Coming home after a year away

It’s been a while since we posted a blog. We set up this blog over a year ago to post about about our travels and lifestyle living full time on the road in a camper van but I hit a bit of a blogging block earlier in the year and just haven’t come back to it until now. We have some exciting ideas for the next year and we can’t wait to share them. We are back home in Ireland preparing for our next trip to Europe. Having spent a year away already, I don’t think anyone ever believed it would be possible for us to continue this adventure! We believed it though and we are doing it.

In a nutshell, our year away began last August when we took the ferry from Ireland to Brittany in France where we spent many weeks on the beautiful beaches there chilling and unwinding after a hectic six months of working our asses off preparing for the trip. When the weather began to get cooler we headed slowly down the west coast of France nipping in and out of various towns and cities along the way including Bordeaux and Cognac, then we headed on down towards the French Basque region, north of the Alps and on into Basque country which was some of the most incredible coastline we have ever seen. From there we drove across the north coast of Spain, the Jurassic and prehistoric coast all the way across to the north western tip of Spain called Galicia. There we were hit by a pretty scary storm and in one day drove all the way into Portugal. The weather was getting a bit wintery by now and we made a beeline down the west coast of Portugal into the Algarve where we were back in the sunshine and spent a lovely few months exploring all the Algarve has to offer. Just before Christmas we crossed over into Spain and explored the south coast where we picked up my sister and nephew. We explored the town of la Herradura which has been on our bucket list since we decided to home school as it has one of the biggest and most welcoming world schooling hubs in Europe where home schoolers from all over the world go to meet up and take part in lots of activities and courses there. From here we drove back towards Tarifa on the straits of Gibralter, the most southern tip of Spain where we looked across to Morocco and Algeria. We were only 15km away from Morocco at that point and it was very tempting to get the ferry across but decided to leave it until another time. Next up was the amazing Suryalila Yoga Retreat center in southern Spain where I studied and qualified as a Frog Lotus Yoga Teacher and where we stayed for four months while Liam was volunteering on some eco builds and I was put on the yoga schedule to teach some of the daily morning and evening classes with world class yoga teachers in one of the best yoga retreats in Europe and Liam taught breathing workshops and ice bath immersions. From Spain we headed back to Portugal in search of a new “base”. Portugal is so incredibly beautiful, friendly and cheap and central Portugal has so much to offer. We even searched for sites to buy where we could live and maybe start our own retreat center. From Portugal we drove back up through central Spain and into France again, drove through central France, explored the Dordogne region and drove north into Belgium and onward to Holland where Liam took part in Wim Hof workshops and where we caught up with some friends from home. After Holland it was time to drive back through Belgium into Normandy where we got the ferry back to Ireland.

What’s it like to go home after a year of travelling? Liam and I have both travelled for a few years when we were younger and I always remember coming home to Ireland and seeing Hook Lighthouse for the first time which gave me butterflies. This time it was fascinating watching the children’s reactions as we sailed in passed the Saltee Islands on the ferry from France to Rosslare. It was a beautiful warm sunny day with blue skies so we spent the majority of our daytime hours of the 20 hour crossing on the upper outdoor deck. The kids were so excited, they definitely had butterflies in their tummies, just couldn’t wait to see their grandparents and cousins. We sailed into Wexford spotting all the landmarks along the way; Tuskar rock lighthouse, the islands and all the mountains.

Being on the road travelling has changed us. Change is good. We’ve grown so much, faced the unknown, faced our fears and got rid of old habits and we’re living a much cleaner lifestyle. We’re more open to new opportunities, new projects and we have learned so much in the last year that our lifestyles have changed. It’s very difficult for a lot of people to understand what we’ve done and what we’ve learned over the past year. We’ve taken a big leap, sold lots of our belongings including our car, rented out our house, to live full time in a camper-van with our two kids and our dog. We absolutely love our lives and since moving into our camper van fifteen months ago we have only spent two nights sleeping out of it and that was on our ferry crossings to and from France. Living in a small space that is a camper van we do kill each other sometimes (especially on laundry day!) and we know when to give each other space but for the most part we are out and about every day exploring and meeting new people all the time.

