Livin’ on the Hook. It’s great to be back and we are really looking forward to continue doing what we do here in Ireland with some really cool projects, workshops and retreats planned for the months ahead. This Autumn & Winter we plan to continue our beach yoga & breathwork classes here on the Hook as well as day retreats, workshops and a range of weekly online classes off the Hook as well.
We’ve had such a great summer of yoga on the beach here and have loved seeing new and familiar faces each class. We are absolutely beyond grateful to each and every one who has come down early in the morning to move and breathe with us on Baginbun. So many industries including the health & fitness sector has taken quite a hit this year so we are blessed to be able to come together to practise outdoors and we will continue beach classes and sea swims right through Autumn & Winter when the weather permits. Beach classes are weather dependant so the best way to stay up to date is to sign up to our email list here. We will try squeeze in a Saturday morning beach class too.
We all know how hit and miss the weather is here so we have scheduled lots of online classes from September onwards so whether you’re here on the Hook or livin’ off the Hook yourself you can still join our growing yoga community online from your own home. Actually our own yoga practises started at home. My very first real life yoga class was at the yoga school I trained in over in Spain almost two years ago. Although real life yoga classes are an absolutely wonderful experience, sometimes you can’t beat your own home practise. So join us online, subscribe or drop in, ignite your home practise with yoga, breath-work and mobility classes running throughout the week, mornings, lunch, evenings and maybe some weekends too. Have a look at the class schedule here.
That said, yoga at home can sometimes be a less than zen experience when you’re practising amongst family and a million and one things on your mind so to help you get going I suggest you try to find or create a quiet, uncluttered space in your home for your practice, and stock it with some props, a mat or carpet or blanket to practise on, a couple of cushions, a strap or scarf and a couple of yoga blocks or hardback books. Right now there is a lot of uncertainty and everything is up in the air so stay safe and comfortable by taking up the practise in your own home.
Not only that, I find a home practice can save time, energy, and money. You can roll out of bed and do it in your pj’s, take loo breaks if you need to, you can sit out a pose you don’t like and don’t feel under pressure to keep up. In fact you become more in tune and listen to what your body needs each day and develop intuition about what kinds of yoga you want and need to do most on any given day. If you are fatigued, you may want to do a more restoring yoga. If you’re feeling energetic, a more flowing, fast-paced yoga can help you channel that energy. Listening to what you need is more than a physical thing and I try to bring that thought into each class. And remember it is a practise, we practise yoga with an attitude of playfulness and acceptance rather than self-judgment or competitiveness allowing ourselves to be aware of whatever physical sensations, emotions and thoughts arise.
Classes are live on the zoom platform and you can decide to share your screen or not- whatever you feel more comfortable with. Somedays you might, others not. That’s ok. Here’s what you need to do to sign up.
Sign up to receive the weekly schedule and in message include your full name, email address you want me to use, plus some personal info required in contact form if you have not practised yoga and breath-work with us before.
Each week (sometime Sunday) you will receive the most up to date zoom and beach schedule and with the link ID and password that will work for all classes. Simply use this link to join any class for the duration of your subscription. There will be no reminders sent out before each class to protect people’s inboxes from being flooded so it might be a good idea to screenshot the schedule or print it out or simply use the email as a reference to get into classes.
Try to have the following props available for yoga classes: a mat or blanket to practise on, a couple of pillows or cushions, two yoga blocks or some hard back books that could work like blocks, a yoga strap or a scarf/tie and although not necessary, a blanket and a covering for your eyes can be nice in Savasana.
Signing up for an online yoga practice is only half the battle, now all you have to roll out your mat and do it. See you on the mat soon!
I was going to insert a list of benefits to begin or continue yoga and breath-work but here’s some links to a couple of good articles for further reading on the benefits of both.
We never in a million years expected to end up living at a yoga retreat center. Let alone at one of the best retreat centers in the world!
Suryalila Retreat Center is located in the province on Andalusia in sunny southern Spain not far from the cities of Seville, Cadiz, Malaga and nestled amongst some spectacular Spanish white villages and towns like Ronda, Jerez de la Frontera all in the Sierra de Grazalema National park. Vidya is the Director and CEO of Suryalila and there is a team of staff here from Spain and other parts of Europe. The center welcomes yoga retreat groups big and small from all over the world, on site teachers hold their own retreats here too, there are teacher trainings as well as Vidyas own school; Frog Lotus Yoga. You can also simply book in as an individual guest and take part in the daily yoga classes, chill by the pool, take a sauna, explore the grounds, eat the organic vegetarian food which is served up three times every day, have a juice or glass of organic wine straight from the on site cafe. There are all kinds of accommodation to choose from too from luxury rooms and casas to moroccon yurts and teepees. The property is set on 50 acres in total and has 800 olive trees which are harvested every year to provide olive oil and olives for the kitchen and guests and this is where the Danyadara permaculture project is located and is currently doing some great magic in regenerating the land here in this dry region and they have a volunteer programme. Volunteers come from all over to learn from Jacob, the farm manager and permaculture wizard of Danyadara. They get to live on site, work on the land, take our yoga classes, eat the freshly prepared organic food and become part of our community. We’ve met lots of lovely people coming through, people from all over the world, so many stories, people who travel and volunteer full time, people who are taking a year out.
