Teacher Richard Thorley and his wife decided to home-educate their daughters – in a motorhome – and set off on a life-changing tour of south-west Europe

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take a year out and invest in your children’s education by learning together as a family on a joint adventure? That moment arrived for us while kayaking on the Dordogne in August 2015.

As two teachers with a young family, we’d become accustomed to lengthy family holidays followed by even longer school terms. We longed to escape from this routine, even though it seemed a highly unlikely possibility. Yet as we headed towards the end of the school summer holiday, we knew this was the ‘now or never’ moment.

We finally decided to spend time and money educating our own children, but in the most practical way possible: on a European motorhome tour.

Heading off in a 'van would change our lives

The idea of leaving it all behind (jobs, house, family) and embarking on an educational adventure around Europe may seem extraordinary to some people, but I can safely say that we are not extraordinary. We had only lived in Suffolk and Yorkshire up to this point – and this decision meant that our lives would never be the same again.

Foremost in our thoughts was the choice of ’van, and (crucially) which layout would provide both a classroom and enough living space. A Marquis dealer special, the Swift Lifestyle 644, seemed perfect: a large U-shaped lounge with separate dinette and an overcab bed would allow us to enjoy longer spells away.

So with the motorhome fully loaded and our goodbyes completed, we left, destined for a two-month trip around the south-west of Europe. Intended to cover all aspects of our daughters’ education, it provided them with the opportunity to visit Spain and see the Alhambra in person and enjoy the challenge of an escape room in Lisbon.

Further highlights included marine biology (aka dolphin watching in Gibraltar), languages (Spanish, French and one word of Portuguese) and PE (snorkelling, surfing and mountain biking). Each day dawned with a new challenge, all recorded online and in our daughters’ diaries.

Proving both invigorating and challenging in equal measure, our motorhome tour has included gas fiascos in Spain and driving along vertiginous, narrow routes through the Pueblos Blancos of Andalusia. Yet these have been surpassed by a clutch of wonderful family memories such as the fairytale castle at Carcassonne, cable car rides to Pic du Midi, shopping in the Christmas markets in Angers and the incomparable Palacio de la Pena in Sintra.

With the first part of our adventure coming to a close in December, it seemed only right to appraise the trip before returning to the Continent in 2016.

New year, new 'van

While the Lifestyle provided us with many wonderful memories, it had proved too small and cold for our long-term travels. So the New Year saw us purchase a new, fully winterised Adria Matrix 670 SL (Silver Collection): we couldn’t have been happier as we prepared to pack up our bags once again and got ready to head north to Scotland.

A trip from John o’Groats to Land’s End will form part two of our adventure, before we set off for the wonders of Italy and Germany. If we’re not too burdened by evenings spent marking books, we hope to add to our growing motorhome travel blog. You can also follow our travels on Twitter (@lifeinourvan)!

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