While no one can travel it can be enjoyable to be reminded of past holidays: A postcard de-cluttering lock down project

Postcards (2)
Our postcards

If you have some extra time at home during lock down, you might have used some of this time to spring clean or de-clutter.  Being able to combine some small steps to having less stuff with sharing something with friends is a win-win.  I certainly have plenty of friends I am missing meeting up with during the pandemic and some of them are struggling with their own isolation or have helped me get through my anxiety in some way.  Clearing out and distributing old postcards to some old friends turned out to be a really positive lock down project.

Despite being an enthusiastic de-clutterer, having down-sized to a small flat, sold everything to go travelling and recently moved house, a cardboard box full of postcards, all sent by friends from their holidays over 40-plus years still remained as clutter / treasure in our small home.  There is something about letters and even postcards, perhaps because they are handwritten communication, that makes them special and I had looked at the box every time we moved, thought about discarding its contents and on each occasion gave the collection another chance.

These days we don’t receive many postcards, there are just a couple of friends who hang on to this tradition that I remember as quite a holiday chore back in the day.  I would sit in a cafe or at the campsite with a pile of colourful postcards in front of me, trying to think of something new, interesting and appropriate to say about our current destination to our address list.  These days a WhatsApp message, text or blog post reaches everyone more reliably but through the 1980s until well into the 21st century we received plenty of postcards from the UK and more exotic locations as friends found their wings and travelled.

We would display our friends postcards for a month or so on the mantelpiece and then pack them away in a box that originally held a couple of bottles of Christmas-gift wine.  I rarely looked at them over the years but when I did there was plenty of joy, the years rolled back and I was hearing again memories of friend’s holiday stories they had shared with us.  Many of the postcards reflect the varied characters of our friends; some are informative, giving us a detailed itinerary and telling us about the must-do sights in their chosen destination; others are funny and even surreal, bearing little relationship to their actual trip.  A few poetic friends sent us pithy and yet evocative word portraits of their destination.  Some postcards were written neatly and others arrived on our doormat covered in uneven rows of spidery handwriting that took hours to decipher.

Early in lock down I took the box out of its resting place in the highest cupboard in our low bungalow and began the process of sorting them into piles, one for each of the different senders.  I was somewhat surprised how many postcards some friends had sent us over the years; from just one very good and old friend I counted 52 postcards!  These were sent from across the world, from Australia and Japan to Iceland and North America.

A Zoom conversation with another friend put the idea into my head of sending these postcards back to their original sender.  What better thing to do while none of us can take a holiday or travel than to remind friends of trips they took in the past.  I hoped that by sharing these saved postcards I could rekindle some happy memories as well as make space in our limited storage cupboards.

After reading them one last time, the pile of each friend’s postcards were carefully packaged, along with a new postcard from ourselves explaining why we were returning them.  I didn’t want anyone to receive their parcel and think we had decided to enigmatically end our friendship with a dramatic return of our correspondence!  Or worse, they might assume that we had died and this was a tidying up of affairs.

Up to now, our friends have been thrilled to receive their package of holiday memories.  Many were amazed, thinking they knew us so well, that these postcards had survived our many moves and clear outs.

I have just one small pile of nine postcards left that I need to send to one more friend.  One reminds me of his family trip to Ireland and I notice another isn’t even addressed, so I think he handed it over in person when he returned!  This latter postcard is a photograph of some typical caves in southern Spain, which he thought would be great to live in and save on window cleaning bills!  Another is a night scene of Porto in Portugal and I can hear his voice when I read, ‘I have a full glass of port in front of me now and it’s very nice.’

Have we kept any?  Of course!  In the box were a few postcards that we sent to each other before we were married and a couple of precious ones from our son and daughter-in-law.  These hold a few special personal memories, but are not enough to merit using the box, this has been repurposed …

All in all, through the darkness of lock down, this project has been a small particle of joy.

Postcards 1
Sorting out the postcards

 

Trying to co-operate with the inevitable as my travel plans shatter

16.06.2016 Herbeumont and Cugnon cycle ride (5)
A Belgian sign

 

I am sure most of us had plans for the spring that involved something more exciting than staying at home; everyone’s plans for celebrations, days out, weekends away and long holidays have all turned to dust.  So much upbeat anticipation of exciting places to visit and people to meet has vanished in a storm of viral infection.  As soon as lock down came into force the internet brimmed with advice on how to stay positive during a pandemic and I am working on staying in the present and co-operating with the inevitable, a wonderful saying that a loyal reader gifted me.  My mostly outward calm hides my inner turmoil where I feel trapped and the waves of anxiety that this will never end wash over me, as sure as the sea fills Morecambe Bay twice a day.

‘Set a routine,’ is the mantra of many self-help gurus.  My partner is good at this but I have never been one for regularity.  I like to think of myself as spontaneous and living in the moment, although you might see me as hopelessly restless.  If it is a sunny day I want to make the most of it, on the off-chance that it is my last, and I am the one who is always ready to drop any other plans and go camping or walking.

In an effort to endure this lock down stoically and with fortitude, I have tried to add some structure to my day to see if the gurus are right.  The daily strength exercises and tai chi are helpful, our morning coffee and daily outdoor exercise are all positive and there is some sense of adventure in going to the supermarket to see what they do and don’t have on the shelves.  I find I can fit these things into my day randomly, mixing them up to give me some sense of impulsiveness.  Our daily exercise from home can be hiking to the sea or the countryside, sometimes we take an evening walk along the sands to see the sunset over the bay, other days we take a morning cycle ride along the river Lune or the canal, taking best advantage of the tide or the weather.  We have a variety of supermarkets nearby and we can choose which one to patronise.  And still the days merge and seem almost the same and the happiest days for me are when we ditch the routine and do something different!

