Before cutting the umbilical cords to our corporate salaries and heading off for a couple of years on the road, we often wondered what it would be like to come back. Odd, since we’d not actually left at that point, pondering the return, but we were stepping into the unknown and I guess we wanted some comfort there was a way back in.
If you’re in a similar position, I can put your minds at rest, there was indeed a way back for us, and it’s turned out well.
We bought our motorhome and left Britain, pretty much clueless and certainly plan-less, about three and half years ago. With two years on the road around Europe and North Africa that leaves 18 months of being back home in the UK.
Initially being home was a shock to the system. Our home had been rented out while we were away. The tenants were fab, and had really looked after the house. Detached, with 3 bedrooms on a corner plot and a huge garage, we’d long since worked out it was enormous, having grown used to living in a space the size of the house’s bathroom. Decision made: we’d not go back to our old home and we’ve continued to let it out to the same tenants since.
Having no place to live, and a somewhat intractable bond to Dave (our motorhome), a short tour of friends in the UK ensued. Loads of folks had offered to meet us via this blog, and let us use their drives, which we were both a bit taken aback by and very grateful for. Return to ‘real life’ called though.
At this point I’ll let on that I (Jay) really didn’t want to halt what I’d decided was perhaps the most perfect existence I’d had in my 40-odd years on the planet. All I wanted was to keep going. The utter irresponsibility and freedom of it all had seeped into my bones. Any idea of pulling a suit on and heading for 10 hours a day of commuting/cubicle squatting had me close to tears.
It was a child-like fantasy though, perhaps. Trawl the internet and you’ll find tons of people who make a living on the road, typically through blogs, writing content for other websites, photography, writing iPhone apps, you name it. This didn’t feel quite real to either of us, we couldn’t imagine making it work, and despite new-found confidence and ease with the world, we still had a fear of making ourselves unemployable, and ultimately destitute.
And so back we came, to our old home town of Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, and ex-mining town which had originally drawn my dad from farming into the local coal pit in order to make a decent living. The mine has, of course, long gone. And with it most of the well-paid (if dangerous) employment. I was glad to see my family again, not so glad to be back in the old town though, which in my eyes had grown more tired of life in the time we’d been away.
A tour of the local estate agents to find a rental property firmly flattened me further. There were a few properties available, and we found one where we could park Dave. Being sat in Rightmove telling the young lass in there neither of us were employed, wasn’t much fun. Ju had fortunately ensured I’d not bankrupted us and the agents let us rent a place on the basis we paid 6 months rent in advance.
After nailing a mountain of paperwork (Ju did this) and shifting further mountains of stuff from lofts and garages, we moved in. Our Smart car had stayed mothballed at Ju’s sister-in-law’s, so we bought a new leisure battery and new tyres and revived it. Then the job hunting started.
And stopped. For me anyway. Within a few weeks I’d been offered a 3 month contract back at my old employer a few miles away. Since I’d left the company stressed to the point of panic attacks, going back was a challenge. Suit and tie on, I stood at the door, breathed, wondered at the car park packed with British numberplates and walked back into the place. I just got the hell on with it.
Work colleagues looked two years older, which freaked me out. They all expected me to be exactly the same as when I’d left, which also freaked me out. They all seemed to act in weird ways. What was normality 2 years before now felt like enormous over-consumption. Buying bigger houses, 3rd cars, holiday homes, and moaning about salaries not being high enough. One chap I knew bemoaned the fact his kids were making his life too expensive: “I was at Harrods on Saturday, and fancied a steak. £50 each would be fine for me and the missus, but another £50 each for the kids, too much, I had to miss out”. WTF…?
My job had taken several steps down the seniority level, but in the process my income had doubled. Odd, life, isn’t it. I was now a contract employee with no job security, no sick pay, no pension, no paid training and so on, but the risk was certainly worth the reward for us. That first contract was extended a number of times before we completed the project. After a month’s break installing a bathroom, the phone rang again and another contract started. This time back on the about the same rung project managing a €1m odd piece of work. That contract ends in 4 months, and all of the income’s been invested. We’ll write about the investment side of things another time.
Ju was after a permanent contract and was taken on by a local branch of a multi-national a few weeks after me. Initially she enjoyed the work, but after a year or so the joy of being in the corporate world petered out. The contract income we’d invested was working out OK for us, so after a series of into-the-night discussions I finally persuaded her to quit. I’m hugely grateful she did.
Our time in the rental house only lasted about 8 months. Goals were formulated in that time to help get us back on the road. We had our ‘why’, our motivation to force us to take perceived risks which we’d not normally have taken. Stepping well outside our comfort zone we found an old butchers shop with a 3 bed semi attached and an outbuilding. Into this we poured our energy and money. Effectively we worked 10 hours for our employers, and then another 4 hours a day on the house. Plus weekends, we were at it full-on – sometimes it seemed like too much. A year after buying it the place was complete, including a converted outbuilding to serve as a UK bolt-hole for us.
We sold Dave before moving to the butchers, and have taken a couple of short holidays in the past few months after realising the need for a break. I know, I know, that’s what most folks get as a matter of course, some get no holidays for years on end, but they still felt a little pointless, at least at first. After a 500-places, 700+ day trip, a few days in a holiday cottage just wasn’t cutting the mustard.
Up to date now, and we’re gearing up for another phase in life. We have renewed confidence that we can leave the UK and the job market here, and come back if we need to. Our skills are still sharp, and time spent travelling pumps us full of enthusiasm again. The investments we have will cover most, if not all of our living costs (which we’ve managed keep low – again we’ll write more about this). The search is on for another motorhome, with the intention to develop a free-for-all kind of dip-in-dip-out lifestyle.
The Alps call for the autumn. We’ll come back home for Xmas and good friend’s wedding in a January (these guys drove to see us in Lake Bled – what heroes). Then the open road. We never made it to Turkey, or Scandinavia. Neither of us is a great planner, preferring to make the best of the incredible flexibility a motorhome offers (that’s our excuse for not planning more than 2 days ahead). However, neither of us want to freeze in the Arctic Circle in winter either, so some tiny weather-related planning is needed in the coming months.
To wrap things up, life post-tour has worked out very well for us. It’s not been easy, and we’ve both flirted with depression at times. We set our goal though: to be able to live a life where we could travel as we wished, and work only when we wanted. We focussed on the thing. We wrote it down. We talked about it and relentlessly hammered away at the thing. It **should** have taken us five years to achieve it, but we did it in two. Goes to show though: those years out failed to make us lazy.
If any of you reading this have taken months out from work to travel, and since returned home, we’d love to hear from you and hear your experiences at ‘coming back’. Please comment below (if you’re happy to share your insight with others), or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep it private.
Thanks, happy travels folks, Jay