Hi – I’m Jacqueline (‘Jackie’) Lambert, author of the Adventure Caravanning with Dogs series. My books are the true story of how my husband Mark and I gave up work, accidentally bought a caravan, then decided to rent out the house and tour Europe in her full time with The Fab Four, our beloved Cavapoos.
Our main objective is to get off the beaten track and To Boldly Go Where No Van Has Gone Before!
I was thrilled to be asked to host a live author Q&A: Spotlight Sunday on We Love Memoirs (WLM), a friendly Facebook group which connects memoir readers and authors worldwide.
So, if you want to know how we fund our travels, all about The Fab Four, our plans, the practicalities around travelling with dogs – or the latest on the conversion of The Beast, our new expedition truck, read on!
At the end, there is also a round up of some fabulous travel books, all of which will make great Christmas reading or presents!
On Travelling & Plans
1. Where are you currently?
I am currently at home in Dorset, on the sunny south coast of the UK, getting ready to travel again!
2. Where d’you hope to head to next? I enjoyed your blogs about the Czech Republic. Will you be going back east? Or will you maybe head west to Spain or Portugal?
Where we head next is up for discussion and will depend on the Covid situation. We always have lots of plans in the offing. We are desolate at the thought of a season without skiing, so have a mind to head to Scandinavia to catch their season, which starts from about April, a little later than the rest of Europe.
We’re currently converting The Beast, a 6×4 wheel drive truck into our new home, so we can travel to more exotic places outside of Europe. Mongolia, a country three times the size of France with only three paved roads, is in our sights!
However, we are keen to get used to The Beast in a sensible country where we can get help easily if needed! Scandinavia might be a good option for a trial run with her, particularly since Volvo is based in Gothenburg! We’re also considering going to the Balkans, which has been on the list for quite a while. We’ve failed three times, but one day, we may get to Spain and Portugal!
(This is the combined answer to two similar questions)
3. When do you expect to be able to travel again, what with Covid in England and lockdown problems?
Covid and lockdown have presented problems to everyone who has wanted to travel this year. I think it’s important to be responsible about travel in the current circumstances. Mark and I don’t want to put ourselves or anyone else at risk, although travelling in a caravan is one of the most socially distanced modes of travel! We are totally self-contained with our hotel and restaurant all in one! With lockdown, travel is not really an option at the moment. UK Government guidelines are against all but essential travel abroad, which invalidates most insurance policies in any case.
I am a Biochemist by training, so I am very excited by the developments with the various Covid-19 vaccines. They will be a game changer, so long as people take them up. I will be first in the queue!
I think when spring weather returns and the vaccines roll out, things will start to return to some semblance of normal, albeit possibly a new normal.
(Note that since the interview, the EU has indicated that due to Covid restrictions, UK nationals may not be able to travel to the EU from 1st January 2021)
4. As you know we recently have become fulltime. Question to you (which we get asked) when are you settling down? Our answer is when we can no longer manage this lifestyle.
“When will you settle down from full-time travel” is a question we’re often asked, and our answer is “We don’t know!”
When we gave up work, we intended to tour for three years, but we’re five years in and still loving it. While we continue to enjoy it, we see no reason to stop.
I suspect what might happen will be a bit like Forest Gump in his running phase. He carried on until he stopped suddenly with the realisation, “I think I’ve done enough running!” I suspect it might be the same with us.
At the moment, if we’re in one place for any length of time, we get itchy feet! I hope you and Andrew have many happy years of touring ahead of you. You have earned it! (Our Sharon, who asked this question, and her husband Andrew were our hosts at Tranquil Pines camping in Hungary, featured in my book Dogs ‘n’ Dracula!)
5. Would you ever go back to Romania? And if so, where would you like to go?
Romania was a challenge, but it was so worth it. Would I go back there? Like a shot! Part of the problem with travelling is that everywhere you go, you find lots more things to see!
Romania will definitely feature in our future itineraries. Since they are not yet in the Schengen visa free area, the Balkans are one of the useful post-Brexit bolt-holes to make sure we don’t outstay our 90-day limit in Schengen. (For more detail, see Brexit Blues – How Brexit Will Affect European Travel)
I would definitely return to Transylvania. I would like to see some of the cities and sights that we missed in the south west, such as Timișoara and the giant rock sculpture of Decebalus in Dubova, which is like something out of Lord of the Rings. I would also definitely visit the Danube Delta on the Black Sea, which has such spectacular nature it is UNESCO listed.