Like many in the campervan community we had plans for 2020.  Each trip we make it our campervan requires some planning and days of research for the travel articles I expect to write after each trip.  In January this year I, foolishly it now turns out, had the first six months pretty much mapped out and it was going to be a busy time.  I had at least eight trips and corresponding travel articles planned and I was working hard, doing the preparatory research as the virus began to lurk.

Never having the patience to wait for spring or summer, we go away in our campervan all year and I have never been more glad that we were away camping in January, February and early March on different trips.  From early-March we were planning to be in Scotland for a full month; this was a trip we were both happily anticipating.  As it turned out we were in Scotland for a shorter time before we had to return home.  I am pleased we got there at all but still can’t bear to even glance at, never mind edit, the photographs from that trip; they remind me too much of what I am missing.

Last week I had to ring the ferry company to cancel our ferry to Europe in early May.  A small and fairly simple action that was distressing because it put me face-to-face with the reality that we wouldn’t be travelling around mainland Europe this spring, never mind summer and probably autumn.  My brain had been protecting me by compartmentalising; one half optimistic and ill-advised, thinking this was all a bad dream, while the pessimistic section is over-actively creating apocalyptic scenarios!  This simple administrative call shattered my fragile equilibrium.

The pile of guidebooks, phrase books and maps I had purchased and sorted for our springtime European trip sat on the living room floor taunting me for four weeks.  I would look over at them hearing my pessimistic brain area banging on about how much money I had wasted and that they needed putting away but in the background my optimistic brain put its hands over its ears and sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.’  It wasn’t until lock down was extended that I caved in and packed them all onto the book shelves where they still mock me quietly when I dare to glance across.

There are more bookings to cancel / postpone but small steps and one day at a time is what the internet recommends!

Planning
My pile of guide books, maps & phrase books

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Vanlife book review

A book just about campervans!  You can imagine just how much that appealed to me.  I was lucky enough to be chosen as a winner of The Rolling Home book, ‘The Culture of Vanlife’ in a Twitter competition.  If you’re thinking of buying this for yourself or think that it might make a great present for the campervan lover in your life, here’s my review.

Firstly I wanted a bit of background about The Rolling Home.  In 2016 they published a photographic book and today they are producing regular journals which are a platform for campervan owners from around the world to share their passion for living in a van through a collection of stories, illustrations, interviews and technical advice.  The Rolling Home story involves Calum Creasey, Lauren Smith and a 1996 VW Transporter.  They have been travelling on and off since 2010, creating their dream van on a low budget with an eye for style and finding their own community.  You can read more about them on their website.

The Culture of Vanlife is a delightful book to flick through.  It is packed with beautiful drawings and photographs that make you want to start travelling.  With an eye for an evocative image, you could just gaze at the photographs and cartoons in this hefty book and be happy.

But how do the words stack up?  Once you start reading you find a collection of essays and chapters by different writers that aim to explore the culture of vanlife through the ideas and people that make it.  On the first page they sum up their way of thinking about living in a campervan, seeing them as, ‘Catalysts for happiness.’

There is plenty of variety here.  The first chapter discusses the perils of social media against the urge to be nomadic and appreciate the present.  I was interested in Mattias Wieles’ chapter about vanlife and minimalism.  Mattias and his girlfriend travelled for a year in a yellow van packed with everything they owned.

‘We sold everything, threw out all financial burdens, cut all redundancies out of our lives.  All our possessions fitted in our little van now; ties had been cut, jobs left behind, subscriptions to magazines and the gym cancelled.  We said goodbye and felt free as never before.’

Mattias writes that a shift in how they viewed their trip happened when they left Europe and adapted to having limited opportunities to buy food and fill up with water and they found a simpler life.  He sums up perfectly how living in a campervan eliminates anything unnecessary from your life until there is no hiding from who you really are.  With no fancy job, the latest smart phone or new clothes to shield you, vulnerability can materialise.  Mattias writes honestly about how the road changes you and that in this simpler world there is just the earth and the people you love.

There is, of course, a chapter on the vans, although no mention of the vehicles I have owned, a VW T4 and T5 or a Renault Master … enough said!  Let’s move onto interior design, where readers can see there is no right way to do it and everyone has a different idea of a perfect campervan.  If you are a self-builder you will enjoy the case studies.  There is something for everyone here, a 4×4 Merc, a VW T25, a small Japanese van, some technical info, a van with a wood burning stove and one with a roof-top bed.

Chapter Three is about vanlife people and readers are invited to meet the ‘van dwellers.’  ‘The Adrenaline Junky’ fills her camper with kit for activities.  ‘The Digital Nomad’ is a working recluse who is always online.  ‘The Hipsters’ live in a Mercedes Sprinter and have a herb garden on the dash.  ‘The Eco Warrior’ has a recycled Transit van and ‘The New-Age Hippies’ have a converted horsebox which they share with their rescue dogs.  ‘The Golden Oldies’ have a coach built ‘van and travel around Europe spending the children’s inheritance.  These are just for fun; I don’t recognise myself in any of these vanlife profiles and there is still no mention of a Renault Master!

