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June

2018

Inside a Traveler’s Walls: The RV Family of Blaire Palmer

Croatia, England, INSIDE A TRAVELER'S WALLS, TRAVEL

This week I am pleased to introduce you to the RV family of Blaire Palmer, her daughter Ivy and their dogs, Humphrey and Casey!

Blaire is one of my travel sheros! Not only does she travel with her daughter, and two dogs, she also holds down a full-time business as a coach, keynote speaker, podcaster, and writer. When it comes to managing time, and taking risks while finding your unique voice, Blaire is your woman!

I love how she describes this process of traveling and stripping away the unnecessary and fitting pieces back together:

One of the things I love about this lifestyle is trying on different versions of life and seeing what works for us. A bit like testing for a food allergy, you strip away everything you’re used to and then put new pieces back in to see how you like them. Do you really need this? Do you actually want this? Is this as good as you expected it to be? You discover what really works for you as a family and what seems like it would…but doesn’t.

Ok, enough of my chatting, grab your coffee and get comfortable. It’s time to be inspired by this traveling family.

RV Family

Introduce us to the people you live with?

Blaire – That’s me! Mid-40s single mum and business owner. For a decade I was a BBC Journalist. Now speak and write about the future of leadership and work and run programmes for people at a crossroads in their professional lives. I’m upbeat and talkative with a real enthusiasm for living life as authentically as possible. This trip was my idea – I needed to get away from the routine of our lives, same problems, same challenges, same environment. I was bored and stressed and I needed to completely break with everything that I felt was keeping me stuck.

Ivy – my 10 year old daughter. She’s a budding film actor who loves gymnastics, playing with the dogs, making stuff that’s designed to do one thing do something else and making people laugh. She makes me laugh constantly. She’s fine about our trip. She enjoys it but would be just as happy at home. What she really loves is being with me full time rather than going to school and being away from me or me traveling for work and being away from her, which I used to do a lot.

Humphrey – My 7 year old Bearded Collie. He hates the long journeys but loves arriving at new locations and inspecting all the new sights and smells. He’s lost weight since we started this trip and is now much fitter and more energetic.

Casey – Ivy’s 1 year old Cavapoo. She’s enthusiastic about everything! She loves sleeping next to Ivy while we drive and running in circles, very fast. She’s adapted great to life on the road.

Where are you in the world and what are you living in?

We travel from place to place in our 4 Berth Adria SP350 motorhome, Rex. We’ve only had him a few weeks. Prior to that we were in a 30 year old VW T25 called Lady Luck. But the long drives and hilly terrain were taking their toll on her and we realised that the stress of worrying whether she would start each morning and whether we’d be stranded by the side of the road each afternoon was inhibiting our enjoyment of the adventure. So we left her in storage earlier this month and bought Rex. Now we have a bathroom, a huge bed, living area and kitchen AND you can stand up at any point without bumping your head. Luxury!

When we arrive at locations we stay in AirBnBs. We prefer a whole house to ourselves with outside space, usually somewhere rural.

We are currently in Croatia but we’ve traveled around England, Wales and France so far as well as driving through Germany, Austria and Slovenia to get here!

Why did you choose to live in your current arrangement?

Getting away from the routines of our life before was really important to me. I was fed up of the predictability of every day. We wanted to live on a smallholding in the country but couldn’t afford to buy what we really wanted so we were stuck in a townhouse with a tiny garden feeling out of sync with our life. Hitting the road was a way to get space, freedom and adventure that was possible right now.

We chose a motorhome/campervan because I was worried about getting stuck somewhere without a roof over our heads. With two dogs you can’t just book a hotel room for the night if your car breaksdown or your AirBnB host lets you down. Having our own bedroom and kitchen meant we had a place to sleep and cook a meal if worst came to the worst.

The AirBnBs are important because of the dogs too. If we lived full time in the van we couldn’t have any day trips that didn’t include the dogs. Going for a meal, to a local sight of interest or a waterpark wouldn’t be possible because we can’t leave the dogs in the van for long, especially when it’s hot.