Our own journey began at Suryalila retreat center back in January 2019 when I studied and trained here to be a yoga teacher. Previously I was working as a personal trainer in Ireland and through my own training discovered yoga and aside from the physical and mental benefits, I found it to be the best tool for warming up and cooling down from exercise. I must confess I hadn’t even been to an actual yoga class. Living in rural Ireland, it’s not so easy to find or make time to travel to faraway yoga studios so I practised at home via YouTube and other online yoga subscriptions. Back then, about three to four years ago now, I was competing at a national level in Olympic weightlifting. I also used to crossfit a lot and even competed in Irelands Strongest Woman. I’m convinced yoga helped me to improve my game immensely, keeping my muscles supple and flexible, my mind level and preventing me from getting injured.
In early 2018, I decided to quit it all and together with my husband and two children we packed up all our stuff to move into a campervan and travel around Europe. So naturally with little equipment to train with on the road, Liam & I gravitated towards sticking with yoga and keeping up our strength with bodyweight workouts. As we drove across Europe, we would always have our eyes peeled for somewhere to practise; we can’t really do it in the van so we have to do it outdoors, often it would be at beaches, carparks, campsites and playgrounds. Sometimes people would stop and stare, sometimes they would come and ask for a class and that’s when I had the lightbulb moment to look into teacher training so I could teach yoga as we travelled.
I discovered Suryalila on Google and got in touch to book onto the January 2019 teacher training course. I was a little anxious about bringing the children along to a yoga retreat center so I got in touch with Vidya and it as it happened we were relatively nearby she invited us along to take a look around which we did. We were absolutely blown away by the beauty of the place. Lidiya, one of the yoga teachers and PA to Vidya showed us around the grounds, the fabulous Eco buildings, Moroccan yurts, Dining Hall, the magnificent Om Dome, Moon Shala and Ganesha Shala where the yoga classes are held and the incredible lands all around full of olive trees, flowers, herbs, vegetables, birds, vultures circling overhead, animals grazing, it was just magical. We got chatting and Liam mentioned his experience in building and immediately was offered an Eco building project to work on and we couldn’t wait to get started.
The evening we arrived at Suryalila, we met some of the other trainees who I was about to spend the following three weeks with and we were treated to a magical class in the Om Dome with the beautiful Lidiya and that was my first ever real life yoga class…set a high standard eh! Liam began to get involved in Eco building here the week after we arrived and he spent those months working on building a massage center called the Lotus lounge where there are two rooms in which the on site masseuses offer Thai massage, deep tissue, acupuncture, cupping, etc. The kids tagged along with Liam while I was studying and practising on the teacher training course. They loved it, they kept themselves busy by building their own little houses out of cob and off cuts. They loved their new routine and would head off with the garden team to help plant seeds, collect eggs, feed the animals.
Meanwhile by the end of January, we were invited to stay on for a while so Liam could continue working on the eco buildings and I volunteered some time by helping out wherever I was needed on site so we said goodbye to the rest of the newly qualified yoga teachers and carried on. In all our time being here at Suryalila I’ve seen several more yoga teacher training groups coming and going and I can relate to them so much. Anyone who has done a yoga teacher training course will know how intense it is, you learn so much, practice yoga intensely, studying the postures, philosophy, anatomy, teaching and being critiqued for it. It is so intense, there are lots of tears, lots of laughs and when you spend that time with a group of people you become very close. I made some really great friends in that time who I still keep in touch with.
