Le Morne Brabant Mountain Summit

Brian and I climbed Le Morne Brabant Mountain independently in spite of people telling us that we needed a guide to get to the summit. We took our chances and soon realised that no guide was necessary. We were so glad to have kept up our determination to get to the summit on our own in particular because when we arrived at the summit we lucked out and had it to ourselves…although only for a short time. The views were breathtaking and worth every minute of the very steep climb.

The more I researched about the history of Le Morne Brabant Mountain, the more I felt compelled to climb it following in the footsteps of the desperate runaway slaves who made the caves and rocky trails of this awesome Mountain their home. We had been in Mauritius for over a week exploring its many attractions, driving around in our little rental car and all the time keeping an eye on the weather forecast to ensure a dry and sunny day for our Mountain climb.

The Le Morne Brabant Mountain is a basaltic monolith rising up over a peninsula at the Southwestern tip of the Island of Mauritius. The Mountain is 556 metres (1,824 ft) above sea level. It is surrounded by a lagoon of turquoise blue water and a surreal underwater waterfall that can be seen from the sky…..it is in fact, an optical illusion caused by the runoff of sand and silt that gives the impression of an underwater vortex just off the coast of Le Morne. The rugged Mountain has many caves, overhangs and almost inaccessible cliffs, which were used as shelter by the runaway slaves, also called “maroons”, they formed small settlements here to live free from captivity. Le Morne Brabant Mountain was given protected status by UNESCO in 2008. The Mountain has become a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering and their sacrifice.

From our hotel in Flic En Flac, on the South West side of the Island we headed towards Le Morne village it was about a 30-minute drive on the main road. From the main road, we found a brown sign indicating a right turn and leading up to an unmade road/dirt track that took us to the base of the mountain where we reached a car park and a small visitors centre, where a friendly guard asked us to sign a log book. There is plenty of parking here and there are also small but clean toilet facilities.

Visitors Centre and the start of the trail

There is a plaque with a “Brief History” …see below…explaining why this mountain is so special and how it has played an important part in the History of this Island.

A “Brief History” of this cultural landscape

There is also a map of the trail with an ominous warning “proceed at your own risk”, the round trail is about 4 hours there and back.

The map behind us highlights the trail. The yellow pin shows the summit (a metal cross has been erected there to mark it).

The climb is a tale of two halves, the first part being the easier hike up via a very good, well-trodden, wide and shaded path. We stopped frequently to catch our breath, take in the views and photograph the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

Beautiful views of the Lagoon

We followed the trail upwards and within about one hour we arrived at a plateau, the South View Point. The views here are gorgeous with even more stunning views over the lagoon and mountain range in the far distance. Most people return back down the Mountain from here, there are signs at this point warning hikers against proceeding further up the mountain….clearly stating that if you proceed it will be at your own risk.  In fact on the way up, just before we got to the first viewpoint a man approached us, possibly one of the guides who take tourists on guided tours. He warned us that we could face a fine and prosecution if we continued the climb behind the “green gate”. But we did not believe him and we just ignored his advice, to have a guide is not obligatory and he was lying about the fine.

The second part gives access to the upper trail of the mountain from the plateau to the summit or rather the highest accessible point where a metal cross has been erected to mark it. It is a riskier trek, climbers are encouraged to get a registered guide for this part, although a guide is not obligatory. This part of the trail used to be closed to the public, hence the “green gate”. When we reached the green gate we found a guard sitting there by the side of the gate. He was not a very talkative fella, he mumbled few words in French and handed us a writing board with a piece of paper. The piece of paper was a “Risk Liability Form”, so basically signing it means that if you wish to climb to the summit you do so at your own risk.

