ARE WE ON PERMANENT HOLIDAY??

For 3.5 years now neither me nor Albert have had a regular job. Nowadays this is just my normal life but it was not always the case. Sometimes we will meet someone and tell them our story and they will say, “Oh wow I wish I was on permanent holiday!!” or “Cool, I would love to leave my job and do nothing” and I think to myself – how can this person think we are on permanent holiday??

This is not a holiday. This is our life. So I just don’t get how our life can be seen as Rest & Relaxation. To me, in a way, that seems like a pretty meaningless life. Of course there are many times that our lives feel much freer than our old existence, the normal lives of the majority of the UK population. But that was a concious choice we made and implemented in order to live this life. We don’t have to do repetitive passive 9-5 jobs in the same company for years in exchange for money. We used to. We don’t have to earn that money to pay for rent and bills and groceries. We used to. We don’t have to commute every day via bus or train or car to a workplace. We used to. We made that choice and you can to. But it doesn’t mean life will be a holiday.

Our decision to live differently didn’t happen overnight. We did a lot of preparation before we left the UK in order to transition from the safe to the unknown. Firstly I finished repaying £14,000 of bank debt from my (pointless?) Masters degree. This took me five years and was actually a really good lesson in living with very little money and in striving to be debt free. After paying my rent, bills, food, the debt payment (around a quarter or more of my monthly wage) and limited socialising (gotta look after your mental health!) I was left with very little but I started saving what remained.

I then moved into an empty old people’s home as a property guardian which greatly reduced my rent (guardianship properties normally cost less than a third of a typical rental property in the area). Of course this was a pretty big change for me but Albert, who had been living in similar places for years in Bristol, soon showed me how great it was to have so much space, unlimited heating and electricity, huge walk-in bathrooms each, being able to easily stroll to work and a big inner garden courtyard. All this plus being able to properly save and complete my debt meant I could let go of annoyances that come with living in abandoned buildings, like the alarm being broken or of never knowing exactly who I was actually living with (the property was so big that I didn’t see a lot of the other tenants).

The last big change came when we actually left the UK in June 2017 to volunteer at a guesthouse in Bosnia. We had saved just over £1,000 each and this was the final hurdle. To let go of the power money had over us and our lives. Admittedly it was difficult for the first year. We had big adjustments to make from years of materialistic conditioning but slowly we are getting there. We started off trying to hike from place to place but this quickly became impossible. We were carrying too much and hiking was uncomfortable, sore and we didn’t enjoy tramping over hard tarmaced roads. We then tried hitchhiking but we realised that we both prefered doing things under our own steam. Waiting for hours on end by a fume filled fast motorway on the edge of a city really wasn’t something we enjoyed and seeing so many people rushing by filled us with deep sadness. We also tried buses and trains but we were missing out so much of our ‘journey’ by passively leaping from one place to another.

Our only option was to cycle. By this time, six months into our new life, we had met some cyclists and were really curious. I said I could never do what they were doing but at this point in January 2018, we had little choice left. We had spent a big chunk of our savings already on expensive buses, hostels, food, socialising and other unexpected ‘extravagances’. It all adds up and when you aren’t accumulating money then it drains away very very quickly.

To live like us then you will need to live without. But that doesn’t mean your life will be without. In fact all those things you are used to, the corner shop where you can pop in any time and buy unnecessary snacks, going to the pub every weekend with friends, even going to the movies or coffee shop or restaurant will no longer be part of your life but (hopefully) you won’t feel like your life is lacking. You will open yourself to a whole new world. A full, rich, fat world living closely with beauty, nature, people, plants and animals. Life will not be easy. But it will be more-than-living. You might have to cycle long distances in mountainous regions for days on end in all weathers, camp somewhere unsuitable, eat soupy noodles five days in a row, be dirty for a whole week, be constantly looking for water. But it is a world that is alive and you will be truly alive noticing every slant of light, seeing countless unknown insects, finding food in the weeds right under your feet. Experiencing the kind spirit, curiosity and generosity of humankind. Being visibly vulnerable in the world.

At your volunteering destination, you might find you are with people who are difficult to be with, hard to talk to, opinions that are dramatically opposed to yours. The work might be less than exciting, days upon days of weeding in hot heat or picking apples for hours and hours until your back hurts, or they might have strange eating times – not eating dinner until 10pm by which time you are starving after a long days work. They might complain that you are too slow or not doing the job how they would like it. They might tell you volunteers, like you, are unskilled. However, as you can see from photos included in this post – these ‘unskilled’ volunteers are capable of building wooden gates, birthing lambs, building greenhouses and timber framed porches, childcare and so on. Your hosts might be rude and crass and feed chicken bones to their chickens laughing, “here why don’t you eat your sister?” or they might be sexist, only speaking to men, only giving jobs to men whilst the women should be in the kitchen or with the children. How do you navigate sexism in a country where it is (essentially) not seen as sexism – just countryside traditions, old ways, normal everyday ‘peasant’ culture? How do you navigate extreme racism from your host who you are relying on for food and a room? How do you communicate any of this with someone where neither of you speak a common tongue?