By now, I was a fully qualified yoga teacher and in the Frog Lotus style I had to teach 10 free classes to complete my training and seal the deal so I managed to round up some on site staff and volunteers and taught my 10 classes all within two weeks after the course. At the same time I attended the Suryalila classes every day in the Om Dome learning as much as I could from the amazing Frog Lotus teachers. One morning though I was sitting in class with over 30 other people waiting for one of the teachers to arrive to teach class but no one came, it seemed there was a mistake in the schedule so I took it upon myself to get up and teach the large group of people. I was bricking it for sure wondering if I should or shouldn’t but as soon as I started the class my nerves fell away and I loved every minute of it, so did they. From then on Vidya put me on teaching schedule and I joined the other world class teachers here to take turns each day and teach yoga to the guests, staff and volunteers of Suryalila. Liam sometimes taught breath work and cold exposure as in swims in the on site pool or for the very brave…ice baths.
We left Suryalila that May after four months in total to continue our travels around Europe. We headed for Portugal, France, Belgium and Holland before going back to Ireland for six weeks to catch up and prepare for the next leg of our trip. We had a great time in Ireland and Liam & I taught yoga and breathwork on the beaches at home which was a fantastic experience and we hope to do again. We got back on the road in September for three months solid, we were on the road and on the move almost every day travelling through parts of France we hadn’t seen yet, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, all through Italy. We had hoped to take the ferry to Greece and work our way up through Eastern Europe but something held us back. We changed our minds last minute and decided to head for Spain via Sicily and Sardinia to Barcelona. Somehow it felt like going home, it was familiar to us and we were actually very exhausted from travelling so much that we just felt like we could breathe again. We headed straight to some familiar beaches to chill and decide what to do next and Suryalila called us. We decided to come back again last January and jumped straight back into our old familiar roles, me teaching yoga and Liam Eco building.
Vidya asked Liam to become one of the three teachers on the Danyadara permaculture and eco building course which runs for three months, three times per year. This course was to begin this April but of course due to Covid-19 it had to be cancelled but there is a lot of interest and bookings for the next course which runs from September 12th to December 5th 2020 so hopefully as restrictions begin to ease we will be able to welcome a whole new group of students interested in learning how to create an Eco house, study the science of soil and how to create and care for an organic vegetable garden from scratch while living in our yoga community here at Suryalila in sunny Andalusia. Learn more about Danyadara here, the non profit sister project of Suryalila Retreat Center and the courses coming up this year and next.
We’ve been on Covid-19 lockdown here at the center since mid March. Amazingly upon lockdown there were six yoga teachers on site and together we were able to offer an online cyber retreat for the duration of the lockdown. Visit cyber.suryalila.com if you would like to check it out. With some light at the end of the tunnel, the team here are beginning to prepare to open the gates once again to welcome guests from the region and as lockdown restrictions lift can begin to welcome guests from other regions of Spain and hopefully soon from the rest of world. It’s one thing to read about it but to be in it is a very special thing and we have learned so much here, having made some incredible memories and lifelong friends along the way and we absolutely love it.
Living in a van isn’t always easy. It is often portrayed as the ultimate freedom; you can go anywhere, anytime, you can choose to go off the beaten track, off the tourist trails and do and see things you would never see on a regular holiday. Freedom is an interesting concept though. Are we really free? Do we even have free will? As Westerners we have become slaves to the system while every year the shackles become tighter and tighter.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is really hard, what about all the “what ifs?” On social media, naturally like everybody else, most of the time we only post the good stuff. But with the good there is bad too. Nobody posts the bad shit on Instagram. I say bad hastily because even the bad times leave something to learn from and sometimes looking back on the bad times can be the strongest sometimes even the funniest memories to look back on. In any way of life, even the bad times you will have fond memories of and we will be proud of every challenge we faced both at home and on the road.
Here is a little list of some pros and cons of life on the road. There’s good and bad in all things so these points are a mixture of pros and cons depending on how you look at it. For us obviously the good outweighs the bad, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.
Time and money. One is real, one is fake. Money comes and goes, jobs come and go but time you can never get back. We have time to spend with each other, yes we kill each other some times too. Even on the road, time seems to fly by. It’s sort of irrelevant, we have no place to be, no one to answer to. We lose track of days often. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what week it is. Yes money is fake but you need money to travel. It has to be done cheaply if you want to travel long term. We are terrible with money. Terrible. But we have learned to become frugal as f**k. We want to travel for as long as we can and that is reason enough for us to not eat out and drink out, to find the wild camping spots and to spend as little money as possible. It’s funny, some people think we are rich or we have won the lottery. We do have one great asset and that is our house. We can rent it out and with that income after paying our monthly loan and household and campervan taxes, insurances and bills we spend the rest ourselves. It’s very little, but we make it work. We earn a little extra through the blog (ps. Thank you to everybody who has supported us and subscribed to us here xxx), through selling crafts on the road and from teaching yoga along the way. We’ve met lots of digital nomads on the road, lots of people who are able to work remotely and those who pick up jobs as they travel. Many people choose workaway, cultural exchanges, farmstays or house sitting for free park up and board which saves a lot of money. There are lots of ways to do it.
