Twelve years ago in May 2008 I sold my beloved home in London and began a new and wonderful life.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the old one, but at 48, with my only child at University, I felt it was time to make a big, bold change.
However, the next day once we were in the car, heading to the Channel Ferry, I felt exhilarated and light. I had sold my home, I had some money in the bank for the first time ever, I was off on a very big adventure. I took off my shoes and balanced my bare feet on the glove compartment in front of me.
We travelled first to Tuscany, where we spent ten weeks living in a charming, quirky rented house in a mountain village called Chuisi de la Verna. We drove around the tightly winding roads visiting the region’s classic hilltop towns. We swam in the chilly Arno and sunbathed on its banks. We went to Lidl and bought lots and lots of olive oil. We ate scoop after scoop of lemon ice-cream. Slice after slice of thin crust pizza, topped with artichokes and roasted peppers.
We saw children dressed up as sunflowers in local pageants, visited the neighbouring regions of Le Marche and Liguria, the elegant cities of Florence and Arezzo. We had a really brilliant time And throughout this I worked at my usual job, as Travel Editor of Prima magazine.
Of course travelling was part of the job, but I also organized review trips for all the other members of the team and, more challenging, arranged competition prizes for the readers. Our rustic house had no wifi and the nearest Internet cafe was a 40 minute drive away in San Sepulchro. Before we had left Britain, we had bought a dongle – a funny little device to plug into the side of the computer. It only worked when attached by two cables and actually dangled out of the window, into the garden, where shiny, black crows lurked.
With this strange accessory, as long as it worked, I could work. Over the next few years I used it in many places. In Wales, where we lived for a lot of the time, I had the extra challenge of being without a phone signal. I remember walking to the top of a hill looking in search of one, then sitting in the wind and setting up my laptop and dongle.
From such tricky locations, I wrote email after email to travel companies trying to persuade them to give away reader prizes. I typed away in car parks, in hotel foyers and of course in coffee shops, trying to concentrate while being distracted by the buzz around me.
Over the next eight years I travelled extensively. Partly for Prima but often on my own stream. I Trundled my way around nearly all of Central and South America, parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma. Finding internet access in Botswana was a bit tricky, Namibia too. Cuba was almost impossible.
We drove through most of France, took trains around Spain and local buses in Portugal and Greece. I think it’s fair to say that we had a lovely, lovely time. And all the while I was working, writing, making work phone calls to London – perhaps perched on a rock overlooking the Mediterranean or sitting on a Thai roof terrace.
In November 2012, quite by chance, I found my flat in El Cabanyal Valencia. I have written at length about this, in Red magazine, on this blog and also in my book Taulellets.
It didn’t stop me travelling but gave me a base which I dearly love. When we began to live here in October 2013, I also began to write www.thetrundlers.com – because I wanted to encourage others to live as we did, at least for part of the time. I wanted to encourage others of a similar age, to follow in my footsteps, to cut loose a little.
A nasty walking accident in August 2016 followed by four years during which my dear Dad, Mum and Aunty all died, changed my course. Challenging years which made me feel older, sadder and physically slower. During this time I could often be found in hospitals, solicitors’ offices, a care home, a funeral parlour. I still travelled but my trips were tinged with grief and hampered by a lack of strength, as my badly smashed up leg slowly mended.
Now aged 61 and feeling full of beans, I am more than ready to hit the road again.
The only problem is that many roads are for the moment closed. Travelling must be done through Corridors, wearing a mask and clutching a bottle of hand gel. My plans for a world trip, for long European train rides, for time spent exploring French Polynesia, for going by cargo boat to New Zealand, have become complicated, if not impossible.
I am very happy here in my dusty flat, high above the oldest square in El Cabanyal.
From my window I watch an elderly lady sitting on a bench and swinging her legs like a little girl. A cat is perched dangerously high up on a window sill. A solitary man watches porn on TV in the flat opposite. If we choose to look we can see right in.
The sun is still very warm and I can be in the Mediterranean in ten minutes. The market is full of roasted pumpkins and bright orange persimonns. But I long for my nomadic life again, with my Trundle Bag bumping along behind me. I want to sit on a bus and wait for the cardboard snack box to arrive – as it does in South and Central America. I want to talk about lipstick to a pink-cheeked Peruvian girl wearing a big brocade skirt or become friends with a kindly Burmese man with a garden full of avocados but no experience of the Internet.
I want to visit all those places I look at on my big wall map, which I gaze at every day as I wait for the kettle to boil and do my wobbly version of Tai Chi. I know I have been very fortunate. I like to hear about all these office workers who are doing their jobs from home for the first time and actually enjoying it. I am intrigued to learn about people who have sold their homes in the south of England and are now moving to North Wales. People who are renting flats in foreign lands and pretending to their employers they are still in Britain.
I wish them all luck. I am so happy I chose this way of life, 12 years ago, not on the run from a killer virus, but just because it made complete sense to me. I would not have changed it for the world.