The real strength of The Culture of Vanlife is in the personal stories it tells.  Matt and Steph talk honestly about full-time vanlife as a young couple who spend six months a year on the road

‘For us, van living created a very intimate and close relationship.  Disagreements are dealt with immediately and we usually end up laughing about it an hour later!  As a result we have become excellent at communicating and knowing how the other feels, sometimes even without speaking.’

The thoughts on solo van travel might touch you; the van owners who make music and busk on their travels might inspire you; or reading about the family in a converted bus might encourage you to reconsider your life’s trajectory.

‘In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall that warriors go to after falling in battle … there is a lesser-known land, Vanhalla.  Some say it is a fictional place, where camper vans and their inhabitants go to when they no longer travel.’

I hope I won’t be ending up in Vanhalla soon but this fantastic idea introduces a list of favourite places to travel, from Europe to South America, India and Canada.  There are stories from New Zealand and rugged British Columbia.  You will find plenty here to inspire your own trip.

This is a book that asks questions and tries to get beyond the hashtag campervan lifestyle on social media.  The book reflects on the tension between the simplicity of vanlife that so many people seek and digital connections that allow remote campervan fans to reach out to others.  The authors find both real communities and those in cyberspace and consider their value.

Yes, this is a book that will look beautiful on your coffee table and any campervan owner could buy it to browse and learn from.  If you are looking for a gift, I would suggest you buy it for that reflective and discerning friend who is yearning for a campervan.  If they sit down and read some of these stories they will either buy a ‘van and set off on their own journey the next day or realise the lifestyle isn’t for them.  Either way they will thank you for the present.

If you want to know more about The Rolling Home you can sign up for their newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an Uncertain World & a Pandemic who needs a Travel Writer!

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)

I am feeling discombobulated and not particularly useful at the moment. No one wants to read a travel writer’s blog in these days full of coronavirus disease [Covid-19]. We are all feeling confused and worried in different ways; some of us are concerned about elderly friends or relatives; some motorhomers are wondering whether to stay in Spain, Portugal or France or come home; we might worry about whether we washed our hands enough and why we can’t stop touching our faces [or is that just me?] and others are wondering where they can buy toilet roll or dried pasta.  In this period of social distancing a full lock-down is only a matter of time and even though my fear of when this will happen doesn’t help, the fear remains.  On top of this global apprehension, the campervan and motorhome community is arguing amongst itself about whether anyone can follow social distancing rules in a ‘van and what essential travel actually means.  The only certainty is that very few people are looking ahead and planning holidays and trips away.

I am not alone in living during a time that just a few weeks ago seemed fairly humdrum, I was blogging about being a frustrated travel agent and also busy writing and planning my own campervan trips for the year.  Those days seem very carefree and distant as uncertainty has mushroomed and I am finding this increasingly difficult to deal with.  I am sure I am not alone in wishing that I knew how long this state of emergency was going to go on for.  Last night we watched an episode of Countryfile from a few weeks ago, it was in many ways a calming escape to a world before all we thought about was a virus but as soon as we switched off the TV I remembered and the dread returned.

I long for the pandemic to be declared over, returning some stability to everyone’s lives but I realise that isn’t going to happen soon.  It may be that we never return to how things were but I hope that eventually people will begin to look to the future with confidence again.

In addition, of course … and this is only a minor worry … I am also aware that if I can’t get away travelling and camping then I will have no income.

Please don’t think I am feeling sorry for myself. Although we are both over 60 years of age, we are both in good health and have every reason to feel confident that Covid-19 will make us poorly but not kill us … but as apparently we are all going to get Covid-19 eventually, if it is my time than I have had 60 good years.  It is not for myself that I am anxious, what I dread is anyone across the world suffering unnecessarily and I fear for my close friends and relatives.

I Know that I am not alone in feeling anxious and fearful about the difficult and stormy future road ahead, so I am no expert but here are …

… My ideas for coping with coronavirus anxiety

  1. Although I have a strong need for information, too much news consumption is more than I can handle. Limiting my access to the news and Facebook does help to keep me on an even keel. I try hard to be aware of what is factual and what is conjecture and keep a reasonable perspective.
  2. In contrast, the social media that is supportive is Twitter. My Twitter friends for the most part keep me positive and are kind – thanks guys!
  3. I have always been an obsessive hand washer after too many years in the NHS and the annual infection control talk, so we are washing our hands thoroughly.  We are maintaining social distance and keeping a check on our own health.
  4. While we will miss our tai chi classes, closed during this social distancing period, we keep practising most days.  Tai chi is fantastic for focusing the mind and relaxation.
  5. I might not be sure when I will once again be able to travel to mainland Europe but at the moment I continue brushing up my German so that I am ready for when those borders open. This half an hour a day of language learning is time when I am not worrying about any end-of-the-world scenario.
  6. Reading is always my favourite relaxation and I have sought out uplifting and funny novels to get me through. This is not the time to read Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 – save this roller-coaster novel for happier times, although it has been haunting me this last two weeks.  Instead I have been re-reading Magnus Mills and getting lost in his comedic and fantastical world and I have a Neil Gaiman on my reading pile.
  7. After living in a small village for 25 years I am accustomed to always keeping well-stocked kitchen cupboards and what might be stockpiling for some is my normal. We could live for a couple of weeks at least on the food in our house and yet I have to admit to a real fear about the shortages and I struggle to keep this in any kind of measured perspective. For example, as a bread maker we are down to our last two bags of flour and haven’t been able to buy more as the whole country appears to have taken to baking bread! While I am pleased everyone has discovered the joy of homemade bread, when I think about running out of flour I want to weep and I have to remind myself that at the moment we continue to eat well on healthy home-cooked food.
  8. We are keeping in touch with friends and family, making sure everyone is coping and keeping the love and care flowing between us.
  9. It might be twee but I count my blessings, knowing I am so lucky to live with my wonderful partner in the amazing town of Morecambe with the sea and the bay only down the road. We get out for some fresh air every day which helps my mental health and my sleeping.
  10. I am not naive, I know that everything will not be okay in the short-term but I try and make myself step back and give myself space to reflect on what the numbers of cases and deaths and the shortages of essential items actually means and why they are making me feel so anxious. With effort I can think it through, sort out the speculation from the facts, calm my brain and remember that this too will pass.

