2019 spending £22,478 / year: Our most frugal year & below household average

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)
Is there a pot of gold?

2019 has been an unusual year with no trips abroad in our campervan and a house move.  We have stayed alive and healthy and we spent two months touring Scotland in our campervan, learning to love that country even more and visiting Shetland for the first time, leaving a little bit of our hearts there.  Financially it has been good too.  We have stayed within budget; in 2019 our household spending was as low as £22,428.  The ONS calculate that the average household in the north-west of England spent £26,062 a year in 2017-2018.  Of course, this average will include large families and single-person households, households that have expensive hobbies [like a campervan], those who are home all day and people who have little money or are super-frugal.  Although we don’t consider ourselves to be average, we generally aim to spend less than this average.  I had hoped that our frugal fail in 2018 was a blip [we spent over £28,000] and it certainly seems that we have got back on track in 2019.

annual spending graph
Our household spending from 2010 to 2019

Despite the rigour of my spreadsheets, our annual spending creates a graph that looks like a roller coaster and this does make a bit of a joke of the budgeting we do.  Over the last nine years our spending has ranged over £6,000 from £21,972 to £28,107, not allowing for inflation.  All this information really tells me is there are expensive years and cheaper years and that our budget for 2020 of around £26,000 doesn’t look too unrealistic.  What is interesting is that our 2019 spending of £22,428 is our next to lowest spending year [and a rough online inflation calculator suggests that £21,972 in 2011 is now the equivalent of over £27,000] so for us 2019 has been a frugal year.

This household spending does gloss over the £36,000 plus that has disappeared from our savings and been spent on our recent house move and the improvements to bring our 1960s bungalow into the 21st century.  It seemed fair to leave out these one-off costs as they would have massively skewed the figures but it also seemed best to fess up about this spending here.  Of course before we took the plunge of moving we did the sums and, although when our pensions start paying in 2026 we will have considerably less savings in the bank, we felt it was an outlay that was manageable … but time will tell.  The move became essential for our well-being and we are reasonably comfortable that we will have enough of an emergency fund to take us into our old age.  Who knows what will happen with the cost of care by the time we are in our 80s and whether we will need any.  We certainly won’t have much money spare for anything expensive but we live in hope that a fair system will be in place by then.

Our own expensive hobby of running a campervan and having lots of holidays continues and this is generally our downfall.  If we never went anywhere our spending would be much lower!  Everyone spends their money in their own way, this is how our 2019 spending pans out:

Essentials – total £7,721 [35% of total spending] [2018 £9,654 / 34%]

Food – £3,491 [2018 £3,870] – This is an essential but also an easy area to control and after the shock of 2018 we have been careful to use the cheaper supermarkets.  We cook mostly from scratch, including making bread, only ever buy what we need and rarely waste anything.  We now have a garden but don’t expect to start growing food, as this doesn’t really work with taking a long holiday.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 58 sq mtrs [624 sq feet] flat for 10 months & a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow for 2 months – £3,974 [2018 £4,841] – We have been home more than previous years but try and restrain our use of the heating and water.  Our bungalow is more expensive to run in terms of utilities than the flat, despite good insulation, so watch this space for 2020.  But a big plus of not living in a flat is that we no longer have service charges of over £1,000/year!  On the flip-side we are now responsible for the upkeep of our four walls and roof, not to mention a garden, this feels a bit daunting just at the moment.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £256 [2018 £943] – We had no expensive spectacles or dental work this year, hurrah!  We were lucky to find another reasonably priced tai chi class in Morecambe, at £3 each a week this is manageable and we can afford to attend regularly.

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £3,151 [14% of total spending] [2018 £3,333 / 11%]

Household spending [everything from glue and newspapers to parts for the bikes and a new kettle] & miscellaneous un-identified items – £2,300 [ 2018 £2,364] – We are a long way from a no-spend year on stuff but I’m relieved that this spending line is similar to 2018 as I thought that moving house might have spiralled this into another realm as we splashed out on new [to us] curtains, gardening equipment and a Remoska oven.

Clothes & accessories – £851 [2018 £969] – I am really pleased this spending line is lower than last year, particularly when I take into account that over half of this is accounted for by new waterproof jackets.  We took a deep breath and bought quality so hope they will last for years and years – maybe until we die?

Experiences – £10,952 [48% of total spending] [2018 14.095 / 51%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,601 [2018 £4,681] – Our holiday spending is less than other years as [thanks to the house move] we didn’t get abroad but we did spend a fantastic two months touring Scotland.  Factor in the cost of the ferry to Spain in 2018 [about £900] and this line would have pretty much stayed the same; the ferries are really the biggest chunk of our holiday costs.  We spent only 108 nights away in our campervan, less than previous years [again due to the house move] but campsites in the UK are often more expensive than mainland Europe.  We took ourselves off for 10-days during the house buying process and returned to a pile of paperwork waiting to be signed, after that we hardly dared venture away.  This does include a splash-out weekend in a swanky Lake District hotel to celebrate a significant birthday.