In addition, because we are traveling long term we will often spend whole days at “home”. We can’t go on adventures every day. There’s homeschool and work on the business to do. There’s laundry and cooking. These are so much easier in a house. We have the space to spread out, have our own privacy (there isn’t much in the van) and let the dogs run around the garden or fields all day.

RV family of Blaire PalmerRV Family of Blaire Palmer

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

What do you do to personalize your unique (less traditional) living situation?

Before setting off we spent a huge amount of time and money personalizing Lady Luck. We rebuilt the bed, painted the cupboards, replaced the curtains and stuck butterfly stickers on the ceiling. Saying goodbye to all of that hard work when we bought Rex was difficult. But we’ve learnt to hold on lightly to our attachments so we can move from place to place without regret.

We have a lot of stuff! Under the bed in the van is FULL of boxes of school and work stuff (novels, exercise books, paper, pens), technology, toys, games. We have clothes, things the dogs need (like big bags of food to last a month at a time), cuddly toys, food, spices, towels, throws, bags, hats etc etc! We don’t want to shop much so we stocked up at the start of the year and we take our stuff everywhere.

The living space in Rex is very “us” even though we haven’t had it long. We have pictures and cushions everywhere. We cover the seats with throws to protect them from the dogs and spilt blackcurrent drink. Coats and towels hang from the hooks around the space. Within a few minutes of moving from Lady Luck to Rex it felt like ours and not the showroom version it had been moments before.

When we arrive at an AirBnB and transfer everything to the house it immediately feels like ours! Our stuff is on every surface. It’s amazing to me that what fits in the van fills a house. We put the throws on the soft furnishings and put Ivy’s cuddly toys on her bed. We bring the spices and dry goods in. We create a space for the dogs. We create a work/school area and a place to watch TV in the evening. It feels like ours very fast. And then, as we live there, we bring back little trinkets we’ve bought or stick up pictures Ivy has created. If our host ever pops over we feel slightly awkward about how much it looks like ours!

Tell us your favorite and least favorite room in your space and why?

I love the large fixed bed in the motorhome. It’s always made up so you can just dive in to it when you want to chill out or sleep. You don’t have to move anything except a few scatter cushions which is such a treat after the VW where you were living in a real-life version of tetris – to use the bed you had to move the things on the bed. To cook you had to move the basket of clothes. To sit you had to kick the dogs out and remove the ladder to the upper bunk and rotate the seats and…well you get the idea!

In our AirBnBs it differs depending on the house. In this house in Croatia I love the dining area. The table is big enough to eat at one end and use the other end as my office.

In our French AirBnB the garden was wonderful. The dogs could just run around all day, coming in and out as they liked. Ivy could do the same. I could sit out and read or eat lunch or have a drink in the evening with our host.

One of the things I love about this lifestyle is trying on different versions of life and seeing what works for us. A bit like testing for a food allergy, you strip away everything you’re used to and then put new pieces back in to see how you like them. Do you really need this? Do you actually want this? Is this as good as you expected it to be? You discover what really works for you as a family and what seems like it would…but doesn’t.

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

What is the biggest misconception you had about your current living situation before you started living in it?

The biggest misconception was that we would feel like different people when we left our usual life.

I imagined we’d be relaxed and worry free. I imagined we would have more time and would fill it with yoga and meditation and learning about crystals. I thought we would spend evenings reading or chatting or sitting outside and watching sunsets.

Of course, the reality is that you take yourself with you. We spend our evenings binging on back to back Netflix. We fill our day with all the usual things – getting up, getting dressed, trying to get Ivy up, walking and feeding dogs, supermarket shopping, working.

If you don’t consciously choose to BE different your life won’t be any different even if you change everything about your lifestyle.