This second part is a much harder climb… scrambling on hands and knees are needed in places. Besides the more physical demands, there are parts that would not be advisable for people who suffer from vertigo or are particularly scared of heights, since it is right by the side of a very exposed side of the mountain and a sheer drop.  The path upwards is not hard to find, it is in fact quite an obvious and well-worn path, although you do need to take your time over the rocky trail and choose carefully where to stand and where to hold on to the vegetation or the firmer rock edges. There used to be some ropes that could have been used to help with climbing these steeper parts of the trail, although I am not sure I would have trusted these old ropes, in any case, the ropes were no longer there only the hoops that were used to feed them through. I did wonder if the guides would bring new ropes with them every time they climb with a tour group and retrieve them afterwards, therefore, making it harder for people who like us have chosen to do this climb without a guide….rather annoying if that is the case.

Don’t look down

We stopped for a drink and a snack just before reaching the summit, there was hardly anyone climbing the mountain during our attempt, we saw some people coming up in the far distance. But we managed to reach the summit before them and had few minutes to enjoy it on our own. Although the true summit is further up, this point with the metal cross is the furthest you can go without proper climbing equipment. A metal cross marks the summit, after the obligatory photos, we shared a drink and some well-deserved chocolate. We noticed dark clouds fast approaching and worried that our climbing down was going to get very wet and become rather treacherous therefore we hurried to start the descent.

Dark clouds brought the rain towards our mountain…this rocky terrain became very slippery and dangerous

Unfortunately, we were not fast enough to avoid the heavy downpour and the path soon become very muddy, slippery and terrifyingly dangerous. Each step had to be carefully orchestrated and most of the time we had to slide down onto our bottoms. Not a very elegant descent. On the way down we caught up with two young American girls who were just as terrified as we were. Chatting and helping each other out kept us going. They told us that they were currently living in Botswana, Africa doing charity work there with the Peace Corps. It was fascinating to hear about their charity work whilst trying very hard not to break our necks or get washed away by the waterfall of torrential rain falling down our mountain path.

Finally, we arrived at the first viewpoint (South ViewPoint), there was no guard at the “green gate” since he was sheltering from the rain in the small wooden shelter on the plateau. We were so happy to get down in one piece. The two American girls got reunited with their other two friends…who did not climb to the summit and the four of them set off down the path in the direction of the visitor centre. We also slowly made our way back down, it took us another hour to get down and therefore getting totally drenched in spite of our raincoats. Interestingly we did not feel cold at all…warm rain is quite a novelty for us.

Wet… but safely down the steepest part of the mountain

We felt so relieved to get down to the car park and finally get into our little car eager to get home, have a warm shower, something to eat and a rest. As we drove along the dirt track, full of potholes that were now fast feeling up with the rainwater, we spotted a group of 4 girls sharing one umbrella and getting totally soaked. Feeling sorry for them we offered them a lift and they gratefully piled onto the back seat, giggling and apologising for getting everything so wet. We immediately recognized the two American girls we had befriended on the way down the Mountain. It turned out that they were also staying in Flic En Flac and so we broke the law and risked a fine for having 4 people in our backseat (two without seatbelts) to ensure this foursome group of lovely girls got home sooner rather than later…..it would have taken them many hours to get home by bus.

We rescued these lovely ladies from a Mauritius downpour…they were a delight to meet.

Within half an hour we delivered them safely to their place in Flic En Flac beach and from there we made our way to our hotel just a few minutes down the road. It was a great finale to our climbing adventure.

Tips for climbing Le Morne Brabant Mountain:

  • Difficulty level: first part easy, second part medium to hard (some scrambling is needed in places)
  • Distance: about 6km (about 4 miles) round trip
  • Duration: about 3 to 4 hours depending on fitness level and desire to stop for photos…there are many beautiful views to photograph (we also stopped for a bite to eat)
  • Highest accessible point/ Metal Cross: 490m (1,607ft).

I would recommend climbing with a partner, starting early since it can get hot at the top as it is very exposed with not much shade, ensure a dry day…although weather can be unpredictable as we found out to our peril. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear ( please NOT flipflops…incredibly we did see a guy climbing up on flipflops…crazy man), plenty of sunscreen protection, hat, plenty of water and snacks. You don’t need a guide to do this climb, but it might be reassuring to have one. Good luck and stay safe.