Restaurants & cafes – £2,418  [2018 £2,963] – This is another chunk of spending that we can keep under control if we need to but we love meeting friends for meals out and sitting in friendly cafes.  So I am surprised [and pleased] this spending is lower than in 2019 as we seem to have been out with friends on plenty of occasions … but the numbers don’t lie!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,931 [2018 £2,578] – I was excited to find that moving to Morecambe from Salford reduced our insurance costs on our campervan, although it is no longer parked in a gated car park!  2018 was an expensive year for our ‘van and in 2019 we didn’t take such a hit spending £800 on fixing things on our campervan to keep it on the road.  Our ‘van is almost five years old and has driven around 50,000 miles and among other things it needed new brakes and reversing sensors.  I think the ‘van might be saving everything up for 2020 though!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,500 [2018 £1,937 ] – This is lower due to reduced campervan trips and lower mileage through the year.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £941 [2018 £1,114] – A cheaper year but we have still had lots of fun experiences seeing bands, going to the football and getting face to face with a pine marten.

Transport costs included buses, trains & parking – £561 [2018 £670] – My target to walk 2,019 km in 2019 kept this number down as I was constantly choosing to walk rather than take the tram or bus.  We have spent more for the last two months of the year since moving to Morecambe, as not wishing to pollute the world more than we need to we have taken the train to Manchester on all but one occasion.

Giving – £654 [3% of total spending] [2018 £1,025 / 4%]

Gifts & donations – £654 [2018 £1,025] – Another discretionary spending line and we can only hope our family and friends understand why presents, although still thoughtful, have been small in 2019.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2019 – £22,478 – staying comfortably within our £26,000 budget helps to give us some financial resilience for future years.

 

 

 

Travel Writing That Tells a Story is not a Guidebook

2016 Oct Lake District (1)

I might often fail but I aim to be a travel writer that tells stories about places.  Pretty much each of my travel articles has a narrative thread through it and I work hard to weave travel information that is handy for the campervan and motorhome community through this story, along with history and fascinating facts so that the article is both inspiring and useful.

I find various ways of telling a story.  In some articles I have followed an earlier traveller, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie from Scotland to Derby [published May 2019] or Celia Fiennes on the Welsh border [published February 2017].  In other articles I have focused on local food.  I took this approach for a trip to Lancashire [February 2015] and found the atmospheric cave-like wine shop in Clitheroe.  More recently I visited the Conwy Honey Fair [August 2019] where everything related to honey can be purchased.  In Spain I tried to get under the skin of the Spanish Civil War in my December 2019 article.  Sometimes it is other writers that have inspired my trip; Alan Garner took me to Cheshire [November 2018], in Somerset and Devon [August 2018] I followed various authors and my latest MMM article to East Sussex explores the world of some of my favourite children’s authors.  At times I chase my own memories; my trip around familiar Staffordshire towns and villages was one such trip [July 2016].

I try to write something that readers will enjoy, that will entertain them and that they will want to read until the end because they are following my story.  On the way I will try to bring the place alive, maybe the smell of wood smoke in a Tuscan village, the taste of creamy ice-cream in Lancashire or the feel of the Orcadian wind in their hair.  Readers can join me in the thrill of trying different Belgian beers in a small friendly bar, my frustrations with the weather or getting lost and my enthusiasm when I find something truly unique.

Good travel writing isn’t about statistics and lists, the ten best things to do, the cheapest restaurant for authentic food or the most comfortable hotels.  While these things are useful once you are into the detail of planning your trip, for real inspiration I like to think readers want a story that paints a picture of a place.  Initially, fellow travellers want to know if that place has something to interest them.  They want to know if it is their kind of town or country and whether they might want to follow in my footsteps, making a trip that will become their own story.

My favourite travel writer is Dervla Murphy an inspirational author who writes intimate tales from unlikely places that bring both the place and the people alive.   Although inspirational, it is her warmth and interest in people that I want to follow her example of.  Every one of her books makes me feel as if I have walked or cycled alongside her on her journey.  In an interview in the Irish Examiner she modestly said,

“If I am to be remembered, I’d like to be remembered as someone who was interested in the ordinary people of whatever country I was in.”

I understand I will never achieve the brilliance of Dervla Murphy and that is fine, we all have to have people we look up to.  So long as I find stories hidden in the places I go to I will keep sharing them with readers.

To read any of my published travel articles head for the relevant page on the blog from the menu at the top.