What are your own tips for avoiding overwhelming anxiety?

All in all, this seems like the right time for me to take a short break from travel blogging, although I might try and conjure up some light-hearted content in the near future.

Take care everyone, stay kind and we’ll catch up soon.

Sunshine Blogger Award

sunshine blog

 

I would like to thank Jackie and Mark [and of course their canine companions] from the excellent blog World Wide Walkies for this nomination for a Sunshine Blogger Award.  They gave up work, bought a caravan and four cavapoos, sold most of what they owned and began travelling full-time, mixing up living in their caravan with rentals.  They have a tremendous sense of adventure and their posts are always entertaining and thoughtful.

The Sunshine Blogger award is given by bloggers to bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you for a blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

My answers

1. What is the inspiration behind your blog and who do you want to reach?

The inspiration for my Back on the Road blog is two-fold.  It firstly gives me a chance to document some of our travels in our campervan, the Blue Bus, and secondly gives me time to practice my writing technique and try out ideas, without the constraints and word limits of magazine editors.  I hope to reach other people who are interested in living a purposeful and frugal life and who enjoy reading about beautiful and interesting places.

2. Which is your favourite blog post and why?

This is a tough question!  I like to write posts that are useful so my top tips for different destinations are great posts that I am pleased with as they get a lot of hits.  Everyone likes a drama and so the stats say it is my blog post about our Greek incident – not something I like to remember!  I like to tell stories and one of my favourites is the Tale of the Postman, because the incident marks my early retirement and a new life and it is a story of a helpful postman that you might not expect to encounter in Salford.

3. Tell us an interesting or unusual fact about yourself – do you have a hidden talent or claim to fame?

I write another blog about memorial benches I find on our travels and write a mixture of travelogue and the story of the person that is remembered in the bench.  This blog was featured on Radio Four recently.

4. Name your favourite song, book and movie.

Song – It is so hard to choose but pretty much anything by Black Sabbath would be in the running.

Book – Today it is Death and Penguin by Andre Kurkov [this choice might be something different tomorrow]

Film – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it makes me laugh and cry every time I see it

5. What’s on your bucket list?

There is no bucket list.  I am happy that I am able to explore new and familiar places independently.

6. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t waste your time marrying that first husband, he will treat you badly and try and break you.

7. Living or dead, which three people would you invite to your dinner party and why?

Although I wanted to say three good friends would be my choice, I thought I would play the game.  If I was inviting people I didn’t know round for dinner I would get Geezer Butler, bass player with Black Sabbath, Chris Wolstenholme, the bass player with Muse and Stuart Maconie together.  We could start with music and see where the conversation went.

8. Is your ideal holiday lying on a beach, climbing Mount Everest – or anything else?

My ideal holiday is being pretty much anywhere with my partner Anthony in our campervan.  I like to be somewhere warm but never lie on the beach.  My ideal day is walking in the mountains among wild flowers and bird song, the warm sun on my arms and no one else around.

9. What would you do if you won the Lottery?

I did blog about what I would do if I had loads of money and writing my thoughts certainly helped me work out what I might do.  I would give some to my favourite local charities, some to our son and daughter-in-law and then spend some on travel, in particular going to visit our lovely friends in California and Australia.

10. How do you relax? Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about enjoying myself and relaxing.  I have loved getting lost in books since I was a child and this a favourite relaxation.  My biggest fear is running out of books to read while we are away in our campervan!

11. Dogs or cats?

This was the easiest question to answer!  I have had the pleasure to live with six different cats in my life.

My Nominees

I follow lots of blogs and can’t nominate them all.  I am also aware that after the first flush of excitement has worn off about being given the Sunshine Blogger Award, you might realise it involves writing another post!  I tried to give this task to people who will grasp the opportunity with enthusiasm but if any of you want to skip the post that is, of course, your call.  I do hope you all think about following some of my favourite bloggers.

OurTour Motorhome Blog – Julie and Jason have reached financial independence and are travelling in their motorhome.  As well as blogging they have published several books.  Their posts are both practical and fun and always honest about the ups and downs of living in a van.

The Urban Wanderer – Sarah is a Manchester-based blogger whose outdoor travel and lifestyle blog always has something new and interesting to share.  Her enthusiasm will win you round and encourage you to get outside and have a mini adventure.

Gail and Keith Blog – Gail and Keith share their motorhome travels, delicious recipes [with mouth-watering photographs] and even tips on wine with a flair and energy.  Their blog gives you a feel for life on the road.