In hindsight, we feel that we didn’t make the most of Romania’s vast, untouched wilderness. We were diverted by the stunning history, villages and towns, but also a little worried about bears, wolves and the notoriously ferocious shepherd dogs. However, if we returned, we know that we could afford to hire a guide, so I would definitely get out into the wilds. I would love to hike to Romania’s highest peak, Moldoveanu, from Bâlea Lake at the top of the Transfăgărășan. I would also love to ski there. They build an ice hotel and there are some amazing off-piste descents in that area. We have already found a potential ski guide!
If I returned to Romania, I would also have absolutely no problem re-visiting some places. I found Sarmizegetusa Regia, the ancient Dacian Capital, very powerful and spiritually moving. Sighișoara is one of my favourite cities EVER and the medieval village of Breb was just something else.
If you seek paradise on earth or wish to connect directly with a rustic past, Breb is it! I have attached one of my favourite photos from Breb – all the ladies coming back from church on Sunday. It speaks volumes about life in the village, which has been unchanged for centuries. The only problem with Breb is that if I ever go back there, I might not leave…
6. Do you have any particular favourite outdoor activity?
We love the outdoors and spend as much time in nature as possible. We retired to allow that to happen. Our two passions are windsurfing and skiing! If you ask me to choose, I can’t. I love the mountains, I love the ocean. They are both equally exhilarating, especially now that I dabble with off piste skiing.
Floating on untracked powder in a wilderness is a sublime sensation beyond compare, and one that you crave once you have tried it!
7. Do you think you’d have embarked on this kind of travelling if you hadn’t been such sports lovers?
I suspect possibly not, because what gave us the idea of touring in a caravan was a group of octogenarian windsurfers called the Seavets. We joined them in 2012 in Brittany to windsurf. We realised that virtually none of them had come from home – they spent their retirement touring around the best windsurfing spots in their caravans and motorhomes. We thought “What a great idea!”
It also seemed that caravan touring is a relatively inexpensive way to travel. We always wanted to retire early to do more of what we love, and a low-cost lifestyle was one way to bring that closer. Touring with our own accommodation is also a great way to travel with dogs.
8. How do you manage with internet connection when you are travelling?! I couldn’t imagine life without 100mbps!!!
I couldn’t manage without internet either! It is essential for our research, getting the weather, keeping in touch and for me to blog.
To get internet, we use our mobile phone as an internet hotspot. We can then ‘tether’ our laptops to the hotspot to access the web. We have a contract with Three UK, which gives us unlimited calls, texts and data in the UK, plus 20GB of ‘fair use’ abroad each month. There used to be a 3-month limit for use abroad, after which the SIM had to be repatriated, but thankfully, that limit has now been lifted.
We top up our data requirements by purchasing a pay-as-you-go data SIM in whatever country we’re in. The costs and effectiveness of this vary. We got 150GB for about £15 per month in Romania but passed on £60 for 2.5GB in Germany!
Surprisingly, the worst internet we get is in the most unexpected places. Romania prides herself on her 4G network and at 6,000 ft up in the Italian Alps, we get great service. We have struggled the whole time since we’ve been back in the UK and as for Germany, especially East Germany… forget it. And all the Germans we met agree!
On Financing Our Travels
1. Sorry, a particularly nosy question. How do you fund your travels?
How we fund our travels is the question everyone wants to ask, and I don’t mind answering it. Part of the reason I write is because I want people to realise that living the life they want is much more within their grasp than they realise! Mark and I always wanted to travel, but we’re not rich and didn’t win the Lottery. It’s there in the title of my first book, Fur Babies in France – we went From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream. We saved and planned for 10 years.
Stage 1 = Budget – if you don’t know what you’re spending, you don’t know what you can save. An example is that this process showed us that we were spending £100 per month in Costa on coffee. That’s £1,200 per year! If Costa gives you £1,200 worth of pleasure, that’s fine, but I view that as a holiday!
