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Yurt Homes – five reasons to live in one

21 July, 2016

A yurt? Who lives in a YURT?!

I remember the moment it transpired that we were going to live in a yurt for a few months. We were absolutely in love with the strangeness of yurt homes in non-Mongolian settings. My first blog post about it was entitled “We Live In a Mongolian Tent Now” – incredulous, glad, incredulous.

18 months later and we not only still live in one, but we own two! A little NZ made one, 6 metres, by Jaia Yurts and one a third larger, by Pacific Yurts, imported from the States.

And we think yurt-living is the business.The Ultimate Guide to Living in Yurt Homes
This is me in our yurt, writing a post about living in yurts. 2016 aye?

What are these yurt homes you speak of?

People all over the world are making themselves at home in a modern take on the traditional Mongolian structure used for their housing. Translated “yurt” means “home.”

People have called our yurt a spaceship, a giant mushroom, a giant’s diaphragm. Indeed, it looks like all of these.

But mostly these days it is just our home and we love it.

Why are people choosing yurt homes?

We enjoyed living in someone elses yurt for a few months. But when we bought our new land we had the opportunity to get the home we have always wanted.

We were looking at moving on a beautiful old wooden cottage, or building from scratch- something like a cob house or an earthship. But the more we did costings, looked at our situation and sat and thunked, we realized that we wanted to keep living in yurts.5 reasons we have chosen to live in yurt homes

Yurt Homes are Affordable

We found our big yurt online, already imported from the States, never erected or even unpacked, but quite discounted because, hello, who wants a tent this big?!

We got it for $35000 (£17000) but full price it would have been $45k NZD. This includes almost everything you need, including double glazed glass windows, French doors and a back door and extra wind support and insulation. The floor comes at extra cost – another 6k.

Still, for a home with almost the same footprint as our little South London Victorian terrace, this is a real steal. A whole $500,000 less!!

(That figure isn’t actually accurate because our London home came with the land it sat on, and a little teeny weeny garden too.)

But you can buy a bare patch of land and stick a yurt on it for probably about a quarter of what it might cost to buy a house and a garden.

Of course, it isn’t a bargain if it feels like you are just living in a big tent, is it? And this is where the second reason we decided on a yurt comes in.

Yurt Homes are Beautiful

Yurts are beautiful! They feel almost sacred with their circular ways. The sun pours in through the canvas and the dome in the roof. They feel so perfectly nestled amongst the natural environment and they are easy to keep bright and airy.

Our big yurt comes with a 15 year guarantee, but they’ve been in production for 25 years and no one has ever claimed on one. They really are built to be strong and beautiful for a good long time!Yurt homes- why we love it

Yurt Homes are Mobile

Yeah, yeah, in NZ, most homes are counted as mobile. No jokes, at least a few times a year you will be driving down the motorway and you will see a WHOLE HOUSE on the back of a trailer. We’ve also seen a whole house in bits on the side of a road where it slipped off the trailer, which was a bummer for someone.

But anyway, in most parts of the world homes aren’t made for moving. Which is why yurts are so great because they can come and go with you.

So if you are not ready to buy land, you can put a yurt up on someone elses. You could even do it formally, by asking permission. I jest, you should pretty much always ask permission to put a yurt up on someone’s land to live there. Exceptions for if the land is owned by a conglomerate (I always want to call them clongoberates) and they are leaving it derelict until land prices rise. SQUAT THAT BUGGER! In seven years it is yours and you can share it with all the people that need a place to put their yurt!

(Yikes, how quickly I descend into anarchic housing strategies these days.)

Yeah, so yurts are a great option if you are looking at homesteading or self sufficient living but aren’t going to be owning the land you are doing it on.

We did it for 15 months – a sort of WOOFING arrangement, swapping garden labour etc for a patch of land with our yurt on it- while we were looking for the land we ended up buying.

