Flowing hair, light breeze on the shoulders and towering sun over our heads, that’s an ideal holiday picture, which comes to mind on its own, when we glance at gray and gloomy streets gazing on us through the window. It’s not often we can afford to take some time off work and to forget about everyday duties for a while. I regularly daydream and I imagine all kids of situations, which don’t really occur in my life, the ones which move me hundreds of miles from home to places, which I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. I get overwhelmed by excitation, unfortunately harsh reality snatches me back from my liberating thoughts in quite a violent manner.
However, there are people who don’t limit themselves only to their dreams of exciting adventures, just on the contrary, they get to meet them halfway. They find some inner loads of passion and energy to overcome their fears and let the new challenges make them grow, experiences which would make not one feel dizzy. The rush of adrenalin means to them the same as the air to the average Joe. Getting rid off further barriers, makes their lives more complete and for sure such a state doesn’t allow them to get bored or to feel depressed. Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to a wonderful person – Jackie Lambert, who not only lives her life to the fullest, but also encourages others to follow her steps to wake up from lethargy, which slowly kills the spirit of a child-explorer, existing somewhere there in us.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Jackie: Hi, I’m Jackie, I am 55 years old and retired from my job as a sales representative at the age of 50. Since then, I have spent my life living my dream, which is to travel Europe in a caravan with my husband, Mark and our four dogs, Cavapoos (Cavalier/Poodle cross) Kai, Rosie, Ruby and Lani.
I am originally from Blackburn, an industrial town in the north of England, although when I am not traveling, I now live in Bournemouth, Dorset. On the South Coast, it is a beautiful and peaceful part of the world, with unrivaled access to the outdoors. Here is a link to a guest blog that I wrote about Dog Friendly Dorset – A Jurassic Gem, Far from the Madding Crowd.
Passion Piece: You’re one of the people who decided to change their lives completely. What was the breakthrough moment for you?
Jackie: Mark and I were both made redundant at the same time in 2015, aged 50 and 52. While travel had always been our dream, we had not planned to stop work until Mark was 55. In the UK, 55 is a milestone age at which you can access your private pension and withdraw 25 per cent, tax free.
Walking out on a secure and well-paid job is not easy. Redundancy meant that we were suddenly unfettered from those ‘golden handcuffs’, albeit a little earlier than we had hoped and with less of a financial buffer.
It is difficult to admit, but we were both suffering from severe burn out, due to the stress of our jobs and the trauma of the redundancy process. We were too ill to go back to work, so we had no choice but to find a way to retire. It was extremely traumatic at the time, wondering how we would manage financially, but with hindsight, it is one of the best things that has ever happened to us.
Another stark reason that we opted to seize the day and travel was the shocking loss of a number of friends, some of whom were younger than us. We realized that we couldn’t wait for tomorrow to Live our Dreams, because there is no guarantee that tomorrow will come.
Passion Piece: It’s unbelievable that the River of the Gods has changed your lifestyle so much. Did you manage to come back to your daily routines after such an exciting adventure?
Jackie: Rafting the Zambezi, ‘The River of the Gods in 1994 was a pivotal moment in my life. Spending time in Zimbabwe’s raw and untouched nature, facing peril in the shape of Grade 5 rapids, crocs, tropical diseases and other dangers had a profound effect on me. I was forced to live very simply – I had two sets of clothes (wet and dry) and slept under the stars on the beach beside the river. It made me realize that there was so much in the world to enjoy. Having no possessions did not matter; it was a ‘near life’ experience and it made me happier than I had ever been.
In truth, it was very, very hard to come back from such an extraordinary, mind-blowing and revelatory adventure to the routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat. I returned to a commercial exhibition in what was then the dull, midlands town of Birmingham. I remember eating my lunch on a patch of grass outside a characterless, glass conference center, by an artificial lake. All I could think was how futile and meaningless my occupation was and how much more of the world there was to explore.
I made up my mind then that I didn’t want to live my life in thin slices. Two-week snippets of living during a vacation was not enough for me. It took me many years to achieve FIRE – Financial Independence Retire Early. However, with a lot of planning, hard graft and saving, I got there in the end!