 

 

Frugal Flitting: Trying to save money while moving house

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Moving house is a pretty expensive undertaking, as well as being one of the most stressful experiences you can put yourself through.  For the frugal, moving house isn’t something to undertake lightly as it will eat up a chunk of money.  If the reason for yearning to relocate can be fixed by building a garage or a shed, fitting a new kitchen or changing the layout of your rooms then it is always worth considering that first.  But once you’ve decided that moving home is the only way to go how do you do this within a budget?

We made the decision to move from our Salford flat to somewhere more tranquil earlier this year; only closing all the roads would make Salford quieter, so finding a new place to live became the only option.  Moving house wasn’t something we had budgeted for when we retired in 2017, we thought we would be in Salford until the end of our days but being comfortable where we live is important and fortunately we had the flexibility within our finances to spend the money we needed to.

We had always built in some contingency to our early retirement planning but mostly we were only able to afford a move because we had continued to live frugally in our retirement and because we had earnings from my travel writing.  With two years experience of our spending in our retired life, we gave the savings we had left a good hard look, made a spreadsheet and planned what we could afford to spend on moving house.  Our Morecambe home cost a tad more than our Salford flat and on top of this the process of moving home cost us £4,761.  There isn’t much slack in our savings now [we can’t move again!] but we have retained that contingency fund and feel comfortable.

Below is where we managed to shave a bit off the cost of moving house.

Solicitors – £1,711

We are members of Unison and this gives us a discount with BBH Legal Services Ltd.  There are cheaper conveyancing solicitors out there but cheap does not always mean the most efficient and helpful.  During the process of selling our flat our chain was held up on more than one occasion due to the incompetence of a solicitors that offered a cheap online service and had clearly taken on more work than he could manage.  Having a proficient solicitor is important in keeping the stress levels down during a move and in our experience BBH were always available and realistic and gave an excellent service at a reasonable cost.

Packing – £53

We saved money by doing the packing ourselves and also saved 75p per box by buying used cardboard boxes from a Manchester storage company.  We don’t have lots of delicate trinkets but we have china plates, bowls and mugs.  It turned out that large rolls of plastic bubble wrap were not necessary to protect these precious items.  We bought 100 sheets of tissue paper from the storage company for £4 which was plenty and nothing got broken between Salford and Morecambe.  After we had moved we advertised the boxes as being available online.  Someone asked for them almost immediately and gave us wine and chocolates when we delivered the now third-hand boxes!

Removal firm – £662

Last time we moved house we hired a van and moved ourselves but this move was further and would have needed two trips as we now owned two sofas [so much for minimalism] so we decided to pay for the professionals.  We shopped around for a good removal firm, asked for recommendations on local Facebook groups and eventually choosing a small firm in Morecambe.  They were not only excellent, compared to Manchester-based companies, they were about £300 cheaper.  They were also around £500 cheaper than the one large national firm we received a quote from.  Every member of the company, from arranging a quote, to setting the date and moving our furniture, were friendly and efficient.  Buying local and outside metropolitan areas can be cost saving.

Estate Agent – £2,040

Last time we moved house we didn’t use an estate agent but sold it ourselves, just paying a small fee to have the house advertised on the relevant websites.  We did this because of the local market and we put a lot of work in ourselves leafleting locally and showing people around.  Our flat was a different place to sell and we knew this time we needed the help of an estate agent.  We considered three estate agents and did hire the most expensive of those three because they were local and we felt they knew the development we lived in best and would sell it to prospective buyers.  We hoped this would lead to a successful quick sale of our flat.  We saved £200 by refusing the premium listing cost they offered for better photographs and a highlighted listing online.  The flat sold in just a few weeks but how much that was down to how we presented it [we worked hard to ensure it looked its best] and how much to the Estate Agent’s work is a bit of an unknown.  Maybe it was team work!

Energy Performance Certificate – £45

We had to have one of these completed for our flat and we shopped around ourselves, rather than paying for one through the Estate Agent, saving ourselves £30.

Stamp Duty – £250

This is a fixed cost that relates to the price of the property you are buying.

I am sure we could have done this cheaper … have you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on: Leaving Super Salford for Marvellous Morecambe

We have been a trifle busy just lately.  After eleven years of living in a flat in Salford we decided it was time, as they say, to move on.  Salford has been good to us and in many ways we will miss living in a vibrant and dynamic city and being a part of Greater Manchester.  Leaving our many friendly and helpful neighbours and our lovely tai chi class [a nicer bunch of people you would struggle to meet] was a hard but positive decision.

When we moved to Salford, a city packed with modern, shiny high-rise blocks of flats, we chose an unusual 1930s development of flats with three floors arranged around large courtyard gardens and open shared areas.  Thanks to the design of the flats, we got to know more neighbours than we have anywhere else we have lived.  The site is secure and we have never worried about the leaving our flat on our long holidays and the gated parking for our campervan has been appreciated.  The large garden is a sheltered and sunny place to sit on a warm day with none of the worries of having to actually do any gardening yourself, it was a happy and liberating place to live.

