Having lived in a campervan for the past year and a half our van is our house, we have two upstairs double bedrooms, a sitting room with a fold out bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, even a roof terrace and front porch. We are a family of four and have just enough space for everything we need.
We own an actual house as well, a big one with five bedrooms, two bathrooms with views of the oldest intact lighthouse in the world and the Celtic sea. It is located near Slade harbour on the Hook peninsula in the south east of Ireland and the light from the lighthouse flashes in our windows every night. Privileged or what?!
I’m not going to pretend that everyone can do this, we are in a very privileged position to have the option to choose this lifestyle. Our house is our main source of income as it is in a very air bnb’able location but unfortunately it’s also seasonal so apart from summer the bookings are few and far between. Still we have managed to live off the income topped up with some savings while we follow the sun around mainland Europe.
As long as we are travelling in our van we must travel back to Ireland every year to carry out the road worthy test and also to do some maintenance on the house. This is very expensive, Ireland is not cheap and as our savings will inevitably dwindle we must look at other ways to earn. We earn a little bit here and there, we get an extra couple of euros through ads on this blog and through air bnb referrals…by the way if you’re not signed up you can use this link to host or this link to sign up as a guest and earn yourself some air bnb credit and us some cash. We are making crochet, jewelry and other things to sell on the road, at the odd few markets and through our website. We teach yoga & breathwork at campsites and beaches along the way and we hope to do more with our youtube channel on this trip. Many van lifers are digital nomads and write content for various companies which I am curious about but I’m not entirely sure how it works.
Being at our house in Ireland, we weren’t even tempted to sleep in it, actually since we moved into the camper the only times we slept out of it was on the ferries to and from France. Ellen’s favourite thing about van life is waking up to a different view every day, she’s 7 years old. Alex’s favourite thing about it is finding new beaches and being able to play outside all day, he’s 6. Liam & I love being together all the time, spending time making things, playing and learning about the world.
I believe humans are nomadic by nature yet most of us choose to live a rather sedentary domestic life while conforming to the rest of society. Life is easier that way. Its feels safe and more comfortable. Isn’t life scary though. We are literally living on a floating rock spinning around a sun which has created everything we have….food, air, animals, water, clothes, gadgets, everything and that sun is only one of billions more in the vastness of space. Getting kind of deep here but the Earth is around 4.6 billion years old. There’s been mass extinctions, meteorite explosions and if you compress that 4.6 billion years into one day, humans only arrived on the last few seconds of that day. It’s mind blowing really how the stars aligned to create the random yet perfect conditions for us humans to have the privilege of being here and I really hope we don’t fuck it up. If you haven’t watched “Cosmos” on Netflix, you must, it’s the most inspiring series we’ve ever seen.
We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically. – Neil deGrasse Tyson
Life is scary and it’s also hard. It can be really tough at times and it can be stressful to live in a community that demands contribution and conformity to fit in. We’re very complex earthlings aren’t we. Life is short, everybody says time goes by so quickly but time doesn’t go by quickly at all, time stays, we go.
Now, as we are back on the road again following the sun to an unknown place, new communities, customs and languages to navigate and learn from. With a healthy body and mind, itchy feet and an open attitude towards change, the nomadic life is calling us.
We are an Irish family living and travelling full time in a camper van since June 2018 with a 7 year old and a 6 year old and this month as we went back home to Ireland to catch up with family and get some work done on the camper van we arranged to have a homeschooling assessment with Tusla (Irelands child & family agency) to be officially logged into the Irish home school register. We always knew we had the option to home school and it’s something we discussed since before the kids were even born.
Most children in Ireland start school between the ages of four and six, and stay there until they are between 16 and 18. Lots of Irish families nowadays choose not to send their children to school at all and there are lots of reasons why some families decide to home educate their children. Some do it because it gives them greater control over the education of their children, some prefer the freedom of it. Other parents decide they don’t want to send their children to a school with a catholic ethos and have no other choices in their localities. For other families, a less-structured approach to learning suits their family style better.
“More children are being homeschooled by parents for “philosophical, educational, lifestyle, religious, and cultural reasons,” according to Tusla and for us all of these reasons are why we homeschool.
The Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann supports the right of parents to educate their own children in whatever way they see fit. Article 42 of the Constitution states:
“The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”
“Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes.”