Insurance. Technically, you must have a permanent address to get insurance and if you’re insuring a camper van, ideally you should be insured on a car first as your primary vehicle because if your main vehicle is a camper van the insurance costs are ridiculously high…even higher than insuring two vehicles which is pretty scandalous. Travel insurance is another head wreck. Usually travel insurance will cover you only for a maximum of three months of travel per year. For your first year you can get 365 day backpackers insurance but you’re kind of screwed from then on as you need to be permanently resident in your home country for at least six months prior to leaving on your trip. Also if you have health insurance you can say goodbye to that too. In most cases they will only cover you for three months of travel. In Europe we are covered under the EHIC scheme. It’s free so be sure to order your cards online before you leave. So although yes it feels like total freedom, we still have a lot to consider and many responsibilities.
Always on the go: Because our campervan is our home, we feel at home everywhere we go. Living life on our own terms, building our own dreams but being on the move a lot can be very tiring. We love it when we find a place that we all like and a place where we can stay for a few weeks or months at a time. Even better when we find a place with families, children or communities for us to get to know other ways of life. We have met so many people on the search for land or a community and we are no different, not to fully settle down or anything but to have a base. You can get land really cheaply in some countries now, it can be a risk, an investment, really scary or really exciting. If the opportunity ever arises for us we will seriously consider it.
Simple life: Living full time in a van, naturally consumption goes down. No more owning pointless things, no water waste, less carbon footprint, less rubbish, less stuff to worry about. We don’t need loads of clothes, products or toys. We very carefully consider the things that we really really want before we buy it. We were both pretty bad hoarders in the past and always felt like the things we owned actually owned us. We have been brought up thinking that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it and if it is broken at least try to fix it first before buying new shit.
Off grid: For the most part. Obviously we are still part of “the grid” as in we have an actual address, a house which we pay for, our children are on the Irish homeschool register. Did you know that if you leave the country for more than three weeks you will have you Child Benefit cut off? We didn’t know this until we left Ireland back in 2018. We were only gone two weeks when we got a letter from the department asking us if we were still in the country. Now how they knew so fast I will never know but I totally assumed that being Irish citizens who have a house in Ireland, who lived and worked there all our lives, with children on the Irish homeschooling register thought we would be fully entitled to this payment. It affirmed to us that the more we are entwined in the system, the more we feel trapped. Although it’s unfortunate that we would lose this payment of €280 each month which we used as part of our homeschooling budget, we cut our losses and had to let it go.
Career: We both quit our jobs to live this life. I loved my job working as a personal trainer. Liam loved his job too. It wasn’t enough to stop us from hitting the road though and that is something you have to consider. Some have taken career breaks and many people still work but on the road. You could try to forge a career online, there are loads of opportunities there too. I think just taking the leap is enough and opportunities will arise as you go, just taking it day by day, week by week. If shit hits the fan you can always just go home and start again. It’s not something we worry about too much anymore, fuck that shit, get out and enjoy life.
Community: We love the van life community, we have facebook groups, meetups, convoys arranged for all over Europe. We have met so many nice people along the way, many of whom are good friends and we can call on them anytime. We are always bumping into people we know and met on our travels. In our second year on the road we have met lots of people we already met last year. We’ve never been more social in our lives.
Are we there yet? Living in a van you will be on the move quite a lot. We use Google maps way more than any other app on our phones. This is great for the most part but it can be shitty too like when you find a string of bad park ups, bad weather, Aires with no spaces left….the worst. Park4night has been a life saver in these situations. Park4night and CamperContact are apps used by van people to find parkups.
Being tourists: We have been so spoiled seeing some of the most interesting and beautiful sites in the world. When we hit the road in the beginning, two years ago now, we were total tourists. We saw everything touristy we could along the way and have seen some incredible sights. We can see these places mid week, off season, when there’s less tourists around. This obviously is a massive pro but it has clouded our senses somewhat. We have seen so many beautiful Roman arenas and other architecture that when we go to see a new one the kids are like “oh not another amphitheatre”. Well not really, we love Roman architecture but we definitely don’t love cities. If we don’t ever see a city again that would make us very happy. There are so many nice places to see away from the touristy areas which are often way cheaper, friendy and more authentic. Many popular cities were ruined for me by the constant touters trying to sell you shit, tour guides up in your face trying to nab you, just a lot of people relentlessly trying to make a shilling and ripping you off. If you’re like us and not that into cities then get off the beaten track. You will be well rewarded.
