point in the future.
I shall report back at various times with an update on how we are managing. Or if we find ourselves asking for cash if we’re on a bench in a bus shelter.
Q. Where do you intend to stay?
A. Key to this answer is budget. We could stay in campsites for the whole time here and on the continent. Most of them are scenically placed, most have all the facilities we could need and most are safe. Even in Poland if you do your research you can build a trip round campsites. But there are two problems with an approach based on campsites. First is cost. Proper campsites start at around £15 a night and, like all holiday based enterprises, increase price over school holidays. We have been charged over £40 for a site in Croatia mid-summer. In the UK sites rarely go above £30, unless they’ve got a pool complex and multi-entertainment stuff going on.
However our budget is £15 a day, so staying exclusively on campsites is not an option. Second, whilst most campsites are scenic, some are not. Many are over-crowded, with pitches packed in like sardines (often the case in Germany) and with discos and noisy neighbours (with children and pets) just, well, getting in the way by being on holiday and having fun, campsites are not always congenial places. And staying off sites can be terrific. For example:
Wild camping. Essentially parking on a spare bit of land and not paying for it. There are rules here. In Scotland you can pretty much park where you like. As a result we have stayed in some fabulous places with wonderful views. The header photo is a case in point. Wild camping in England is technically not allowed, but if you are on public land and are discrete then you can do anything once (Deer Leap for example). Wild camping is banned in many countries in Europe, but significantly it is ‘turned a blind eye to’ in Spain, Portugal, Greece and much of Italy. Two things though: we watch local reaction (never block a view) and always leave the place tidier than when we arrived. You may have heard of the white cities that spring up all over Southern Spain in the winter. Thousands of mid-Europeans descend onto beaches and carparks in big white vans (many top of the range at £100k a shot) and bleach the landscape for months on end. We try to avoid these. But you can’t wild camp indefinitely. Getting rid of waste and filling up with water is, on average, an ‘every three day’ event.
Of course we do wild camp on friend’s drives. That and a bath are what friends are for?
In the middle are two gems. France and Germany (and now Italy, Spain and Portugal) have a series of camper stops called Aires (France) and Stellplatz (German). These are often scenically placed and are exclusively for people like us. They are cheap (€5 on average), sometimes free and often come with filling and emptying facilities. Few have electric hook up but more and more have free wifi. They are pretty perfect, but, unlike campsites, space is restricted and you can’t really make yourself fully at home. The thing is, local communities see the benefit of corralling campers. They put them where they want them and then expect them to use their shops, gasthaus’ and attractions. The UK equivalent are CLs and CSs. Managed by the big two (the Caravan Club and the Caravan and Camping Club) these are five pitch only sites privately owned with limited facilities. Lots are on farms and many are quiet and homely. They are also inexpensive, coming in at about £10 a night. We are currently staying on one for 7 nights just north of Brissol close to Jen. The restrictions here are length of stay (no more than 28 days) and about half do not have electricity, so you are reliant on the van’s batteries for all of your power. But they all come with water and dumping facilities. We love them.
For us then, it’s a mixture with £15 the target cost.
For completeness this winter we intend to join ACSI, a Dutch-based company that has arrangements with 1000s of campsites across Europe offering winter deals for card members with prices ranging form €12 to €18.
Finally what you get is an ever-changing view. Yes you may like the view from your bedroom window, but if we don’t we move. Even spinning Doris through 180 degrees can drastically change the vista. And as for noisy neighbours……well after we have let their tyres down we silently move on.