If renting a car, we are happy to recommend “Pingouin Car Rentals”, a local company who we hired our car from; we found them to be great, friendly and well organized. Another option is to go for an organized/guided tour. Most hotels are able to organize that or you can also book a taxi and a private guide. Another alternative is to travel there by bus, although the bus will leave you at the nearest bus stop on the main road and it will take you about 20 minutes to 30 minutes to walk from there over an unmade road to the visitor centre. The American girls who we met during our climb were staying in Flic En Flac and they told us the bus system around Mauritius was very good a very cheap. They used the bus service to reach Le Morne Brabant Mountain.

Mauritius was my last ever paid holiday since I am now officially retired….more on that soon. 

 

 

A gondola ride in Venice…can it’s popular appeal put you off?

It was a recent conversation with my son James that has inspired me to write this post. We are having a cup of tea in the garden during the recent British August Bank Holiday weekend, one of the warmest ever recorded in the UK. Our mother-son bonding chat goes towards our love of travelling….. when he hits me with this sentence “I don’t like travelling to popular places”… Me: “Are you serious? What do you mean?” He: “when everyone goes travelling to the same place… it puts me off…” So I argue that popular places are popular for a REASON…usually an amazing land mark, beautiful scenery etc.

But it got me thinking…would I avoid travelling to popular places that have been on my wish list for years because they are too popular? Crowded? Have been talked about, explored, photographed, shared on social media… to death?

Many of these travelling destinations have been on my “bucket list” all my life and are now all within my grasp, many I have already visited. Certainly, my desire to see these places has not been the slightest bit diminished by their soaring popularity. World regions that not too long ago would have been considered a-once-in-a-life-time-experience, a dream destination. Who would not want to visit Venice, Rome, Paris, Angkor, Machu Pichu, Galapagos, etc.? There is no arguing that these once exclusive, dream destinations have now skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to social media over sharing, review platforms, unlimited access to information, cheaper deals, the affluence of the Boomer generation, also the Millennial generation who have travel ambitions and want to experience it all now. This tech savvy generation is always on the look out for the best deals and they are happy to share it all on social media…it has never been easier and cheaper to travel.

But I can see my son’s point of view. Places are becoming spoiled by the growing tourism industry, the paradox of mass tourism, it is a double edged sword. On one side the immense benefits that can be brought to a country’s economy are certainly not to be ignored. Particularly for poorer countries, whose economies are now booming due to sudden increased popularity, there are many regions of the world that feed primarily on tourism, their economy depends on it. But the money does not always go to the pockets of locals. Cheap package deals mean that local businesses are seeing their profit margins declining and most of the money often being pocketed by the large international resorts and corporations. Thinking here of your cheap “all-inclusive” hotels, where meals and alcohol are all included in the price. Tourists have very little or no incentive to leave their luxury all inclusive resort, therefore spending very little of their tourist dollar on local hotels, bars and restaurants.

Mass tourism can change the character of a place for the worst. The once charming, full-of-mystery foreign land becomes another victim of the homogenized, standardized model of modernization.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Maya Beach, no longer the hideaway of hippies.

The very reason for its popularity can also become its downfall, mass tourism is changing the character of some places, once idyllic locations have now been turned into an over developed resort nightmare…looking at places like Ko Phi Phi, for example, which was thrust into the limelight by the Hollywood movie “The Beach”, it is now overrun by careless tourists. The all night “full moon” parties are not welcomed by all that visit this charming Island off the Thailand coast. Party goers have little consideration for the locals who have to put up with their all night parties and noise pollution. Brian and I loved visiting Ko Phi Phi back in 2013, but we did ponder, during our 4 days stay in this beautiful island, how it will cope with its ever increasing popularity?

As a resident of a tourism hotspot, I see few benefits of the crowded roads, beaches and beauty spots during the high holiday season here in the South of England. Local restaurants and hotels may welcome the high influx of visitors, but to what cost? Visitors cause inflated prices of food, housing and infrastructure. I can’t help longing for the end of the summer holidays and for an order to be restored. I feel sorry for the residents of other tourist hot spots that are busy all year round.

