Meet Karen & Myles, The Motoroamers. Describing themselves as a couple of burned out ex-corporate types who saw the light, this couple from the UK bought a motorhome called Scoobie and disappeared into the European sunset.
I do not have van envy and am not jealous at all!
From house sitting to having someone try to steal their bikes while wild camping, today The Motoroamers join me for Travellers 10 Questions where we can learn more about their travelling experiences, tips and tricks.
1. Where was your last trip? What was the best part about it?
We are on a ‘forever’ trip having made a commitment to full-time travelling in our camper around Europe. We left UK in March 2016 after packing in our stressful jobs and putting what little we owned into storage – just for a gap year! 20 months on we’re still going because we love it so much and it truly feels as if ‘there is no going back’. Our trip so far has covered 23,000 miles and 16 countries. The best part of our new nomadic lives is having the freedom to be, live, work and play the way we want, without conformity to the system – the rebels that we are. Stress is a killer and we stopped the corporate hamster wheel just in time, although with plenty of scars. Now we have chosen to feed our curious and adventurous spirits after way too long being tied to mortgages and the demands of others. I love waking up to a sunrise and a new vista each day, feeling my feet on unexplored land and learning about a country’s culture and traditions from the locals. This year, we ventured east to check out the Balkans, which stretched us out of our comfort zones and allowed us to demystify these old Communist lands. And boy did we feel their heartbeats and connect to their misunderstood souls. It was a deeply enriching experience that has left us wanting more.
This is the dream. You’re making me really miss van life. Old Communist lands are still so fresh, I completely agree you can feel the emotion.
2. What is the best place you’ve been to and why?
Whilst on our tour we have worked hard not to compare places, and instead appreciate that, like people, each have their own personalities. We are learning to suspend our judgemental characters, served well only in the Boardroom and value each town, city or province for the uniqueness they offer. It is, after all, beyond the book cover that the real story is told. That said, there are three places that have sunk deeper into our hearts than others; Provence in France, especially in Lavender season is very special with its authentic, rustic villages perched high on rocky crags and acres of purple fields contrasting against the golden landscape of wheat crops and bales of hay. The raw nature of Slovenia’s Triglav National Park is breathtaking with its azure waters coursing through the unforgiving gorges and mountain defences. And Romania, the most incredibly diverse and meaningful place we have ever visited, where simplicity, community and strength of spirit are values held at the country’s very core and are subtly etched upon the faces of every local. These are all places we would return to in heartbeat.
I like this way of looking at it! Slovenia was inedible, I could have got lost in their lakes. Romania is on the bucket list (along with most other places), but I’ve heard some great stories about Romania.
3. What was the scariest moment you’ve encountered while travelling?
The scariest moment we’ve encountered has to be whilst we were wild camping in Cabo de Gata, Spain, overlooking the crashing waves with a sunrise and sunset to die for. As night time called us to our beds and darkness fell, my slumber was disturbed by a noise behind us, at the back of our camper. I couldn’t make out whether it was just the wind blowing our bike cover or something more sinister. It was only when I got up to investigate whilst my hubster snored in oblivion that I saw the shadows of two people trying to steal our bikes. After making some noise to disturb them, they ran for cover and when they thought the coast was clear returned for a second go. Snoring halted, Myles got up to let the thieves know that stealing our bikes today was not on the agenda – having already had another two bikes ripped off the back of our van in Lucca, Italy the previous year. It was not going to happen to us again. We were lucky this time and although there was no way they could have taken these highly secured bikes off the rack, it made for a most unsettling night. Even though the police were called by another camper, who sadly wasn’t so fortunate, my mind became my sleep’s thief and without hesitation we moved on to the safety of a campsite and caught up on our rest! Every situation has within it a lesson and for us, it taught us about our vulnerability and to be more savvy in our choices of overnight stops. It hasn’t put us off wild camping, although we are definitely more discerning even with the lure of a beautiful view.
We spent a lot of our time wild camping, but as we were only in a 6m derived van, we think it allowed us to be a bit more inconspicuous! This sounds scary though, luckily we didn’t encounter anything like this.
