As I write this blog I am sat in the sunshine in Florida having finished work over 6 months ago and I’ve been travelling ever since. Before I talk about what we’re doing now I want to give an insight into our travels over the summertime.
Rewind to spring in the UK….
As detailed in my blog How it all started, my partner and I had made the big decision to go travelling….long term.
Ben finished work a month before me and took that time to increase his sailing knowledge through both theory and practical courses. Once I’d finished work we packed up the final pieces of our home and prepared for the first leg of our travels.
Having loved Iceland so much on our winter visit we’d both agreed we wanted to return to see it in contrasting summertime. Iceland is not cheap especially in the summer months when accomodation and car rental costs sky rocket. How could we get around that? Light bulb moment!! We could drive there ourselves and sleep in the back of our car! With that in mind we’d bought ourselves a used Toyota Landcruiser, the seats folded down in the back and with an air mattress laid on top it was almost luxurious. Storage boxes piled high in the boot provided space for our belongings and attached to the back of the truck was a bike rack with one full size and one folding bike. Our roof rack allowed us to take camping equipment, a spare tyre, a car tent, a water container and, wait for it…an inflatable kayak.
We were loaded to the brim!
We said our goodbyes to friends and family and we were off, into the sunset.
“Bertie” the truck was our home for the next 4 months as we made our way through 13 countries in Europe.
Being spontaneous characters, we wanted to be as flexible as possible with our trip. We only made two confirmed plans before leaving the UK – a ferry ticket from Harwich to Holland, and a return ferry ticket from Denmark to Iceland, via the Faroe Islands.
After arriving in Holland we spent a couple of weeks making our way North, aiming for the tip of Denmark. From there we boarded Norröna and arrived in Iceland 2 days later. We spent a month exploring the geothermal landscapes – climbing volcanoes, hiking in remote areas, swimming in hot rivers, exploring caves, being in awe of waterfalls and kayaking in a glacial lagoon surrounded by icebergs.
We sometimes stayed at campsites in Iceland as they provided useful facilities for a reasonable cost when nights were pre-purchased through a discount scheme. One of which involved a river crossing in our truck just to access it.
As we made our way south in Europe the temperatures soared and sleeping in the car became almost unbearable, but we stuck with it. We resorted to taping mozzy net material up over our open windows to protect ourselves from the pesky blood suckers during the night. Each evening we’d find somewhere to pull in. Sometimes it was layby on a busy road, a car park or a motorway services but most of the time we chose fields, laybys in the countryside or lakeside & coastal pull ins. Some of the views we were greeted by in the mornings were utterly gorgeous – rolling hills kissed by the light of sunrise and deer cautiously stepping out into the morning mist. As beautiful as as it could be, we opted to only stay one night in each place to avoid people getting too suspicious.
Whilst we explored mainland Europe I learnt that Germany was far more beautiful than I was expecting, Slovenia’s mountainous areas are breathtaking, Croatias inland villages are drastically poorer than the overly developed coastal areas and that Edam is actually a gorgeous place not just a cheese!
Talking of food…for someone who LOVES food and healthy eating, living without a kitchen was a challenge. We did however have everything we needed to rustle up a healthy meal….folding table, dual burner, gas canister, utensils etc. We also had a box full of dry goods and a coolbox of fresh food…although with nothing to keep it cool it wasn’t very effective! We enjoyed shopping in foreign supermarkets and buying foods that we weren’t entirely sure what to do with. Local markets were also great to pick up supplies and they were always reliable for getting a feel for a place too. Now and again we’d treat ourselves to a meal out where I’d mostly opt for a traditional dish; wiener schnitzel in Austria, dumplings and sauerkraut in Czech Republic, fresh pasta in Italy and bratwurst in Germany. The underground smoked lamb and smoked char I chose in Iceland was delicious and far tastier than their “delicacy” of fermented shark…I’m still trying hard to forget that ammonia taste!
One thing we knew was going to be tricky during our trip was washing – both our bodies and our clothes. Wet wipes quickly became our best friend but after a while we concocted a “shower”. On our roof rack we kept a water container, which teamed with a piece of hose pipe and a bit of suction from one end, provided us with flowing water…much like a power shower… just with no power, no fancy water jets, only cold water and no privacy!
