Our prolonged stay in Leeds gave us the opportunity to give thought to our progress so far, in fact to carry out a PIR (Post Implementation Review for those of you who are not first direct trained).
A colleague and good friend
had asked (and apologies, Ian, for not having responded to your e-mail)
"I'd also love to know if your trip so far has been everything you imagined it would be. Its one thing planning things...sometimes the reality is a little different...."
Well the answer is yes and no! As you may have assumed (quite rightly) from a previous blog, this has been a very steep learning curve for us both. Although we had towed and holidayed in a caravan before, that was
nearly 20 years ago, with a smaller car and much smaller van, on less crowded roads and on pre-booked package type holidays.
Pulling a 26-foot one and a half ton caravan containing your worldly possessions is
a tad different. There is no home to run back to if it goes wrong or if it is stolen/crashed/burned out. The roads you can use are more limited. You cannot easily do a u-turn, even if Jane on the Tom Tom insists that you do so. You
cannot pull into a side road to brew up or eat a sandwich, and the number of roadside cafes that can take a total unit of 40 feet is very limited. Town parking is almost impossible. So whilst the act of towing is straightforward, there is always
that worry in the back of the mind, where can we stop? Hence most of our towing has been on motorways (in France these are mostly toll roads now). That said, the motorway service areas on the continent are so much better than in the UK. Parking
places are pleasant, there are picnic areas, the food is good and not exorbitant.
The original intention had been to go straight to Scandinavia, see the Northern Lights in May, the midnight sun in June, and then wander
down through Eastern Europe to Greece for the winter. The delayed start and the extended break in July meant that we have had to abandon this. In addition, because of the steep learning curve, we felt that time spent in France, where we could speak
the language and where caravanning and camping are far more popular, would be a more practical start.
And so it proved. We had the benefit of 6 weeks in first-rate campsites, and for the most part
excellent weather, to "learn the trade". Our mistakes were many, but hopefully we have learned from them and, as Chris pointed out,
"The true value of retirement is being able to make mistakes and learn from them at your own pace
without being patronised about them 6 months later in a performance review! "
It is also said of retirement that partners have to get to know each other all over again. Many are the tales of husband getting
under wife's feet while she tries to 'get on with the chores' and when this is happening in a space 20ft by 7ft it has been a bit fractious at times. Now we are into a routine it is much easier.
One of the stress factors has been
turning up at the chosen site not knowing if there will be room. Fortunately this has not yet happened, and to cover ourselves we have booked sites for August, the high season, just in case. We have been assured by many that there is never a problem
as long as it is not left to too late in the day to turn up, and I suppose our confidence in this will grow with experience.
The other thing that has been hard to get used to is that we are not on holiday in the normal
sense of the word. We just happen to be living in different places. There are things we have always done on holiday which we must stop doing. There is no need to have a coffee and a bun every morning. There
is no need to eat out every lunchtime or dinner. There is no need to have an ice cream every afternoon, and there is no need to have beer and wine with every meal.
All these are fine once or maybe twice a week, but every day is bad for the purse and bad for the waistline. My hopes of maybe losing a bit of weight through eating less and taking more exercise have not been achieved. Whilst the alternative has
been most enjoyable, it is not sustainable.
Has it been all we imagined it would be? No, it has been very different, but every bit as good. It has not been as laid back or relaxing, although now we are
into the second part of the trip we are finding it more so. We are not covering as much ground as we had hoped, but perhaps our plans were a bit ambitious.
Would we have done it differently? Maybe so,
but only with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what we do now about the more mundane and practical issues.
Would we do it again? Most emphatically YES