Taking an enforced break in a friend’s house in France for the duration of the pandemic, Dan and Esther reflect on their nomadic life.
So, why did you decide to embark on your travelling life?
When we met, at Wadham, we were lucky enough to receive a college travel grant and spent four weeks Interrail touring each summer, alongside summer jobs. Those adventures planted the seed for a travel bug that never died. However, the final push came in the form of a health scare. Dan was seriously ill and one night we were told to say “a proper goodbye, just in case”. We knew then that if he got better we’d make some major changes to the way we lived. Thankfully, he recovered and as soon as we could we bought an old motorhome and drove south.
Did you set out straight after graduation?
No. Esther wanted to, but I (Dan) thought it was too reckless at the time. I refused to consider it and insisted on doing a PhD, getting a job etc. The idea of travelling was too far out of my comfort zone. It was my good fortune that Esther stayed with me, though I didn’t fully realise it at the time. I thought I was being “the sensible one”.
We were in our early thirties when we left. On the one hand, we regret not going straight away. On the other hand, it meant we had more resources behind us and more life experience. We’d packed a lot into the decade after Wadham. Postgraduate degrees, academic jobs, a start-up business, house moves, and all of the other usual things. We’d been considering a career break anyway when Dan got sick, his illness just motivated us to expand things a little.
Were friends and family encouraging (or not)?
Yes they were, though we initially told everyone we were going for a year. We always knew we wanted it to be for longer. Some people still ask us when we’re coming home, but “home” has become a very loose concept the more time we’ve spent as nomads. I’m not saying we’ll do this forever. The truth is, we just don’t know. We used to have a plan and now we don’t. Who knows what we’ll be doing this time next year?
How do you fund your adventures?
A combination of savings, rental income from our house in the UK, and jobs we pick up on the road. We’ve also written some books. That said, we’ve seen people travelling on all budgets and none. From enormous luxury motorhomes to mattresses in the backs of transit vans, from house-sitting to graphic design or odd jobs; if somebody really wants to travel they can usually find a way. Life on the road can be very inexpensive. We were very nervous about our futures and career prospects when we first started out, and we tried to keep various options open. Now we’ve accepted that we just need to live for the moment a little more and let the future take care of itself. I appreciate that sounds very reckless to some people. I know it would have done to me a few years ago, but it’s something we’re comfortable with now. Maybe that will change?
Tell us about some of your adventures so far. Is there anything that stands out?
Wow, there are so many to choose from. Working on an organic farm. Crashing a hot air balloon next to the Nile in Egypt. Two months trekking through the Alps. Adopting a stray dog who had six puppies two weeks later. Or just parking in a field and watching the sun set. Every morning we wake up and say out loud “What adventures will we have today?” It might just be litter picking on a beach, or writing a blog post for a charity we support, but mindfulness and gratitude has become an increasing part of our life experience. Not that we don’t still love running up mountains as often as we can.
Have you encountered any problems along the way?
Lots of them, or very few depending on how you look at it. We know we are “living the dream” as many people would see it, and we are. But as we’ve learned, travelling doesn’t really solve any problems, it just changes them. Practical challenges aside, such as breakdowns etc, I suppose the biggest challenges have been emotional. Removing many of the conventional life stresses allowed a lot of suppressed issues to creep up over time. It’s been a very cathartic experience at times, especially when sharing a tiny living space with a long-term life partner!
How long will you keep travelling?
Would you recommend a travelling lifestyle to others?
Yes. All of the standard slogans and quotes about travel that float about on memes and such have a grain of truth in the them, but it’s the mindset that travel shapes that is the most powerful thing to us. It opens you up to new ways of looking at life, at people and at the world. There are so many ‘facts’ we used to take for granted that no longer seem obvious. It’s both a personal and a shared experience, and it changes all of the time.
Did your time at Wadham influence your life choices?
It would be impossible for it not to have done. Wadham, and Oxford in general, opened up our horizons. There’s a near infinite array of pathways we could have taken, but an ability and willingness to recognise and act on opportunities was the key ingredient in each case.
How are you coping with the current pandemic?
We were in Spain but dashed to France to avoid the lock down there only to find Macron announcing a similar series of restrictions. On the plus side, the French restrictions allow us to go jogging at least and we also have a friend who is letting us stay at his house in the Gers Department. In return for paying the bills we are at least not restricted to a motorhome for the time being. We love van life but the key ingredient is the fact it moves, which isn't really possible right now.
Is there any advice you would give to Wadham students considering travelling?
Yes and no. It’s hard to brief without sounding cryptic or trite. I don’t just want to say “Do It!” I suppose I’d say that there are more options open to you than you can comprehend, and that to live in integrity with yourself while embodying compassion for other living things is beautiful. Sorry, I realise I’ve been cryptic after all!