Venice, Italy

My early morning cup of tea, on board a cruise ship that left Venice towards Croatia and the Greek Islands.

Invaded by the mega cruise ships Venice is under threat. The cruise terminal is in the heart of historic Venice, the passage of every single ship causes erosion of the mudflats and sediment loss.This beautiful Italian city, surrounded by water has its present and future blighted by the vested interests of mass tourism as it provides jobs and money to the Italian economy. Venice is the gateway to the cruise industry down the Adriatic,  it keeps it “afloat”. Even though the huge cruise ships are turning the city into an environmental disaster, threatening not only the dimensions of the city (it now floods regularly) but also the Venetians quality of life. Local authorities continue to put the short term gains of tourism before sustainability and the long term environmental effect of mass tourism. Not surprisingly Unesco has Venice on its “endangered” list.  Venice is a unique city, back in 2010, I took a cruise with Brian and our children from Venice down the Adriatic visiting Croatia and some of the Greek Islands. Standing on the upper deck of the cruise ship it was a travel moment of pure bliss, we floated past the historic centre of Venice, along the Lagoon, passing Piazza San Marco,  Doge’s Palace, the Campanile (bell tower) and many other stunning Italian architecture and monuments. We entered the Lagoon in the early morning, La Serenissima felt every bit as serene as I have dreamt off all my life.

Stonehenge, England

Almost 30 years ago when I first visited this site, the atmosphere was so different. Brian and I rode our motorbike and parked very near the site, we could walk right up to the stones, touch it even (I am not for a minute condoning that). There were very few tourists, the mood was of calm and contemplation. Now with the gazillions of tourists that visit every day the stones are protected (as it should be) by a separation rope, allowing for a good distance between the photo clicking tourists and the magnificent Ancient site.

Is there any untouched wilderness out there?

Everest, Nepal

When we think of a remote, inaccessible corner of this planet Everest often comes to mind. The ultimate adventure for the climbers who return from it alive with tales of hardship and unwavering self-determination. Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa were the first to summit Everest on May 29, 1953. It was a British expedition lead by Colonel John Hunt.

The Himalayan Database shows that 641 climbers made the summit in 2016 alone. The adventure climbers are not deterred even by the sombre statistics counting the number of deaths on this Himalayan mountain range. The 2016 database counted 282 people who have died on Everest from 1921 to 2016. The highest mountain on earth has claimed their lives. The high altitude of high mountains makes it hard for the human body to acclimatize, as it uses oxygen faster than it can be replenished, the oxygen level is not sufficient to sustain life. There is a need for supplementary oxygen, something that some mountaineers are keen to prove otherwise, as they push their bodies to its physical limits.

It is my dream to trek to Everest Base Camp one day. No doubt I will do my best to realise this dream. James again reminds me of how popular it has become… instead of the great spiritual, cultural experience we might encounter a queue of people heading up the same path among one of the greatest Mountain Range on Earth. Surprisingly Mt. Everest itself is now littered with climbing equipment, empty oxygen cans, plastics, tins, glass, clothes, tents and sadly even the remains of failed climbers. A sombre thought indeed. It is not in my plans to ever attempt to summit the highest Mountain on Earth, but there is no doubt in my mind that if I ever achieve my goal of trekking to its base camp I will nonetheless feel a great sense of achievement to simply be there standing on its shadow looking up to it’s moody and ice covered peak.

Antartica

The recent trends of Ecotourism and adventure tourism have brought an increased number of tourists to Antartica, keen to explore this ice-covered land mass, the coldest and southernmost continent on Earth. There has been a steady increase of cruise ships in the last few years. The worry is that if larger cruise ships start coming it could disrupt the very fragile Ecosystem, which can take many years to recover, if at all.

The Polar ice caps regulate weather patterns and temperature, it contains about 90 percent of our planet’s freshwater stores. Pollution and disruption to its delicate balance are a big deal for the future of our planet.

