Love is an act of endless forgiveness; a tender look which becomes a habit.” – Peter Ustinov
Many years ago, a boyfriend and I formulated an escape plan that involved a boat. He held a Yachtmaster’s certificate and had crewed on boats around the world. I had drunk gin and been ‘rail meat’ on a few pleasure yachts in the Solent. I had also undertaken a voyage to the Isle of Wight for lunch. Once.
I enrolled on a ‘Competent Crew’ course and – let’s call him Rob – delivered my first sailing lesson in a Mirror dinghy. Within the hour, we were not speaking. Once we had landed and packed away the boat in a tense silence, I initiated a short conversation; “I am NEVER getting on a boat with YOU ever again!” “Good. Because I am NEVER going to ask you to!”
This trip was doomed – and it was nothing to do with anyone’s sailing ability or owning a boat. If Rob and I were ever going to sail around the world, we would need to set off in opposite directions!
If you retire and travel together, you will be in each other’s company ALL THE TIME! Not only that, in a caravan (or a boat!), you will be in an enclosed space. There is no spare room to which you can withdraw for a bit of space or storm off in a huff.
You will have to share a lot of mundane, daily tasks, such as collecting EVERY DROP of water you use, emptying ALL the waste you generate, including that scary, cassette toilet.
And you WILL face stressful situations. Executing a necessary U turn with a 40ft caravan/van combo on a hairpin bend on a mountain road has happened to us – and is not an isolated external stressor. If you are travelling to new places, the unexpected WILL happen. That is one of the reasons why you’re doing it! As David Bowie said, “The minute you know you’re on safe ground you’re dead.”
So. If you are planning an extended trip together – you need to be sure that you can get along!
Mark and I are lucky in this respect. When we were first married, we lamented the fact that our employers would not grant us leave for full-time adoration. Thankfully, as the years have passed, we still feel the same way! A friend of Mark’s recently commented very perceptively “Most blokes have a best mate, but your wife is your best mate.” A lady in the gym saw us together and asked me “is that a new man?” She was shocked when I told her that we had been married for 18 years!
We have always enjoyed doing things together; we learnt to windsurf together, we cycle together, walk the dogs together, enjoy the same kind of movies and music together, we like wild places, not touristy hell holes, we hate shopping, unless it involves buying sports equipment (or a caravan…)
It helps to have things in common, but part of the reason that we rub along well together is that we are KIND to each other. Nothing is work if you are doing it for the one you love. We do argue about making the tea in the morning, but it goes like this; “I’ll make the tea.” “No, let me do it!” “No – It’s my turn.” “There’s no such thing as turns. I’ll do it…” “But I WANT to do it!” etc.
That is not to say that we never disagree, but we have instituted some house rules and a couple of these are a fail-safe way to prevent an argument from getting out of hand;
1 – If a dispute arises, the case has to be resolved EITHER;
- Speaking while pushing the end of your nose upwards towards your forehead OR
- Silently, with all emotion expressed through the medium of Flamenco.
In either case, you can’t really take yourself too seriously. Suffice to say, in our caravan, arguments tend not to last very long!
2. We also have a rule that, if you are cuddling a dog, you are exempt from all tasks until the dog gets up of its own accord.
It has not all been plain sailing, however. We gave up work and decided to travel full time in our caravan partly because it was our long-held dream. It is very difficult for me to admit in public to the other part of the reason that we decided not to work again, but here goes. We were both suffering from severe, clinical depression.
Your 50s can be a difficult decade. You have to come to terms with the fact that those dreams of being a stunt man will probably never now be realised. Aches and pains bring to the fore your own mortality. We had tragically lost a few friends to illness, a couple of whom were younger than us. Family issues; the empty nest if you have children; the worry of ageing and infirm parents. And if you are a lady (sorry boys) the madness of the menopause.
For over a quarter of a century, our working lives had consisted of stressful, high pressure jobs with challenging targets. It had taken its toll. By the time that we had been chewed up and spat out by the corporate world, we were really quite ill indeed. In fact, the reality was that we could not have taken on the simplest form of alternative employment, even had we wanted to.
So, we were not only confined in a small tin box 24/7/365 and exposing ourselves to the stress of a completely new experience, we were both suffering from a mental illness – and THAT has required us to be VERY tender with each other!
Whatever your situation and your relationship status, taking the plunge into a completely new life will require a good deal of compassion and understanding.
It would be a big omission if I did not make this point and it would be misleading to say that ‘Living the Dream’ is walking straight into a carefree world of sunshine and unending joy. But while there have been times when I have literally wanted to sit and weep into my hands, these have been very few – and much fewer in number than when I was employed!
In our working lives, we always planned for the worst but hoped for the best. If you think about what might impact on your chosen lifestyle and are sure that you can make it work, the rewards are infinite. If you offered me a fully paid-up lifetime of first-class travel and top hotels in destinations of my choosing, I would not be remotely interested.
Giving up work and travelling in a caravan is the best thing we have ever done and there is literally NOTHING in the world for which I would trade this lifestyle!
The thing to bear in mind is that whatever happens, a bad day caravanning is ALWAYS going to be better than a good day at work!