Summer 2004, we spent nine weeks in a VW campervan with four children, and a dog to launch our grown up gap year. Suzie packed up our house in order to rent it, while Mike finished a hectic project at work, and handed in his notice. We traveled locally and further a field in Ireland and Wales in the van. At the end of the summer we moved into a mobile home in Brittas, Wicklow, while Suzie had two months of her own hectic work projects and Mike got us ready to WOOF in Europe for the winter. The following are Suzie's journal entries for the summer.
We have decluttered our lives. Well, okay, our old life is temporarily just packed into our garage. We have moved to our first camp, just three miles from our house outside of Wicklow town, because I hadnít enough time to organize much of the camping equipment. In theory I am going to do that until Mike finishes up work. He is cycling back to town to commute by rail to Dublin. For the moment I am taking it easy. It has been a hectic month. I spend the days outdoors, and donít feel guilty as I would usually about household chores awaiting me indoors. The children have found their imaginations and their appetites. Whole wheat pasta, fruit and vegetables are scoffed with relish. In the evening, when Mike returns, we revel in being able to sit with a glass of wine and the children collapse after a day in the fresh air by the sea.
I have become a miniature tourist and information office
helping a variety of folk: young Europeans, some broken down Kiwis, plus
Irish folk without their mallets, pegs, umbrellas, and water carriers. We
even babysat for a couple of Scots. This afternoon, we met some people from one of the many
mobile homes in the main site. They feel similarly to us that spending the
summer away from ones house is wonderful. Of course they have mini houses,
in mini estates, to deal with. I have really enjoyed being joined by other
tourists in the occasional field. We meet while filling the kettle at the
communal tap, and chat later for a glass of wine, cup of tea or a meal. This evening we met a nice
young French man. I noticed him while engaging in my new hobby watching
people set up camp. There are many levels of experience: campers who come
every year and have their tent up in minutes, then there are those who put it up
inside out and back to front. One young couple reminded us of ourselves long
ago because they had come a courting in a tent. Times have changed though;
his dad dropped them out, and came back with their forgotten tent pegs later, from
Dublin! One couple roughly aged in their fifties, from the North, were in a new two-man-tent. They had
never been camping before, but were on their way back from two weeks in
Wexford. They were true converts. He had had his doubts, but both were misty
eyed at the thought of having to go back to a house.
We are leaving our first camp to move about for the rest of
the summer. We are included in a family reunion of an Irish clan of GAA
supporters home from all over the world and a match with a gang of lads
entertains us while we pack. The packing takes an entire day. The gear still
hadnít been minimized, so we dropped off lots at my parentsí attic before
the next part of the adventure. At the latter stages of the day the children had to get
into their seats in order for us to pack around them. Jettisoning became the
word of the day. I organized one backpack of clothes each, a cupboard of
books, art supplies, and card games, and some toys to come with us. Then it
was just a question of squeezing in the camping equipment some of which had
been updated midway through the first month. Weíd been a bit disappointed to realise we were the consumers after all, it was just that we hadnít found
our niche previously. We'd poured over catalogues, and ordered an assortment
of kit. The best buys being: a terrific awning that attaches onto the van
leaving a sort of corridor between for chucking shoes and buggies, then a fold
out kitchen stand for the cooker with counters either side, and a small gas
barbeque. We jettisoned the old worn awning, and a three man tent that had
been our first courting tent and was falling apart. We kept another
two man tent that, pitched beside the awning, made a great wardrobe and
spare bedroom, when some of the childrenís friends came for sleepovers.
Normally we all sleep in the van. A feat that was to be explained most often
throughout the summer as people seemed to think we must be a family of
contortionists to fit in a small VW. (If the remembered "Doctor Who"
We told them it was like a tardus)
If I havenít said so before I should mention, the children loved it all. There were no complaints of, ďIím bored,Ē no one had a single bug and their relationships all improved with one another. August was a blur. We went touring: first to Armagh, and Wales. Then, we followed the husband, as he conquered his mid-life crisis by cycling on his recumbent bicycle 126 miles from the Wicklow gap to Oranmore, Galway in 15hours on his 40th Birthday. We spent some time relaxing in the West and came back through Mayo to Wicklow for the start of school. I admit I will be ready to move to what seems like luxury, a mobile home, as soon as its available. That isnít until after the first two days of school so I will have to get them all up and out from the van. This means putting away beds in order to drive, but luckily its only for a few days.
I look up as I pack the last things in for the night and stand mesmerized by the clear sky packed with stars. I am able to make out the milky way and then look over the sea at a silver line; the reflection of the rising moon on the water. I wonder how many of my friends have noticed the sky tonight and hope they have had a reason to be outside, taking in the washing or bikes or some such. I have really enjoyed the closeness to nature and the little things weíve noticed throughout the summer: morning bird song, swifts and swallows in the afternoons and bats at dusk. I imagine farmers among others must experience this same feeling, a sort of peace that such contact brings.
I am packing again. The last two months have flown by in a whirl of work. Having quit his job, Mike became a full-time house/mobile home, husband to allow me work. It was synchronicity that my work was a project with Travellers at a time when I was living in a mobile, and I certainly gained new insights about their situation as well as tips from several women. They were very curious about our plans and asked me lots about touring in Europe. One woman explained to me that tourists were allowed the life that was now denied to them. We managed in the mobile better than I expected given that there are six of us, although I was away a lot during the day. Everyone had their own space however small, even a little office for us, and the little guys lived under our feet as they do in our own house. One highlight was the arrival of Felix, my birthday surprise for Mike, a 1967 VW double cab pickup for use when we get back, and he changes career in some way.
Excitement or nerves are rising as we finalizes plans. We have made contact with a WOOF host in southern Italy and need to get there by mid-November in time for the olive harvest. They have offered us a small apartment but we will still need to pack all the camping gear for different parts of the journeying. We are both determined to pack much less and I start jettisoning and minimizing again but even a few cloths and shoes, swimming stuff and towels for six people takes up a lot of space. Add to that the camping equipment, school books, a few toys and the dog and its still going to be tight. This evening we sit down with pens and paper and draw a map of the van and assign every crevice an item. We will keep the map to help find it all as needed.
This site was last updated 03/26/05