“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”
Although it’s our constitutional right to home school, there is an application form to fill out followed by an assessment with Tusla. The form needs to be sent in when the child turns six, or if you remove them from school before they turn 16. Tusla then sends an assessor to your home and they go through the formalities of registering your child as home schooled. The NEWB (National Educational Welfare Board) will then make a decision on your suitability to home school; if you are giving your child at least a basic minimum education although it’s not stated what that minimum is and you will be informed of the decision in writing.
Around 1,500 children were registered as being home schooled last September compared to 439 children a decade ago so the waiting list to be assessed these days is pretty long. We sent Ellens application in last March 2018 and we waited almost a year and a half for the assessment. I phoned Tusla to ask about doing a double assessment as Alex had just turned 6 when we went back to Ireland and they agreed which was fantastic to get both of them registered before we leave the country again so we arranged a date recently where a Tusla official called out to us for the preliminary assessment.
I must admit I was a little nervous about meeting. Technically we are un-schoolers in that we don’t follow any learning method or curriculum and we have a child led learning approach which is a completely acceptable way to home school and in my opinion one of the best ways for kids to learn. We don’t have a set time to learn or teach individual subjects. There are no tests and the children choose whatever they want to read, work on or practice each day. Now that’s not to say we’re lazy about it, quite the opposite and we have researched so much about lots of different home schooling philosophies and curriculum’s but having researched the unschool method we knew right away that’s what would work for us. Children are little sponges and naturally want to learn. When you give them the time & independence to let them learn what they want they will develop their own way to learn. They ask questions all the time and we help to fuel their interests by giving them the resources to explore further and show them how to research the answers for themselves.
“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” John Holt
As soon as the Tusla assessor arrived to meet us he immediately made us feel comfortable. He was so friendly and encouraging and absolutely loved what we are doing. The reason for the meeting is to ensure that you are providing your children with a basic minimum education and that you have given thought to all aspects of your child’s education such as moral, physical, social and intellectual and also that you physically have an area for your child to learn and a space where artwork can be displayed. The children don’t even have to be present as the assessment meeting is just between the Tusla rep and the primary educator (me) but our kids were running around doing what they do. Alex was building a solar powered robot and Ellen was making spells and potions. She proudly told him she was a witch and gave him a magic hag stone that she found on the beach previous day. He had a quick look through their journals, workbooks, books, art and our travel photobook and was absolutely blown away by what we do. The whole meeting took around three hours for the two children and at the end he congratulated us as he would be highly recommending us to the NEWB board to be put on the register of Irish home schoolers.
What a relief to have it done. We wanted to be put on the Irish home school register as we will be travelling to countries where homeschooling is illegal such as Germany and Sweden where I’m not sure how long we will be able to stay as home schoolers. Home schooling is legal in most European countries but it is a bit of a grey area in some countries like Spain but we have met many home schoolers there and had amazing experiences with other home schooling families who have never had a problem. Last winter we visited the beach town of La Herradura near Malaga where hundreds of homeschoolers from all over the world visit, live or camp and take part in lots of meet ups, activities and learning at the World schooling Andalusia Hub and this is just one of many world schooling communities across Europe.
Of course there’s pro’s and con’s to everything and for us the pro’s of home schooling far outweigh the cons. It just really works for us as a family. Some things to consider is the cost of homeschooling, although it has to be cheaper than the cost of going to school. You might have subscriptions, apps, books, workbooks, craft supplies to buy as well as costs of any extra curricular activities or in the future possibly for tutors and we can’t avail of the free medical check ups provided by school so unless you have a medical card that has to be done privately. Home schooling parents who recieve a social welfare payment however are still entitled to the back to school allowance. If you live rurally it can be difficult to attend any home school meetups that happen across the country and you may have to connect with families online or through HEN (the Irish Home Education Network). This was my situation anyway but there are lots of groups on facebook who organise meetups and day trips.
Another point to consider is the amount of questions and comments you get. The kids and us get questioned about home schooling all the time, it’s not even the amount of questions that gets wearing but the lack of support, the presumptions and judgement behind them eg, if we didn’t make children do things they wouldn’t do anything, how tiring it must be to be with your kids all the time, presuming that they can’t read and write or learn anything without school, how will they have morals without religion and how you should have a teaching qualification to teach your own children. What about exams, college, socialisation, do they have friends and concerns about whether the children are learning anything at all.
