WordPress assures me that it’s best practice to start with an introductory post when starting a blog. I am nothing if not compliant, so consider us introduced.
We are Frank, Gemma, Izzy and Sam. This blog is serving (along with our instagram account) as an online diary of our year away travelling. When we were planning our trip we found it really helpful to read and follow the accounts of other families doing a similar thing, so we’re now adding ours to the mix.
First, a little background…
In a nutshell, we are a family of four who made the controversial decision to sell everything and set off traveling for a year around Europe during a pandemic. Our nearest and dearest are now very used to our sudden and dubious life-choices, though I’m pretty certain there was a collective Mexican-wave style eye-roll when we made the announcement.
Most adult relationships seem able to strike a balance between spontinaity and rationality, but Frank and I enthusiastically encourage each other and get swept up in each other’s ideas (often at the expense of practicality). Our lives are very much the victory of blind optimism over common sense. This is how we’ve managed, in a fairly short space of time, to get through a range of occupations (Royal Marine, Pirate Hunter, Marketer, Midwife, RAF Officer, Online start-up), acquire a menagerie of interesting beasts (including dogs, ducks, tortoises, frogs, mice, etc) and the full exasperation of our long-suffering parents and siblings.
As a background to our story, Frank suffers from PTSD following an ill-advised expedition to Hellmand Province with the Royal Marines – courtesy of Mr Blair – in 2009. We had no idea about his condition until a family suicide in 2018 triggered vivid and debilitating flashbacks that would not be ignored. A complete mental health crisis and two years of intense CBT and EMDR therapy later, we were wrung out and fed up.
Frank had to leave the military, which meant we were obliged to leave our house (provided by the MOD). At the same time, Izzy was nearing the end of primary school and Sam still liked to let us know every day that school was pointless and he’d rather be at home. Without being too philosophical about it, the world handed us an opportunity to completely reset – and of course, being the head curators of the Ropey Ideas Museum, we decided to go for it.
Lockdown, coronavirus and that lack of common sense we were talking about…
When Boris shouted ‘lockdown’ back in March, we already had a rough schedule, travel plans and even some accomodation booked up until mid-2021. We were certain that if we delayed this trip, even for a couple of months, we were unlikely to ever go. We would need a new house, a new school, etc and these ties would be expensive to create and difficult to sever. There was very little we could do but sit back and wait to see if the borders reopened.
I’ll be honest, we had a pretty great lockdown. We were accutely aware that we had a lot to be grateful for. We lived in a beautiful part of the country (Buckinghamshire), with a big back garden, countryside to get our hour of exercise in, and plenty of people to talk to (including two of the younger Wyatt siblings who lived with us and made the experience so much more fun than it would have been otherwise). Instead of putting us off, Covid-19 spurred us on with the promise of more time, more experience, more life.
Excellent idea. How are you going to afford it?
Firstly, living is expensive. Renting even a shed in South Bucks would cost you around £1,400 a month and that’s without gas, electric, council tax, water, wifi, and all the other things a good shed needs. So giving up our address and effectively making ourselves homeless automatically freed up almost £2000 a month. If you’re happy to live like locals and treat it as a living experience instead of a holiday, it’s very possible to get by comfortably.
It’s true that we were about to lose our biggest source of income, but with a decent severence package and the house we own happily rented out, we could just about afford to put these ludicrous wheels into motion.
With that kind of optimism, what could possibly go wrong?
Ha. [Definition: (also hah) the sound people make when they are surprised or pleased, or when they have discovered something. Eg. “Ha! It serves you right!”] How apt.
With everything sold and what little we were keeping hold of stored away in my sister’s garage (special thanks to Kelly and Danny here), we moved out of our house and made sure our various pets were safely delivered to their holiday homes (more thanks to Marie, Dave, Amy and Neal). With final farewells, we set off for Dover – so excited that we didn’t even mind that the sat-nav took us through central London for no reason whatsoever. So excited, in fact, that it took us a really long time to notice that the car was shuddering like it had just exited the North Sea and forgotten its towel. So excited, that the clutchy smell coming from the engine, was of no concern to us at all. Until we realised what it was, of course.
Now, for normal grown-ups, this would have been a disappointing delay to the trip of a lifetime. Any adult with any sense whatsoever, would have taken the hit and watched the ferry sail away as they muttered expletives from the reception area of a local mechanic’s workshop. Surely no one is stupid enough to attempt a 2000 mile journey, weighed down with kayaks, paddle-boards, luggage and pink flamingos, in a broken car?
Can you see where I’m going with this?
Watching Dover’s iconic white cliffs get smaller from our vantage point on deck, we promised ourselves that we would get the car checked in Calais. We asserted that as long as we were actually on the continent, our trip had officially begun and we would be less disappointed than we would have been eating Tesco meal-deals for dinner in a Travel Lodge box room and dealing with two hyperactive kids. But when we disembarked at Calais, the car was quote: ‘feeling ok’ (disclaimer: it wasn’t AT ALL), so we decided – of course – to chance it and carry on.
Over the course of three days, we drove through France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and a good portion of Croatia. Every time the engine started, we celebrated. Every time we got into sixth gear and could simply cruise along, we breathed a sigh of relief. I really feel like Bon Jovi must have had a similar roadtrip as he wrote ‘Livin on a Prayer’.
So now we’ve been out here for three weeks, the car is at least fixed now, right?
Ha. No. It turns out that Dalmations (the people, not the dogs) are less concerned with the constricts of time and urgency than even we are. But, that is a story for another day – one where I document for you exactly how difficult it is to get a car fixed in Croatia (it’s a great story, I promise).
But everything else is going ok so far, yes?
Well, since arriving on Vir, that poor old car has been walloped at a junction by a speeding road demon. The heating system in our rented house has gone up in smoke, effectively deleting our financial safety-net from underneath us, and we’ve had some bad news about the health of a beloved family member back home. So you could say that everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong so far.
Still, for as long as we’re able to stay out here, we remain very grateful for the opportunity to chase our adventures around – even if they refuse to work out the way we had planned.