Weather: Will you follow the sun or snow. Maybe follow both. The weather is so important for van dwellers, we have to stay up to date all the time with forecasts. If it’s hot outside the van, it’s hot inside and if it’s cold outside it’s cold inside the van. Yes we have insulation and all that but it’s still a hot box on hot days and can get very cold sometimes in the winter months even as far south as Spain or Italy. We have gas heating when we need it and extra blankets too but we wouldn’t enjoy being in colder countries unless we had a stove or decent heating system in the van. Weather also affects what you can do during the day too, a spell of rain for a few days in a row, athough rare enough where we go, can get cabin fevery real quick. Storms can be scary, we need to find shelter and sit through it. I’ve never heard of a campervan blowing over but sitting exposed in a force 9 gale once we had to move to more shelter as we could feel the van lifting…no shit. Last summer we were in Normandy when that 45’celcius weather and that was horrible too.
Health: We have two children so health is a constant concern but of course that would be a fear at home also. Living in rural Ireland we were always almost an hours drive from the closest hospital. On the road we are never too far away from healthcare. Thankfully we haven’t needed more than a visit to a pharmacy since hitting the road but the minute one of the kids gets a so much as a cough, I am online researching nearest doctors just in case.
Bugs: Fucking mosquitoes. Those little bastards are the bain of our lives. Flies have been a problem on occasion too. We’ve become used to seeing snakes, lizards, bugs, butterflies, and even beetles that fart but thankfully nothing too harmful in Europe.
Limited space: We see this as a pro as you are forced to choose minimalism but you also have less personal space most of the time both inside and outside of the camper. Inside we live in a living space of a few square metres. This means you don’t get a lot of privacy if you want to take a nap or even a poop. I practise yoga when I can and I have to do this outside the van usually with a load of people gawking wondering what the fuck you’re at. We are nearly always in close proximity to other campervanners so you have to be a little more aware of making too much noise.
Homesickness: We miss our friends and family at home but we have loved making new wonderful friends along the way. Going home is great, we love where we’re from but we’ve been home once in the past two years. I wouldn’t say we’re homesick, we’re very used to being on the road and we find it hard to see ourselves living in a big house just yet.
Cooking and cleaning. We only have one of everything in the van. There are four of us so we have four bowls, four plates, four forks, four spoons one big pot, one small, one frying pan, . We have to stay on top of the washing up all the time and the kids are always hungry…..always.
How lucky are we to experience new and authentic cuisines from all the different countries we’ve visited, from olives to gazpacho, real Italian pizza, German pretzels & Belgian waffles. Not to mention the wine! All the wine from the different regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy. The beer in Germany, Belgium and Sardinia. The champagne in Champagne. The different liquors from cherry and strawberry liquors in Portugal to my favourite cognacs in the town of Cognac, France. Not to sound like total alco’s we also appreciate the bread and the pure olive oils in Spain, Portugal and Italy. So lucky.
Cost: Van life is cheap and it can also be very expensive. Our biggest expense is diesel/van maintenance, phone bills and food. Honestly they’re our only expenses on the road but at home we have bills, loans, house maintenance so we simply have to scrimp and save every penny to try to cover it all.
Relationship: Living in a small space, we have to resolve problems quickly. It’s not a matter of wanting to, we can both hold a grudge for an embarrassingly long time, we simply have to. For the kids sake and ours, there’s no room for us to get in moods with each other. This has been great for our relationship. Living in a van certainly tests your patience, sometimes leaving you tired or frustrated. You can’t really get a minutes peace. There’s always noise, from the radio, from where we’re parked, if we’re parked near a road or motorway or if we are near a town especially at weekends. There is always noise from the kids. Our old sleeping habits are a distant memory. We now all wake up whenever we like, usually after 9am and the kids now go to bed between 9 and 10 most of the time but stay awake reading, playing or fighting sometimes until 11pm. Liam and I have been together for 11 years or more so we can read each other pretty well now and if we ever need a time out we will take turns to take a break away or one of us bring the kids on an adventure.