Our children are still very young and college is the last thing on our minds yet I have researched it a lot as I get asked about it so often. We’re a little bit obsessed with the ‘points race’ here in Ireland, that it’s easy to miss the fact that you don’t actually need a leaving cert to get into college. You can attend any Irish Institute of Technology or University through loads of different avenues:
Achieve a minimum of five distinctions on any FETAC Level 5 courses to qualify for any college course in IT’s.
Many IT college diploma and degree courses only require an interview or access course.
Apply via interview or portfolio for any University.
Wait until you are 23 when you will be a mature student and a Leaving Certificate is no longer required.
Study through the Open University.
You can study for the SAT’s (Leaving Cert equivalent) online and complete the written exams at designated test centers across Ireland.
Study abroad, it’s always worth researching what qualifications you need to study at colleges abroad. Many colleges have a certain number of places for foreign students.
But if your child really wants to do the leaving cert exam, they can. The whole secondary school curriculum is online now so students can study at home and can apply to sit the exam with any school without having to be registered with that school. We certainly wont be pushing our kids through the exams, they can make that choice for themselves and we trust they will be just fine with or without exams.
While a college degree would have guaranteed you a life long job in the past, that expensive and hard earned degree has massively decreased in value these days and you don’t get the same guarantee. Another point to consider is that many people now don’t want to have the same job for life and there are lots of people who have no interest in college whatsoever and would rather pursue an apprenticeship or a career in which the leaving cert is irrelevant.
School takes a one size fits all approach teaching just a few generic subjects yet we all have different skills, learning styles and interests. I believe that through school many of us lose those innate natural skills and interests and then lots of us end up spending our late teens, twenties, thirties and beyond wondering what to do with our lives. As George Bernard Shaw once said “My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.” Had we known it was an option when I was a teen I would have loved the opportunity to stay at home to learn.
Learning on the road is easy. We are presented with so many learning opportunities every single day and we embrace and appreciate every minute of it. We have met many like minded people and have made some amazing friends too. We have groups on facebook and if we are ever near a road schooling family we will always arrange to meet up. We have met some incredibly inspiring people during our travels, some of whom have been on the road for many years and make it work. This year we hope to meet some of them again and maybe more. I have been receiving calls and messages lately from families who are inspired to live off grid, in a community abroad or joining the van life and carving out a new and exciting life for themselves. I always say that the decision to change is the hardest part. Once you’ve made the decision to do it you’re already half way there.
I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all unique, we have choices and there are so many ways to learn. We want what every parent wants for their child, that they grow up to be happy, healthy, creative, confident and capable of doing anything they want to do. Thankfully we have the freedom to choose any home schooling method, curriculum or subject anytime so we are looking forward to seeing our childrens interests and talents evolve as we continue our travels. I’m not entirely anti school but I am pro choice and the principle of home schooling has been around for a long time so before you go asking us about socialisation please remember, we’re not aliens, just people choosing a different learning process.
If you would like to read more about homeschooling or see my favourite books and videos follow this link
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!!
It was so great to catch up with Paula Mulvanerty last month from www.mygoodplanet.com who got in touch with a few questions about our travels and our plans for the future. Here’s our interview:
Livin’ off the Hook – How one Irish family escaped the rat race for life on the road
Livin off the Hook is the story of a young family from Ireland who have exchanged convention for adventure; hitting the road with an ever-present sense of wonder.
Is it really possible to drop everything? To forget about home, jobs, utility bills and the daily grind; then simply setting off on the road with two young kids in a camper van to travel around Europe. It sounds like a daydream. How could anyone be so spontaneous; so brave?
Well, this is exactly what Niamh Colfer has done, along with her husband and two children.
Exploring Roman ruins, hiking, beachcombing, home-schooling, yoga training and crochet have become the new normal for this dynamic family of four since they first took to the road in June of 2018.
Captivated by their story, My Good Planet decided to track down Niamh so that we could find out all about her wonderful decision, and maybe even figure out an escape plan we could follow for ourselves.
MGP: What inspired, or prompted, you to make the huge decision to start ‘livin’ off the hook‘?
We are from the Hook Peninsula in the south east corner of Ireland, in County Wexford, and our house is just up the road from Hook Lighthouse: the oldest operational lighthouse in the world.