A short walk from home was Salford Quays and a stroll around the water was a regular favourite way to spend some time.  This is where we could encounter nature; the trees changing colour through the year, Canada geese and black-headed gulls and sometimes coots and pied wagtails and different weather transforming the river and canal from sparkling blue to slate grey.  In addition there is always something new to see; someone might be filming around Media City, we could encounter groups queuing for a popular TV show or stumble upon one of the many special events such as the Makers Markets or Lightwaves.

We were surrounded by plenty of other favourite places; Weaste Cemetery, Peel Park and Buile Hill Park, Chapel Street and the River Irwell.  There are so many things to like about Salford, check out my Surprising Salford page for the full list.

If Salford is so perfect why are you moving on?  A search for quiet is the simple answer.  Although there had been other nudges, it was after spending two months in Scotland earlier this year that we both returned to our urban flat and struggled to adjust to the bustle of the city.  The 1930s flats were solidly built with thick external and internal walls and there is rarely any noise that gets through from neighbours to either side of us.  What my acute hearing did pick up was from the flat upstairs.  The guy was always respectful and well-behaved but I began to get tired of knowing when he was home, when he went to bed, when he decided to listen to music, when he had visitors and even when he visited the bathroom!  In addition, in the 1970s it was decided to build the M602 through Salford and the roar of the traffic on this short adjacent motorway was a continuous presence.

That said, we would have stayed in Salford if someone had built / was building small affordable bungalows and not just tall blocks of flats or if we had won on the Premium Bonds and had been able to afford the half a million or so for a penthouse flat overlooking Salford Quays.  With none of those options available, we checked our budget and began the search for a bungalow [we like living on one-floor] that wasn’t off the beaten track but offered some tranquillity, alongside some culture, and had natural areas within easy walking distance.

Having lived in Lancashire for many years, it is not surprising that we soon decided on the seaside resort of Morecambe where we follow in the footsteps of a long line of retiring Lancastrians.  Morecambe has plenty of bungalows to accommodate retirees and along with Lancaster has a thriving art and cultural scene and has that magnificent view across the sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lake District.

Our move to Morecambe isn’t so much a downsize as a new era.  We have gained a garden [again] and a kitchen that seems vast after living with one where I could stand in the centre and stretch out and reach everything!  But, having got used to our huge bedroom in the flat our new bedroom can best be described as cosy and our 1960s bungalow needs a long list of improvements to bring it up–to-date … but now when there are footsteps overhead it is just a herring gull landing on the roof.

 

 

 

 

Living on a Northern Terraced Street in Preston

1987 matthew and c august on larkhill st
1987 on a Preston street, wrapped up for the rain

1986 seems like another era; I had big hair, we owned a British Leyland Metro, Spitting Image was still on TV and we moved to Preston in Lancashire.  Along with fashions, the pattern of the communities in our cities have also altered many times since those days.  As a young couple with a tiny baby and two cats, living away from our home town and our respective families, we moved into a 19th century brick-built terraced house in a row of similar terraced houses.  This was our stomping ground for two years before we became upwardly mobile and moved to a more spacious semi-detached house.

These Lancashire terraced streets are still there and continue to provide great housing for families.  Our small terrace had two downstairs rooms and upstairs a double bedroom, two single bedrooms and a small bathroom.  Along the side of the house was a narrow alley that went underneath our upstairs rooms and that we shared with our neighbour.  This gave us access to the back yard and garden and was where we stored ladders and bikes.

In the 1980s we weren’t on our journey to financial independence, our priority was keeping our heads above water.  We were a single-income family with a mortgage on a house that had cost us £15,000 [you now need almost this much for a deposit on these properties].  Our terraced row of houses felt crowded but comfortable.  Along with our neighbours, none of us were wealthy; here was the wonderful diversity of what might be called the working classes, all struggling to make ends meet.  Although our family income came from a ‘professional’ job at the university, this is where we could afford to live.

To one side lived a couple with one child.  He had worked as a jockey, riding horses, as a young man but was now a butcher, both fascinating worlds I knew little about.  She was an outgoing hairdresser, working in a city centre salon.  On her day off she styled the hair of the neighbours in their homes, including me, giving us mates rates.  While we lived next door their marriage broke down and she began working evenings in a Preston nightclub for extra income as a pole dancer, another world I knew little about.