Stage 2 = Save – we downsized. There is just the two of us. We don’t have kids, so we moved from a 3-bed house into a 1-bed apartment, but we kept the house and rented it out. This helped to pay off the mortgage early, although we pretended that we still had a mortgage. Instead of living to our means, we saved. We both had company cars, but opted for the smallest, cheapest vehicle and saved the difference.
Stage 3 = Get Your Money to Work For You – we sold the 3-bed house and bought two buy to let flats. For the same capital investment, these generate more income than the house. So instead of living in a house much bigger than we need, we got our money to generate income. We also rented out our main residence when we started to travel. The income from the flats, savings and a tax-free dip into the pension pot at age 55 funds our travels.
The final thing to say is that if you budget you can live on much less money than you think! If anyone is interested in more detail, I wrote a blog post about it: The Question that No-One Dares Ask – “What Does It Cost You to Tour Full Time?!”
2. Do you still have a foot on the UK property ladder, do you still rent, who sorts any tenancy issues?
We do have a foot in UK property – I think if you ever get out of it, it would be difficult to get back. We fund our travels through renting out our property. A tenant vacated, so we’re fortunate to be able to spend the latest lockdown in our own place. We rent via a reputable property agent. They source and vet tenants and sort out any problems while we’re abroad. This is helpful, since there is always something…! This year, there was a fire in the apartment below ours while we were in the Czech Republic. Our tenants had to be rehomed while the damage was repaired! The agent was brilliant and co-ordinated everything masterfully.
Without an agent, one of us would undoubtedly have had to return home. The costs of an agent can be offset against tax and in my book, represents excellent value! I wrote a blog post which covers this in much more detail if anyone is interested: 10 Tips on Letting Out Your House to Fund your Travels
On The Fab Four
1. I love your Cavapoos! Can you tell us why you decided on the breed?
Cavapoos are a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Poodle. Mark and I have always wanted dogs, but worked long hours and waited until we retired to add fur babies to our family. Curiously, we both like bigger breeds, such as Dalmatian, Pointer and Viszla. We always planned to travel and did a lot of research into breed characteristics and our lifestyle. It is worth noting that some popular breeds, such as Staffies, are banned in many countries.
Poodle crosses are very popular and we met a number of Cockapoos at our local beach and liked their looks and character. We also fell in love with a Cavachon fostered by a friend. He had already found a home with one of our neighbours, otherwise things might be different and we might have had a Teddy in our pack!
Some of the Cockapoos we met were quite manic. Cocker Spaniels are working dogs, whereas Cavaliers were bred to be a lap dog. Cavapoos have the Poodle characteristics of intelligence and loyalty, mixed with the loving nature of the Cavalier, which was everything we wanted.
The Fab Four are lively, fun and playful outdoors, with enough energy to climb the Alps with us, yet indoors, all they want to do is cuddle. As a bonus, they don’t shed hair, but that is obviously not guaranteed with a cross breed! For more breed characteristics, see my blog Are Cavapoos ‘The Perfect Dog’?
2. What are the names of your fab four and how did you choose their names?
The Fab Four, from L to R in the photo, are called Lani, Kai, Rosie and Ruby. Mark and I are windsurfers, so Mecca for us is Maui, Hawai’i. Lani and Kai are Hawai’ian names. Lani means ‘heaven’ or ‘the sky’ and Kai means ‘the ocean’.
Rosie gets her name partly from the red rose of Lancashire, which is both hers and my home county, and partly from the AC/DC track ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’. Rosie is very food-focussed and larger than the other three, although that is mostly because she is crossed with a miniature poodle, rather than a toy poodle. At first, we thought she was a bit of a porker, although Whole Lotta Rosie kinda describes her personality too!
Ruby is ruby red – but she was also bought for us by Mark’s mum, Ruby Joyce. It also seemed like a lovely idea to name our beautiful red pup after a lovely lady.
3. Do the Fab Four speak Romanian!
I think they speak the universal language of dog!
On Traveling with Dogs
1. I am just curious about travelling with your fur babies. Is it a challenge bringing them from one country to another with documentations requirements, etc? And what about quarantine?
Travelling abroad with dogs certainly adds another dimension of complexity. Thankfully, since the development of a rabies jab, quarantine is mostly a thing of the past. The dogs are innoculated against rabies and travel on their own passports, so they pass through most borders seamlessly.
