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Our Stories – We “Van-Lifed” Back In 2006

I have always loved stories. I grew up hearing tales from my family and from books, and developed a very fertile imagination. As I grow older, I believe increasingly that we all have our own unique tales to share, and that at times we need them to be heard.

Our stories make for a rich life and with the retelling, they can take on a life of their own. Stories have power; they can support us or keep us stuck. They are important, both to tell and to hear.

So here is a part of my story, the start of the two years we spent travelling through Europe and around Africa. 

Looking back, we were a precursor to the van-life trend. Instead of van decor, our stories were of very simple life in a 4 x 4. 

The year is 2006. It’s the beginning of cold wet autumn, I have a terrible cold and we have given away or packed up everything we own.

We have bought an old untested Landcruiser off a website – which was quite a wild thing to do back then – and are setting off on a largely unplanned road trip – maybe from London to Morocco.

I wish I could tell you that I was feeling fresh and excited and happy to be off on an adventure, but I was sad to say goodbyes, stressed about leaving the security of an income and my possessions and worried about the likelihood of my relationship with my travel partner lasting!

But then when one sets off on an adventure, one is called to nudge fear aside and step ahead. Our stories that take place outside of our comfort zones are usually the more enticing.

Our Stories - setting off for an adventure in the UK autumn

Yikes, it’s Ypres

With some trepidation, we left the UK and boarded the ferry to the continent. The rain and cold continued. As we drove onto French soil we looked at each other for a moment and announced, “and now we head south – for Africa.”

As it began to grow dark, we noticed that the road signs were no longer in French. Instead of heading south we had driven north and had arrived in Belgium! So this was where we spent the first night of our new adventure. Suprised, slightly concerned about our sense of direction, off-course and open to possibility.

So it was that unplanned we visited the quiet woodlands of Ypres where WW1 trenches can still be seen set amidst the gently swaying trees. What a place it is. Sometimes the unplanned experiences we have are the truly rich ones.

The next day we headed south and entered an off-season France.

Off-Season Europe

Circling around Europe waiting for some car papers to arrive, we explored villages and off-season places to stay. I had never spent time in Europe without hordes of tourists and it was another world. My overall impression was that of a Europe being a collection of villages spilling over boarders.

I was entirely unprepared for the Europe of low season; hotels, tourist activities, bars, restaurants, and most campsites were closed. On more than one occasion we were the sole occupants of hotels.

We drifted south through France, then the Spanish coast, alternatively stressing about our car papers and enjoying the relaxation afforded by time simply travelling. From Spain, we continued south to Portugal, and out the bottom of Portugal to Spain again, and then on to Gibraltar while the weather warmed and our pace relaxed.

Travelling by car slowly and steadily through the Continent afforded us an entirely different understanding of Europe. At that pace, climate changes are apparent as are the changes in architecture, history, food and in attitude.

Travelling with a surfer, now my husband and still a surfer, we spent most of our time on the Atlantic coast. This is the Europe of villages and fishermen, strong local identity and small-scale life. We loved it.

Lessons Learned from These Stories

This European chapter of our adventure was part bliss and part frustration as we were held up by 5 weeks waiting for the arrival of our car papers without which we could not cross into Africa.

We learnt to let go of that over which we had no control. Years later this would be supported by our discovery of Stoicism.

I learned that relationships demand flexibility. While my travel partner wanted to surf, I wanted to see art, architecture, taste the local food, and people-watch.

Some of the most memorable places to see are off the beaten track out of tourist season.

Long before van-life became a thing, we spent 2 years in a short-wheel base Landcruiser, no curtains, no luxury, just practical and hard-wearing tools we needed.

We had a taste of the simple life – we had no running water or electricity. We had about 5 outfits each and rudimentary cooking implements. Spare fuel cans, water containers and a gas cooker were our tools. We had nothing superfluous or unnecessary and we got bye very well.

I will tell some more stories with lessons learned in future posts.

In the meantime check out Instagram for quotes about stories, self focus, and simplicity.

Thanks for reading.