How To Cope When Forced to Live by Your Own Rules
“It’s like a bereavement!”
This was my Mum’s reaction when I set off to backpack around Australia and New Zealand.
Many of those who ask us about our lifestyle say that they would like to retire early and travel full time as we do. However, one of the most common barriers that they cite is the issue of leaving behind family; grown-up children, grandchildren and elderly parents.
Sadly, my Mum was no longer around to lament Mark and I setting out on our lengthy, caravanning tours of Europe, but my Dad is. And Mark’s Mum was 93 when Caravan Kismet and The Fab Four first departed the fair shores of Blighty.
We don’t have children, so that is not a consideration for us. However, I am sure that opinions have been expressed on the rights and wrongs of our leaving behind an elderly widow and widower for months at a time.
Our first philosophy is that you must Live Life. Aside from the redundancy, one of the reasons that we opted to seize the day was the shocking loss of a number of friends, some of whom were younger than us. We realised that we couldn’t wait for tomorrow to Live our Dreams; there are no guarantees that tomorrow will come.
We take the view that our elderly parents have lived their lives; the young have their lives in front of them. While it is important to be compassionate and care for family, we are important too.
Our second philosophy is; “What’s right for you is right for the world.” This might sound selfish, but constantly doing things because it is expected or to please others leads to resentment. That is not right for you or the world – and particularly not right for the people that you come to resent.
In our working lives, we did put some of our dreams and ambitions on hold due to family considerations. We shelved the idea of living and working abroad when we saw the reaction it provoked, but that was our choice. Now, in our 50’s, it is possible that our time is running out. We need to make the best of our good health and the opportunity that has come our way. And that leads on to our third philosophy; “There’s always a solution”.
My visit to The Antipodes was in the mid-1990s. Emails and the internet were embryonic enough to be virtually non-existent. International calls on early-generation mobile phones were prohibitively expensive. Social Media, Skype and Face Time were still the stuff of Science Fiction. I kept in contact through letters, postcards and the occasional telephone call from a coin-operated ‘phone box. To stay in touch with me, friends and family sent mail ahead of me to various Post Restante addresses. With huge joy and anticipation, I collected them as I made my way around.
Mark and I know that our parents have people around them and are well looked after in our absence. We return frequently to the UK to spend quality time with them. The internet means that we can get a weekly shop delivered if necessary; we even replaced Mark’s Mum’s fridge remotely. With the abolition of roaming charges, we keep in touch regularly and are available 24-hours a day on the other end of a mobile ‘phone. If a serious problem arises, we can hop on a ‘plane and be back in the UK within a matter of hours.
In December of last year, we were in Italy – and we were forced to put into practice these self-imposed rules.
Mark’s Mum and brother, Nigel, were both admitted to hospital on the same day, independently and for different reasons. Nigel lives with Mum and cares for her, so it was a few days before we found out what was going on.
Although it is always a shock, at nearly 96, Mum going into hospital was not completely unexpected. The real bombshell was Nigel. Seemingly a fit and healthy chap, he collapsed in the street, was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia (cancer of the blood).
Mark flew over immediately – and I spent Christmas and New Year on my own, up a mountain in a blizzard, with five dogs (The Fifth Man was a stray whom we adopted in Romania). When Mark flew back to Italy, we packed up and drove home. This is the reason that I suspended my blog; I am sure that you will understand that we have had other things on our mind.
Nigel needed care during periods that he was out of hospital, but with a compromised immune system, he could not have contact with dogs. This is why, for the last few months, we have been the eccentric pair living in a large caravan on the front lawn of Mark’s Mum’s house. The neighbours were very understanding. We pushed a note through everybody’s door to explain the situation, assure them that the gypsies-on-the-lawn was only a temporary arrangement and ask for their understanding, which they gave us in spades.
Sadly, Mark’s Mum passed away. It was peaceful and it is a relief to know that she is no longer suffering. We couldn’t arrange a proper funeral, because, naturally, Nigel wanted to be there, but for the same reason as the dogs, he could not have contact with crowds of people.
I am pleased to report that Nigel has completed his final round of chemotherapy and that the signs so far are more positive than we dared to hope, given the diagnosis. We will be on hand in the UK for as long as he needs us, but if his recovery progresses in the same vein, we hope to be back on our travels soon.
The moral of this story is that if you really do want to travel, there will be a solution; a way to work around the needs of friends and family. Many of the gypsy souls that we meet on the road do as we do with regard to ageing parents; they do their best to find a balance. Those with kids and grand-kids invite them to come out and join them for holidays.
Of course, it is up to each individual to decide what is most important to them. However, if ever there was a lesson in living your life because you don’t know what’s around the corner, this is it.
For more information, advice and tips on getting away to travel for an extended period, please see the Top Tips section of my blog.
To read about the only other Christmas that I spent on my own – in New Zealand – check out Lonely? A Traveller’s Tale of Christmas on the Other Side of the World.
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Do you want to catch up on our travels over the last three years? They are now immortalised in print!
- Year 1: Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream
- Dog on the Rhine – From Rat Race to Road Trip
- Dogs ‘n’ Dracula – A Road Trip to Romania (Forthcoming)