In the Internet age, gainful employment on the road or outside the conventional 9-5 is much easier now than it has ever been. If you aspire to financial independence, I can testify that it is an achievable objective.
Passion Piece: Is it very common for the bosses to give so much freedom to their employees? Have you ever come back to a full-time job?
Jackie: Following my Zambezi trip, I could no longer settle into the routine of my job. I had an excellent relationship with my boss, but shocked him one day when I asked for maternity leave.
“But Jackie, you don’t even have a boyfriend…!” he replied.
“Well, that’s the beauty of it,” I told him. “I am not going through all that messy business of childbirth. I just want a year off so that I can travel – then return to my position when I come home…”
He was so taken aback that he said yes.
The security of a job awaiting my return was nice to have, but I never did go back. I backpacked around Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, but on home soil once again, I set up my own company.
This was in the early ‘90s, when taking time off work was definitely not seen as a positive on your CV. Now, employers do seem to view a gap year as valuable life experience. My ‘maternity leave’ was highly unusual, but today, there seems to be more flexibility in the workplace regarding the granting of a sabbatical or unpaid leave.
In my 30s, I was confident in my abilities and had no concerns over walking into another job. In my 50s, in an unofficially ageist corporate world, I feel rather differently. However, with careful financial management, I am hopeful that I will not need to work again to support myself.
Passion Piece: You now travel in a caravan. How did you come up with such an unusual idea?
Jackie: We had tinkered with the idea of getting a motorhome and taking off to tour Europe following a meet up with a windsurfing club called the Seavets in Brittany in 2012. The Seavets are mostly in their 70s and 80s, but they are inspirational role models. Few had come to Brittany from home. They wowed us with tales of international touring; a life of freedom; of campsites where you could fall out of your mobile home onto a windsurfer.
These conversations caused the germ of an idea to form. If we retired early to become motorhome nomads, it would be an inexpensive way of life that would give us access to more of what we love. Our four dogs joined us once our working lives ended, so having our own house-on-wheels made traveling with them much easier.
Ending up with a caravan rather than a motorhome was a matter of economics and space. Mark is 6’6” (2m) tall. He could not stand upright in most motorhomes. In addition, even the biggest storage ‘garage’ at the back of a motorhome could not accommodate our windsurfing gear.
A motorhome large enough to live in for long periods was too big to be practical as our only transport. It was also very expensive to buy. A basic, second-hand motorhome costs approximately three times the price of a brand new, top-of-the-range caravan.
We already had a suitable tow vehicle; Big Blue is our trusty Hyundai panel van and ‘toy box’. She has ample space to carry all our windsurfing gear and bikes, yet is small enough to use for shopping, sightseeing and most importantly, getting down narrow lanes to windsurfing beaches.
It was clear that the most inexpensive and pragmatic option was a caravan towed by the vehicle that we already owned.
On a day out, we dropped in to a local dealership and saw the caravan of our dreams lurking at the back of the yard. She had come in second hand the previous day and within the hour, we had signed on the dotted line. We named her ‘Kismet’, which means ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’.
Passion Piece: What are the possible drawbacks of such traveling? How would you encourage others to live their lives and see the world in the caravans?
Jackie: This style of traveling is not for everyone. We love the lifestyle, but there are some drawbacks in terms of the degree of luxury, the perils of proximity and the effect on family and friends.
Our caravan is extremely well appointed – she has a comfy bed and sofas, a loo and shower, a hob, microwave, oven and a good-sized fridge, but a five-star hotel she is not. Although she is a large caravan, she is still a very small space, which demands ruthless packing. Mark and I carry fewer than 10kg of clothing each. For us, getting rid of superfluous and unnecessary STUFF to live a minimal lifestyle was exceptionally liberating. Nevertheless, if you can’t live without a plethora of gadgets and goodies, caravan touring might not be for you.