Yurt Homes are low impact

Compared to traditional housing yurt homes are immensely low impact with the materials used. They are often built using 100% natural materials – tough cotton, wool for insulation and wooden lattice or beams. Our big yurt does used human made materials – a polyester cover instead of cotton canvas and a space agey tin foil instead of wool for insulation. But even with shipping it to NZ from the US, compared to the intense labour and complex production modern housing involves, yurts are super low impact.

Yurt Homes are Quick

And our last reason is to do with how quickly we can get up our yurt compared to building something ourselves. Our little yurt goes up in about an hour – once you have the floor down, and with a nice bunch of buddies. See my brand new video of us putting up our little yurt last weekend:

And even our big, far more house-like yurt, goes up in a day. If you missed that here is a slideshow of that one going up. Double glazed windows and all.

This is compared to about a minimum 6 months for a self build home, with a lot of help, and busting a gut each day.

We didn’t give up our jobs in order to slave away on a self build. These are the moments we want to free up time to spend with our girls, whilst they are so young, whilst we see their childhood running through our fingers like sand. It would be crazy to have sacked in our seriouspants careers in London and replace it with building a seriouspants house on the other side of the world.
5 reasons to live in yurt homes
What do you reckon? Could your family live in one of these yurt homes?

Pssst – have you downloaded my most recent bestselling book? It’s designed to help you and your family fall in love with nature. Find it on Amazon or my own estore.

Come and say hi on Facebook or Instagram!

More from me on yurts:
Living in a Yurt – in the winter
Building a yurt
Inside our yurt house
Yurt living – winning and losing

yurt life

Building a yurt

11 January, 2016

Building a yurt

It takes a triplet of things, at least, eh, to make a collection? Like, I definitely collect vintage tea towels, typewriters and mouldy things in my fridge, because I’ve got loads of all of those…

But two yurts wouldn’t make us Yurt Collectors right?

It just makes us Yurt Lovers, which sort of seems more reasonable, do you reckon?

This last week we put up our second yurt, a bigger, fancier version of the first. e are taking yurt living to the next level! It has proper windows and we plan on putting in a little sleeping loft and things. We are mega excited as this is our roots-down home now, and the little yurt will be a spare room for people to come and stay. (By “people come to stay” I mean “hide things that we should have got rid of ages ago but are hanging on to just in case we ever get invited to another Kids Shows of the 1980s fancy dress party or if I do decide to start using my leather hole punching tool more regularly or you know whatever”)

We’ve tended to have momentous first weeks of January over the last few years. Two years ago we moved to New Zealand on January 1st, then one year ago we walked on to this bit of land on January 1st and went “Woah, this is IT” and this year we finally get our home up. So mega. (We’re gonna really have to work on something for next year eh… but maybe we need to pull back on the momentousness… maybe like, New Year, New Gerbil or something.)

building a yurt

We love yurts because they are such a beautiful, affordable home… there is this concept, democratic architecture, a sort of movement all about houses for The People … homes that people can actually afford / build themselves / don’t just line the pockets of a tiny few. Yurts definitely fall into this, with their easy construction and simple design. (Thanks Mongolia, for this ingenious gift.)

building a yurt

We put this yurt up, a home that will eventually have the footprint not far off that of our South London home in a day and a half with a huge amount of help from friends … and only a few hairy moments (one involving a friend inching down the outside of the roof with some gaffa tape.)

building a yurt

Building a yurt video

And for those of you who want to get down with the actual construction of our yurt have a look at my latest Youtube video of the whole shebang from start to finish, with a retro 1990’s slideshow styling…

Anything new for you this year? Resolutions or dreams? Building a yurt? My resolutions, made just this moment, are to not collect mouldy things in my fridge any more, and to, where possible, slim down the chances of friends having hairy moments on our roof with gaffa tape.

Happy New Year to you! X

Parenting

10 things that are worse for your child than playing on the ipad

2 November, 2015

*ping* Another notification from someone about the problem with ipads. This time ipads are responsible for humankind never stepping outdoors again. Yep, our children will be the last generation that played outside.