But although its popularity and accessibility are increasing Antartica continues to be, at least for now, one of the most inhospitable places on earth and certainly not your main stream destination, thankfully not an all inclusive in sight … Let’s keep it that way.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Another dream destination is The Great Barrier Reef, James again reminds me of how its popularity has also been its greatest demise. Global warming is destroying this fragile and balanced marine environment. Large parts of the reef have become bleached by pollution, rising water temperature and even some recent oil spills have decimated parts of the reef. Without proper care, the Great Barrier Reef could disappear within a generation.

Even the slightest change in water temperature can have a huge impact on the coral ecosystem. Human actions are directly affecting and causing harm to the Coral Reef in a way that it could be forever lost. In our recent visit to Australia, we were in awe of this incredible underwater world, not visiting it would have been unthinkable. There has to be no doubt that preserving it for future generations is of great necessity and urgency.

Pontoon at the Great Barrier Reef

Changing Tourism Practices and Mentality 

My son James, like many of us, wants to travel to unique destinations, more off the beaten path places, undiscovered places. Do they still exist? And if so how can we protect it from the mentality of let’s build a monstrosity all inclusive resort here? Even the best-kept secret places will eventually become mainstream. In the world of social media, no stone will be unturned. How to protect and preserve for future generations is fodder for a lot of debate. I don’t proclaim to have any answers but as travellers, we are all responsible for doing our bit, to question ourselves whether it is our very desire to visit these places, to tick them off our wish list the very thing that will ultimately destroy them? How can we become part of the solution? We can certainly do our bit by travelling in a more ethical, responsible and sustainable way.

We all know that there is an urgent need for better planning of tourism practices. Governments need to engage with local citizens, local businesses, service providers and visitors to collectively look for innovative ways of ensuring economic growth without the loss of unique environments, landscapes, heritage and cultural value. Reducing overcrowding in some of the most popular places by diversifying its product range, opening up new opportunities,  providing better distribution of tourist activities elsewhere in the country. It might even be a case of reducing tourist numbers in some more sensitive and endangered areas by creating more protected areas.  Ensuring the tourist dollar is used appropriately with most of the money going into the local economy, but also ensuring that the income from tourism does not become a priority over the needs and interests of its citizens. Unhappy hosts in overcrowded cities can often become hostile to tourists resulting in a reduced quality and joyless experience for visitors.

Do we need to stop visiting places we love in order to save it?  Are you put off by mass tourism? Are the most celebrated landmarks now becoming overdone, uninspiring and just …too popular? Over to you…what do you think?

 

 

 

World…come into my arms!

I am taking voluntary early retirement from a job I love, but so far have no regrets on my decision. I am now working my “notice” and will finish work by the end of October. A scary thought? Not at all, since I have considered this decision very carefully.

I went back to University to study Dietetics later on in life (after working in a soulless job in a Bank)  and from the very start of my course, I knew I had finally found something that I was passionate about. For the past 11 years, I have loved the interactions with patients, the camaraderie of working with other health professionals learning from each other, the feeling of being valued, and the rewards of doing something meaningful that can help improve people’s quality of life.

But it is now with thoughts about my own quality of life, longevity, new passions and how to better spend the great commodity of “TIME” that I have started feeling the urge to make changes, shake things up a bit, move on to the next stage of my life. As much as I have enjoyed my work, I feel I lack control of my own time, I am time deprived, I hear a clock that is ticking so fast and there is nothing I can do to stop it. And energy; work can be so draining and leave so little energy for anything else. Work takes so many hours of our everyday lives, at times I feel cheated and robbed of my very existence. As I get older time becomes even more precious, forces me to confront my longevity, realising that I am not here for all eternity.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Harvey MacKay 

The funny thing is that when I tell people about my early retirement plans I get strange looks, people say “but you are too young to retire” or they ask me with in a slightly nervous tone “so what are you going to do now?” , a question loaded with anxiety, suspecting that my free time will be wasted, that I will NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO, that I will be bored. Is that a possibility? Being bored with too much time on my hands? In reality, I don’t really understand this concept since there are so many things that interest me, but at the moment I lack the time to pursue. This very blog, for instance;  being able to write more, being able to read more….. there are so many books I want to read, places I want to visit, travelling, hiking, taking advantage of other learning opportunities such as learning more about photography, yoga, meditation, exercise more, meet up with friends and family, have time to think…to just be. The list is endless and time is short. I will most definitely not have the time to be bored, I am sure of it.