We have no real plan and we take each day as it comes, we choose on a daily basis or week to week which road we will venture down next, choosing park ups on the drive. We are extremely frugal and will not spend money on shit we don’t need and we refuse to buy shit for other people too and instead we make all our gifts. We live in a small space, space is precious, we’re always bumping into each other, having to tidy away our belongings into the smallest spaces. There’s always somebody needing to use the loo right when we’re in the middle of cooking so we have to move out of the way to make room for them to get into the loo. We have to always be on the lookout for where we can top up our water tank, do laundry or empty our toilet. We have to be aware of our surroundings all of the time, for example on this trip we learned the hard way that you should never park near ferry ports and we avoid cities for the most part. We don’t really keep track of time or even what day it is. We don’t really buy into or make a big deal out of occasions, in fact we almost forgot about Christmas Day last year. I love that it’s not really commercialised like it is in Ireland, last year we spent Christmas parked beside a Roman city on a beach in the south west of Spain having not seen a single Christmas advert or decoration all winter.

To come home to Ireland was a little bit surreal, it’s always is weird coming back seeing everyone and everything. Not much changes at home and in a sense that’s a good thing, perhaps it’s that when you travel you grow and change so much you see things differently. Just as twelve months earlier we had to get used to driving on the wrong (right) side of the road when we landed in France, coming off the ferry to Ireland was even more weird as we had spent a whole year driving in Europe on the right side of the road. We really had to have our shit together to drive our left hand drive van on the left side of the road. Blame Napoleon for that one! The British and Irish habit of left-side driving dates back to the days of jousting. As most people are right-handed if you wanted to whack someone on an oncoming horse with your sword, it was easier to do so if you stayed to the left and kept your challenger on your right. Napoleon was more concerned with protecting his own arse than with doing what made sense to the majority so as emperor of France, he ordered the French to switch sides and then the rest of the European countries which he conquered.

Honestly you do get used to it quickly but it’s the roundabouts that get you. That first roundabout in Ireland was a total head melt and we drove the windy bumpy roads which slant off towards the ditch for some reason all the way to my parents house. By this time we had driven the van literally as far as we possibly could. We clocked up nearly 25,000km and at a garage in France towards the end of our year away they told us our front shocks were gone and our tyres had at most 1,000km left on them.

The moment we landed back in Ireland we spent money…lots of money. It had to be done, we had to arrange our finances, fix up the camper-van which needed quite a bit of work including all new tyres, shocks, brakes, battery, solar panel and the floor had gotten very soft in places with the kids jumping all over it so a new floor had to go in too. This month it passed the annual DOE, the reason we have to come home every year and there’s no way around it. The weather has been fairly Irish, we’ve seen more rain in our few weeks at home than we have on our entire travels. Yes there was some amazing blue sky days the week we arrived but it has been grey and wet a lot. Everything is so far away in Ireland if you live rurally and as we sold our car last year to help fund our trip we are left driving our big camper van around these shitty rural roads. Only in Ireland have we broken glasses in the press just from driving on bumpy roads. I may sound like I’m on a full rant so don’t get me wrong, we do love Ireland and the Hook Peninsula where we are from and we’re lucky to have it as a base.

We had our home school assessment this month. In Ireland, our right to home school our children is protected by the Irish Constitution as with many countries in Europe. There is however an assessment, where an assessor comes to your home or any place of your choosing to have a chat with the primary educator; there can only be one, that’s me. When your child turns six, or if you take your child out of school before the age of sixteen, you must send an “application to home school” form to TUSLA (Ireland’s child and family agency). The waiting list to be assessed is really long, I sent an application in for Ellen last March 2018 and was waiting 17 months for the assessment. Alex turned six this month and I rang TUSLA to see if we could do the assessment for both children before we leave the country again and they agreed which was great. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous for the assessment. Essentially the assessor is observing, judging and assessing my role as primary educator and deciding whether I am doing a good job of it or not. All my nervousness disappeared once the assessor introduced himself at our door. He was lovely and had so much support and admiration for what we are doing and had no hesitation in highly recommending us to go on the Irish homeschooling register. As a homeschooling mother, I definitely get those mini panic attacks and moments of anxiety that keep you awake at night wondering if we doing the right thing or not but having met the TUSLA officer last week, he completely put my mind at ease that yes we are definitely doing the right thing. So that was it, we are officially on the home school register. Home schooling in Ireland is a bit of a hot topic and we get questioned about it a lot. We are “unschoolers” in that our learning is entirely different from school and we follow a child led learning approach where the kids are free to pursue their own interests. There is no set hours for learning and we don’t follow any curriculum or homeschooling method and the kids have never been happier. They are learning all the time especially when we are travelling and what better learning experience can you provide your children with than to travel.