4. What’s the strangest or most amazing thing you’ve eaten and where did you eat it?
During our exploration of Budapest, Hungary we had a rendezvous with some fellow travellers we had first met in Bulgaria. They were foodies and wine lovers and so made it their priority to find somewhere lovely for us to have lunch. And their search took us to the most divine restaurant, hidden in the backstreets just beyond the Parliament Houses of the Pest district. An unassuming restaurant called Hungarikam Bisztro that you could so easily have passed by without knowing it was there. Yet as you entered through their door you were transported into another world – a traditional Hungarian home, where you expected to be greeted by Grandma in her apron, such was its authenticity. Interestingly this matriarch is an appropriate reference because all the food was a recreation from the owner’s family recipe book, a legacy from his ancestors that allowed him to share their love of simple, home-cooked food with people from all over the world. Intrigued by the menu, served up visually on a Tablet, choosing was the hardest part of our experience. To whet our appetites, complementary starters of mouth burning chilli dip and chunky bread were served up, soon followed by our choice of roasted duck that simply fell off the bone and a soupçon of Hungarian liquor to finish off the meal. It was the most sensational food I’ve ever eaten and not an al dente vegetable to be seen. Just home-cooked food created and served with respect and love. The taste was made all the more special by the most incredible service we have ever encountered and such was our love of this place that we returned for a second helping three days later. This Bisztro will stand out to us always and I can’t recommend a visit enough.
We LOVED Budapest. It’s actually one of the places we’re heading next year, so we may well check out Hungarikam Bisztro. We’ll have to remember that.
5. What is your favourite social custom or tradition that you’ve encountered while travelling?
We have been privileged to witness many cultural experiences during our time on the road, many of which have been the fiestas of Spain – they surely know how to celebrate and honour! Although my most memorable tradition has to be in Romania. As you head north into the regions of Moldavia and Maramures, you are transported into a world that time forgot, where life is simple and natural. Horses and their carts seriously compete for road space amongst the high tech vehicles, putting a different spin on horsepower! Wagons of hay, piled so high that is seems almost impossible for the horse to pull, yet with the same stealth and resilience of their human masters, they effortless ply their trade. Wood, tools, families – they are all transported this way and despite the busy roads, oblivious the locals go about their day to day lives without a second glance. I was intrigued to watch how they created their haystacks and was keen to capture this through my lens. So whilst camping in the heartland of Moldavia, my wish was granted as a family across the road were harvesting their fields in tune with the setting sun. After asking their permission to snap away, I felt compelled to, not just watch and film like some out of place and overdressed – or in my case underdressed tourist – no I wanted to help and contribute as a thank you for my photos. So dressed in my pj’s and with my handful of Romanian words, their modicum of Italian and French (no English at all – unless you count Brexit and Prince Charles) we had an hour together raking the hand-scythed hay onto the stakes. They soon transformed them into iconic haystacks that looked like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel. This will remain one of my most defining images of Romania and most uplifting and enriching experiences of our travels so far.
I love mixing with the locals where you can, the crazy Brit stacking hay in her PJ’s is almost comical though. Definitely a different take on horsepower! Horses and carts up against Scoobie, GO!
6. Where is your least favourite place you’ve visited and why?
I guess you can’t travel as we have to not encounter a place that really doesn’t do it for you. We’ve had a few and each one has taught us what we treasure most in a place. Our least favourite place would have to be San Marino, the oldest republic in the world. On the face of it, entering into this independent state of eastern Italy, should give you a sense of identity as it has carved its rightful place in modern history. This ancient walled city perched high above the flat coastline beneath it should command respect – even the vernacular that takes you from the car parks to the citadel should be shrouded in mystery. Yet already our views had been coloured by the number of tax-free shops that lined the streets along the new town. It gave a very real message about this place’s purpose. History aside, when you start to walk amongst the cobbled streets I tried hard to feel its soul, although sadly I felt that it had been stolen by commercialism. Every house had been converted into a shop selling duty-free goods; alcohol, jewellery, leather, knives and perfume to name just a few. It was a honey pot attracting us bees to its cheap and sometimes tacky goods that just swallowed up the story that this ancient citadel had to tell. It felt unauthentic and soul-less despite the iconic buildings and views across Italy. We have learnt to look beyond the facade of a place and search for its identity although San Marino made it incredibly hard to feel its rhythm.