I feel extremely lucky to be in good health, to be financially independent, no longer needing to work for a living. I have worked since I was 18 years old, so now I feel I have paid my dues. I do not feel any sense of guilt about taking early retirement. In fact, I feel very entitled to it, excited about it. I have worked hard (paid and unpaid jobs), at times having many jobs at once, I have so far lived a very productive life and have contributed to society, paid taxes. I know that I will continue to contribute to the world around me in many other ways, such as voluntary work opportunities or spend some of my free time helping others….and paying more taxes no doubt.

There is NOT a lot to rant about my job, but some of the things I will not miss at all:

Early Mornings: my day usually starts very early, I get up at 5:45 am, leave my house about 7 am and drive for about 30 minutes to the main dietetic office at the hospital. Some days I will drive for over one hour to another hospital or medical clinic. In the winter I leave home in the dark, and many days I drive back home in the dark, in the rain, wipers on, oncoming headlights dazzling me along twisty country roads. I hate driving in the dark, often cold, foggy winter mornings. I long to switch the alarm clock off, to take my time getting up and not rush around like a mad woman on a mission.

Paper work:  Policies, pathways, letters, record cards, medical notes, forms for every eventuality,  diet sheets, spreadsheets….bored already? Me too.

Appraisals: If I never have to fill out an appraisal form again…well, that will be too soon.

Managers: Who constantly think we need a restructure….out goes the baby with the bath water again, with very little thought for how it’s all going to work in practice? Hello!!! It’s a hospital…do we really need more managers? What about more doctors? More nurses? More clinicians…More money invested in the people who really do all the front line work?

IT Systems: At the moment I have to use many different IT systems to be able to do my work, I currently use PAS, System One, EMIS WEB, ICE etc. …it really is mind boggling. Don’t even get me started on all the different passwords I have to try remembering. But guess what? There is yet another system being implemented soon called DPR (Digital Patient Record)..supposed to be the best system of all and make it all a lot simpler. I’ve heard that one before.

And the funny thing is, the closer retirement gets, the less patience you have for all of this nonsense. Less, and less, and less, and then  – when you can almost taste the freedom –  none!

There are some things that I will dearly miss:

The people: I work with some awesome people…you know who you are. I can not praise them enough, for being so great at their job; helpful, caring, selfless…keeping the NHS machine well oiled, I am grateful for all their help, for keeping me sane during some of the most insane moments working for the NHS. There have been some sad, devastating moments, that only work colleagues can relate to and understand.

I will also miss many of the patients that I have had the pleasure to look after and who have taught me to never take my health for granted. People who have inspired me with their resilience and sheer determination to live a good life in spite of all their difficulties and health issues.

CPD – I have been very lucky to get funded to attend some amazing Conferences (it can be expensive to pay privately to attend). These events have left me in awe of people who do some fantastic research work, who discover some very clever stuff indeed, which in time will go a long way to improve the health of the nation and the world.  Learning opportunities are never a waste of time, I have valued them all.

Working in a health setting as a clinician: It is difficult to describe how rewarding it is. I love it, I can’t think of any other job I would rather do (although if I had my time again I would have studied Medicine, doctors really do an amazing job).

The lovely welcome I get: Everywhere people are so welcoming…at the Primary Care Hospital, the  GP practices, patients homes, I usually get the warmest of welcomes, big smiles,  hugs, offers of a lovely cup of tea. At my main office, I am usually the first to arrive, but I am not alone for long and soon there are hugs galore as my colleagues start arriving and there are warm greetings to have. There is always a degree of “office politics”, it is only natural that there will be some people that you like more than others, but I am glad to work in a predominantly lovely and friendly environment.

Being in “The Club“: I will be sad to hand over my badge, my office keys, my scales…and all the bits and pieces that make me part of the NHS machine, part of “The Club”. I will be “persona non grata” no longer allowed access all areas. But I guess you just can’t have it all.