Many people tell us that they would love to do what we are doing. I know lots of people are not in a position where they can do something like this but there are lots who are. We are not well off by any means, we saved like crazy to do this and still have a big loan to pay off in the meantime. I always say that the decision to commit and actually do it is the hardest part, then you’re already half way there. Yes finance is an important factor but it’s not as bad as you may think, at the end of the day you will never have enough money for what you want to do. This is the mindset we all have but you can always make it work. We spent four months of our trip last winter helping and volunteering at a yoga center having spent only €800 over the entire four months. It can be done very cheaply if you want to do it. You could spend €2,000 or more on a two week holiday and that’s what our travels usually consisted of when the kids were smaller. These days €2,000 would pay for us to travel through different countries for well over two months so for us we can actually live more cheaply abroad than we can at home.

There are loads of communities and opportunities abroad if you know where or how to look. Portugal and Spain had some really amazing self sufficient communities who welcome new people to live and help out both short term and long term. Workaway is a fantastic resource where you choose a host and in return for working 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, you get your accommodation and food. The work isn’t back-breaking and is mostly a lot of fun, educational and very social; you can choose work like gardening, permaculture, babysitting, elderly companion, cooking, farmstay, eco projects, animal care, teaching and other types of work. If that doesn’t take your fancy there’s Woofing, house swaps or house sits as well and you can find loads of them online. We rely on summer house bookings to fund our travels and as bookings are few and far between in the winter months we embrace the opportunity to volunteer on some amazing projects where we all learn so much, meet lots of interesting people and get to not spend any money. I already have my Workaway profile full of saved projects to research for next winter which we can work on as a family.

Despite the weather we have enjoyed being home, we have been doing lots of yoga and breath work classes on the local beaches, catching up with friends and family and taking some local mini adventures with the kids. We are enjoying being back in the village that I was raised in, Fethard-on-Sea and love catching up with with everybody as well as going for the odd pint or few in Droopy’s bar. This past year has opened us up to so many opportunities that we can literally go anywhere so we still have no idea where we will go just yet so we will have to wait and see. It was most definitely the best and possibly the fastest year of our lives. As we sit on a cold & windy day in Ireland we are looking at our European maps and working out all of the different routes that we can take. So many options and when the time comes to take the ferry in a couple of weeks, we will do what we always do when we hit the road….left or right?!? The excitement is building, a new journey awaits, we can’t bloody wait!!

Published by Niamh & Liam Colfer

Niamh & Liam Colfer currently livin' on the Hook peninsula in County Wexford offering yoga and breath-work classes, personal training and hike the Hook walking tours. All about healthy balanced lifestyle, home schooling, travel, outdoor life, sea swims and on the Hook / off the Hook adventures.

2 thoughts on “Coming home after a year away

  1. Hi Niamh,
    I’m breaking my ass laughing at your blog. It’s lovely to hear from you.
    The “Garden of Stillness” is coming along. I was last in Suryalila in June with our teacher Maggie. I’m going back as a volunteer on 11 Th September , but staying in Prado, but attending Yoga classes. Somesh sent me some photos. I’ll try and send them too you.
    With love to your entire family

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    1. Hi Jimmy, so nice to hear from you! We were only up with Glenn & Michelle last weekend and met Maggie too 🙂
      We would love to see the garden progress, we had hoped to go back too this year but eastern Europe is calling us so we will make that decision once we hit the road.
      Lots of love from us x

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