f you’re a rockstar, pornstar, superstar,
Doesn’t matter what you are
Get yourself a good car, get outta here”*
Or in my case, if you’re a middle aged, divorced, mother of two, now adult offspring, get yourself a good van and get out of here…….
Time for an update! Time to reflect on the results of the initial ‘experiment’, (which we commenced last year), to have a change of lifestyle and travel on a budget. Time to bring you bang up to date with the revised plan. I haven’t been able to write during the past four months. The world has been a strange place and I didn’t feel there was much for me to say. Instead I listened. To the news, to the hysteria, to statistics, to the anxious, to the birds in the garden and to the peace and quiet whilst I cycled on empty roads. But now I feel that it’s time enough. Now it’s time to get outta here!
As some of you are aware from my blog, Why the hell am I doing this?, I always wanted to do something different with my life when my children came of age. I’ve been prepping them both with this idea for many years and finally, when my youngest turned eighteen, I closed my business, filled his bank account with enough cash to feed him for five months whilst he finished college and I set off for a five month trip around South East Asia.
I had made a risk assessment for my trip. I might have to fly back if the kids or my parents needed me, if I got injured, broke a leg etc. What wasn’t in my risk assessment was that I’d find myself in a typhoon and trapped on a remote island in the Philippines (Read Blog), or that I was to become arthritically crippled, whilst trekking in the hills of Myanmar, by a rare mosquito borne virus called chikungunya (Read Blog). I definitely did not envisage having to come home three weeks early as a result of another virus seemingly named after a bottled beer – Coronavirus or Covid 19 (Read Blog).
I couldn’t believe my bad luck. I’d been a good single mum, working hard at my business and raising my kids had been my priority, and I’d waited a long time to put in place my plan for an alternative life and as I start my journey, there’s a pandemic.
Determined, I spent the four months of lockdown blitzing my home life. I redecorated, cleaned, emptied the loft and with the aid of a scanner, cleared boxes of photos and admin. I thinned and cleared my wardrobe. That was tough, but my house was now ready to rent, to provide an income so that travelling could recommence, when travelling could recommence!
Whilst I endured this new life, absorbed and busy, others around me were not coping so well with the new regime. So many people’s plans have been thwarted by this virus and I particularly feel for our young adults. Just as the world begins to open up for them and socialising becomes naturally key in their lives, as it did me at their age, the world strangely closed. The pandemic has prevented my son from proceeding with his plans to move out, either to university, or to travel, or by working in the music industry and finding a room. A lot of job opportunities dried up, university seemed pointless and expensive with tuition via zoom and no group musical performances. Taking a year off to travel during a pandemic didn’t seem possible. So with limited options and with no funds in his bank account, he took a job at the local post office to tide him over and then a more agreeable, position at a record shop. But the pay would not allow him to move out and pay for a room just yet. I would clearly not be able to rent the house in its entirety as planned, to enable me to travel on the income. With no income and with the savings from closing my business diminishing fast, I needed a plan B.
Fortuitously, friends mentioned that they knew people who needed to rent a nice home at a good price. They were happy to become my lodgers and to share with us. My son was very happy with the arrangement and that’s how I became a landlady.
Financially, whilst continuing to support my adult son by providing accommodation, my income would be down. I had anticipated a budget of £1000 a month to travel on. This amount kept me well in South East Asia. Now, I was going to have to survive on £800 a month. £50 of which would have to be saved to pay my half of the van costs, motor insurance etc. Could Armand and I travel in a van and live well for £750 each a month?
Purchased a year ago, our Ford Transit panel van had been converted to our design at a fraction of the price of a campervan purchased off the peg. (More about the van to follow). We calculated, by saving us the cost of accommodation, the expense of car hire and the costs of eating out, that the van would pay for itself in just six months of European travel.
We concluded that if we free camped, took the slow roads, paid no tolls, and kept the vino budget down, we should be able to manage on the reduced budget. The new experiment would commence asap. I will keep a spreadsheet and we will let you know the results in another blog soon.
A window of opportunity in the UK’s lockdown occurred in July. We took a short tour of Somerset in the van to test it out and after a few more weeks of redecorating sorting and cleaning, exhausted, we jumped ship and left for Dover with no fixed plan but to get off the island and get back, (undertaking any quaratine required of us), for a wedding at the end of September.
On the ferry, we avoided the crowds and sat outside on the ferry deck with a map of France and experienced a moment of clarity. We decided that the best place to start an overseas trip after a Coronavirus lockdown would be in Champagne. Satisfied that we had our initial route and the rest of the journey would evolve from there, we left Calais.
In a small town called Charleville-Mezieres within the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, I’m sitting in a beautiful square, a clone of the Place des Vosges in Paris. Classic Louis XIII architecture, arcades, pavillions, slate roofs surround this Place Ducale. I notice the facade of the Town Hall which bears the old French motto that was rooted in the troubles of the French Revolution. It promotes freedom, equality and solidarity and I conclude that it seems entirely appropriate to me today. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!
*Lyrics – Fontaines DC