One year on and we’re still here, on the road. This is no longer ‘Ellie and Adrian’s big trip’, but our way of life. It’s what we do. For now.
How far have we come?
We guestimate at 40,000km across eight countries and counting. Our odometer died for a time between Portugal and France, and then again in Sicily … and it’s still not working!
We’ve slept in 167 different places, from the dirty floor of a Tunis-Palermo ferry to the pristine wilderness of the mountains. We still haven’t found the perfect official campsite, but Etna Wine and the ‘duckling’ farm south of Rocamadour in the Dordogne come close.
The joys of digital mean we’ve taken more than 16,000 photos. Yes, we are ‘managing’ them, but we do need to edit them down a bit.
Would we do anything differently?
Back in January 2011, when we bought our red van, we were embarrassed by its size – it seemed so big and shiny. We’d always camped in tents before, so it was the height of luxury, warm and dry. When confronted by the giant white and silver beasts of motorhomes on the Continent that we soon dubbed ‘fridge freezers’ we came to realise that our van was anything but big. It is small and perfectly formed though and with a very few exceptions for a van of its ripe old age of 24 years, it has carried us safely for many miles. We’ve driven it hard too, over ranges of mountains from the Pyrenees to the Alps, the Appennines to the roughest roads of the Accursed Mountains of Albania. It’s met snow, the spray from crashing waves and the desert sands of southern Tunisia. It’s been lost up narrow cobbled streets all but taking people’s washing down. It may not have air-conditioning, a bathroom or a drop down coffee maker, but we can take it down all the tiny less travelled roads we love so much, park in the middle of villages or cities, and that’s exactly what we wanted from it.
All we can think of really changing about it is that sometimes we could do with thicker curtains…
We have deeply appreciated the spirit and generosity of the fellow travellers we’ve met along the way. Sharing information and stories, socialising until the early hours, or having an impromptu lunch or a coffee together in a layby. It’s kept us sane and kept us on the road.
Having contact with so many charming people in the countries we’ve been to and realising that not having any common language need not be a barrier to friendship and offers of help, as well as getting a precious glimpse into other ways of life. There’s so many people and cats we would have gladly welcomed to travel our road with us.
Seeing the most wonderful places that the world offers, nearly every day. New experiences at every bend in the road and discovering new foods and drinks.
Travelling with the freedom of the open road, wherever it goes, and hardly ever knowing where we’ll be spending the night.
What have we learned?
We are fitting the pieces into an enormous jigsaw puzzle of world cultural history, from pre-history to the present day. It is fascinating to see the influences from different civilisations and spot connections between different nations, languages and customs.
Our language skills have improved considerably and we are regularly practising our French and Italian, and I have even dusted off my ancient schoolgirl German. We have used all the Finnish words we ever knew, and have learned some Arabic, Albanian and Serbo-Croat. We have better miming abilities too.
We’ve learned that being able to say just a few words in the local language opens doors and wins hearts – a really rewarding result.
We have the power to change the weather simply by putting a load of laundry on.
The length of time it takes to navigate out of a town with no signage, is in direct proportion to how much we are longing for our picnic lunch that we promised to have just after we got clear of said town (Avellino, southern Italy we remember you well, and so many others).
Possessions have become less important, and the tight space means we acquire very little that isn’t a consumable or a replacement. Putting things away and keeping as tidy as possible prevents irritation …
We’ve become more aware of what we consume, particularly water.
Do we miss anything from home?
We got over missing things a long time ago, but a pint of bitter and a good roast dinner now and again wouldn’t go amiss. And oh how we’ll appreciate the washing machine when we get home too.
The journey is far from over (we hope), but we feel it is timely to give thanks to all those who in whatever way have helped us live our dream:
Thank you to all the family and friends who’ve acted as post-people – getting important things to us by courier, mail or in person.
Thanks to friends old and new who’ve put us up, helped us when we broke down, got stuck in the mud, or the sand, or ran out of wine.
Thanks to everyone who is following our blog – it’s great to have so many vicarious passengers along for the ride. We love writing and illustrating it and your comments and greetings give us the encouragement to continue to do. Don’t be shy, introduce yourselves – we would love more comments.
Special thanks to Matt and Berenice, who are renting our house and valiantly holding the fort, checking the mail, dealing with the boiler and overflowing drains, and keeping up appearances with the neighbours by ensuring there’s a surfeit of unusual cars parked out front.
In fond memory of Gerald and Gunnel, without whom none of this would be possible.
This kind of travel is joyous and intense. So many impressions in one day make the time expand and contract in strange ways. The highs and the lows are more keenly felt. We have no regrets and we appreciate every day we’re on the road. Well, except when it’s tipping down with rain, the van’s leaking and full of laundry that won’t dry… those are the times when the van seems really small and it’s all too easy to add to the low mood when glasses of wine are so easily spilt. The highs more than make up for that though, and you can always pour more wine. The marvellous thing is that we’re still on the road together, all three of us … and we haven’t woken up with a start to find we’ve dozed off on the tube and it was all a dream. We’re really living that dream, and we’ve hopefully still got a good few months of travelling wherever the road goes to come.