By Carmen Gentile
SARAJEVO — “See girls, there are different ways to live your life.”
This was my favourite comment from a visitor who viewed our RV at a show. It came from a mother keen to tell a gaggle of teenagers that they weren’t pre-programmed to get married, buy a house, have babies, and tie themselves onto an eternal treadmill to fund it.
If only someone had said that to me, the last 30 years might have been very different — although I got there in the end.
My husband, Mark, and I have been living full time in our RV since we were made redundant in 2016. Jobless in our early 50s, we accidentally bought four puppies and our first mobile home.
Some way down the second bottle of celebratory champagne, we had a brilliant idea.
“If we rent out the house and live in the trailer, we can probably manage without working!”
Sober, and in the cold light of day, we realised it was a superb plan.
Within a month, we had found a tenant, sold most of our possessions, and hit the road. Initially, we planned to tour Europe for three years. Six years in, we’re not stopping anytime soon.
Obviously, nothing is ever perfectly straightforward, and The Fates like to have their fun.
Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union — spelled the end of unrestricted travel within Europe for United Kingdom nationals like us. In most of the bloc, we can now stay only 90 days in a rolling 180-day period. This caused me to utter a sentence to my beloved that would change our lives forever:
Every day is different, and filled with wonder.
“Let’s go to Mongolia!”
Although our trusty trailer had carried us safely through two cornfields and over the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, we decided a country more than twice the size of Texas with only three paved roads required a more suitable vehicle.
A month of research and arguments over reading rights to Haynes’ “Build Your Own Overland Camper” manual solved our problem. We purchased a 1990 Volvo N10 6×4 wheel-drive Army truck off the internet and converted her into our new home.
The Beast, as we christened her, is huge: 33 feet long, 12.6 feet high, and 8 feet wide, her gross weight is 24.5 tonnes, although fully converted, she sits at 16 tonnes.
The optimum weight for an expedition vehicle is about 10 tonnes, but she has a bull nose and we fell in love. We concluded, “She’s way too big and waaay too heavy, but she will be fun!”
Her size makes her very comfortable. The Beast is the mansion house of motor homes.
We’re frequently asked, “You’re engineers, right?”
No, we reply, but we’re fast learners.
We fitted her out with the help of skilled friends, and sought professionals to install the gas and electric.
Our interior has a joyful “underwater” theme of scorched and stained spruce plywood in shades of turquoise and coral. Since our sporting passions are windsurfing and skiing, we repurposed an old surfboard and a worn-out pair of skis as decorative and practical features. The ski bindings make great towel hooks for our onboard shower and wet room.
For remote expeditions, we aim to be self-sufficient for at least four weeks. We carry 600 litres of diesel, 90 litres of LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) for cooking and heating, and 600 litres of water. Anti-bacterial filters mean we can refill from lakes or rivers, if necessary. The 1,300 watts of solar panels power the largest compressor fridge/freezer we could find, and keep 720 amp-hours of AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries fully charged in all but the worst weather.
If the voltage drops, a battery-to-battery charger tops things up from the alternator as we drive. A 5,000-watt invertor converts 12-volt battery output into 220-volt, so we can use power tools and domestic appliances.
Since it requires us to drive through Russia, our Mongolian expedition is on hold because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Currently, we’re exploring the Balkans: Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Because these countries are outside Schengen, we can stay for a few months in each one.
Like Romania, these areas are inexpensive and highly underrated destinations; uncrowded, filled with spectacular landscapes, they are home to the friendliest, most hospitable people.
Our lifestyle was born out of necessity. We lost our jobs and sought a way to survive, because the redundancy process made us too ill to seek other employment. At the time, it felt nothing like an opportunity, but as many have said since, “Wow, you’re living the dream.”
We are — and I want others to know it is achievable.
I actively enjoy having less, because I don’t feel weighed down by a whole load of stuff I don’t need, but can’t get rid of.
Mark and I haven’t won the lottery or received a windfall inheritance. We had some savings, but our lifestyle is low-cost, has little environmental impact, and is minimal in terms of possessions.
The major benefit, however, is that it is much more rewarding. Every day is different, and filled with wonder.
I actively enjoy having less, because I don’t feel weighed down by a whole load of stuff I don’t need, but can’t get rid of. I value experience over possessions, and know that there is nothing I could buy that would make me any happier than I am.
Your dream may differ from ours, but I hope to show that there are alternatives to the ideals forced upon us by convention and society.
It requires some courage to break free from the comfort and security of what you know, but, as with most things, the reality is seldom as traumatic as the anticipation.
In a postindustrial world, we may all have to live with less. Yet, when circumstances imposed it upon us, far from feeling deprived, our minimal lifestyle has been an outstandingly positive experience.
We have everything we need. We have broken free from routine, and what constitutes our every day is consistently extraordinary.
Jacqueline Lambert is an author and writer, who chronicles her travels and lifestyle with four dogs. When not travelling she is based in Bournemouth on the south coast of England. Find her books on Amazon or connect with her via WorldWideWalkies.com
By Michael Madison
By Carmen Gentile