The bed part of the arrangement might not always be exactly your usual home comforts, sometimes it will be a tent pitched inside a polytunnel in winter (see photo below) or in summer, it might be an unventilated room with no mostiqo protection so every morning you wake up tired, hot, sweaty and covered in bites. Or it might be someones tiny personal home office which is regularly used. Or your flea-ridden mattress might be next to the toilet and there is a huge hole in the wall and your host gets up every morning at 4am and has a huge noisy smelly shit seemingly right next to you and you just whisper into yourself, “omg where am I?” Or you might get really lucky and have the opportunity to live in a Mongolian yurt.

However, there are many kinds of people in the world all with their own ideas, ideals, needs & wants. This is what this lifestyle has taught me. You can’t say any of these people are wrong or right. They are just human beings doing what they want in the world. You might see things you really don’t like in a person but that same person will also have some of the most wonderful qualities. Some of these experiences I describe sound pretty awful but in honest truth I wouldn’t trade this life in for my old life. In fact all the worst experiences are the ones that offer me the most insight, most learning and more importantly, humour. You can go through so-called bad experiences with either a chip on your shoulder or you can let it all go and just laugh. There is a saying, “the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstances.” How you cope with your circumstances will define you as a person.

I have learnt so much. I have been through so much – emotionally, mentally & physically. I have lived so many lives in the last years when otherwise I would have been living the same day over and over. It’s always funny to me how we, as a culture, admire professionals who say something like, “I’ve 25 years experience in this job” because for me it’s like they have one years experience and they just relive that one year over and over again. They’re on autopilot. To really learn you have to do new things, test yourself, be in diverse situations. That’s ‘experience’.

Navigating these different people and their lives has made me more tolerant and accepting. The worst of my experiences have actually taught me the most. They have taught me that I can live in lots of situations, that humans are essentially adaptable & hardy. That humans are good. The cumulative aspects of a host, volunteers and project generally override any individual misdemeanor or problematic characteristic. To me community means forgiveness. Often the crappy experiences make me fully appreciate when I am volunteering somewhere where I have a nice room, good fresh plentiful food and people I enjoy being around.

What we trade for not having a permanent home or income is worth far more to me than living a static stationary life at home. On the upside, we get to explore, try new things, meet people we truly connect with, do things we love, see the world, intimately experience other cultures, eat amazing local food, learn new recipes. We are truly alive, vibrant, always learning, always having to re-adjust, unlearn, relearn, look at ourselves and our actions and how they impact others.

We are becoming steadily more resilient – which in today’s uncertain world is sure to serve us well. We are healthy, strong and able to really look after ourselves if times are tough. We can light a fire, pitch a tent, forage wild foods, build, preserve, create, invent. Our dream is to create or join a resilient community. Our lives are constantly changing. Our ideas and ideals about the world become more and more flexible but also more defined.

We can see clearly what the world needs, what modern societies have irreparably lost. Strong communities of sharing, connected people, communities that can work together towards a life of true abundance. Communities that think local, think of life as cyclical, who don’t strip natural resources, who don’t create so much waste or need so much money, and most importantly – communities and people who give back. Reciprocal communities who don’t think of themselves as individual but as part of a whole.

“Economic localization is the key to sustaining biological and cultural diversity – to sustaining life itself. The sooner we shift towards the local, the sooner we will begin healing our planet, our communities and ourselves”.
  – Helena Norberg-Hodge, Activist

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We would also be happy to hear from you, so get in touch with ideas, communities, places, people or in solidarity with the small change we are trying to make in an uncertain world.

One thought on “ARE WE ON PERMANENT HOLIDAY??

  1. Love this so much. Your comments about accepting other people’s sometimes obnoxious views and customs as only part of them and not the whole picture strike this one as bang on the nail. Reminds me of Lucy Irvine, another true adventurer. As for me I’ve been kind of (ie very short trips) wandering around Romania, where ‘country living’ has a whole different meaning to the magazine title, but I always had a home to go back to in the UK. Very very inspired by your blog and insta pieces. Call in here any time!

    Like

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