How We Manage Work and Travel at the Same Time
We both grew up traveling around Europe with our families and had a strong desire to see more of the world.
So, after enjoying our first extended trip away together, an 11-month backpacking journey around Asia, we have always subsequently tried to fit in more global adventures when we can, around working full-time jobs back in the UK.
In the summer of 2019, we decided to place our careers on hold and embark on a year of full-time travel, in our vintage motorhome and with our 3 young children. Unfortunately, a global pandemic stopped us in our tracks for 8 months later that year, so we never finished the trip and ended up in Spain (where we've remained ever since).
We’d love to be able to pick up where we left off once it is possible, but it is hard to plan any sort of full-time travel at the moment. We paid for our trip with our savings as well as the income from our other investments in the UK. It does take some time and effort to organize, but thankfully, we haven't had to manage a full-time job while on the road, giving us more time to explore new places.
Keeping our day-to-day spending to a minimum is key to this. We’re also always on the lookout for new ways to make some money.
Our latest venture is Withasmile Spain, bringing high-quality, UK-manufactured, clip-on dental veneers to the Spanish market.
What Planted the Seed for the Idea of a Full-Time Year Away
As well as many short breaks around the UK, we have also enjoyed month-long trips around Italy and Scandinavia in our previous (even older) motorhome, with our first kids as babies and toddlers at the time. This planted the seed for the idea of a full-time year away.
We got to visit a good chunk of Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Northern Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and the Spanish Costas for our year-long adventure. Sadly, just as we planned to switch across the continent to explore some of Southeast Europe and the Balkans, Covid-19 put an end to that trip.
We’d definitely love to finish that section when we can. Turkey also looks like a fascinating country to explore in a motorhome, with plenty of wild camping opportunities.
Motorhomes Are the Perfect Vehicles for Touring
We always have a vague idea of where we’re going, but like to stay flexible - no spreadsheets or itineraries here! Motorhomes are the perfect vehicles for touring. We check guidebooks, travel blogs, etc. for specific places to visit, deciding on a daily basis as we go.
When traveling with children, it is always convenient to have your own private space with all of the functions of a home, so you never run out of anything! In terms of the cost of living, if your goal is to take a holiday by having a long drive to an expensive coastal campsite, the maths of a motorhome sometimes doesn’t stack up against simply having a car and a cheap hotel instead.
When touring around a country's interior, on the other hand, you can often find camping stops that are either free or very low-cost, making it a very cheap way to live, even after factoring in the cost of fuel.
Farm and vineyard stops are often our favorite places to overnight, usually offering a lovely and free place to stay, with the opportunity to purchase some of their delicious local produce in return.
How We Pack and Some of the Must-Haves We Carry With Us When We Travel
Although everything can be accessed online now, we still like to have a couple of paper guide books with us - there’s something quite nice about browsing them in the evening, looking for interesting places to visit next.
The other stuff we take with us has evolved over the years, as we have bettered our understanding of what we need (and as we’ve had more children!). Although a motorhome is designed to actually fit a surprising amount of stuff into it, you still need to constantly ask yourself “do I really need this” for every item you pack, especially if you’re going to be living in the van for an extended duration.
Absolute essentials of ours (beyond the obvious) are a hose and various size adapters for filling up with water, a decent rug to sit on outside, a BlueTooth speaker for music, and some basic tools for when something (inevitably) goes wrong. You eventually find a place for everything - for us, regardless of where we were parked or whatever the weather, our 2 children’s pushchairs were always stored underneath the van when not in use!
Our Favorite Memory of Meeting New People
We have met so many lovely people from all over, that it is hard to pick just one.
The most culturally interesting experience we've had was with a local Berber tour guide in Merzouga, Morocco's desert, who took us to meet and have tea with a local nomad family he knew in their makeshift tent.
The Major Factors in Determining the Length of Your Trips
Work, as it does for most people, always gets in the way! When we were working full-time, we used to try to combine the benefits of one of us having teacher's school holidays with the other taking a full year's leave all at once to take extended summer vacations.
For our honeymoon, we even managed a 5-week trip around South America. Our year-long motorhome trip was initially planned to be a one-off but, now that we have the bug, I can see us reverting to that lifestyle again whenever we can!
The Travel Apps/Websites We Use on Our Trips and How We Started Our Blog
The main travel app that we use the most is called Park4Night. It has a map display of a large assortment of places to stay overnight in a motorhome/campervan. These range from campsites and official camper stops, to farms and vineyards, right down to user-uploaded parking and wild-camping locations. It has proven invaluable for helping us to find some really interesting and, at times, spectacular, places to stay.
Having also made use of various travel blogs to find new information while on the move, we then felt inspired to start our own. So, we launched our family travel and parenting website, Children of Wanderlust, to share our experiences and tips with others and chronicle some of our travel memories. It has so far been well received and we hope that it can continue to be an interesting resource for others to reference.