Liam and I met while working there in 2009. We had been travelling for a couple of years separately up until that summer. I had spent a few years living and working in New Zealand, France and backpacking around Asia, while Liam worked in Australia and backpacked around India and Nepal. So, I guess once you experience something like that it’s always in you; adventure, freedom, curiosity.
We had often booked short holidays and weekends away, always looking for somewhere to explore but, since the children came, it got quite expensive to take short holidays, so they became less frequent and we craved a new adventure.
It was last winter when we decided to plan a long term journey. Livin’ off the Hook, not only physically living off the peninsula, but also living alternatively. Our decision to home educate the children gave us the freedom to do it, and also a sense of empowerment. We had stepped outside our comfort zones and found something wonderful in it. We decided to put our minds to it straight away and not put it off.
MGP: What sort of reaction did you receive from family & friends when you told them about your plans? Were they shocked? Supportive? Cautious?
I think many family members were shocked in a funny kind of way, maybe a hint of disbelief and sceptical that we would actually follow through but, at the same time, fully supportive. I think many people expected us to be home within a couple of weeks.
The great thing is we’re only a short flight away (from home), and we’ve been lucky to have some visitors over along the way. Our camper van is, funnily enough, quite spacious and can sleep 6 comfortably so, when family members fly over, they can even have their own bed in the van. My Mam and Dad have been over to explore northern Spain with us and will be flying over again in a few weeks to explore Portugal. My sister Siobhán and her son Patrick, who is the same age as Ellen & Alex, flew over around Christmas to see southern Spain with us. It’s always so lovely to pick them up at the airport and just chill, catch up & sight-see together.
We talk to our families on the phone quite frequently and keep in touch via social media too, but our Camper Van door is always open to friends and family who can visit us anytime.
MGP: How you manage to fund your amazing life on the road?
We simply worked and saved our asses off. Paying our last mortgage payment last January was a huge benefit to us and allowed us to save money. We had less than a year to save every penny and so we lived as frugally as possible. Liam worked days at Hook Lighthouse and I was working as a personal trainer from our garage gym at home in the evenings. We sold many of our belongings too, we cleared out so many things from our house and we sold any bits and pieces that were worth anything, clothes, toys, some of my gym equipment, unused gadgets, furniture, even our car and that was enough to get us going.
Life is no different on the road and we still live frugally. Europe is well catered for the van-life and there are lots of amazing places where we can park up for free; even services are mostly free such as filling and draining water. Many of the tourist attractions are also free or sometimes very cheap so we avail of that of have seen some spectacular castles, lighthouses, museums and monuments all over France, Portugal and Spain.
We are a vegan family so our shopping is quite cheap, we buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the local markets and stock up on nuts, grains, beans, pulses, lentils in bulk when we can, so we spend only about €80-€100 on food every week. Thankfully the wine is pretty cheap too.
The biggest expense is fuel, diesel for the camper van. It’s great when we’re making small trips but longer trips can be quite expensive, so we tend to enjoy smaller trips and when we find somewhere that we love, or if we bump into another van-life family we could stay there for weeks and save a lot of money that way.
We’ve met a few families travelling long term in their vans like us. In fact we have a group on Facebook to share ideas, arrange meetups if we’re near each other and often we organise book or toy swaps too.
MGP: How difficult / easy is home schooling?
We had talked about home-schooling since before the children were born. At first I worried about the word I’ve grown to hate… “socialisation” and researched the overwhelming choice of curriculums, philosophies and methods but once we started and allowed Ellen and Alex the freedom to express and learn themselves, I immediately let go of my worries and completely trust the natural learning process.
Here we are, seven months into our adventure travels of Europe in our camper van and we’ve learned a lot. We (I say we because we’re learning too) learn about geography, history, science, nature, language, culture, tradition, politics, life skills and learn a lot from all of the people that we meet.
The kids are very interested in nature and human history, growing more curious since our time in northern Spain where we explored the amazing caves of Cantabria, some with pre-historic cave art. We learned so much there, seeing first hand how Neanderthals and early humans lived, ate, hunted, how they used tools and turned stone into paint to make cave art.
We have met some amazing people and we have seen some outstanding places so far; from the biggest sand dune in Europe, to real dinosaur footprints along northern Spain’s Jurassic coast. We have learned about Pirates, the Royals, even the Romans, and explored many Roman ruins throughout France and Spain.