Safety: Number one safety issue for us is finding a safe place to sleep. Full time van lifers rarely spend money on places to park. If we did, we wouldn’t last very long. They can be expensive but have been a life saver from time to time. We check into a campsite every few weeks to catch up on laundry, have a good hot shower and put our feet up for a day or two. Thankfully, there are thousands of places where you can park for free, many have free services, some don’t, many are very safe, some are not. If we ever get a bad feeling about a place, we move but we have been caught off guard on a couple of occasions. Two such occasions happened at home in Ireland, one night we parked by a lighthouse in Ireland and we were verbally attacked by an alcoholic next door who accused us of cutting a pipe on his his diesel line from his generator, he was so aggressive and threating we had to call the police who took him away for the night. Another night by the port of Rosslare a guy parked door to door right beside us in the empty carpark and left his engine running all night long. Since we left Ireland we encountered two occasions, once at the port in Bilbao where a couple of lads tried to break into the back of the campervan and another in a car park near Malaga where a load of cars gathered to party and played music really loudly all night long. Thankfully our children are heavy sleepers and slept through every single one. Us, not a wink.
Driving: We have been driving on the other side of the road for two years, that’s not a problem as you learn very quickly but driving a campervan can be a problem sometimes especially when you find yourself on the narrow hills of Tuscany, or through the towns around Seville where the orange trees hang low, or driving through tiny medieval cobbled streets on a wet day or driving on a motorway in heavy winds. These are all difficult driving conditions that we have encountered along the way. Moving through countries we have to be aware of new toll systems, which countries are not in the EU as that affects our insurance, which cities and towns are green zones where vehicles over a certain age are banned. Ours is twenty years old so we avoid all green zones as the penalty for driving in one can be huge.
Water: Having to find clean water, some take it for granted but this is something we need to watch and the longer we’ve been on the road, the better you get at it. Some water is drinkable, some isn’t, you know by the look and smell of it pretty quick but we usually get our water from aires where it’s clear whether it’s drinkable or not and thankfully have never had a problem. Some people boil the water first, we have never done that and never had a dodgy stomach from it or maybe we’re just toughened up from drinking Irish water all our lives….ooooh
Hygiene: Many vans we met on the road do not have toilets and showers. We are lucky, we do….could do without our shower though. I never in a million years thought I would say that, I had slight ocd as a teenager and showered multiple times a day, never left the house without a face full of make up. These days I could shower once a week, often less than that and be absolutely fine. Even though we do have a shower in the campervan it’s just so awkward and annoying to clean after that we just don’t bother using it. Instead we “shower” in the sea, have a bird bath, swim lakes, use the public beach showers. The vast majority of beaches have showers and sometimes we book into the odd campsite too.
Laundry: Laundry day is the worst. We try to keep on top of our laundry by handwashing at campsites or free aires with water but sometimes it builds up quickly and we must go to a town to find a launderette…..what a waste of a day, it takes hours of hanging around, puts us all in a bad mood and we almost always end up killing each other at some stage during the day. Just not our favourite chore at all. We wear clothes to death and hardly ever buy anything new.
Summary: So yes we are on a trip of a lifetime. It may look like a giant big holiday but it really isn’t and that’s something only people who have experienced this way of living will understand. Now before you go all boo hoo poor you with your easy lives travelling around Europe, you are greatly mistaken. It takes a lot of guts and sacrifice to do something like this. We have given up a lot but we have also gained a lot. With the good times, there is often bad and everything else in between. So there you have it. Don’t be jealous of us. We need your support. Sometimes we wonder what the fuck are we doing ourselves. Van life looks amazing on Instagram and it is amazing for us but it certainly is not for everybody. Living in a van is not always easy, we have learned to adapt and wouldn’t change our choices for anything. We are all on different paths and when you do what you love and love what you do then anyone who judges you, excludes you or questions you is simply projecting their own issues. Drawing boundaries has helped us immensely with this and we try to not get drawn into any negativity. There will be nay-sayers and what-if’ers, and a few unlikely people that will project anger towards you for choosing to step out an be different. I think that’s mostly what we weren’t prepared for. It was a hard pill to swallow but it’s always important to remember that you must live your life for yourself and yours, not for other people.
We would be lost without one thing….a map! As long as you have a good old fashioned map, you can not go wrong….
Humans have looked to the skies to find their way since ancient times. Ancient sailors used the sun, the moon, the constellations in the night sky to figure out where they were and where they were going. We owe so much to the great explorers, some of whom we’ve learned about along our travels including Tom Crean, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus.
These days, instead of stars, we use satellites for navigation. Now unless you’re bat shit crazy and think the earth is flat, the gps system (global positioning system) is a space based system with over 30 navigation satellites orbiting Earth. These satellites can tell us exactly where we are and where we want to go.