Unlike human passports, pet passports are more a health certificate than an identity document. Every country has its own entry requirements and there is no parity, so you have to be on the ball. Some countries recognise a 3-year rabies jab, some will only recognise it for a year. Some require a rabies titer test to prove that the rabies jab was effective.
The Pet Travel website is really useful, since it lists the entry requirements for around 200 countries. I use it as a guide to what might be required, then check it against the government website of the country I’m visiting. Trust me, this is helpful. The Mongolian government website is not easy to decipher!
In the UK, Brexit will affect our ability to travel freely in Europe, so we have put The Fab Four on French passports, so that they can still travel freely, whatever happens with the UK leaving the EU. If anyone is interested in more detail about this, this blog might be helpful: Pet Travel Post Brexit.
(This is the combined answer to two similar questions)
2. How do you, with dogs, manage to keep things minimal? I’d love to know.
That is a great question. Being minimal is a state of mind and also a process. It has taken us years to get to the point where everything we own fits into a box on wheels.
We started in 2007 by moving from a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment. That was 18 bin bags to the charity shop! Mark is not a lover of clutter, so we have less stuff than most people, but I was shocked by this.
When we accidentally bought our caravan and decided to live in her, we had a month to dispatch the rest. We did have some storage in the loft of our garage, but we were quite brutal and got rid of all our precious books and vinyl records. That was quite painful, but also made me feel an incredible lightness of spirit – being unencumbered by heaps of stuff that I kept but wasn’t using.
After five years on the road, I have now managed to part with deeply personal and sentimental items, such as my rocking horse, which I have had since I was 4! I realised that the memory and photographs were enough, I didn’t need the physical item. So instead of rusting in the loft, he’s gone to a new home.
If you want some further tips on how to declutter and repurpose your stuff in an environmentally friendly way, I have written a few blogs on it. This one is the best place to start: It Worked for Us – Getting Rid of STUFF!
2. I was sad when your fifth dog left. Do you think you might add another dog as a permanent fixture?
We still see The Fifth Man! He is a very happy boy. If we were not travelling, I could see myself turning into a mad woman in a dressing gown with about fifty dogs! If I could, I would have brought all the strays back from Romania.
Travelling with five dogs was not easy from a practical point of view. Four is one for each hand with Mark and I, but five adds another dynamic, especially when The Fifth Man is a high-energy youngster!
The Fab Four have been together since they were pups, so they are an established pack. They are very friendly, so I don’t think there would be a problem adding another dog of a similar type and energy level as a permanent fixture. They get a little scared of bigger, boisterous dogs who don’t know their own strength, so it would not be fair to them to make that type of dog permanently in our current circumstances. However, they accepted Blade really well, considering!
Here’s the Famous Five at St Michael’s church in Cisnădioara. If you can believe it, this was Blade’s first time on a lead!
4. Your gorgeous Cavapoos seem to be great travellers. I know you can’t possibly know this but do you think they might be good on a boat as well?
Our Cavapoos are great travellers and I am sure they would be fine on a boat. They love water and come with us on our Stand Up Paddleboards.
Blade, the stray dog we rescued in Romania has also taken to the water. His new Mum and Dad take him on their small sail boat!
I’m not sure this boat in Croatia counts towards the sea dog CV, though!
5. Do your Cavapoodles like rolling in mud and dead things as much as my Spoodle does? And how do you cope when you are on the road?
I think rolling is a dog thing, but with poodles being a water retriever, rolling in mud and dead things (especially Ruby and Lani!) is definitely their ‘thing’!
They are smaller than your Lola the Spoodle, so they are relatively easy to rinse off. While touring, we like to multi-purpose things, so we bathe them in a storage box. Here is Lani looking rather put out about it. Although they love water, they hate baths. Go figure!
An important consideration in our truck conversion is an exterior shower for the dogs!
6. Have you ever had a negative reaction to your lovely dogs at any of the campsites you’ve visited?
Getting a negative reaction to dogs is a very valid point. Not everyone is a dog lover, although many people choose to travel in caravans and motorhomes because they have pets.
For the most part, we have not had a problem. You mentioned that our dogs are very well behaved – it’s the only way to manage with four of them!