Having said that, we have been building the meditation and crystals in as we noticed we weren’t doing this and it was important for us. And we make time to go out and do the local activities even if it means working later in the evening so we can have the full experience. But it takes effort. It doesn’t just happen.

What is the one household item you carry with you every time you move or the one item you cannot live without?

I love my tea cup! Shortly before we left our home in the UK we went to a paint-a-pot shop in the town where we lived. I painted a massive cup with a picture of Humphrey’s face on one side and his butt on the other side. Brilliant. AirBnB cups are so tiny that I not only use it in the van but I bring it in with me and drink every cup of tea out of it wherever we are.

Ivy has Elly, her stuffed elephant. She can’t sleep without Elly so this cuddly toy is now one of the most well-travelled stuffed elephants in the world. Probably.

What do you miss most about permanent, stationary, traditional living?

Ivy misses a bedroom. She talks quite a lot about how she’ll have her room when we return back home. It’s clearly important to her that she has a space that’s always hers and that she can make her own.

I don’t miss anything at this point about a permanent, stationary, traditional home. In fact I get quite anxious when I imagine settling down again. As we are only 3 months in I remind myself that I may feel differently in 9 months. But Ivy is very commited to returning to our friends and family and to a routine she’s more familiar with. I try not to think about it.

The only thing I think will be brilliant will be having my friends around. I miss them.

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

What is the one item your child carries with her to make your unique (less traditional) home more comfortable?

So much! Practically everything we have with us is Ivy’s. Toys and books and games and little mementos and cuddly toys fill almost every cupboard. But, apart from Elly of course, Ivy loves her duvet and pillow and will bring them out of the van and in to each AirBnB even when the place already has beds beautifully made up.

Do you have a pet joining you in this journey? If so, has this been complicated? Any advice?

The dogs do make life more complicated. You can’t just spot a theme park or a museum or a monument from the road and say “Hey! Let’s go and check it out!” because you can’t bring the dogs and you can’t leave them in the motohome for long, especially in hot weather. Even popping in to a shop for more than a few minutes worries me.

When we are in an AirBnB I don’t like to leave them for long either. They are very good – they don’t bark much when they are left alone or destroy the house. We have a door gate which we use to separate off the kitchen, normally, so that we can leave the dogs in one space and know they won’t wander off. Humphrey is very good at opening door handles and AirBnB doors usually don’t close that well in the first place. So this way he can’t release himself and Casey and go for their own day of adventure! But you still can’t leave a dog for 10 or 12 hours and our days are always defined by that.

A couple of times the AirBnB host has been a dog lover and has looked after the dogs for the day so we can go on a longer day trip which is amazing! Even then though I don’t want to take advantage of their generosity.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t be on this trip if we couldn’t take them. They are family. They make everywhere feel like home. They make us laugh. They enjoy the countryside and the adventure so much it makes us enjoy it more. They are a friend to Ivy when she’s fed up of me. And right now they are sleeping with big smiles on their faces. How could we be here without them?!

In terms of advice, just keep in mind that the dogs are a major criteria when you look for places to stay. Find out where a vet is, find out where a boarding kennel is if there’s an emergency and you have to get home fast. Communicate directly with your AirBnB host and explain about your dogs. They may say they are dog friendly but are they happy with a very large, hairy dog and a smaller, younger dog who sleeps on the bed? Are they happy for you to leave the dog in the house when you aren’t there? Is the garden secure? Is the house on a busy main road?

And look out for tics. We check the dogs pretty much every day. Learn how to remove a tic and clean the area. And watch out for tics on yourself as these can be very dangerous. You can get a tic bite without a dog but with dogs in the house it’s more likely.

A special note for people wanting to take a dog through Europe and in to the UK. In addition to a pet passport, dogs need to have a tapeworm injection 24 hours – 5 days prior to entering the UK. This means finding a vet who can do this a day or two before you cross the channel. It adds another complication and cost but you can’t get in to the UK with your dog, even if the passport is up to date, without proof of this injection.