To our other side lived a couple with two children, a family living on the single income of his manual job.  It was this mum that was usually the parent that would offer to sit on the front step and watch her own children play in the street during the early evening, along with those of neighbours.  If the weather was fine I would often join her for a while with the baby and sitting on our respective steps we would talk generally about family news, the best schools and favourite TV programmes.  It was on these steps that I was informed that the best local primary school was the Roman Catholic school; I mentioned that we were atheists but she didn’t really grasp why that would mean this school wasn’t suitable for our little one.

During the daytime the street was a place for women and young children, all the men were at work and my early lessons in bringing up a child came from these women.  The street was lived in by families that were white-British but we were on the edges of more diverse areas of Preston and nearby there were shops that sold exotic fruit and vegetables that I enjoyed exploring.  At the end of the street, in the 20th century social housing, was a Muslim woman with children.  She was divorced, somewhat unusual in her community, and this single status sadly led to bullying by people who shared her religion; she needed a friend and sometimes I listened.

Just around the corner were an elderly couple, long-time residents of the area.  On warm afternoons he liked to bring a dining chair outside his tiny two-up-two-down terraced house and sit and chat to anyone who came by.  I walked by his house to the local shops and into town, always carrying our baby in a papoose, and would stop for a while.  He told me funny and interesting stories of his days as an engineer building bridges on the M6.  Life seemed to be slower in those days in this corner of Preston and people had time to talk.

Another family across the road had a son who was difficult to manage, he was often aggressive and sometimes violent.  He was removed from home and sent to the local children’s home that was unfortunately just 100 metres away.  He continued to return home and scream loudly outside his family home and once he broke a window while everyone along our street cowered indoors, no one trying to help.  In these narrow streets there is nowhere to hide and the family’s shame was a burden they carried, knowing the next day that everyone was talking about them.

On the corner of the road was the vicarage.  The vicar and his friendly wife had four children and were considered the middle-class residents of the street.  Quizzing me about how many more children we would have, I told her, ‘One is enough.’  She failed to persuade me that a big family was the way to go.  Their house was an enormous rambling property surrounded by a garden and easily swallowed their large family and the numerous visitors they happily entertained.

I have said before I have a literal mind and so when I learnt there was a Mums and Toddler Group nearby [these would now be called a play group or parent and toddler group] I understood the term precisely and didn’t attend until our son was actually toddling at 11 months old.  I laughed when I was told I didn’t have to wait until he could walk!   The group was held twice a week in a draughty and dismal church hall with a selection of old toys for the children to play with and tea and biscuits for the mums / parents.  In this unpromising environment, there was no sense of competitive parenting and everyone was supportive and helpful and I learnt more child-rearing skills.  It was here that I met parents who shared my love of reading, cooking good food, an interest in environmentalism and fellow atheists who recommended the local county primary school.  I made some firm friends here and the plan to move a short distance away to a bigger house began.

The narrow terraced streets are still there and probably still lived in by hard-working families.  The vicar no longer lives at the end of the road and the extensive garden is now a car park, the social housing has been improved.  The corner shop has gone, along with the telephone box where we would ring distant family and friends as we didn’t have a home phone.  Traffic has increased everywhere and I doubt if I walked here on a sunny evening I would still see parents sitting on the steps watching their children playing in the street but then again …

 

 

 

 

Campervan Gap Year Dream vs Reality: Tips for Full-time or Long-term Campervan Trip

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Our VW Devon Sundowner in Italy

Travelling full-time or for around 12 months in a campervan is becoming increasingly popular, for people of all ages, including among those of us who are too old to have had a gap year. If you are yearning to make that long trip, you might be wondering how you can make this adventure happen, and does reality match up to the dream. In 2009 we were two people in our late 40s early 50s, with jobs that paid the average wage for the UK and yet after a few years of planning and saving we were able to set off and do just that. Here are my tips to help you plan your own dream trip:

  1. First Buy Your Campervan
  2. Saving Money so you can Afford the Trip
  3. What to do About Working When you Come Back
  4. Living for 12 Months
  5. What Clothes do you Need?
  6. Dream vs Reality

1. First Buy Your Campervan

We bought our first campervan in 2005 but felt that this traditional VW was too small for full-time travel. By the time we set off on our adventure we owned a Devon Conversions VW Sundowner; this is a long wheelbase VW and has an on-board toilet but no bathroom. For many people this ‘van would still be much too small for two adults to live in for 12 months but for us it worked perfectly, small and discrete it never felt too big but it had everything we needed.  That said, we pretty much stayed on campsites all the time and we were in the warmer parts of mainland Europe.  Whether you have a huge RV or a micro-camper, my top tip is try out your ‘van for long holidays before you commit to 12 months in it, think about whether you want to wild camp all or most of the time and see how your outfit works for you.

We had owned the Sundowner for two years before we set off travelling, we had been away twice for over three weeks at a time and we were familiar with the ‘van and knew we could live in its confined space. Also after two years the van and the conversion had bedded in and any niggles had been sorted and problems ironed out.