This has definitely altered my opinion on San Marino. The view is just incredible, but I was so enthralled by it, that I didn’t step back. Now you’ve said that, I completely agree. As with lots of tourist places, they become tourist traps, but this didn’t have its soul left, there was no balance. Interesting.
7. What is the most creative thing you did to save money while travelling?
We worked hard before we created our nomadic lifestyle to set up a passive income that could feed our day to day expenses, although not everything works out quite the way you planned. Like tenants leaving you unexpectedly reducing your monthly income overnight. So whilst we had always been respectful of our budget and did between 40-60% wild camping to save some pennies, the loss of of our tenant made us look differently at our travelling lives. Our options were to return to UK and get jobs whilst we sold the house and reinvested the money – which was not something that either of us relished, or we found ways to reduce our expenses. The latter won hands down and so our Housesitting Action Plan came to fruition. We had always intended to do some housesitting somewhere along the line, although the timing had never been right. Now it was, although through necessity more than desire perhaps. We sprang into action, reignited our Personal Profile, which I had already created before we left UK, and joined three online agencies. Within a week we had created our ‘Get to know us’ video, applied for a number of sits that worked location-wise for us and got our first assignment. High on our success, we applied for a few more sits and within two weeks we had managed to land five jobs. To date we have completed our first two sits and it’s been great to experience a different type of travel. The driver to shift our lifestyle temporarily was a bit of a shock to the system initially, although on reflection it is totally the right thing for us just now. After a crazy travel schedule and 23,000 miles, housesitting gives us an amazing chance to regroup, rest our weary tyres and catch up on some all-important blogging work that has been building up. Connecting with friends and family with great internet and having animals back in our lives have all been amazing. It is a totally symbiotic relationships that adds value to us and the way we can travel more intimately in an area, and allows us to help others to travel. So far in our first month, we have reduced our monthly expenses by 50% so we are very happy that things conspired this way. So much so that I suspect that housesitting will continue to feature in our nomadic lives from this point forward.
50% is impressive! Housesitting is something that we’ve been looking into more and more recently, so it’s good to hear personal stories about it!
8. What’s your top travel tip?
Oh wow, this is such a great question and my mind is reeling at all the options right now… Travel simply, Travel mindfully, Travel is travel, not Utopia. Although I think for us both, our travel philosophy that has evolved in the last year, shaped by our experiences is:
Travel when you can, however you can, as far as you – just travel.
Travel is such an enriching experience although it doesn’t have to be to the other side of the world. Make travel fit into your personal circumstances; whether that is to experience something new just down the road or take a short city break. There are no prejudices to travel and it is the shortest journey to finding yourself.
I like it. Just go.
9. What can’t you travel without?
One of the many things that travel has taught us is that there is so little you need to be happy and to travel well. There’s nothing wrong with a suitcase full of clothes and accessories and a beautiful hotel, although exploring can be so much more simple than that and be as enriching. For us though there are three things that we wouldn’t be without; first is our chariot, Scoobie the Camper as he is 7.5metres worth of gorgeousness that we are privileged to call home. Second for me is my camera as I love to capture our experiences through the lens and the final one is our laptops as these keep us connected with the world and allow us to maintain our nomadic lives, digitally.
*cries in the corner* I miss our van!
10. If you won the lottery, where would be the first place you’d book to go?
Canada and Alaska is our instinctive response – they are new territory for us and to explore the far ends of the earth is definitely part of our vision moving forward. In fact with or without the lottery, we do hope to venture over to Canada in 2019 to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary! So here’s to the vision or the lottery, whichever comes first.
Lottery winnings would be great, but just go anyway! Hope you have an amazing ongoing trip. I’m still not jealous!
You can hear more about Motoroaming’s travels on their blog.
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