Bon Voyage Blog – Jane and Tim are determined not to let life pass them by and are travelling full-time in their motorhome.  Their blog is honest, thoughtful and interesting as they share what they have learned as they travel.

Tea & Cake for the Soul – Jo is a hardworking freelance writer and blogger, a music, cake and tea lover who enjoys reading, writing and upcycling.  Jo’s blog, like mine, is a mixture of travel and lifestyle.  She has tips on surviving the menopause alongside trips along the Basingstoke Canal.

(Get Your) Legs Down – To non-caravanners the title of Richard’s blog might seem unusual.  This beer-drinking caravan owner writes what he calls, ‘random ramblings’ but are useful and informative diary-style blog posts about his trips away in his caravan.  He has also written openly about his grief following the sudden loss of his partner, Trev, after 27 years together.

Eyes in the back of my Head – Joyce likes to surprise her readers with sensitive and well-observed posts about a whole range of topics.  Joyce shares stories from her travels in her motorhome, about life with her dog, reading, nature and astrological psychology and is always a kind and generous blogger.

In Pursuit of a Dream – Deb and Steve are a caravan owning couple, originally from the north, now living in the south and working as wardens for the Caravan and Motorhome Club.  Their posts are often funny and always compelling as they follow their dream to, ‘Work less, live more, see more and meet more.’

Brian Jones’ Diary – I have been enjoying reading the journey of this newish blogger.  Brian is 60 years old and transitioning into retirement.  He writes sincerely about the things that are important to him at this time in his life, his health, family and friends, finances and how to enjoy life in this transition phase.

Gum Trees and Galaxies – This Australian dog-owning couple have adventures in their teardrop camper.  The name sums up their trips out to the bush to escape the light pollution and stargaze.  As well as camping stories they are enthusiastic about books and their blog has reading tips and #BooksnapSunday.

My 11 Questions

  1. What is your favourite thing about blogging?
  2. What would be your top tip for a new blogger?
  3. Assuming you are still with us, do you think you will still be blogging in five years time?
  4. If you could have something named after you (either your real name, nickname, or blog name) what would it be?
  5. If you could have one super power what would it be?
  6. What is your favourite road trip film?
  7. What is your first drink of the day, tea, coffee, smoothie, water or something else?
  8. What song would you like played at your funeral?
  9. If you could go back in time, what event or period would you go back to?
  10. I was a chef in a previous life and love cooking and eating, what is your signature dish / favourite thing to cook / eat?
  11. Where in the world do you feel you most belong?

I look forward to reading your answers.  Thank you all and happy Sunshine blogging!

One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things

21.04.2017 Delphi walk to Livadi plateau (16) edited

We are all heading somewhere aren’t we? Isn’t that destination we are aiming for what the journey is all about? Well not on my campervan trips; for me the journey is the main event. I might have a destination in mind but arriving there isn’t vital if something better turns up on the way and I don’t want the journey to end. For me, a trip is a whole event and is about more than getting somewhere and I concentrate on enjoying every moment, discovering all sorts of thing on the way.

We can never turn back time and change the journey we have made up to now but we can choose the direction we are heading in, the speed we travel at and where we linger on the way. Henry Miller’s quote tells us that by having one place as a destination we could be missing the bigger picture.

In life our target place might be financial independence, a bigger house, a new campervan or a happy-ever-after wedding. They might seem it at the time, but these things are never the end of a journey, they are just lay-bys off the road. Your journey will continue through retirement or marriage or the reality of paying for a bigger house.

Ever since I was young and found the travel section in our local library I have wanted to be a traveller. Even then, as a young teenager, I was drawn to those travel writers who didn’t necessarily have a fixed destination but wandered, and reflected on how the journey had changed them. As a teenager I felt that the small village I lived in was suffocating me and knew it wouldn’t be big enough to contain me. I wanted something that was beyond what I knew and I was sure that there were places where I would find new ways of seeing and being.

My early travelling

I was so excited about my first trip abroad to Austria on a school skiing trip. Safely dipping my toe in a foreign country by travelling with friends and trusted teachers taught me a number of things that have been important in future journeys. I learnt patience as we waited out rail strikes at stations and missed train connections across Europe. I discovered real coffee and delicious Austrian white wine and I gained confidence after managing to use my school-learnt German to buy a roll of film for my camera and coffee and cake in a cafe. I also learnt that being homesick, even over 24-hours away from home at the age of 13-years, was never going to be part of my vocabulary.

Confidence vs anxiety

There is nothing like having a problem in a foreign country and having to communicate with people whose language you hardly speak beyond the usual please and thank you to give you anxiety. Up to now every time we have had to deal with a problem in another country it has related to our campervan. Less urgent things have included buying new tyres and the most extreme incident was the accident in Greece. In every case I have lost sleep worrying about how it will work out and each time we have survived these incidents. I come away both stronger, I know we can deal with anything together, and conversely more fearful, as the list of things that I know can go wrong just grows and grows!

Learning tolerance

Even on the best campsite you are in close proximity to your fellow human beings and you quickly learn to live with your neighbours foibles or risk being frustrated and unhappy. We have had next-door campers who have been noisy [and then I will exercise my assertive skills when I ask them nicely to be quiet] and others who have invaded our small pitch with their stuff. I have met barking dogs and people who are shockingly judgemental. I am generally happiest on empty campsites with no one around but I have learnt to love [or at least tolerate] the breadth of human life and want us all to rub along as best we can.