Of course, some people travel full-time in a caravan and you might want to consider that option too.  If your dream trip is to southern Europe for three or four months during the summer then you could save loads of money and just take a tent.

2. Money, Money, Money

Unless you can work on the road – and then that makes it a whole different trip – or have won the lottery, you will need to save some money before you travel.  Before we went travelling we put away what we hoped was enough to live on for twelve months.  In addition to this travelling fund we chose to save enough for a further six months to cover the period when we got back home and were looking for work. Tracking your spending for a year or so before you travel helps you know what these amounts will be for your own lifestyle and will vary depending on what you eat, how often you visit restaurants, how many attractions you take in and whether you use campsites or free camping. On our year away we spent £19,900, you can do it cheaper or you can spend a lot more.

We saved this money by down-sizing our home, doing without stuff and treats, selling everything we didn’t need through Ebay and working hard.  For a few months, during the year before we set off I was juggling three jobs to contribute towards the savings. This was hard going but I had the motivation to get through a short period of stress to meet a clear aim.

Fluctuations with the Euro and Sterling made our planning more tricky and this will still be an issue.  At the last minute in 2008 it became clear that thanks to the collapse of the banks and recession we had to save a few more thousand to cover our living costs as we were getting considerably less for our hard-earned pounds. We were lucky that a chunk of well-paid contract work turned up at just the right time.

We didn’t rent our property while we were away as we wanted to have it there should we need to return home in an emergency but this could be a good option for some people. The downside of our approach was that we also needed the money to keep the flat ticking over.  We stopped any unnecessary bills such as broadband and telephone but continued insurance and minimum payments for utilities; at the time this was an additional £4,300.

A problem we found was that no one was able to offer affordable contents insurance for our empty flat, even though the site we live on is secure.  Instead our son came to stay every couple of months to check the flat, clear the mail and ensure we were complying with the insurance. We were lucky that he was available to do this.

3. Giving up the Nine to Five?

Unless you are made redundant and have a large redundancy pot to spend on your trip you will need to decide what to do about work. We both resigned, leaving our jobs before we set off travelling.  Another friend managed to secure a sabbatical and his job was kept open and this is a fantastic option if you can get it and it is worth asking but it will depend on your employer.

We believed [rightly it turned out] that we were both highly-skilled individuals and that at least one of us would find work that paid enough and was within commuting distance of our home in Salford in six months or less. The risk that we were wrong about this did increase thanks to that recession. You will know your local job market and how easy or difficult this will be but I would guess if you are based in a smaller town this could be hard, unless you have much needed skills or are willing to commute further.

What made a big difference to our circumstances was that having down-sized we were mortgage-free. This meant that we did not need to earn as much as we had in the past and jobs at even minimum wage would have been sufficient for us to keep the wolf from the door. As it turned out we both secured reasonable jobs within three months of getting home.

4. Living for 12 Months

Just to be clear – being away for 12 months is nothing like a holiday.  For me it was much better that a holiday.  Unlike a break from work, you don’t go through one week of unwinding and another of gearing up to go back to work.  Full-time travel gives you an opportunity to be unshackled from being a wage slave, wake up without an alarm and plan your own day and we found this completely relaxing.  All we really had to worry about was where we were going to go next and what we would eat that day.  Life becomes fairly stripped down and simple and this is a liberating and exciting experience.

We deliberately kept our trip flexible.  This meant that we could spend as long as we wanted in different places.  Slovenia hadn’t really been on our list but we were so bowled over with the country we spent a month there and we were delightfully surprised to find that Austria was a great place to spend August.

Being away for 12 months does throw you together as a couple (unless you are travelling alone). We had been married for over 20 years and were confident that we could deal with this but it certainly isn’t something to do with a shaky relationship.  I found that spending every day with my partner meant I got to know him even better and love him even more. We did talk about this and there were times when we did our own thing.  If you need your own space then I would suggest that you discuss this, think through how often you need to get away on your own and how to make it happen.  Sometimes just a half-hour morning walk on your own to get the milk is all you need.

5. What Will You Wear?

Our VW didn’t have unlimited amounts of storage space and we travelled light. The numbers of items of clothing we took are below to get you started in thinking about this practical issue [where there are two numbers the lower one is my super-lightweight travelling partner]. You will notice there is no posh frock in the list and almost all of these items are technical, quick to dry and robust kit from specialist clothing manufacturers.