It is easy to pick out dog-friendly campsites, since most are listed on the web as accepting pets. Often they state a maximum of 2 dogs, but I have learned to say ‘they are very small and well behaved’ in a selection of languages! In five years of touring, we have only been turned away from one campsite, which had a strict 1 dog policy, so we knew we were chancing our arm! Occasionally, we have had a grumpy neighbour who dislikes dogs. I have a degree of sympathy, since my Dad has an almost pathological fear of dogs.
The dogs would annoy us if they barked all the time or jumped up at people, so we do try to be considerate. However, some people are just plain difficult. The great thing about being in a caravan, though, is that you can move on if you don’t like your neighbours! This has been very rare, though.
Mostly, travelling with dogs has been an overwhelming joy. Most people love them. We interact with many more people and have made friends from all over the world because of them. We visited a family in Poland this year whom we met while skiing in Monte Rosa. We got to know them because their young daughter came every day to visit The Fab Four!
7. Is there a country you wouldn’t visit because of the animals? Is there anywhere that makes it difficult to take them?
A country that we may not visit because of the dogs is Iran, which seems pretty unfriendly towards dogs. Our research has suggested that it is illegal to walk dogs almost anywhere in Tehran. We’ve also heard reports that you can be fined for having a dog in the car. It seems a bit extreme and may be exaggerated, but it is clear that Iran is not the most dog friendly country.
Our understanding is that dogs are generally not viewed positively in Muslim countries, but that would not stop us from travelling respectfully in places such as Morocco.
China is difficult, since the entry requirements allow only one dog. I’m also rather squeamish about dogs being on the menu in China and some of the practices surrounding that. General animal welfare in China is very different from what we’re used to in the UK.
Russia has recently relaxed its rules for entry with pets. Previously, it was a maximum of two!
Some places we would need to be very careful with the dogs. Dog fighting seems to be very active in Kyrgyzstan, for example.
Rabies is a constant risk in many countries. The dogs are innoculated against Rabies, but as with any vaccination, there is no 100% guarantee – and I would much prefer never to have to face a rabid dog!
For those travelling closer to home, Leishmaniasis is something to be aware of in Southern Europe and the Med. There is now a vaccination available, but awareness of this disease seems to be low. Clearly, it’s important to do your research. Seresto collars repel sandflies which carry Leishmaniosis. We can’t use collars because I have an admission to make. Our fur babies sleep with us… (Seresto collars are impregnated with insecticides, so our vet advised against us using them in the circumstances.)
Snakes and creepy crawlies such as Pine Processionary Caterpillars are widespread even in Europe, but we’ve managed to avoid those so far. It’s also good to be aware of the hunting seasons in Europe, when there could be traps and shooting taking place. There are always risks when travelling, but by doing careful research, there are very few that would stop us completely.
I forgot to mention ticks – they are nasty little blighters and carry some horrible diseases. We use Bravecto, which kills them as soon as they bite, so they never get a chance to transfer any disease, which usually happens in the first 24 hours. It’s important to check yourself for ticks too. I have a friend who is suffering with Lyme disease from a tick bite, and it really is not something you want. We also make sure that we ask our vet about the most appropriate worming treatement for our destinations. I think France did have a rabies outbreak but has since been declared rabies free, but it always pays to be vigilant!
My blog Killer Caterpillars, Gunmen & ‘Chien Interdit!’ – 10 Things you Need to Know About Taking your Dog to France! covers some of these hazards.
8. How do you manage with dog food when travelling. Do you have to change their food a lot or is it easy to get the same brand?
Getting dog food abroad has not been too difficult. In our first year, we carried about 100kg of dry food in our van, before we realised that people in France have dogs and you can buy branded dog food such as Royal Canin or Eukanuba in the supermarket!
Further afield, such as in Slovenia, we struggled to buy the brands that they like. Roy Clark will appreciate that we crossed the Vršič pass to Jessenice (his home town) to get a bag of Royal Canin!
Our current solution is to arrange for our campsite to accept a delivery and order food online from Zooplus. This is easier in some countries than others. In Germany, Zooplus insists on payment by bank transfer, which is a bit risky if the delivery doesn’t turn up. In Italy, we can pay them by credit card.
When we go further afield, I suspect that branded food may be more difficult to come by, and it may be that the pups will have to live on human food, but I can’t see them objecting to that!
