“You can’t sail to new horizons without losing sight of the shore.”
I am your typical unconventional conventional person. A northern lass from a small, provincial town, at first I followed the path; Education, Career, Marriage, Divorce… but it was through accident, not courage, that I managed to lose sight of the shore. Other than meeting my second husband, Mark, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me!
In my 30th year, I moved to London on my own, a gay divorcee. I was young, free, single – and was planning my first holiday alone. I thought that a sailing or activity holiday might be more fun than sitting on a beach by myself. As a new girl about town, I needed to meet people and build a new life. I joined an activity club, Spice and tried lots of new things like tiger cuddling, fire eating and skydiving. So when my Spice magazine flollopped onto my doormat and I turned a page to find “Rafting the Zambezi – The River of the Gods.” staring at me, I booked it straight away. I didn’t even read the description!
I had never heard of whitewater rafting (it wasn’t much of a ‘thing’ in those days!) My vision of the holiday was floating down this most iconic of African rivers on a wooden raft, looking at elephants, zebra and giraffe. Instead, the River of the Gods delivered Grade 5 rapids, 15-foot crocodiles, hippos (THE most dangerous animal in Africa) along with a fabulous diversity of tropical diseases.
I am pictured back left in the photo above; In rafting terms, this is known as ‘the ejector seat’. The name of the rapid is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which was prophetic. This six day, 60km descent of the Zambezi between Victoria Falls and Kariba changed my life!
Somewhere between waking to see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross as I slept under the stars on beaches beside the river; the adrenaline of ‘serious down time’ under some of the biggest white water in the world; owning only 2 sets of clothing (wet and dry) and seeing the towering, black, basalt cliffs of the Botoka Gorge, which guard the river after Victoria Falls – accessible only via the raging waters of the mighty river, the Botoka Gorge is a place as remote as the moon to most people – I found that for me, the path to true happiness is in experience, not owning STUFF.
After such a ‘near life’ experience, I found it difficult to adjust when I returned to civilisation and work. The daily grind just seemed so pointless. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be granted more than a 2-week annual window to see the world. I determined that I no longer wanted to live my life in thin slices.
“Can I have maternity leave?” I asked my boss. “But you don’t even have a boyfriend…!” he replied. “Well, that’s the beauty of it,” I told him. “I am not going through all that messy business of childbirth. I just want a year off so that I can travel – then have my job back when I come home…”
He was so taken aback that he said yes!
While I did have to come back, it was not all bad. Having vowed that marriage for a 2nd time was a triumph of hope over experience, I met Mark at a Spice social function. We were engaged 37 days later. 37 weeks after meeting, we were married and have been soul mates with similar aspirations – to really LIVE life and quit the rat race – ever since.
It was a long road and we were always planning. Sell up and buy a cheaper property in Italy. A B&B in Wales. A holiday cottage in the New Forest… We made changes to our circumstances to get more of what we wanted in life. We downsized and moved from London to the coast to enable us to live in the countryside, where we could do more windsurfing, walking and cycling. Many of the life plans were discarded, but eventually one will always come along that can be modified and moulded into a keeper.
But opportunity seldom comes neatly laid out and garnished on a plate. It would be nice to think that life would just allow you to win the Lottery, then go on and live your dreams, happy ever after in an eternal spring, but unfortunately, life is not really like that.
We underwent the shattering experience of both losing our jobs and becoming ill as a result. At the time, it was hard to see how it could be something positive, but sometimes a really good, hard kick up the butt is the only way to force a change when things have got comfortable. Being told in your 50s that you are no longer relevant after a lifetime of loyal service is certainly a tough one to come to terms with. Add to that the worry of how you will finance yourself into retirement and beyond in an unofficially ageist corporate world while coping with the mental distress of the actual process, it was definitely not easy to view this as Opportunity Knocks!
We had long had that rolling 5-year plan that we would give up work and travel, but the truth is that it is hard to justify giving up a secure, well-paid job voluntarily. It is the golden handcuff; “If we work just one more year, we will have so much more security for the future!” We thought that we might set a deadline at age 55, but we never reached that. With the redundancy, the rolling plan just stopped dead in its tracks.