  • Shorts – 2 pairs each
  • 3/4 length trousers -2 or 3 pairs each
  • Trousers – 3 pairs each
  • Skirt – 1 [just me]
  • T-shirts or shirts – 8 each
  • Jumpers – 2 or 3 each
  • Long-sleeved tops – 1 or 4 (one of us does not feel the cold!)
  • Nightwear – 2 sets
  • Underwear – 6 pairs of Lowe Alpine / Helly Hansen / Rohan pants each
  • Footwear – 2 pairs of sandals, 1 pair walking shoes, 1 pair of outdoor shoes and 1 pair of Crocs each

We also packed cycling shorts, swimming costumes and each had a fleece jacket and cagoule / waterproof jacket.

6. Dream vs Reality

How did our 12 months travelling around Europe match up to the dream? Well I certainly wouldn’t have missed it for the world and here are some things I learnt:

  • Distance didn’t matter – some days we would only travel a few kilometres to a different campsite with a new view.
  • We did lots of things and saw so many new places but not every day was fun-packed – there were days when we just chilled and those were good days too.
  • We stopped worrying if we didn’t get to see every ‘must-see’ sight, it was our trip not a bucket list. We missed out all sorts of things we might have crammed in if we hadn’t been so relaxed, including Rome and Florence.
  • There are still chores – we still had laundry and van cleaning to do but they always happened somewhere different and were always much more fun than at home.
  • Despite being married for over 20 years, the trip gave us space to get to know each other even better and after living in a small space for 12 months our partnership was stronger.
  • Books – we book swapped rather than take e-books. These book swaps were from other campers or from campsite libraries and often resulted in interesting finds and amiable conversations.
  • Mainland Europe is not an homogeneous place, every European country is different with varied ways of doing things, different cultures and new products available in the shops.  We loved this difference then and still do.
  • Be open to meeting new people and new experiences – within your own safety boundaries!
  • We walked and cycled almost every day, keeping fit was easy with so much time.
  • The weather isn’t always sunny. We travelled through France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Italy again, France some more, Spain and Portugal. It is surprisingly cold throughout inland Spain and Portugal from December to March and we mostly hugged the coastline for the milder weather.  Even so for the three months from January to March in Spain and Portugal we had 38 days with some rain, more details here.
  • We didn’t book any campsites and only had a problem in Austria during August in one area because a large campsite was closed for refurbishment and that had a knock-on elsewhere.  Some sites in Spain during the winter were busy but we always got a pitch.  This may be more difficult these days as there are more people travelling.
  • What we missed most was our son and daughter-in-law and paying for them to fly out twice during our year was a great investment. They met us in self-catering cottages we had booked and this made a real difference to our enjoyment of the year away.
  • Other things I missed were Radio 4, crumpets and good tea bags!
  • The time goes very fast!
  • When I returned I didn’t really want to go back to work and our gap year gave me the motivation to start saving for early retirement.

Owning a Campervan Tips the Scales: Plastic-free update #5

Croatia 2018 (38)
Market shopping makes being plastic-free easy

After 40 years I am beginning to realise I can’t save the planet on my own.  I have been really pleased to see ditching plastic and meat becoming more mainstream in the UK and I am glad that people are starting to talk more seriously about reducing flights and car use.  But as we reach the climate change crisis and I continue on my personal struggle to be better at caring for the environment it is hard to feel content with how the world is progressing.  Much of the current discussion has been about plastic pollution and the immediate negative impact this has on our wildlife and environment.  Plastic also has a massive impact on climate change from the moment the fossil fuels are extracted, through production and recycling or disposal.   With our current dependence on fossil fuels and plastic there seems little chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot needs to change but ditching single-use plastic would be a start.  And yet movement in reducing supermarket packaging is painfully slow and although there are small changes most continue to use plastic to prevent food being damaged in transit and to keep it fresh.  Zero-plastic shopping and avoiding throwing away colossal amounts of packaging after a shopping trip is now possible in specialist shops but this is not mainstream.  This reminds me of the days when vegetarians had to shop in local health food shops for essentials.  It wasn’t until supermarkets spotted this market that shopping got easier for vegetarians.

As a couple we are trying to be frugal as well as kind to the environment and we are in a losing battle.  Short of going back to work, the frugality isn’t an option; we are living on our savings and can’t fritter them away.  Much as I would like to support small zero-waste shops these are generally more expensive than supermarkets and not local and make staying on budget difficult.  Just at the moment it feels impossible to be both frugal and environmentally friendly and I am trying to accept that we have made changes where we can and it will never be perfect.

In the UK the average person apparently accounts for 6.3 tonnes of CO2 per year all of which contribute to climate change.  Despite my best efforts at small things, having a diesel-fuelled campervan means that my own environmental balance sheet is far from balanced.