They do the maths for you dividing the planet into imaginary lines going from North to South (longitude) and from East to West (latitude) and pinpoints your location with precise accuracy in coordinates which are measured in degrees. Greenwich (gmt) is the 00 meridian or the Prime meridian and last year we would have been mostly West of Grenwich so for example in Lisbon its 38’North and 009’West, Madrid is 40’North and 003’West. We have become very familiar with our coordinates and find it interesting when we’re punching in the coordinates if we’ve moved on another degree. Currently we are East of Grenwich, so for example in Barcelona the coordinates are 23’North and 9’East and the coordinates in Rome is 41’N 12’E and the further east and south you go the degrees increase. Geometry innit.
Before we decided to move our family into a campervan, we had big ideas thinking we could see the whole continent of Europe in a year. They say it’s a small world but it really isn’t, its frickin huge! We learned quickly to forget our ideas and plans and to just go with the flow deciding each day or week where to go next. Here we are in our second year and we’ve traveled through several time zones and lots of countries, adapting to each culture as we go.
With a map you can pinpoint more remote places, off road. Going off road is not easy in a big camper so that depends on the type of van you have, ours is a 3.5 tonne 6 berth campervanny type camper, we would give anything for a smaller van conversion to allow us to live even more off grid. You have more options to park up for free, less height and weight restrictions to deal with but also less space so it’s worth a lot of research, weighing up the pros and cons and considering your own needs and wants.
You must also consider the season you’re travelling in or the unexpected weather that may come. Some areas require snow tyres in winter, if it’s very windy we won’t go on motorways, if its wet we won’t go off road or through any old cobbled towns and we use our phones to satellite image our destination just to be sure. We have been caught in a few sticky situations so we are learning to be more prepared by researching a little bit before we hit the road.
It can take a long time to get to places, especially in a campervan and especially when you have children sitting in the back constantly asking are we there yet. We tend to keep our journeys no longer than two hours. If we find a place that we can really relax, be productive and a place where the kids play with other children we will stay there for at least a few days, sometimes weeks. It’s easy to get carried away during your first few weeks of van life and feel like you want to go go go, just remember those first few weeks it’s important to allow yourself to wind down, chill a little so if you find a cool spot during those first few weeks….stay there for at least a week or two to adjust to the slower pace of life. Those first weeks are special, enjoy every minute.
We flick through our Aires books and lonely planet maps for each country picking out the places we would like to see and planning a basic overall route as we drive around each country. Aires are motorhome stopovers, usually car parks and farms that allow campervans to stop overnight, often for free and there are Aires books for France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia.
As well as our trusty Aires books and maps, our favourite method of choosing a place to park up is by using motorhome apps park4night and camper contact to pick out camp sites, free camping spots, service stations, launderettes, aires and camper van specialists all across Europe. Each listing includes pictures, reviews, list of services offered, any prices and of course the gps coordinates. We spend many hours browsing these, most probably too much time trying to pick the ‘best’ one and we would be lost without them.
France is by far the easiest country to explore in a motorhome. There are so many aires, mostly free and most have everything a motorhome could need, all the facilities, many even have free electric hookup. Lots of them are by parks and playgrounds, many with those community exercise areas and obstacle courses. We have spent most of our time in France for this reason. France however does have expensive tolls but if you’re not in a hurry, the secondary roads are really good and you get to see so much more of the countryside. Spain & Portugal are also great with lots of free areas to park, not as many as France but those countries see the benefit of providing sites to improve tourism in certain areas and new aires and upgraded ones improve each year.
All the European countries have different toll systems so it’s worth a quick google before you cross any borders. Most are simply pay as you go, some are electronic and some like Austria and Switzerland you have to get a toll sticker (vignette) to display on your windscreen. Motor homes under 3.5 tons can get a car sticker which is cheap enough €9.80 which lasts for 10 days but motor homes and larger vehicles over 3.5 tons must have a “GO-Box” that tracks your actual mileage. If you are caught without either, the fine is 220 euros. You can order these online or buy them at border post offices and gas stations. There is weight restrictions to consider in some countries too, for example if you’re over 4 ton you can’t drive on a Sunday in certain countries without a permit.
Spain has lots of toll free motorways so we tend to go for the toll free route but the toll system there is simple, you take a ticket when you enter the motorway and pay for whatever distance you travelled when you go off it. Portugal uses an electronic toll system which took us a ridiculously long time to figure out. It’s worth getting the Via Verde if you’re there for more than a couple of weeks. It is a device you keep in your vehicle connected to your bank account so you are charged automatically as you use the motorways.
Germany is basically toll free and the the best roads we have ever driven on, however it’s difficult to find free parkups but there is many paid parkups which aren’t too expensive. Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands was in our experience impossible to park for free. It is illegal, you will get moved by the police if you’re not in a paying park and the paying car parks or aires can be incredibly expensive so it’s great if you have friends living in these countries to go visit.