Somehow I don’t think I will miss work, but only time will tell. I can tell you that it’s a risk I’m ready to take. I am so excited about the future, and the endless possibilities of doing more of the things I really want to do, not the things that I have to do. I just hope I will continue to be healthy and to have my friends and family supporting me…there really are no limitations to what can be achieved in this next stage of my life.

I’m ready. I’m more than ready. Bring it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first downsized my life almost 30 years ago. The impetus of being young and single, a bit of cash in my pocket, a backpack full of dreams and a taste for adventure was all I needed back then. Fast forward a lifetime lived in a first world country full of the trappings of a capitalist society, how easy is it to downsize my current lifestyle? What are the compromises my husband and I are prepared to make to design the future life we want to live?

We have been pondering these questions for some time now, as the clock ticks on eating into minutes, days, months and years; making us realise that a big chunk of our lives is now over and we are not getting any younger. We most certainly have lived more than fifty percent of our life expectancy and no doubt the most healthy years of our lives. A huge chunk of a life spent working, earning money and accumulating stuff that now feels like a pile of clutter and things we no longer need. It is often so ingrained into our brains to believe that progress is directly related to bigger, better…more is more… that downsizing can feel like going backwards.

For us this is intentional downsizing,  we feel very lucky that our downsizing is not due to necessity,  poor health,  financial issues, divorce, or any other distressing reason. It is mostly because we both feel that the time has come to shed some of the no longer needed things and stuff that have kept us pedalling at full speed on the hamster wheel in order to maintain a lifestyle. Living in a large house, the expense of having more than one car, motorbikes, and buying things that we don’t actually need. Although we have never been slaves to the keep up with the Jones type of mentality or caring at all about designer gear, expensive clothes, handbags and shoes. There have been times in the past when we did not think so carefully about our expenditure and have parted with our hard earned cash without a second thought. Our jobs have afforded us a comfortable lifestyle. Something that we are very grateful for.  In recent years though, there has been a shift towards being savvier with money, save more, invest better, planning for a future of not needing to work for a living. We have started appreciating more the many things that can be enjoyed for free, like being outdoors surrounded by beautiful nature, spending more time hanging out with friends and family, choosing activities that are good value for money.

Our house in a leafy, quiet road in the suburbs is for sale

We are selling our home 

A large For Sale sign is now placed in front of our home. When I first saw it there, coming home from work one evening, it did make me stop in my tracks and feel a little sad. It is, after all, our home, there are many happy memories lived here; our children playing in the garden, barbeques on the deck., parties with friends, large family gatherings with enough room to easily accommodate everyone. We have enjoyed the seclusion of living in a private, quiet, leafy road, surrounded by a forest of maple and pine trees, wild flowers, a nearby protected heathland. Wildlife such as squirrels, fox, bats,  rabbits and deer are often spotted in our garden eating our plants and grass. And a variety of birds including robins, owls, jays, woodpeckers tweeting away like a symphony waking us up in the early spring and summer mornings.

We have invested a lot of time, effort and money into our home, but in recent years we started resenting the time and effort spent maintaining a large house, a high maintenance garden with lawns to mow, hedges to trim,  weeding, planting, pruning, patios and driveways to clean. The never ending tasks that take many hours to complete, eating away into the little free time we have in the evenings and weekends. Brian works full time, a stressful job with long hours. I have recently reduced my hours and my job is less demanding and stressful, but again I find most of my spare time taken up by domestic chores. We know that we are no different than most other families around the world who find themselves in the same situation with a poor work and lifestyle balance. One can argue that we could pay for a gardener, a cleaner and at times of desperation we have done that, but for how long do we want to continue feeding the monster?