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

What is your best resource to find items you need for your place?

We don’t shop much as we packed everything we could possibly need and more! However, the app “Parkings” has been wonderful for us since we got Rex.

We don’t need campsites with as many facilities now we have our own shower and toilet and all of that so we can stay in quieter, less commercial sites. As we travelled through Europe to get to Croatia we knew we needed to do about 300-400 miles a day. About an hour before we were ready to stop each day we looked on Parkings and found a campsite to head for. Only once was the site full when we arrived and we had to search again. But we stayed in some beautiful campsites in the woods and at the foot of the Alps that we would not have found otherwise. The Slovenian site we stayed in was free if you ate at the restaurant next door. What a great experience.

Other than that Google Maps is a godsend. We have a SatNav but it doesn’t cover Croatia. So it’s Google Maps all the way at the moment. We couldn’t even find a supermarket without it!

If you could only have one of the following in your home which one would it be and why?

Above average internet, a dishwasher, natural light

Internet for sure!

There’s no way I can work without internet. Even my documents are online. We had the experience in one of our AirBnBs where the internet was poor and it ruined our trip. I was anxious all the time (there was no phone signal either) that I was neglecting my clients. I had to reschedule meetings (in fact I had my virtual assistant do it as I couldn’t organise anything without reliable internet). I missed calls. I couldn’t respond to enquiries in a timely manner.

We actually hired an office space for the week as a result. It meant I could work but it also meant Ivy was stuck in a white, windowless box with me for 5 hours a day. This was not what we had in mind!

Not only workwise, but homeschool-wise you really rely on the internet. How were The Alps created, Mummy? What sort of bird is that, Mummy? Are there any castles to visit in Croatia, Mummy? You can’t respond to your child’s curiousity without the internet when you’re on the road without reference books or a library.

You can’t even find a local supermarket or laundrette.

It might seem like a first world problem but this trip, while running a business and homeschooling, is only possible because of the internet. Take that away and we couldn’t do it.

If you were to compare your unique (less traditional) home decorating style to a kitchen appliance or gadget what would it be and why?

A filter coffee machine. It isn’t the best way to make coffee but it’s better than instant!

How do you keep traditions alive for your family in your unique living situation?

We haven’t had a birthday or Christmas on our trip yet. We will go back to the UK for my parents’ wedding anniversary in a couple of months and mark my birthday then. And we will probably go back for Ivy’s birthday too so she can see friends. Having said that we were in Mexico for her birthday last year and celebrated by going zipwiring through the rainforest. Not bad!

How do you decorate for the holidays in your unique (less traditional) home or do you skip it all together?

We aren’t even big on that at home! Last year we just skipped the decorating for Christmas. What a lot of hassle putting it all up and taking it all down!

What is your favorite part about this lifestyle choice?

The impermanence. I love that, if you don’t particularly like a house, you know you don’t have to live there for long. If you’re fed up of washing in the motorhome bathroom you know you’ll have a proper bathroom in a few days. Because you change your situation frequently you’re always looking forward to something new or experiencing something new.

There’s also more flexibility in the way we’ve set up our lives. We can work in the morning and go out in the afternoon. We can work in the evenings and take the days off. There’s always a little thrill about going to a waterpark on a Wednesday when it’s almost empty. Or going for coffee with your kid at 11am when everyone else is at school. We like confounding people a little with that! “What’s that kid doing out of school in the middle of the day?!” Love it.

There’s still some guilt from me about taking off for an afternoon…but I’m working on it!

Many traveling families subscribe to the “house is not a home” theory. What is home to you?

I agree, certainly at the moment. I am at home when I’m with Ivy and the dogs. If I have my laptop, my phone, a good book, some dark chocolate close to hand and those guys with me I’m home.