A New Way of Seeing Things

Travelling to new places exercises our wonderment muscle. Away from home the flowers and trees are different, the weather is new, the houses are unfamiliar, the things in the shops are excitingly different. And so everything takes longer. I will linger over the shopping [something I rarely do at home] and stop to study and photograph flowers and insects. I am curious about the local history and stand in awe at new sights. Coming home, after all that exercise, my wonderment muscle will keep on working and I see all those familiar things as if for the first time.

I am happy that for the moment my journeys continue and my perspective on life keeps shifting.

‘One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things,’ is a quote from Henry Miller.

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.

 

 

Travel and Change of Place Impart new Vigour to the Mind

France 2018 Lavender

‘Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind,’ is an often cited and apparently thoughtful quote from  Seneca, a wealthy and powerful Roman Stoic philosopher and writer.  Many travellers use this quote as, although it was written 2,000 years ago, these words still holds some truth today.  Many of us feel that taking a break from the everyday comfortable routine can be refreshing, give me a chance to see things with new eyes and look beyond the familiar daily grind, encountering vivid ideas that can lead me to innovation and change.  Seeing new sights can be mind expanding and renews our get-up-and-go and connects us to Seneca the philosopher.

Wanting to understand what Seneca was saying, I searched for the specific reference or context of this quote but hit a brick wall, only finding others who state this is wrongly attributed to Seneca but no information about who the quote is from.  Also the more I read about Stoicism the less sense these words meant in relation to its teachings.

Stoicism teaches the four cardinal virtues for a good life, wisdom, temperance, justice and courage.  As a Stoic, Seneca argued that passionate anger or grief should be moderated and he would approve of the classic stiff upper lip.  Stoicism teaches that happiness is found in acceptance and by not allowing our desire for pleasure and our fear of pain to control actions.  Seneca thought it was important for everyone to consider their own mortality and face up to dying, not to encourage a pessimistic attitude but to reinforce how lucky we are to be alive and live for today.  Studying Stoicism can lead to reflection and philanthropy and can help us understand our place in the world and encourage us to treat others fairly and justly.  As a Stoic Seneca recognised his own short-comings compared to his own role models and was always willing to learn.

Stoicism in many ways fits well with today’s minimalist movement.  A Stoic admires frugality and sees no shame in being seen wearing old clothes, driving a battered car or living in a run down house … image is nothing and boasting about a luxury holiday or posting glamorous photographs on social media would be a far cry from Stoicism.

There seems some tension between this often quoted phrase of Seneca’s and the principles of Stoicism.  Some argue that Seneca would support the sentiment of the quote while considering that it is the intent of the travel and the disposition of the traveller that are important.  He wrote, ‘Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive here.’

Travel to find peace of mind is not promoted by Stoicism as this inner harmony needs to be achieved from within and moving to a new place won’t make you happy, ‘You must change the mind, not the venue,’  Seneca wrote.  Stoicism argues that travel in itself cannot lead to self-improvement.  Yet, travel that combines frugality with learning could fit into the Stoic’s way of life.

Taking a break from work can give your mind a chance to wander into new areas and that is when some bright spark of an idea can pop in but I find that even getting out for a walk can give the same result, never mind a full-blown holiday.  As Tim Harford argues in this FT article, you don’t need a long holiday to give your brain chance to relax and re-boot.  A weekend away works just as well and the benefits of a longer break wear off just as quickly as a short one.  Such news is all a bit distressing for someone who loves long holidays and I personally find that the benefits of a long holiday lie deeper and of course, all this is different when you are not returning to work.  It is true that when we were working folk we would get away on a Friday night for a weekend and face Monday morning much refreshed.

Whether or not this quote is actually something Seneca wrote, Stoicism suggests that happiness can be found through our acceptance of how things are and imparting new vigour to the mind certainly doesn’t have to be found by investing in an expensive holiday or retreat.  If a few days camping is out of the question we can all get a similar feeling of new vigour from seeing your own locality with fresh eyes.  You might take a different route to work or explore a local park you’ve never visited before or even read a different genre of novel or watch a new TV programme.  Constant learning and removing yourself from your comfort zone can impart new vigour to your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommendations for Campervan & Motorhome Travel Books

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A selection of campervan and motorhome books

For those days when I am at home rather than travelling in our Blue Bus, I travel in my head by reading about other people’s journeys.  Not surprisingly, I particularly have a weakness for buying travel books where the author stays in a campervan or motorhome and I can live the lifestyle vicariously through the pages of someone else’s trip and maybe learn a thing or two.  If you are interesting in reading some of these travel books then read on for recommendations.

Over the years, I have noticed that these campervan and motorhome travel books can be divided into two sub-categories.  There are those where the campervan or motorhome is the main event; these are all about the pleasure and fun of the ‘van lifestyle.   The second category is books that are about a journey where the motorhome is incidental and just a practical and affordable way to travel.

My own journey with these books started when I read Hazel Jackson’s, Europe in a Motorhome; A mid-life Gap Year Around Southern Europe as part of my planning and preparation for our own mid-life gap year.  I found this an excellent and well-written book that was useful before we headed off on our own trip around Europe.  Helen Jackson and her partner, bored with the nine-to-five, took their teenage son on a journey in an RV called The Beast, selling their home and possessions.