Aside from learning through travelling to all these great places, the kids have lots of workbooks which they pick up from time to time and work on some educational apps on their tablets. They also have their own travel journals which they write in every week; each has a map of the world and they know exactly where we are and where we may go.
As well as learning academic subjects naturally, using their own motivation, they learn many practical and creative things too; not only from observing and helping Liam and I, but also from the people that we meet. They are naturally curious, very social and they observe and question everything and I couldn’t be more happy and excited for them.
I don’t know just yet what the future holds for them in this schooling sense. Their opportunities are endless and there are always lots of options. We may stay in Europe and continue to home-school / road-school or we may choose to enroll them in a school here. Thankfully there are a few schooling options on the continent and we are drawn to the Waldorf or Steiner schools which we’ve seen quite a few of along the way. We’ve come across a couple of home-schooling or world-schooling communities which are groups of home educating families from all over the world that meet up in areas around Europe. We may even set up our own community one day, who knows what the future holds.
MGP: Where do you see your travels taking you in the future? Can you see yourself ever wanting to settle down again or stay on the road?
We’ve always been open to new opportunities and generally don’t plan too far ahead. We would love to continue to travel but it all depends on how far we can stretch our funds. At the same time, we would also love to settle down somewhere, not necessarily in Ireland but possibly somewhere else. We have met a few families from other parts of Europe living sustainably and self sufficiently and this is something we are very interested in. So far, we haven’t needed to work but we have done some volunteering and both of these options are also open to us. I recently qualified as a Yoga teacher and am busy making crochet pieces and patterns to sell through my online shop. Liam is very handy and mechanically minded and always comes up with solutions to whatever he puts his mind to so between us we can put our hands and minds to any project.
We love moving and travelling but if we find a spot that we all love and it works for us we may settle for a while. We are quite enjoying the warmer winters here in southern Spain & Portugal and feeling happy, healthy and inspired.
MGP: Tell us a little about where/how you happened to learn the art of crochet and do you sell it?
I learned to crochet when I was Ellen’s age (6). My grandmother Eileen (who Ellen is named after) taught me and, from then on, you would often find me by my Nanny’s side; crocheting in her conservatory, or at the stitching group she set up.
She passed away in 2011 and I miss her very much. I inherited many of her crochet books and some of her crochet and Irish lace treasures including her wedding dress which was made by her mother (my great-grandmother) in 1952 and I got to wear her dress in 2012 when Liam and I got married; one year after she left us.
Crochet and lace-making is just something I’m really passionate about. I love creating new pieces, designing and writing my own patterns and I am mostly inspired by my Nannys collection of antique books and of course the pieces that she and her mother made which I still wear all the time.
I started a shop on Etsy, which is an online store for hand crafted pieces and you can order crochet and crochet lace clothes, tops, bags, accessories and even patterns. I also have a YouTube channel where I upload free tutorial to learn crochet for beginners right up to advanced lessons in Irish crochet lace.
Lately, Ellen has been really keen to learn crochet and I’m delighted to be able to teach her.
You can follow @Livinoffthehook on Instagram and travel the world along with them.
Andalusia is a large region in the south of Spain and one of the hottest regions in Europe. A nice place to explore during the colder winder months. The coast of Andalusia is about 840km long and the coastal regions are broken down into the “Costas“. On the Atlantic coast of Andalusia is “Costa de la Luz”, on the Mediterranean side east of Spains most southly point Tarifa is the resort areas “Costa del Sol”, “Costa Tropical” and “Costa de Almeria”.
We drove to Spain from Portugals stunningly beautiful Algarve region. On our way towards Seville, we decided to break up the two hour drive and stopped at the Spanish town of El Rocío. It was like stepping into a Wild West Movie set. It felt kind of surreal, such a quiet nearly deserted ghost town with wide sandy roads that give way to horses and the odd few cars tearing around in every direction. We were half expecting to see a couple of cowboys to fall out of one of the taverns for a shoot out and fellas galloping around the sandy streets with pistols.
In reality, we found El Rocío an odd place, kind of surreal and clearly quite religious. Aside from the many churches there, there are church bells, religious mosaics and crucifixes on almost every other building including the houses.