So Why Did I Start My Blog?
I started so that you can see where our desire to travel and experience life has taken us since the conventional world of work, eat, sleep ended for us.
Pets, long hours and long commutes were not compatible, so when we lost our jobs, satisfying a long desire to share our lives with a dog was our first indulgence – and one that immediately made us feel much better! We intended to get two dogs, so that they could keep each other company, but accidentally ended up with four. We love them dearly and I named the blog World Wide Walkies for that reason – where we go, our dogs go too!
We found it difficult to find information on travelling with dogs and are often asked “How do you manage to travel with four dogs?!” so my blog will share doggie travel tips with you, based on our experience.
There are two sections; BC (Before Canines) and AD (After Dog) which means you can take a peek in on some of our previous adventures, such as that life-changing trip down the Zambezi, as well as our current, ongoing one.
The other thing that people want to know is ‘How did you do it?!’ It seems that the lifestyle we have chosen is what they always dreamed of – retiring early and seeing the world. My blog will tell you how we got here and also give insight into how others whose paths we have crossed have managed to achieve their own ways of living the dream.
And since our passions are windsurfing and skiing, you will find a good deal about that too!
We now travel mostly in a caravan. We have never owned a caravan, so I invite you to laugh heartily at our expense over our induction into a life on wheels. And, after all those other plans we made, you can find out how we settled on a mobile tin box as the vessel of choice to propel us into our dreams – but that’s another story. You can read all about that in How to Accidentally buy a Caravan.
And as for cock ups in a caravan, we have a few caravanning tips for you. As rookie caravanners, believe me, we made the mistakes so that you don’t have to!
Photo of me windsurfing courtesy of Karen Bornhoft Photography
11 thoughts on “World Wide Walkies – The First Step”
Awesome read Jackie. We have found that 3 dogs is a bit much for our caravan but they are 2 x Labrador and a Bavaraian Mountain Hound, so hardly lap dogs although no-one seems to have told Chilli and Ash that. Also, Ben and Ash don’t get on, but Ben is nearly 14 so allowed to be a grumpy old man . It got a bit messy outside a glass blowing factory so since then we have to separate them. All good fun! Looking forward to the next blog x
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Wow and wow…..we are both aged 55. Fed up. Working ourselves into an early grave for little reward. We have 2 gorgeous golden retrievers and want to buy a caravan! We are intending on downsizing, buying a tow van for the motorbike, dogs etc and tow the caravan to a better quality of life. Your blog is amazing. Refreshing. Informative. Many many thanks. We are hoping to escape next July. You are an inspiration to us both. Continue to have Safe, wonderful travels. And keep writing……..
Thank you so much for your lovely words!
It looks like your path to freedom will be similar to ours and I promise you that what you plan is eminently achievable. Do keep in touch and let me know how you are getting on. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
Get planning. Next July will be here before you know it – and knowing that you can tow yourselves to a better quality of life will make it pass all the quicker!
So much of what you have penned is akin to my heart and life. Sometimes things happen and change our direction, even making a 100% U-turn, but I believe very much that it’s all experience to learn from. An old aunt of mine always said that life is like a bank account…you put something in and save ’till you need it. Then you take some out, when you require it…. just like life, drawing on our experiences. I can see that I am going to spend a lot of time ploughing through your wonderful blog. Thanks 🙂
Likewise – I have just spent two very enjoyable cups of tea reading yours! Thank you for following and thus introducing me to your beautiful and inspiring blog. Kismet!
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That’s very kind. I am no great story-teller, and mostly blog very everyday things. I will have more travel tales next year as I am getting a small caravan in January….I am SO excited.
I beg to differ on your story-telling credentials…
I am SO excited for you getting a caravan! It is such a lovely way to travel and touring with a dog, you will meet so many people.
I can’t wait to hear all about it!
So envy you, my friend! Wish i could do it your way.
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Get planning! You never know. I never believed that we would achieve our lifestyle until it actually happened. I still have to pinch myself sometimes!
I hope all your dreams and wishes come true. xx
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