On The Challenges of Travel
1. Which country has been the most challenging in terms of caravanning?
Definitely Romania, simply because of the state of the roads, many of which were not paved – and lunatic drivers! This was our route across the Carapathians from Transylvania.
There were also wildlife hazards, such as bears!
2. I was hooked by Pups on Piste and thought it was an excellent read. Can you tell us what you found to be the greatest challenges during that trip?
I am really pleased that you enjoyed Pups on Piste. There were a few challenges on that trip, but they were mostly self-inflicted!
We gave up on ski flights and opted to drive to the Alps long before we had the dogs. If you include check-in, transfers and all the messing about, I would argue that driving takes about the same amount of time as flying. I hate being cramped and herded like cattle on planes, but find the road trip forms an enjoyable part of the holiday. Unfortunately, our van, Big Blue, is rear-wheel drive, which is not the best configuration for driving on icy, slippery roads! We do have winter tyres and snow chains, but have reached an impasse once or twice!
Getting hooked by skiing off piste has also proved a challenge. It is an inherently dangerous passtime. Although we are aware of the risks and very careful, it is always possible to get caught out and we have had a few hairy moments.
We have skied in Monte Rosa for the last five seasons and know our way around really well. Nevertheless, we did once get lost off piste. Knowing the terrain and hazards made it all the more terrifying!
1. Do you write your books from a journal, or from your blog? I was looking when you first published book 1, and it’s only a couple of years ago-and you’ve already got 4 books now! That’s some going! Were the books written a while before you went ahead and published them? Or do you write quickly/find it easy to write them pretty quickly?
I have always been a prolific writer. I love writing and would write even if I didn’t publish. Some people are compelled to express themselves through painting, sculpture (or music); I write.
I started journalling at the age of 14 when I was lucky enough to go on a 4-day pony trek across the pack pony and smugglers routes in the UK’s Lake District with Bob Orrell and two other youngsters. Bob is the author of Saddle Tramp in the Lake District and several other memoirs. Bob encouraged us to write about our trek and the habit (and joy!) of journalling stuck. I have a terrible memory, so I find that travel journals help me to remember where I was and what I did. They are also a window into time – I can go back to meet 14-year-old me on a pony in the Lake District, or 30-year-old me backpacking across Australia and New Zealand.
A number of people who enjoyed my letters, postcards, Facebook posts and other ramblings encouraged me to set up my travel blog. That gave me a wonderful outlet to express myself and write regularly, which I really enjoy. The content on the blog is developed from the raw journals that I keep day to day, and I find that psychologically, knowing that I am writing for an audience helps my creativity.
Over the years, many people have told me I should write a book, but I never felt I was good a enough writer. I had been running the blog for a couple of years when one of my followers encouraged me to publish. I suppose it is always there as a dream in the back of your mind as a writer… So I went ahead and just did it!
My books are based on my blog. I’m sure that every author on WLM will appreciate that re-drafting and editing is as much (if not more!) a part of writing as the writing itself. The blog acts as a first draft if you like. I was able to publish four books so quickly because I already had the first drafts for three of them. The process then was to arrange the material into a coherent story, edit, edit, edit – and then make a decision that I had finished.
The last is very important, because I never look at anything I have written without tweaking or making changes! I am fortunate to be retired, so my time is my own to devote to the lengthy process of writing and editing.
2. Are you working on another book, or are you planning a next one?
I am working on another book at the moment. I hope to publish in the New Year!
I was recently interviewed and featured in an anthology of road trip stories called ‘Voices from the road’ published in America and available as a paperback in the US and Canada from The Blue Norther Bookstore. It can be shipped worldwide, but you need to contact them direct to get a price to cover shipping and taxes.
I have also submitted a chapter for inclusion in an upcoming anthology, ‘Legendary Road Trips’, due for publication in May 2021.
3. I love your book covers; very eye-catching and bright. Did you design them yourself?
Thank you for your kind words about my book covers! Design is not my strong suit, so although I input ideas, the covers are designed and created for me by a wonderful lady called Debbie Purse.
She has moved out of the book cover business this year, although I shall be working with her for at least my next two books. I shall pass on your compliment. She will be delighted!
4. Does writing come easy to you? Do you have a favourite place and time of day to do your writing?
Writing is something I love and it comes easily to me…sometimes!