Leaving winter behind Helen Jackson slept in a different place almost every night and packed in all sorts of activities.  She has her share of anecdotes about robberies and small disasters, as well as friendships and beautiful places, all told with humour and sensitivity.  She gives a good sense of what such a trip would be like and although Hazel Jackson’s trip was very different from our own in a small VW campervan, it was both a useful reference and an inspiration for our own journey.  This book might inspire you to take a gap year but even if it doesn’t it is a good read from beginning to end.

Falling into the second category of journeys that just happen to be in a motorhome are some of my favourites.  Some are out of print but you should be able to find them second-hand.

Helena Drysdale’s Mother Tongues, Travels through tribal Europe, focuses on the author’s search for the minority languages in Europe.  She travelled around in a motorhome, with her partner and children and she tells lighthearted tales about the scrapes and difficulties they experienced.  To save money Helen Drysdale and her family mostly wild-camped and they had a number of interesting experiences in sometimes beautiful and sometimes dodgy areas.  She certainly has a way of engaging with strangers to explore the story and she writes well.  The book is also a fantastic opportunity for the reader to reflect on how the language we use everyday shapes our attitudes.

Heidi’s Alp, One Family’s search for storybook Europe by Christina Hardyment is one of my will-read-again favourite motorhome related books.  Christina Hardyment is a prolific writer and in this book she travels around Europe in a campervan called Bertha with her four children for eight weeks or so.  They visit sites relating to childhood stories, exploring Andersons Fairy tales, Heidi’s Alp and Pinocchio’s Italy and bringing these places to life for the children.  This is a joyful & honest personal tale with interesting information about these stories.  ‘Our journey was not dependent on the places we found, but on how we chose to see them,’ Christina Hardyment tells the reader.  This is a charming book, the highlight of which is a night in an Alpine hayloft, reliving Heidi’s story.  A great read for those of us who have never grown up, Christina Hardyment will bring back happy memories of old favourites and reveal stories you never knew.

Susie Kelly is a writer who lives in France and Travels with Tinkerbelle: 6,000 Miles around France in a Mechanical Wreck was motivated by her realisation that she had visited very little of her adopted country.  With her partner and dog, she bought an elderly campervan and travelled in a circuit around France exploring the history and culture along the way.  If you are looking for a guide to owning a motorhome, this isn’t the book for you, but if you are looking for ideas of places to visit in France, this is a great start.

Martin Moran, climber and mountain guide who died recently in the Nanga Devi region, had a plan to climb all the Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet in Scotland) during the winter months back in 1985.  Along with his winter clothing and ice-axe, his wife and a motorhome were key to making this possible.  His book The Munros in Winter is more about the difficulties of winter mountaineering than about motorhoming but the sense of comfort he found each time he returns to the motorhome shines through.

The Coast Road: A 3,000 Mile Journey Round the Edge of England by Paul Gogarty won awards when it was published in 2005.  As relevant today as then, this is a journey around the English coast and an account of how those coastal communities are faring.  This travel book has that liberating feeling of a road trip with a purpose and he approaches most places he visits with sensitivity and enthusiasm, although I take issue with his initial description of Morecambe as, ‘After sedate Southport and bubbling Blackpool, Morecambe looks as if it has suffered a recent terrorist attack.’  Paul Gogarty is an excellent travel writer and I forgave him this slip and learnt many things from this well-researched book.  From my notes I also see that my other small criticism is that he spends more time in the south than along our northern coasts.

There are any number of motorhome travel books out there that want to tell you how funny / hopeless / quirky they are.  These books are often self-published and with some of the writers you will wonder how they even made it across the Channel.  Here are examples I have read:

Many people like to name their motorhomes and in How Katie pulled Boris – with an American Motorhome (RV) in Europe by Keith Mashiter not only is the RV named but also the car they towed as well.  Written in a format that is more personal diary than travel literature, this couple take a large RV-type motorhome to France and Spain during autumn and winter and the book might be of interest to others contemplating a trip in a similar size vehicle.   Keith gives details of road numbers, prices paid, campsites used, places they ate, attractions they visited.  He gives a very clear idea of what it is like travelling in such a huge motorhome and the practical difficulties they faced because of the size of the vehicle they took.  He occasionally includes small vignettes of the people they met and encounters they had with other motorhomers and campsite owners.  This is not a book that gets under the skin of France and Spain, they are very clearly passing through and this is not introspective travel writing.  It is clear and concise and based on their experience

Two Clots in a Camper by Steve Coppard – This book has at its heart an appealing idea; two novice campervan owners on their first long trip in France, Spain and Portugal, written in a chatty style.  However, there is too much concentration on the beer, wine and food they partake in during their trip to be of any real interest as travel literature.  If this is your cup of tea then give it a go.

One Steppe Beyond: Across Russia in a VW Camper by Thom Wheeler.  Thom Wheeler and Jo set off in a VW bay window called Max to Estonia. There they hear about the possibility of work in Vladivostok and enterprisingly set off across Russia.  Thom’s account is honest and interesting.  This means that the reader is told when his relationship with Jo is tested and when they are naive in their dealings with Russians. This innocence and sense of adventure gets them through and they enjoy the kindness of strangers many times. The book doesn’t give lots of practical details about shopping, banking or driving in Russia although he does tell his reader when the roads run out and they have to take the train and when they can’t access any currency.  We hear about the problems getting a visa and crossing the border and the constant checking of papers. The narrative is interspersed with facts about a place. I couldn’t help but admire their spirit, travelling across Russia in 1997 and the beauty of the landscape in many places came through the words. The book also manages to give some sense of the vastness of Russia and the spirit of the people.