Climate Change Wins

  1. Housing – We live in a small flat that is efficient to heat, we switch off lights, keep the temperature fairly low and put on jumpers when it is cold.  We wash everything at 30C and dry most things naturally [although we use the shared on-site tumble drier for towels to stop the flat getting damp].  We take short showers that last about two minutes, switching the shower off while we lather up to save water and energy.  [I used this carbon calculator to find out that our home has a carbon footprint of about 0.9 tonnes of CO2].  With energy and water use it is easy to match up our twin aims of frugality and saving the planet.
  2. Shopping – We buy soap and solid shampoo and use shaving cream and body lotion from Lush, not plastic free but they take the tubs back when you have five to return for recycling.  We don’t buy any make up.  Cotton handkerchiefs deal with our daily nose blowing rather than tissues.  Our washing powder comes in a cardboard box, we buy loose tea for home, rather than teabags, but this is still packaged in plastic inside the cardboard and our favourite Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages are packaged in cardboard.  We make our own hummus and bread and cook most things from scratch.  A few of these purchases are more expensive options but they fit with our budget.
  3. Eating out – We eat out but never buy lunch-to-go sort of items or plastic bottles of water or pop and don’t buy coffee-to-go.  These certainly save us money.
  4. Diet – We don’t eat meat but do eat dairy [a vegetarian diet emits around 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year, much less than a meat-based diet] and we try and buy in season and local food as much as we can and a veggie diet is cheaper.
  5. Cleaning – We use scraps of old clothes and towels for mopping up in the kitchen and bathroom instead of paper towels and we buy toilet rolls from Cut The Crap which are wonderful and plastic-free.  We use a bar of Sunlight soap for cleaning.  On balance we probably save money here.
  6. Stuff – Being frugal we don’t buy lots of stuff, whether made from plastic or not.  We mostly buy second-hand furniture and clothes, with the exception of technical gear and shoes.  We don’t worry about being fashionable and make do and mend as much as we can.
  7. Getting around – Walking or cycling around Salford and Manchester is our default, whether going to the supermarket, the doctors or friends and this is free or cheap.  If we have to go further across Manchester we take the tram or bus.  We don’t fly long-haul and rarely fly anywhere at all [the last time we flew was to Milan in early 2017].
  8. Pets – Although we love cats, we don’t have a pet and instead I just watch them on social media and try and stroke any cat I meet, much cheaper options.
  9. Family – We had a child but only one [saving around 58.6 tonnes of CO2 a year].

Climate Change Fails

  1. Fruit and veg  – Our fruit and vegetables come mostly from Aldi and we come home with lots of plastic but our finances stay on track!  Our meals do focus heavily on things they don’t wrap in plastic but there are always items I want / need that come wrapped up.
  2. Milk  – Although not vegan we prefer soya milk.  This comes in tetra paks which are a mixture of plastic and paper and the small amount of cows milk we buy comes in plastic bottles [no milk deliveries to our flat].  The BBC told us that oat milk has the lowest impact on the environment and I did try making my own once!
  3. Food – Plenty of other food items we eat come in plastic; margarine, cheese, tofu, crisps, washing up liquid, nuts, pasta and rice and more and I have a weakness for Warburtons crumpets that come wrapped in plastic.  We aim to spend less than £300 / month on food and drink in supermarkets, cycling across Greater Manchester to buy zero-plastic rice and couscous could be done but something else would have to give.
  4. Toothpaste – I have looked at toothpaste tablets and haven’t found one that contains potassium nitrate to ease my elderly sensitive teeth.  There are ones with fluoride and the price is reasonable [£2.40 for 60 tablets] so I alternate tablets with tubes.
  5. Clothing – We remain fans of technical quick-drying and hard-wearing clothing and wouldn’t really want to go back to wool or cotton for our hill walking and outdoor lifestyle.  We buy quality items that will last, only wash them when we must, mend them and wear them as long as we can but I am sure some of them probably contain micro-beads.
  6. Scouring – For stubborn cooked-on food we have a wooden pot brush but also buy cheap plastic scourers as we don’t have a dishwasher and need to get things clean by hand.
  7. Clingfilm – I admit that we have a roll of clingfilm!  We have owned this particular roll for around 15 years.  Occasionally this is useful but we might not buy anymore when it eventually runs out.
  8. Campervan – We drive a diesel campervan about 10,000 miles a year; after our flat this is the most expensive thing we own.  We only drive it for long distances and it can sit around for a couple of weeks not moving in the winter.  According to the carbon calculator this van accounts for around a massive 4 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Sell the campervan you say!  Do I really need a campervan?  Could I do without the fun of travelling to beautiful places and eating and sleeping in my own home?  It is clear that owning a campervan has a massive impact on both our budget and the environment.  It negates all the small wins, they are just tinkering around the edges.  Until we get rid of our campervan we’ll always be part of the problem and buying loose courgettes or giving up Warburtons crumpets will not shift the balance in favour of the planet.  And so for the moment I accept I am a failure.