I don’t have a favourite time or place to write, I have to wait until inspiration hits. Then I get fully formed ideas, sentences and phrases, which is a real buzz.
Unfortunately, I can’t plan it and it can happen at 4am, so I sleep with a notebook by the bed. Sometimes, I have to get up in the middle of the night to write, much to Mark’s annoyance!
I do get barren periods where I feel uninspired or get the dreaded writer’s block. Then I either leave it for a while and see if inspiration hits, or write something else to try and spark my creativity. Usually, that works, although I don’t like to force it.
Writing is my pleasure, so I don’t ever want it to feel like work.
On The Beast – Our New Expedition Truck
1. Hi Jackie, I hope you are enjoying being in the spotlight. Now for a bloke question ….. how’s the Tonka Truck conversion coming along?
I’ll try to give you a bloke answer!
The Tonka Truck as you call it is a Volvo N10 ex-army truck and the conversion is coming along. Her ribs were battened and the box is now lined with Recticel Eurothane® GP 40mm PIR (Polyisocyanurate) rigid insulation boards. These have a high fire-safety value and thermal conductivity λ = 0.022 W/mK. Over that are stained spruce panels to make her look pretty.
Electrically, we want to be self-sufficient off grid for long periods. As such, she has 3 x 1000W of solar panels fitted to her roof, which I understand is “enough to power a rock festival”, and and 6 batteries to store the charge. There is also a 1000W pure sine wave invertor to convert the 12V battery power to 220V mains voltage, in case I ever purchase a hairdryer or straighteners!
Custom skylights have been fitted in the roof, since light from above punches well above its weight, although these are non-opening because that can be an issue if the roof is wet. Ventilation will come from windows and door, both yet to be fitted, and the HUGE back doors which we can throw wide open.
We have bought 500L potable water tanks and a series of water filters down to antibacterial 0.5 micron, which means we could fill up from a river if we needed to. This should keep us self-sufficient for a few weeks at a time.
Custom steps have been fitted to lead up to the door, since the box is about 1,500cm from the floor! An extending custom platform is also fitted to the back to carry electric bikes, which are our latest idea on how to buzz around locally for shopping and sightseeing without driving a 24-tonne truck!
I will be publishing more progress reports on The Beast as we go along in the Expedition Truck section of my blog.
Here’s a picture of Mark and our mate Wayne fitting the skylights, which shows both the wood panels and insulation boards for you to enjoy. Wayne is the one waving the mastic gun!
2. Will The Beast limit where you can go?
The Tonka Truck will open the doors to some places and close the doors to others. Since we’re not Big City People, the doors it closes will largely not be our cup of tea anyway.
When we decided to head to more off the beaten track places with poor (if any!) roads and few campsites, it was clear that towing a caravan would be asking for trouble. We have already tested Big Blue and Caravan Kismet by towing them across two cornfields and up a footpath in Romania!
The Beast, our new truck, is apparently capable of being driven on the moon! She can cross rivers and has four-wheel-drive to cope with most terrain. She will also be self-sufficient, so if we can’t find campsites, it won’t matter as we will have our own electricity and water supply on board.
3. Did you look at Unimogs? I’d love one but they are expensive. They do go anywhere though and it looks like The Beast will too.
Yes we did look at Unimog trucks – and as you point out, they are rather expensive! Our Volvo N10 Beast came in at a very good price of around €20,000, because the Belgian Army got rid of a batch of them.
She is bigger than the ideal, but there are always compromises to be made. Originally, we intended to put a quad in the back for day-to-day buzzing around, but the bed of the truck is so high that a ramp would be either a mile long or dangerously steep! As a result, we will now have a very spacious living area, but might have to avoid some height- and weight-limited bridges!
4. What will you do with Kismet when The Beast is finished?
It’s funny you should ask what will happen to Caravan Kismet when our Beast is ready. Mark and I were discussing that just now on our walk! It’s a sad day, but we have made the decision to put her up for sale sooner rather than later. The Beast should be ready for action early next year. At the moment Kismet is in storage, which is a cost, and she depreciates in value every month. So soon, our trusty travel companion will be on her way to find a new home and new adventures!
It will be a sad parting, but I have come to terms with it now. Kismet is an inanimate object, but you do get attached. She has served us so well.