And the matter of size brings me to the question of proximity. If you are going to live with your partner all day, every day in a small space, you need to get on! A caravan offers no haven to storm off in a huff. The first law of touring is that if things can go wrong, they will. Such trying situations need to be dealt with calmly and without blame or recrimination. Mark and I are lucky; when we were first married, we lamented the fact that our bosses would not give us leave for full-time adoration. Our ambition was always to spend all our time together. We don’t argue, so this has never been an issue for us, but the aftermath of a furious row in a small space must be a very uncomfortable situation.
We don’t have children, but touring long term means leaving other family and friends behind for extended periods. With technology such as email, Skype, mobile phones and Facetime, it is easier than ever to stay in touch, but I am sure that abandoning our elderly parents to travel has provoked comment.
First and foremost, we ensure that our parents can cope and are well looked after. If we are needed, we are never more than a couple of hours away by plane. Proof of this came this year, when Mark’s mother and brother were taken into hospital on the same day for separate reasons. Mark was home in less time than it would take to drive from Bournemouth to my Dad’s.
We also have a saying that, “What’s right for you is right for the world.”
This might sound selfish, but obligation can be a prison. Constantly doing things because it is expected, or to please others, leads to resentment. That is not right for you – and particularly not right for the people that you come to resent. Our view is that our parents have lived their lives; the young have their lives in front of them. While it is important to be compassionate and care for family, WE are important too.
In the past, we made sacrifices and passed up the opportunity to live and work abroad when we saw the reaction that it provoked with Mark’s Mum. Now that we’re in our 50s, we don’t want to squander what remains of our good health. We need to make the most of the time that we’ve got.
As far as encouraging others to see the world in a caravan or motorhome, my advice is, “Go for it!”
Like most things, it really isn’t as hard or scary as you might think. You just have to approach it with an open mind and the attitude that there is a solution to almost every problem. And if you don’t like it, what’s the worst that can happen? You can stop!
Passion Piece: Who accompanies you on the way?
Jackie: I tour with my husband and soul mate, Mark, along with our Fur Family. Cavapoos Kai, Rosie, Ruby and Lani. And of course, our van, Big Blue and Caravan Kismet.
Passion Piece: What are the most exiting experiences you have had with your husband during your trips?
Jackie: The most exciting experiences are often when things go wrong! We had to dig out Big Blue when she was stuck in mud, our jockey wheel (the small wheel at the front of the caravan) broke in the dark in the middle of nowhere and we accidentally drove the caravan up a footpath in Romania. It was marked on our map as a road. In hindsight, we are quite proud of that one, since we can claim that we truly did ‘Boldly Go Where No Van Has Gone Before’.
Mountain passes are always exciting. Caravan Kismet joined The Mile-High Club last year when we towed her across the Carpathian mountains from Transylvania to Wallachia in Romania. On the Predel pass, between Italy and Slovenia, we had to negotiate the hairpins so slowly that we were actually overtaken by a bicycle!
Passion Piece: How do your dogs stand being on the way with you?
Jackie: The Fab Four have traveled since they were one year old, so they are quite used to life on the road. Dogs like routine, but because their surroundings, ie the caravan, do not change, they don’t seem to get too stressed about moving around.
Cavapoos are very loyal and loving, so it is wonderful that we can be with our fur family 24-7-365. They are very intelligent, so I think the variety of different sights and smells in the places we visit is very stimulating for them.
They seem to be happy wherever we are; they love the beach, the snow, water and woodland; exactly the same as us. As travel companions, we are very well matched!
Passion Piece: Have you got any other passions besides traveling?
Jackie: I have many passions in life, for which I am very grateful. I am also fortunate that I share most of these with Mark. In sporting terms, we are at similar levels of competence, so can enjoy the experiences together.
We adore nature and wild landscapes and I have been mountaineering since I was a child. Our two main sports are Windsurfing and Skiing. Don’t ask me to choose my favorite, I can’t. I love them both equally for their different merits.
Windsurfing has brought an incredible amount of pleasure into my life. In itself, it is an exhilarating, albeit frustrating pastime. Had we devoted the number of hours to another activity that we have to windsurfing, we would be Olympic Champions by now. Windsurfing is counter-intuitive and has many variables – tide, wind and technique. It is by far the most difficult and technical sport that I have ever tried, but the challenge is what makes it so captivating. When success is so hard won, it is all the more satisfying when it comes – and flying across the water at 30mph or the sense of nature’s raw power as you ride the face of a wave are thrills without compare. I completely understand why the Hawai’ians viewed surfing waves as a religious experience.