I guess people think I like this stuff because I wrote a book on families rewilding and often post about how good it is for kids to get outdoors and fun things to do outdoors and all that nature shizzle.

But you know what? I think the ipad is a TOTAL bogeyperson.

(HA bogeyperson! What do we want? Non gendered language for bogeypeople! When do we want it? Now!)

We set up technology as the enemy of nature and it isn’t. Taking the ipad out of our child’s hands is a quick and easy answer to a multi-faceted problem, and it is a disrespectful, short-term and narrow minded solution.

I can think of many, many things that impact our child’s well being and relationship with the earth more than playing on the ipad.

Here are ten."oceans and ipads shouldn't be pitted against each other"  - you are ot a bad, neglectful parent if you love seeing your kid having fun with screens :D

1- Being told the things they love aren’t important
This one is so close to my heart, because I am learning as I parent. I had a list of things I would never “let my child do” but as her different likes and loves unfold she is showing me that it is not up to me to tell her what she should and shouldn’t love. I have some knowledge and wisdom from my longer life, and I will share it non coercively. Celebrating with them over the things they love is a far better way to developing a trusting relationship with our children. Imagine if your other half didn’t like you doing your favourite hobby so huffed and puffed around yo every time you did it? That would feel so awful, that constant undermining, and it would hugely damage your relationship.

2- A parent that doesn’t partner with them
Instead of telling them the things they love suck, the invitation is to partner with our children. To help take their love of something on the ipad and take it to the next level. It is to trust that technology can open huge doors for learning. They love Happy Feet? Perhaps they are working through themes of loss and grief and reuniting (I *may* be talking from experience…) how about entering into imaginative play with them and the penguin stuffed toys, or getting all the penguin books out, strewing about some penguin costumes and seeing if they want to take Happy Feet to a deeper level? The potential is for a huge connection, begun by an ipad…

The invitation is also to PLAY with them. Not use the ipad as a babysitter but take it in turns to play, as another child would, to find out about their favourite game. Last week we had a huge car journey and I sat in the back and played Ramona’s favourite game, The Dolphin Show, for 4 hours straight. We were trying to get a million points in order to get the dolphin that farts rainbows. After about 3.5 hours, she turned to me and told me about something cruel someone really important to her had said to her, and described how her heart had been hurting ever since. I had observed that for a few days she had been really quite emotional, but I hadn’t been able to get to the bottom of it. Spending time jumping through hoops (no really, we were jumping our dolphins through hoops) really joyfully (it is THE BEST GAME) deepened our connection to a point that she felt able to fully open up.

3- Learning Latin
Some schools still teach that. Shiver my timbers. If we really want to target something that stops children playing outside it should be the thing that ties them to a desk for several hours everyday (635 hours a year for under elevens!) learning stuff that is often age inappropriate, doesn’t recognise the important of play and the biological imperative for movement and may well never be used again in their lives. (*cough* algebra *cough*)

While we have chosen to unschool in order to foster a more curiosity led education, schools around the world have successfully changed; schools in Finland have reflected research on this and introduced far healthier learning foundations in State schools, there are Forest Schools in Germany. You know what would make the BEST target for a child’s time not spent playing outdoors? It is the classroom.

4- Parents that don’t make an effort with nature
Here is my bugbear…. all this reminiscing about our natural childhoods (er, mine was spent watching Going Live) and freaking out about Nature Deficit Disorder, without realising that the responsibility for our child’s relationship with nature lies with us! You know what? If WE love nature, and prioritise it, if we run barefoot in the forest and climb the trees and lie and look at the stars, this love will so likely become infectious. Children don’t learn by us telling them (the ipad is the enemy of nature, darling!) but only by modelling.

10 things worse than ipads for children

Technology and Nature are friends! Thanks Annie from Fable and Folk for the picture.