Speaking of friends, last but not least we’ve learned the best routes and got tips for the best spots from the people we’ve met along the way. It’s a great community of like minded curious people who would do anything to help you out and without them life on the road would not be same.
By the way, before we hit the road earlier in 2018, we didnt know any of this and learned it all as we went along. Just winging it to be absolutely honest. Don’t let any fears of the unknown stop you from doing anything, you will adapt and you will learn as you go.
Brittany, or Bretagne, in Northwestern France is our favourite region in France. It has a long stretch of rugged coastline, to the north along the English channel and to the west beside the Celtic Sea and the beaches are the most remote, wild and beautiful we’ve ever seen and this region is renowned for it’s Celtic heritage.
We are an Irish family living in a campervan who have been travelling full time for the passed two years around Europe and we all agree that some of our best memories were made in Brittany. I don’t know what it is, maybe because it’s the first place we went to as we took the ferry from Ireland to Roscoff. We spent a month there last year where we travelled around the north and western parts of the region and this year we explored the central and eastern areas.
The Breton people are very friendly. They strongly embrace their local customs and traditions and like the Irish, they are very proud of their Celtic roots. Although everyone you meet in Brittany speaks French with a little bit of English and there are many people here who still speak the Breton language, which apparently has become more popular in recent years.
There were Celtic tribes all over Europe at one point. The Celts who lived throughout France were driven west by the Franks and the Celts of England were driven west and north by the Saxons. Celtic regions of Europe today include Ireland, Brittany, north western Spain, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Together we share something that’s difficult to put your finger on. It’s a connection, a shared culture, folklore, spirituality and language which survived invading tribes, armies and empires for thousands of years.
Some of our favourite places to see in Brittany so far are:
La Jument, a beautiful tall lighthouse built on a rock off the north coast of Brittany, made famous by the photographs that photographer Jean Guichard took in a storm in 1989. The lighthouse keeper managed to close the door just in time before a wave crashed in around it.
La-Roche-aux-Fées, the fairies rock is a magical dolmen and huge passage tomb in Essé, Brittany. The stones were mined in the forest 4km south of Essé and it is thought that fairies brought them to the site, hence the name. The dolmen is around 5,000 years old and just like Newgrange in Ireland, it would have been covered with a mound of stones and earth and it is also aligned with the sun’s first rays at Winter Solstice. Weve been to a few neolithic, tombs, dolmens and standing stones but this one was special as it is so grand, untouched and we could explore it all by ourselves with no one else around. Ellen felt that the fairies lived inside the huge rocks. Magical.
The sculptured rocks in Rothéneuf (Les Rochers Sculptés), on the emerald coast of Brittany in the north west of France. The man who created them in the 1800’s suffered a stroke in his 30’s and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit in this village of st-malo. He was deaf, mute and partially paralysed as a result of the stroke but that didn’t stop him single handedly creating over 300 carvings and sculptures in these steep granite cliffs with only a hammer and chisel.We loved exploring it all, there was carvings of sea monsters, pirates, animals and other picture carvings too. We had a lovely swim off the rocks in the crystal clear water afterwards.
The fantastic, creative, eco-artistic Rocambole Gardens in central Brittany. The couple who own it opened it to the public only 8 years ago. Everything in the gardens was built using upcycled materials to create unusual structures, a dome solar greenhouse, water circuits, ponds, the garden of colors and the garden of sounds, a wooden play area and lots more. It was such a colourful and inspiring place full of life and character.
Phare d’Eckmühl, located in Penmarch is one of the worlds tallest lighthouses with at 213ft tall with 308 steps to the top. Even Liam, who is used to heights felt a little woozy on the balcony.
Brittany lace, there is a Breton lace display stall and shop right outside the Phare d’Eckmühl lighthouse! There we met Janelle who was just one of (and the youngest) the ladies of a group of local lacemakers who run the shop and one of the few who are keeping the craft alive in Brittany
Châteaux de Suscinio in Sarzeau. We spent hours exploring this castle imagining princesses, Merlin, knights & dragons. It was built in the late middle ages to be the residence of the Dukes of Brittany. In one of the drawings rooms you can try on lots of medieval costumes. We learned loads in the various medieval tents located in the castle gardens where there was exhibits for children to learn about the different animals names & matching footprints, identifying various types of poops and we learned how to do macramé.
Not to mention the sea views, the exploring at low tide, the incredible rock formations, chatting to the locals, the castles, the ruins, the countryside, the dolmens, the mill wheel stones, so much to see and explore which is why we love Brittany.