The population is only less than 2,000 people and it was like a ghost town because it is so quiet. We were there mid-week however, I believe it is busier on weekends and apparantly a million people descend on the town once a year to celebrate Pentecost. This celebration has a cult status and dates back to the 13th century, when one man from the village saw the virgin Mary in a tree. A chapel was built where the tree stood and from that annual pilgrimages became increasingly popular throughout the centuries.
Until the 1950’s, the town only had a couple of houses and pilgrims arrived from around the region on their horses and wagons. These days many people still travel to El Rocío on horseback and wagons once a year hence the horse fences outside every house and tavern.
Now the town has grown hugely and there are many houses, owned by individual Christian brotherhoods from all over Europe who arrive for Pentecost. Each house has its own chapel, stable and place for parking wagons.
Nice to see it but we didn’t stay and after a wander around the town, made a quick getaway. YeeHaw
We drove on to the outskirts of the city of Seville where you can drive in whatever direction you want. We were headed for Malaga where we were picking up my sister Siobhán and nephew Patrick who flew in for a van life sleepover for few days before Christmas. We had been counting the days and weeks to their arrival. Airports aren’t usually campervan friendly so while Liam pulled in illegally to a bus stop outside the airports entrance, the kids and I waited at the arrivals hall. You know what happiness is when you see someone you love after being apart for a long time. We were buzzing and the kids were delighted to have their cousin over. Patrick is the same age as Ellen and Alex, actually he’s right in the middle and the three amigos had great fun laughing, playing and exploring the whole time.
We didn’t really plan anything as Siobhán and I were keen to chill, drink beer and catch up so we drove a little East along the south coast to Nerja where we picked a campsite right on the beachfront. We arrived to a very secure campsite with massive walls and locked coded gates to get in and out and inside it was like an oasis full of banana and avocado trees and a resident parrott called Anna who says Hola to you every time you pass. It was a really beautiful site full of trees and quirky play areas with plenty to inspire the kids but the only downside was it cost €53 for one night which seemed excessive for a low season stopover. The price we were expecting was €25 but that’s the price for a camper with two people so the extra charges were for the extra adult, kids and even €1 for Buckie. We were eating avocados for weeks afterwards as we picked plenty of the fallen ones from the trees beside the campervan.
The following morning, we decided to drive on another little bit. I was very curious about the beach town of La Herradura as I have been a member of a group called “Worldschooling Andalusia” which is run from the town by a lady called Elin. She is a homeschooling Mother who set up this group a few years back and it has grown rapidly. The idea was just a simple weekly meetup on the beach for other homeschooling families in the area and now people come from all over the world to stay for weeks and months at a time to join the meetups and take part in many various workshops, classes, group projects, trips and activities that are organised by Elin and some of the Worldschooling Andalusia members.
We arrived to the beautiful beach town and parked up right on the beach. It also had a promenade with some very inviting bars so Siobhán and I left the kids with Liam and went out to a flamenco bar to get our beer on.
The following day was beach meetup day on the beach and it was busy. I didn’t expect to see so many people at it. There were lots of little groups of families chatting, kids playing, teenagers chilling. We wandered over as awkward newbies and sat on the sand for a while. Siobhán & I were a little worse for wear and even more anti-social than usual so after a few minutes of observing the lovliness of the meetup headed for the nearest beach bar for the cure.
Siobhán and her family are vegan, actually it was her and my Mam that inspired us to go vegan a few years ago so we knew eating out would be a headache. In all our time on the road we’ve had a hard time finding restaurants serving up vegan meals so we made sure to have the camper packed with food, snacks and of course beer but when we arrived at our next destination La Herradura we stumbled across a beachfront restaurant with vegan options on it so we just had to go in, had a few beers and booked a table for that evening.
It was sad to say goodbye but thankfully they are just a short flight away. After dropping my sister and nephew back to the airport at Malaga we were in search of an aire de servicio to empty our full grey water tank, toilet cartridges and fill up our fresh water tank. The aire’s are few and far between along the south coast of Spain unless you go to a paid campsite which are way out of our budget so we arrived at the next aire which was at the port in the Spanish town of La Linea that borders the British territory of Gibralter.
We had been spotting the 426m high limestone ridge for miles and as we got closer grew more curious about it. The rock of Gibralter is currently a British Overseas Territory with a population of 30,000 people all living on the 425m high, 2.6sq mi, limestone ridge at the tip of Spains Iberian peninsula.