Costs Can Vary Dramatically, Depending on Your Choice of Lifestyle
To be honest, costs can vary dramatically, depending on your choice of lifestyle. As mentioned before, campsites can be expensive to stay on, and eating out always adds up with a big family, even when choosing cheaper countries and restaurants to eat in.
How often you travel also has a big bearing on costs, with fuel being one of the main considerations. I'd say our family of 5 (as it was at the time) could get by between £50-£100 per day, but it's easy to spend a lot on either side of that range. We have always positioned ourselves somewhere in the middle, I’d say - we generally live cheaply by staying at free locations when we can, mostly eating out, and usually traveling shorter distances each day when we move (after all, why rush?) However, we will always treat ourselves from time to time and will always try to visit or take part in any local attractions on offer.
After all, why bother traveling all the way to the Sahara Desert if you can’t afford to take a camel ride when you get there? You may as well just stay at home. It’s also always worth having a bit of a contingency fund (or reserve credit card) at hand for inevitable breakdowns and repairs along the way, that can otherwise quickly eat a chunk out of your daily budget.
Some of Our Cool Travel Stories
The most serious breakdown that we’ve had would, of course, happen high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, at a height approaching the snow line and in the middle of nowhere.
Presented with a collapsed front axle, we were faced with the reality of having no breakdown cover, no phone numbers to ring, or any internet signal for the phones. With 3 small children on board, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little panic in the first few minutes!
Fortunately, around lunchtime, we flagged down a passing local taxi, who drove off for assistance and returned with someone who spoke English, called a mechanic, while we waited. When the mechanic arrived after almost 2 hours, he carefully dressed in his overalls, crawled under the van, re-appeared, and announced "it’s broken." You couldn’t make it up!
They then sent for a recovery truck (that our van only just squeezed into the back of), and drove us on the rest of our journey to Marrakech, at a steady 30km/h all the way.
At around 1 am, we finally arrived at the ‘garage’, a backstreet shed with a couple of minibusses parked outside with the wheels missing, in a rundown district on the edge of the city. Not quite what I expected. Fortunately, we had been able to book a riad guesthouse to stay in for the night and, quite incredibly, by lunchtime the following day (a Sunday!), the van was fully fixed and back on the road (and all for a very reasonable price).
Sometimes salvation comes in the strangest of places!
Some of the Biggest Challenges of Campervan Traveling and How To Overcome Them
As previously mentioned, mechanical issues are always a challenge. As well as our major breakdown, we’ve also had intermittent issues with overheating, flat tires, a faulty starter motor, a leaking roof, and a dodgy fridge to overcome.
Our classic Hymer motorhome, ‘Hazel’, is approaching 30 years old - we love it and would never swap it for a soulless, newer one, but it does mean there is usually always something that needs fixing!
Living in such a small space with children obviously has its challenges, especially when it rains (although a small space has some advantages, such as less cleaning or constantly going upstairs to get something, as we'd do at home).
We have found that traditionally hot countries often do not have as many indoor activities available for kids when compared to what we are used to back home in the UK, so when visiting out of season on a rainy day, it can sometimes be tricky to find things to keep them entertained.
Homeschooling them can also have its moments - but I’m sure everyone can relate to that after the last year we’ve had!
What We Wish We Had Known When We Started Traveling
Definitely, if traveling in an older vehicle, some basic knowledge of the vehicle's mechanics can be helpful. We knew a little, but definitely not enough! The ability to self-diagnose minor faults could have saved us some longer and more expensive trips to local garages later on.
We’ve learned that commercial or truck garages are the best places to look for help and that producing small children and looking helpless can provide a useful sympathy card!
What First-Time Van-Travelers Should Know, That They Wouldn't Expect
I don’t want to sound negative here, as, overall, our experience of full-time motorhome travel has been amazing. Obviously, there are always unexpected hurdles to overcome, but in some ways, that is all part of the adventure.
The good thing about having your house with you is that you still have everything you need even if you get stuck. I’d definitely advise taking your time - there are so many interesting historical and different cultural things to see everywhere you go.
There’s no point trying to tour all of Europe in a few months - if you have less time, just concentrate on one small area or collection of neighboring countries, then visit the others on a different trip in the future. You’ll have much more fun that way.
After all, nobody wants to be sitting on the motorway for hours every day. Expect even the hot Mediterranean countries to get cold in the winter.
Online forums and Facebook groups can often be great sources of information. In our case, owning a Hymer motorhome, we have regularly made use of the Classic Hymers Facebook group for everything from fault diagnosis, to upgrade suggestions and even interesting and unexpected places to visit.
Finally, don't dismiss destinations that aren't typically on the tourist map. Germany, for example, is perfect for motorhome touring, with so many things to see and do, alongside an incredible network of good quality and low-cost camper van stops.
Other cool travel stories you might enjoy!