I think it’s different for Ivy. She’d like a permanent place although she’s said that she’s happy as long as she knows she will have that eventually. She doesn’t need it right now

A house can be a home. I have loved some of the houses I’ve owned – that feeling you get when you walk in the door after travelling for business and practically kiss the floor. But I think that’s the relief of being back in a place that you can be yourself in. If you live your whole life that way you don’t necessarily need a bolthole where you can finally let your guard down.

What makes you love the place you live?

I’m big on comfort. I like to be comfortable when I sit or lie down. So a great sofa and a great bed are vital for me.

But what I really look for is landscapes that take my breath away. If we can see something that takes my breath away from the house or from the motorhome I’m in love.

In this house in Croatia we step outside the door and we are on this glorious hillside with the sea in one direction shimmering in the sun and, in the opposite direction, a hillside peppered with terracotta roofed houses and churches and vinyards in the valley in between. Turn your head to the left and a little lane between stone houses takes you to the village restaurant. Turn your head to the right and there’s the place we walk the dogs between the olive trees. Perfection.

Can home be a person, or an idea?

If home is a person it’s Ivy for me. And I hope it’s me for her.

But it’s also an idea. We call wherever we are staying “home”. We don’t call it the house or the AirBnB or the van. We call it home. I think that’s quite telling. It’s not about the place. It’s about what it’s doing for us – keeping us safe and dry and providing us with a place to sleep and rest and leave our stuff while we live our lives.

I wonder if the concept of home is over-rated. Maybe if you’re too attached to the idea of home you never really find it. Nothing can live up to your expectations. We don’t expect much of home and we find home wherever we go.

Words of wisdom to anyone considering venturing out into the world of unique, less traditional homes?

Bring nice things! People will tell you to pack light and only bring what you need. And it’s true that a lot of useless stuff will drive you mad. But if you’re going to live in a less traditional way for any length of time you want some form as well as function. Hang posters or pictures. Bring your nail varnish and all of those eye shadows. Take the spices you love with you. And that cup you made in pottery class.

This is your life and you’re doing this because you want to have a great adventure, to really live, to be yourself or find yourself, to have fun! It’s not a punishment or a test of how few items you can survive with if you have to. If you love pretty things, bring some. If you’ve got a favourite brand of soap that cheers you up in the morning bring a year’s worth. If you don’t like to sleep unless you’re surrounded by cuddly toys, bring them. Ivy taught me this lesson.

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

RV Family of Blaire Palmer

Anything else you would like offer?

People like to do a lot of research before they set off on adventure like this. They want to know about what other people do, how to prepare, what to expect, what’s going to go wrong, what it’s going to feel like. They often want all this information so they can reassure themselves that they aren’t going to make a big mistake. I get it. I did a lot of research too.

But what I’ve learnt is that your adventure is going to be unique. And you can’t really prepare for it. You just, at some point, have to go for it. You’ll learn what you need on the road. You’ll discover what works for you as you go. You’ll find out what home means to you and what it doesn’t mean. You’ll realise you like your area tidy or that actually you don’t care. You’ll try different ways of living and, through getting it wrong, realise what’s right for you. You’ll have the days when you feel like it’s all coming together and days when you feel like it’s not working. Nothing can prepare you for that.

So go! Make a new kind of life based on your best guess about what’s going to work for you and tweak it from there!

What is next for you? Will you continue to live in your current home or try something different?

We always said this would be a year. We are due to return to the UK permanently next Spring. However, we won’t just settle back in to life as it was. For one thing we’ve sold our house so we can’t just “go home”. But also we’re looking for something different even when we get back.

The plan is to look for a place to rent in the country, maybe on a farm, with some land but relatively near to friends and family. We will continue to homeschool and I plan to keep my flexible way of working, primarily from home rather than going back to my hectic travel schedule and need for full time living in childcare.

We will get some more animals – alpacas, chickens and maybe a pig. That’s our next adventure. Sounds pretty good actually. Maybe I’m not as anxious about it as I thought!

How do you educate your child?