Time has come to stop thinking about it and to start taking action, we are now in a position to begin making the necessary changes to take better control of our lifestyle. But what kind of lifestyle do we want? I have for years now followed the blogs of people who have taken the plunge to live a simpler life. Some who have sold all of their belongings to live a free and nomadic lifestyle, when all they have is what they can fit into their suitcase or backpacks. Others who have moved to less expensive parts of the world are renting cheaper accommodation, are living off their savings or working part time. People who have swapped a house for a motor home or RV and are living a life of travelling and adventure, seeing the world and living life on their own terms. Some of these people have taken retirement, some have simply quit their jobs and are using their savings to fund a new lifestyle, some are working harder than ever, but doing more satisfying jobs, spending less money on stuff and having more time for experiences and relationships. A huge variation with many shades of downsizing and lifestyle changing decisions.

Quitting my job will be hard for me since I do love my job. I love being a Dietitian; working as a health professional is incredibly rewarding and satisfying, I work with some amazing people, nurses, doctors, other Allied Health Professionals. There is no other job I would rather do,  quitting the NHS is just about the freedom to travel. I could do freelance work, but that would mean compromising on the type of freedom that I want to experience in this next stage of my life.

The question is what is the right shade of downsizing for us?

The answer is not very straightforward since things might change as we go along. We do agree on one life-changing decision which is to stop working so hard or at all,  to maintain our current lifestyle. We also agree that we still want to have a home base in the UK, a place we can return to in between travels. We do want to travel extensively, but we are not sure how long it will take for us to start becoming homesick? Or feel travel burn out? What type of travelling will suit us best? I think we have already established that we are no longer the backpacking type of traveller, we don’t need luxury, but equally hostel dorms will not be for us either.

We do feel like frauds of house downsizing though since our criteria for a home to base ourselves in the UK has been very specific and is not exactly what one would call “tiny living”. There are some braver than us folks out there really going for it, we applaud and admire them. But for us downsizing will not be an overnight process,  it has to happen quite organically, slow but a steady, deliberate transition into a new lifestyle. One thing we both agree on is that we do want a complete change from living in the leafy suburbs, so location for us has to be in the town centre, walkable distance and good transport links to local amenities, so we can also drop down to just one car for us both.  We liked the idea of a townhouse as opposed to an apartment, no garden to look after, but with some small outside space such as a balcony or small courtyard. A lock up and go type of property with a minimum of three bedrooms, so we can have the family, particularly our children and friends visiting, at least two bathrooms; garage for bicycles, motorbikes and fishing gear; some parking space for visitors; an open plan living area with a good size kitchen. We are not asking much, are we?

It is going to be a learning experience, as we started the process of clearing out we realise it will be hard. We thought of our house as the minimalist type, but going through our stuff was an eye opener. Our cupboards and store areas were full of stuff we had not seen for years, like toys our kids don’t play with since they were toddlers. Gadgets that we have used once or twice only and have been forgotten in a kitchen cupboard. Books, CDs, DVDs and don’t even get me started talking about the clothes, shoes, and handbags that have been filling up endless boxes for the charity shops. The garage was possibly the hardest to clear out and it continues to be a work in progress, poor Brian has spent every weekend getting rid of stuff. We have a gym in the top room full of exercising equipment that we have not always used and had recently been used more to dry clothes than to exercise on. Some belongings have an emotional attachment, an element of nostalgia such as our University bits and pieces, family heirlooms etc. Some items I guess will be harder to part with, but somehow we will need to be ruthless and suppress the urge to keep it.

Our Gym equipment doubles up as a rack for drying the laundry. Sure we are not alone…

Although we have made some good progress on getting rid of stuff, starting the process of selling our house, looking for a future property and making the necessary financial arrangements, there is lots more to do. We don’t yet have a deadline for moving house since we have not yet sold our home, perhaps when we do have a deadline we will have a greater sense of urgency to step up a gear or two and get rid of all material items that no longer fit into our lifestyle. I am sure it will be a process fraught with anxieties, but also a great sense of excitement about what future lies ahead? We look forward to a life with fewer responsibilities, schedules and routine, a life filled with adventure, lots of travelling, new experiences, more time for ourselves doing what matters most to us now.

I will no longer be a Traveller Interrupted, although I don’t think I will be renaming my blog…

 

 

 

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