Whilst we were “roughing it”, we were thoroughly enjoying our time. We visited beautiful cities like Prague, Vienna and Copenhagen on the cheap…sleeping a couple of miles out of town the night before, parking on the outskirts in the morning and then cycling into the centre for free. We became pros at finding free things to do and at making one drink in a cafe last a lifetime in order to watch the world go by.
In Budapest we picked up the pace and for a week we camped at a music festival. I say a week…but after 3 nights of bass vibrating through the tent we decided a night in a hotel would be beneficial! Ben quickly booked it online and off we went…only to realise on arrival it was a motorway services Motel! Thankfully it was surprisingly good, clean, cheap and most importantly, quiet in comparison to the festival! The following morning, feeling refreshed we headed back to the festival where a good friend of mine from the UK joined us for a week. We’d first met when we were travelling in NZ a few years before. We partied together at the festival enjoying live music, sunshine, cider and foam parties. When the festival concluded we all headed out of Hungary in Bertie the truck and into Croatia where we camped by some lakes and discovered we could fit 3 adults into our 2 person inflatable kayak!
Later on in the Croatia leg of our trip we chartered a yacht for a week. This was a huge test to see how we got on with living on a boat and whether we could realistically see ourselves fulfilling Ben’s sailing dream in the future. I’m pleased to say we absolutely loved it and we didn’t sink once!
My thirtieth birthday was spent in Venice and to mark the occasion I was treated to the luxury of a hotel by Ben. He also surprised me with a new wide angle lens for my camera, reigniting my passion for photography. The days prior had been spent with friends in the Dolomites hiking and enjoying an Eco tourism farmhouse stay. A birthday I will never forget.
By the time the end of summer arrived we were getting tired of sleeping in the car and as planned we made our way back to the UK. We unloaded the truck, caught up with washing and packed a bag; a few days later we jumped on a flight to Vietnam.
It was an extreme culture shock at first after Europe but we’d both been to Asia before so we soon got used to it. We spent a month exploring the length of the country, from the Southern Mekong Delta to the Northern Highlands. We were simply backpacking and using public transport to get around. Hotel rooms for £10 a night were a welcome relief after sleeping in a truck for the past few months and bargain street food saved us from having to cook for ourselves. Vietnam was eye opening, beautiful and we found the Vietnamese people welcoming and kind. A highlight for me was trekking in the Northern Highlands near Sapa. When we first arrived there we were approached by many ladies from the local Hmong tribe, all dressed in their traditional brightly coloured clothing and many carrying bamboo baskets on their backs to transport goods. They each wanted to take us hiking to their remote homes in the mountains and for us to experience a homestay overnight with them. We knew we wanted to experience this but it was hard to choose who to go with. However when Mama Lili began chatting to us we got a great vibe from her, and so our decision was made. The next day we trekked to her home in a village only accessible on foot. We passed impressive rice paddy fields, buffalo wallowing in the mud and the mountainous views surrounding us were absolutely stunning. Mama Lilis home was more what we would class as a barn in England – a basic structure, no windows and the floors were formed from compacted mud. Outside there were dogs, buffalo, chickens and pigs roaming around. That evening she cooked us a delicious meal and we stayed the night. We were pleased that there was no special accommodation set up for us…we slept on a mattress on the ground of a mezzanine floor, surrounded by a mozzy net. The following day we trekked a different route back to Sapa.
It was a true, authentic insight into the local tribes lives.
Whilst in Vietnam we also learnt about the gruesome American War that had taken place there. The details where horrifying, but what made it even more shocking was just how recently it happened. A visit to the war museum in Ho Chi Minh is a must if you’re ever visiting.
Another recommendation that I can’t miss out is the weekly market in Bac Ha in Northern Vietnam. It’s a very different market to most on offer. Whilst they sell the fruit, veg and meat you see at other markets, they also sell livestock; buffalo, puppies, kittens and pigs amongst other animals. One particular kitten stole my heart whilst I was there, check out my Instagram page for the photo and story behind it.
Vietnam provided us with some fantastic photo opportunities and memories to last a lifetime. I could write so much more about it, but for now this is just a brief insight into our travels this summer.
Following Vietnam we returned to the UK where we spent time seeing our families and friends and once again we prepared for the next leg of our journey….Florida…an adventure of a whole different kind!