My husband Jason and I were owners of ‘Harvey the RV’, a Talbot Express. For two weeks each year we and our pampered pooch Charlie crossed the Channel and got as far as we could – the Vosges Mountains in Eastern France, the Île de Ré and La Rochelle in South-West France. We stretched each trip like a giant elastic band and were tugged back; the office was calling.
We wanted to see what lay beyond that two-week barrier, so we stopped spending money – as much as we could. Every penny we saved went to pay off our mortgage a bit earlier than the normal term. This took a few years, but once it was done we carried on saving; now every penny was going into our adventure fund.
Harvey wasn’t the motorhome for us on a long term trip. We studied layouts, lay in over-cab beds and became regulars at dealerships until we knew the right ’van for us – a Hymer B544 or Hymer B584. In August 2011 we met 'Dave', a 1991 B544, and bought it. Jason upgraded the motorhome's lighting by adding LEDs and solar panels, while I emptied our house to rent out.
In October we set off. Our plan was to turn right at Calais and hug the coast. We had enough money saved for one year on the road and nothing was going to stop us – not even losing our skylight before we reached the ferry!
France welcomed us with tasty food, cheap wine and free aires, and as we passed the furthest point we’d ever been on our two-week holidays, the feeling of freedom set in.
Looking at the distant mountains of Northern Spain jangled nerves. We can’t speak Spanish. They don’t do aires. Where will we sleep?
Northern Spain, even in wintery rain, is beautiful with plenty of places to stop, if you ask at the tourist office or police station. At the Portuguese border we were a little less daunted and driving back into Spain was a doddle.
We updated our tour blog every day and, in return, received feedback, hints and tips that spurred us on. Each day brought a new adventure. Little by little, this became the tour that changed our lives.
We’d based our budget on staying at campsites but, by sleeping in free and low-cost places, we had enough money to do another year.
A week back home gave us a chance to give Dave a well-deserved service and MOT, and gave us time to catch up with family and friends. As we set off again we had a bit more of a plan. My grandfather had died in Tunisia during WW2. I wanted to visit his war grave and send a video to my dad so he could see it. Four months later, I did just that.
Our trip had taken us to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Italy. We’d slept on the side of Vesuvius and Mount Etna and I’d had my wallet pinched on the metro in Rome, but all of that meant nothing as I knelt in front of the grave of a man I never knew.
After Tunisia we returned to Italy before camping on board the ferry to Greece. We started to head North, winding our way home via Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, back into Germany and France, which now felt like home.
In those two years, we climbed mountains, played in Saharan sand, and learned about Europe – I won’t mix up the Balkans and Baltics any more. We met amazing people, but most of all we learned about ourselves.
We came home and now plan get into the financial position to travel whenever, wherever we want. Aged 43, we’re almost there.