We had to hunt out our passports which we hid in a “safe place” and pulled into the port at La Linea where we strolled to the border which had massive queues of cars waiting to go over. As there’s no VAT charged in Gibralter, many people go over for quick trips to stock up on fuel, cigarettes & alcohol. The diesel prices there were really cheap at €0.95c but not cheap enough to go through the hassle of driving over in a campervan.
We decided to walk over, you go through border control and then cross Gibralters airport runway, just walk right across it & if there’s a plane coming in to land or take off then barriers are rolled out to stop people passing. Apparantly it’s the most dangerous airport in the world.
We walked across the runway and through the town battlements straight into the shaded main town. It was really busy, as we imagined as 30,000 people live on the 2.6sq mi piece of land at the southernmost tip of Spain and after a quick stroll through the busy streets we headed straight back through customs and back into Spain again. It immediately felt warmer 😜😂 Liams Grandad sailed into Gibralter port many times with the merchant Navy so it was really nice to see that and get a sense of what the port was like back in the day and learn a little of its complicated history and present day politics first hand.
Our next destination was a little further west to the town of Tarifa which is the most southerly point in Spain where the cool Atlantic and the warm Mediterranean meet each other and where the distance between the continents of Africa and Europe are closest, divided by only 14 km of water! This is why Tarifa is the wind mecca of Europe. The wind bundles up in the Strait of Gibraltar and kitesurfers and windsurfers from all over the world come to enjoy all of that wind!
Much of our time on the road is spent looking for our next long term spot to park up. Long term being anything over 3-4 days. On our way north of Tarifa, along the little bit of the west coast of Spain, we found just that, an amazing quiet beach off the beaten pot-holed dirt track and it was just what we needed after a lot of driving along the south coast of Spain. We pulled up on a remote beach by the small village of Bolonia, unknowingly beside a perfectly planned and well preserved Roman city ruins called Baelo Claudia and a little further down the beach were some huge sand dunes. It was the perfect spot for us to stay and we ended up staying right through Christmas where we explored, swam in the sea every day, ate on the beach and watched the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen. Santa didn’t forget us either, we woke up on Christmas day to some lovely surprises for the kids. Christmas isn’t really a big deal here in Spain we’ve seen hardly any of the usual festive advertising, songs or consumerism which suits us just perfectly. I heard that Santa here takes kids away if they’re bold, lol, and presents are usually given on January 6th when Spanish towns come alive with parades and festivals to celebrate the christian story of the arrival of the Three Kings.
The dune at Bolonia is over 30 metres high and 200 metres wide and under the force of the strong easterly winds along the south west coast of Spain it is still moving inland. They are so much fun to explore and climb, then you have to stop and rest at the top while admiring the amazing windy views. Running and tumbling down a dune is so much fun and over way too fast, the kids were down in about 10 seconds! In our week of being there, it was interesting to watch the dunes craters and shadows alter and changing shapes.
We were free to explore the Roman ruins which was located just beside us. Parts of the town date to the C2nd BC but it thrived during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54AD) at a time when the Roman Empire ruled over 1/5 of the population of the planet. We love Roman history and being able to explore the city really brought that history to life.
You can see its Forum (town square) where the towns basilica stood (you can see its remaining 12 columns) that was built by Emperor Augustus (Julius Caesars nephew) in the 27 BC – 14 AD.
We played in the amphitheatre to the North which is still in use today where productions of traditional Spanish theatre are held throughout the year.
We saw its thermal baths, it’s aquaducts, it’s residential area and little shops along its shopping street. On the beachfront is its tuna salting and garum (fish sauce) factory which made the town so successful as it traded with nearby Africa and the rest of the empire.
There are various temples dedicated to the gods & godesses, one to the Egyptian goddess Isis, as well as temples to Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva.
The city fell into decline from the C6th due to structural damage from a series of earthquakes, followed by raids from Celtic and Barbary pirates and subsequently after 1,000 years of rule in Europe, the fall of the Roman empire.
We really loved our time at Bolonia and highly reccommend that anyone travelling to the province of Cádiz to take the time to explore it.
Our next stop was Suryalila Yoga Retreat Center near Seville where I trained to become a yoga teacher throughout the month of January. It really is the most incredible place nestled in beautiful unspoiled hilly countryside and we are still here, enjoying every moment.