Never Ask Why by Barbara Phipps  This travel book isn’t quite what I expected.  I assumed it would be a tale of a woman in her 50s, grieving after the death of her husband, setting off on a journey in a motorhome to heal and discover herself; the book does cover this subject area but in a surprising way.  The first section is about Helen; it is two years since her husband suddenly died and she decides to take control and buys a motorhome.  Helen has an open and relaxed attitude and the reader feels confident that she will enjoy travels in her van.  She has an urge to get away but worries about her two sons; they both still live at home, have good jobs and are in their 20s.  Strangely, for someone who seems to have a good rapport with young people from the encounters we read about, Helen struggles to communicate with those dearest to her and she doesn’t tell her son’s about her travel plans or her wish that they would move out of the family home.  The novel gives a light touch to relationships and events and I found I wanted more depth to her characters to understand their actions.  In the second part of the novel we are transported to a different world of drug taking and murders and for some time this appears to have no connection with the first part of the novel, until the two worlds collide.  Homorously and sometimes a little clumsily, Helen tells her reader how she learnt lessons from the people she meets on her travels and this was an interesting and diverting read.

Allie Sommerville’s Uneasy Rider, Confessions of a Reluctant Traveller – This claims to be an ‘antidote-to-travel book!  Allie Somerville has written a book with a collection of stories about travelling in their camper van. This is not a then-we-went-here chronological travel book, Allie has grouped incidents together under chapter headings, for example small problems with the van and money concerns.  Some chapters refer to just one incident and I simultaneously cringed and smiled at the Parador chapter when they struggled through narrow Spanish streets; rather them than me.  Allie Somerville looks for the humour in situations and tries to convey this in her writing, which is a difficult task. However, she does manage to transmit to her reader the delight to be found from touring in her campervan, the pleasure of meeting various fellow campers and the entertaining encounters you can have at a campsite.

Do any readers have their own favourite campervan or motorhome travel books?

Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers

05.28.2018 lago di corlo walk small

‘Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.’  From Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides

Spend a lazy half-an-hour searching for travel quotes on the internet and you will find oodles and oodles of them.  I do this occasionally when I am struggling with my writing and looking for inspiration for my own words; on one such occasion I discovered the quotation above.  I made a note of it because the quote resonated and seemed to have some truth in it.  Since then I have come back to it regularly and mulled it over.

It is a certainly a comforting thought that when I can no longer physically travel, I will continue to take journeys in my head.  I like the thought of being able to play voyages out over and over again as often as I like.  Those of us who have older friends who no longer travel as much as they once did will have witnessed the joy of this.  Talking about my own travels can spark memories in these friends and give them a chance to reminisce and recall journeys they made and tell me their own travel stories from the past.

Perhaps my travel memories will be particularly strong.  Being observant is part and parcel of being a travel writer, I make notes, take photographs and try and fix a place in my memory.  Once I return home I spend my time editing photographs and writing travel articles and blog posts about my experiences and what I have seen.  This process keeps the journeys constantly playing out in the forefront of my mind and they stay with me longer than if I had returned to another job.

The memories don’t disappear and therefore the trip doesn’t really end when the copy is sent to my editor or posted on the blog.  I find I can be thinking about something else / anything else and a thought comes in sideways.  I might be planning our next trip or doing something as mundane as wondering what to cook for our evening meal, a connection is made and recollections of a place will suddenly pop into ‘the quietest chambers’ of my mind.

Perhaps travel changes how my mind works and in more complex ways than I can ever explain.  My travel-related research takes in the attractions, the history, the people and culture of a region and this breadth might help my mind establish new associations, tying together the new and old experiences and journeys.  Perhaps these exciting labyrinthine links are one of the reasons that travel is so addictive.

A number of bloggers discuss travel addiction or dromomania.  Like any addiction it seems that the constant new sights and sounds that travel provides can deliver a contented high to the brain.  The brain likes this pleasurable sensory overload and will ask for more of this travel-gratification.  While loving travel can be a demonstration of a passionate and adventurous nature, needing travel to thrive could be considered obsessive and damaging.  And if this travel high only delivers if you visit new places you are on a road to compulsive journeys that take you way off the tourist trail.

I’m not concerned about dromomania.  I am happy returning again and again to the same destination, there is always something new to find even in a well-visited area.  Even in a familiar area, when we are travelling our days are packed with new experiences and this can be intoxicating.  Yet, what I love the most on a trip is the stripped-down nature of our travelling life, everything feels happily straightforward, we are mostly in control of what is happening [although not always] and have the freedom to take each day as it comes.  Whether we are an hour away from home or in a foreign country, I am always eager to relax, explore and get under the skin of a region.

We had a year travelling a few years ago and we had a ball but we both knew that we didn’t want to go for so long again.  This was for various reasons but the main one was wanting to keep other relationships alive. Travelling for two or three months at a time is our compromise that works fairly well for us both; I get my fix of travelling that sustains me through a few months at home.  Then I enjoy being where I am with my travel memories playing out over and over again in the quiet recesses of my mind until it is time to get our Blue Bus back on the road again!

 

Pat Conroy wrote many novels including The Price of Tides and The Great Santini.