I have been quite anxious about the change, but I am starting to get excited about The Beast.
5. What will you call your next series of books? How about Furry Beauties and the Beast?
I might pinch that!
Thanks & A Few Things For Your Christmas List!
A MAHOOSIVE thank you to WLM’s Julie Haigh who worked so hard to set up the Q&A, and all the lovely members of We Love Memoirs for asking such interesting and varied questions! Congratulations to Val, Jacqueline, Anne and Rob, the four winners selected by The Fab Four to receive a free ecopy of my first book Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream.
Here’s a shout out to all the wonderful WLM authors who, along with the other members, contributed questions. If you’re looking for some excellent true life and travel reading for yourself or Christmas gifts, there is some great reading listed below:
Top Travel (& Other) Memoirs
- Dawne Archer – Morocco – Is trekking the Sahara for charity a step too far for a thrombosis survivor? For Dawne, it seemed like a good idea at the time… All profits from Trekker Girl, Morocco Bound go to the charity Thrombosis UK.
- Jacqueline Brown – France – the creative talent behind the charming French Village Diaries blog.
- Roy Clark – Slovenia – Thinking of going to wonderful Slovenia (one of our favourite countries!)? Roy’s memoir The Sunny Side of the Alps and his Cicerone walking and trekking guidebooks are a must!
- Jacky Donovan – author of the funny, raunchy Smart As A Whip & a selection of delightful, true animal memoirs, such as Smoky, about a Yorkshire Terrier who became the first therapy dog, WWII hero and Hollywood Star, or Simon the Ship’s Cat who became a worldwide hero.
- Robert Fear – Ibiza, Travel Inspiration & Highlights – Are Beaches, Bars & Boogie Nights in Ibiza ’77, Inspirational True Stories or Travel Stories & Highlights your thing? Go see Robert!
- Heather Hackett – Japan & Travel Addiction – Heather is Restless: she wrote her memoir of an incurable traveller & about her eight years in Japan.
- Beth Haslam – France – author of Fat Dogs and French Estates, a highly entertaining series about moving to France, filled with delightful dogs & oddball characters!
- Andy Hewitt – Spain & Portugal on a Harley – If you like Charley Boorman & Ewan McGregor, you’ll love this two-wheeled jaunt around Iberia! The Furthest Points, Motorcycle Travels through Spain & Portugal
- Carol Nash – Thailand – You might guess what Highways and Thai Ways is about, although you might not work out details – like why Carol and her husband needed an armed ex-monk for protection!
- Valerie Poore – Africa, The Netherlands & Dutch Barges – Valerie has written a series of globetrotting memoirs, including life in Africa & aboard a Barge in Holland!
- Shirley Read-Jahn – has written a brace of Dancing Through Life memoirs along with a wide selection of historical & children’s books.
- Victoria Twead – Spain, Australia & Dorset! – New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Old Fools series brings you a global gallivant, which starts in a mountain village in Andalucia with the excellent Chickens, Mules & Two Old Fools.
- Sophie Wallace – You must meet the delightful Rhodry the Scottish Deerhound. Sophie helps Rhodry to write about his adventures, as well as publishing some very useful journals & planners to help life run more smoothly!
Bob Orrell, my childhood mentor and writing inspiration, wrote Saddle Tramp in the Lake District along with several other horseback tours around the UK and Isle of Man, as well as fascinating memoirs about his life in Lakeland, surviving a Blowout on a North Sea oil rig and skippering yachts around Scotland.
And of course, my books about France, Germany, Romania, and Skiing in Italy, with a side order of Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria with dogs can be found here! The ebooks will be on offer at various times through December, so if you haven’t yet, why not grab yourself a bargain?!
We Love Memoirs – An Introduction for Readers & Authors
As a We Love Memoirs member, you can chat with memoir authors and readers worldwide, share reviews and recommendations, win free books and keep updated on offers and price reductions. Needless to say, Travel and Pets are popular topics!
For memoir authors, WLM has a strict No Self-Promotion rule, except during organised promotion parties and events, when you will have access to thousands of engaged memoir readers. You can be featured in the header as Book of the Week, appear on Spotlight Sunday as I did, or the Friday Freebie giveaway. The group also gives access to potential beta readers and a friendly, supportive group of fellow authors to chat with.
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