We started homeschooling last September before we had the idea to travel (although we imagined homeschool would make travel easier outside of school holidays). Ivy wasn’t terribly happy at school and I felt her originality wasn’t being nurtured. Instead the focus was on where she was compared with other kids in the class based on a narrow range of skills. I felt I could do better for her at home and prevent her losing her lovely, bubbly confidence and natural enthusiasm for learning.

We now consider what we are doing eclectic, almost-unschooling worldschooling! We have workbooks and times when we actively “school” but this isn’t every day. Most of the time we are learning from what we are seeing, or driven by some random question Ivy has asked or some piece of research she’s initiated on her own.

One of the reasons she’s keen to return to the UK is that she’d like to prepare for her Bat Mitzvah. This is all driven entirely by her but we’ve started working on it already. She’s teaching herself Hebrew (I’m learning with her!) and learning more about the religion.

She’s curious about going back to school, maybe an alternative school of some kind, in future although this is just an option and I’m leaving that to her. However she is commited to university. She wants to act and has her eye on two of the best acting schools in the UK, both of which require a high level of education. But we are both confident she can achieve that level at home, at home ed classes and groups and through online study and/or tutoring when my capabilities are outstripped by hers.

We love homeschool and I’ve seen a massive change in her over the last few months. She’s doing her own research, she’s asking great questions, she’s gathering knowledge, she’s pushing herself, she’s reading, she’s becoming more self-assured, she’s getting to know herself better. And while we both have moments of doubt – Are we doing enough? What are the kids at school doing and should she be doing that? – she’ll then blow me away with her one-page report about the one child rule in China or recounting some historical facts she got from a Horrible Histories video she watched, just for fun.

Breaking our habitual thinking about how we learn is part of what we’re doing on this trip. Breaking our habitual thinking about everything we thought we KNEW about life and home and work is part of what we’re doing on this trip. It all fits together really well.

How do you make a living?

As a single mum I’m 100% responsible for our family income. If I don’t work we don’t eat. I’ve wanted to mention this because I think there’s a view that you can’t do this if you’re a single parent. You can, but you do need to make sure you’ve got a source of income. Worrying about money and how hard you’ve made it to make money is going to ruin your adventure.

I am a coach, keynote speaker, podcaster and writer. My subject is the future of leadership (I coach leaders in corporate world wanting to unpick the conventional wisdom of leadership and construct a more human, authentic approach to leading organisations and I speak about the future of leadership and business) and I also run programmes and have a podcast for people at a crossroads in their lives.

Much of my work is done on the phone and zoom. My new group coaching programme will use this technology entirely. So a lot of the work and generally running the business can be done online and that’s the part of the business I’m focused on growing this year. I want a business that’s entirely location independent so I can work from home (wherever that is), have time to homeschool with Ivy and, eventually, run our smallholding.

However, speaking, some workshops and some coaching still has to happen face to face. That means we jump on a plane or drive to wherever the piece of work is, and I do that. Then we head off again. It is likely that some of my clients don’t even know I’m not based in the UK any more.

My advice would be to make sure you have the money side secured for the first 9-18 months depending on your tolerance for risk. You want to either know that your work will not be affected at all by your travels OR, if you’re starting something new, that you have time to make it income generating. If it’s not working but you’ve got money in the bank you will still have time to pivot the idea before you run out of cash!

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Isn’t it great how Blaire and Ivy balance time in the RV with Air B&Bs? Its’ so important to be clear about what you need when on the road, and they seem to have found it. This approach is perfectly captured by this quote from Blaire when asked about the challenges of full-time travel:

Breaking our habitual thinking about how we learn is part of what we’re doing on this trip. Breaking our habitual thinking about everything we thought we KNEW about life and home and work is part of what we’re doing on this trip. It all fits together really well.

Go Adventure,
Jessica

Inside A Traveler’s Walls is where we feature families living in less traditional and unique homes (tents, boats, camper vans, yurts, flats, etc). If you think you might be one of those families and are interested in being profiled, please contact us for details.

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