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Introduction to ‘Retired and Inspired’
I’m Nicky, and my husband Andy and I both come from the Midlands in the UK. We had lived in Cardiff for around 6 years when I moved there for my job in the university sector. I had been in academic jobs for over 30 years and Andy had been a driver in a number of roles over the years.
I was in the great position of being able to take retirement at aged 55 and that had formed part of my career plan since the age of 17, but who would have thought it would come around so quickly. Our plan was to take some time out to travel once I retired in August 2020, but we all know that a pandemic hit the world in early 2020 and it changed many of our plans, giving us different opportunities.
The Plan Comes Together
In March 2020 Andy was furloughed from his job and I had tended my resignation. The ball was rolling but we were unsure where. We had set a path for moving out of our apartment on beautiful Cardiff Bay in Wales and decided we would continue along this path to see where it took us.
We started to research converting a panel van into a camper, taking up many lockdown hours, watching many YouTube videos before we realised this was too complex when businesses were closed and parts and professionals were hard to find.
During this time Andy moved from furlough to redundancy so we knew we had an opportunity to make some big changes, not just part time campervan travel but maybe a full time travel lifestyle.
So, in April 2020 with the clock ticking, as we had agreed to move out of our apartment in October, we found the perfect van for us. It had already been converted and the layout was just what we wanted for the two of us and it wasn’t so big that we couldn’t travel to the places we would want to. But would we be able to travel? What would the pandemic mean for our plans?
During spring and early summer 2020 I was working remotely at home in my academic post moving towards retirement in August 2020. We made our plans for leaving our apartment and travelling deciding that we would have at least plans A, B and C so that we could navigate the uncertain times. Hours were spent working through detail and decided we would try and head through France into Spain and then potentially Portugal (at this time international travel was not restricted).
We had been house and pet sitting for a number of years in our holiday time building a reputation and portfolio of ‘sits’. All our sits were through networking websites where you exchange the care of someone’s house or pets, or both, for accommodation. We started to book sits in France and Spain and by the end of August had 5 sits booked that would allow us to travel through France and into Spain between October and December.
I also wanted to continue to do some remote work, and the pandemic had proved to many that remote working could be an effective and efficient way to employ. It didn’t take me long to build up a couple of short term contracts as an online tutor but also some research contracts. I am also a coach and in the months previous, all my coaching clients had moved to online coaching so they were well practised for this new way of working. I could undertake my work anywhere we had internet, and the campervan was fitted with a Wi-Fi unit to enable me to work ‘on the move’.
We prepared everything for leaving the UK in October 2020, storing some treasured possessions but downsizing too and donating much of our furniture to keep our storage costs down. We had agreed we would commit to this new lifestyle for at least five years so our investment in the van could pay for itself. We had saved hard for a couple of years previously so had a good pot of money and we worked through a budget and lifestyle that would allow us to live on my pension income with contract work giving us the extras.
Travelling Through Spain in Our Van
We eventually left the UK in early October 2020 and headed to France, but as we left we found that the house sits in France had cancelled as they were unable to travel. We decided to head straight into Spain. Spain was beautiful, we worked our way along the East coast staying on beach side campsites and small towns. In our week I planned the days where I needed to work and ensured I had space in the van and a good signal for the van Wi-Fi.
The freedom was amazing. We arrived in Spain when it was quiet and movement between provinces was restricted due to the pandemic but we followed the rules of each area we were in and used campsites when we could.
House Sitting in Spain
We had a pet sit booked inland in Spain and we had a great 2 weeks looking after 3 dogs and a cat in a lovely boutique rural hotel that was closed for the season. Following this sit we drove into another region during a brief period where the country was released to travel, we were locked down at our next sit for over 5 weeks with no travel even outside of the town. We spent the time catching up with work (for me) and Andy helped out doing practical work around the place, building walls, painting and general maintenance. We had the blessing of beautiful sunsets most evenings.
Christmas Plans Changed
Although we were due to travel home before Christmas, the restrictions in the UK would mean we were unable to see family and friends so we made a decision to take another two sits in Spain, one of which was over the Christmas period.
Christmas was hard without family. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see them but we still felt a long distance apart. Andy’s daughter was pregnant and her baby due in mid-March 2021 and this, alongside BREXIT, meant we moved our planned return to the UK to March 2021.
We both really missed our families but staying in Spain felt safe, everyone followed the rules, we were self-contained in our van, our travel was minimal and in months and months we had only met a handful of people at a social distance. After all we didn’t know anyone!
There was a period in January where we booked an Airbnb for 5 weeks as the campsites were restricted and many closed altogether through low numbers and COVID19 restrictions. Lots of space to work (or so I thought)… The apartment next door was being refurbished and a week into our stay, the noise and dust was too much and we relocated.
An Addition to the ‘Retired and Inspired’ Family
A couple we had been housesitting for offered us an apartment in a complex in exchange for some light maintenance work. We were really happy there and in addition to jobs on the complex we walked some dogs in the local shelter. This was how we ended up with an addition to our family, Argus or now known as our Gus. He is the loveliest of dogs and perfectly suited to van life.
Back in the UK
So, we arrived back in the UK, having added a family member, in March 2021. Even though we had not seen anyone for two weeks as we travelled home, we quarantined at home for 10 days and took 2 PCR tests leaving us £700 / AUD$1260 / USD$970 lighter in our pockets.
Life back in the UK has been a little different, and a lot colder. We have found it difficult to adjust to having no fixed base. We move between a friend’s house who lets us use a room and my daughters in Wales. Our ‘postal’ address is my daughters or our official home address for our GP and general health.
We had our COVID vaccinations on our return to Wales and caught up with some health checks. As I write this article in April 2021, we are working on a small campsite in the Derbyshire Peak District in exchange for a pitch on the campsite. We have a house sit booked in south Wales later in May and then a 3 week house sit in Iceland in July. My contracts are still busy so I still manage my time to include those in my working week.
It’s been an interesting year to make such a huge lifestyle change but we have been blessed to have had freedom in a very restricted time. We have been outside in the sunshine when others have been isolated at home and we have enjoyed time together in each other’s company, forming a great team of what was two and is now three.
If you are considering this kind of change, my advice would be ‘Go for it’! If this year has taught me anything, it’s about enjoying the moment.
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READ MORE: TAKING AN ADULT GAP YEAR
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