Windsurfing has taken us to some wonderful locations. We have launched from a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, sailed in Venezuela and ridden waves at the ultimate watersports Mecca, Maui, Hawai’i. It has been a privilege to meet some very inspirational people, and we have made a few lifelong friends. In my mind, the picture of British Summertime is the sun turning my wake into a shower of sparks as I speed across Christchurch Bay.
Skiing offers the same adrenaline buzz as windsurfing, but with the added power of rugged mountains and the fairy-tale magic of a pristine, winter landscape. In recent years, we have taken courses in off-piste skiing. Skiing powder is addictive; it is like floating on a hover board and I just love getting away from the crowds into the seclusion and muted silence of the frozen back country. I find the sight of somewhere that is as remote and inaccessible as the moon to most people more satisfying than steep and scary couloirs. The highlight of one of my favorite days on skis was simply taking in the view from the top of the old Helbronner Lift on Mont Blanc, prior to a powder descent of the iconic Vallée Blanche.
In view of all these feats of derring do, this might sound curious. Finding the perfect word and slotting it into a perfect sentence gives me as much of a buzz as either windsurfing or skiing.
My Aunt once said, “Jacqueline can write pages and pages about absolutely NOTHING!” I take that as an incredible compliment. I love to write and I write because I must! Essays, letters, postcards, journals, blogs; it is quite simply something that I am compelled to do.
Passion Piece: Do you feel that you need this special rush of adrenaline to keep you going and pursuing your dreams?
Jackie: I can’t deny that I enjoy the rush of adrenaline. The stoke comes from the sensation of teetering on the edge of control. This applies not only in my sports, but in life. I am driven to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. The perception that I am still developing, learning, growing and moving forwards to new horizons is very important to me.
During your working life, your self-image – and how others view you – is inextricably tied to your profession. When you retire – with no targets or objectives provided through work – it is easy to lose purpose.
Again, I feel very blessed that although I enjoyed my job, I never saw work as anything but a means to an end. A way to get more of what I wanted in life. Now that I have retired, the other passions remain and I continue to gain the same sense of achievement, but from doing things that I love.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future?
Jackie: Originally, we had intended to tour for three years, but this is year five and we have no intention of stopping any time soon. The more we travel, the more it opens our eyes to what is out there. We are currently in the Italian Alps for the ski season. In the spring, we intend to tour Poland and the Baltics.
After that, we have trips planned through Turkey to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the North Caucuses. We are debating whether to carry on through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Altai Mountains into Mongolia, which is somewhere that I have always wanted to visit. (One of my dreams is to be a Mongolian horse archer!) There is also a loose idea floating around along the lines of a road trip to ski in 25 different countries.
As you can see, far from life stopping when we lost our jobs, it has become alive with possibilities!
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Jackie: “There’s just one thing I’ve got to say; it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
I appropriated this from the film Highlander starring Christopher Lambert (no relation!) and made it my own. I love it. It completely sums up my philosophy on life.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this wonderful conversation, I hope you’ll menage to visit all the places you dream of in the near future!
I believe that my today’s interviewee has encouraged you to explore the new and to reach for your dreams, even the ones which seem to be impossible to obtain. And you? What rush of adrenaline do you look for in your life?
See you around!
Photos by: Jackie Lambert
Jackie Lambert is an author and blogger. Her blog www.worldwidewalkies.com details her travels in Europe with her husband and four dogs. Jackie’s books in the ‘Adventure Caravanning with Dogs’ series have received five-star reviews on Amazon and are available worldwide as both eBooks or Paperbacks. Her latest release, ‘Dogs ‘n’ Dracula – a Road Trip Through Romania’ was a finalist in the Romania Insider Awards 2019. Follow this universal link to her author page on Amazon; author.to/JacquelineLambert Words & photos © Jacqueline Lambert / World Wide Walkies. All information is provided in good faith, subject to World Wide Walkies’ disclaimer.