5- Double Standards
Oh, by golly, if I read about Steve Jobs not letting his kids play with an ipad one more time I will send Apple a scary barbie in the post, I will, I tell you!!! The double standards! OH MY!! This is the kind of unfairness that I think could really damage a child’s likelihood to grow up caring about fairness.

6- Having nowhere to play outside
How about targeting society’s obsession for turning every spare bit of land into malls, instead of handing them over to the people for nature places? (Okay that is a little bit Daily Mailish… let me pull back from the extremisms.) Society is narrowing the places that childhood has been traditionally spent, either by building on them, or risk assessing them (try swimming in the many beautiful swimming holes in the UK without getting the “Do Not Swim” sign pointed out to you) or disallowing ball games from them. How about giving children access to the streets for free play?

7- Having little say over the activities in their life
A child is a person. They deserve to get a say over their activities. When their hobbies are directed and their play manipulated they will get frustrated and learn that their own wants and needs don’t count for anything. Having an ipad in the house and not letting a child use it if they want to just totally sucks.

As the brilliant Peter Gray says “Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”

8- Parenting advice based on nothing
Really, what was that original article article based on? Yeah, nothing. That’s what I thought. It’s just a lament from a dude who is actually really successfully using technology to provide a livelihood for himself and to help people around him. Oh! Technology can be GREAT! There are articles floating around that seem quite research heavy, but on a second glance leave me ABUZZ with questions about who they were studying, and how, and if there is really anything meaningful in there.   Let’s stop the fear mongering research, let’s scope out all the stuff out there –  like this other Psychology Today article by Dr Peter Gray comparing limiting computer time today to hunter gatherers limiting bow & arrow time, or the quiet release of the American Academy of Paeditrician’s new guidleines on screentime for young ‘uns, let’s make decisions that reflect all our family’s needs.

9- People who think “drastic” measures are called for
How about not being drastic? How about simply being mindful and thinking things through and coming up with ideas together that reflect everyone’s desires? How about considering the burgeoning role that technology is playing in our world (genuinely, that is something we can’t change, love or hate it) and considering a family approach to reflect that? How about trying some stuff – moving towards letting go of limits like some families, or having tech-free zones decided as a family, or coming up with guidelines together (this is what we did at a family meeting recently. Family meetings will probably only be a success if your relationship is built on mutual trust and respect.

Drastic is really the opposite of good advice, for parents, in really any situation. For some nuanced, yet traditional, ideas on child hood and screen time see here.

10 – Playing with this toy.  

 A Shape Shifter Punisher, with a rather rude rocket. 

There are worse things to play with than the ipad. That’s all.

***

Now, I really don’t have the answers for your family. We have tried a lot of things and I have felt torn a lot of the time in the past between my real rational preference for unschooling and letting the girls choose access freely, and then my inner desire for a really “natural” childhood for them. Just now we are in a good space of free reign over technology, but with them choosing OFTEN, far more than the ipad, the options of imaginative play, putting on shows with puppets, river fun and cooking. Which is what I think occurs naturally once we free up all our triggered, negative emotions around screen time. And it has been this partnering thing that has been the piece of the puzzle that now makes it all feel good, for all of us.

It’s close to my heart this technology and children and earth stuff. I love the internet and ipads, and I love trees and oceans, and I don’t believe they should be pitted against each other. I think we are the unfortunate generation of parents who are lumped with having to muddle our way through this technology and social media and internet saturated life whilst trying to hold on to values that are important to us. On the other hand perhaps we are the fortunate ones- we can carve a way for future generations! What a privilege and responsibility – let’s make the journey of childhood in the 21st century one filled with empathy and respect and connection.

As usual, would love to hear from you! Either here in the comments or over on Le Facebook

unschooling, yurt life

Living off the grid – the beginning

24 September, 2015

We are about to begin living off the grid and we have All. The. Emotions.

We are back in NZ on the cusp of a whole new thing.

We had incredible flights here, the girls were total heros and the kindness of strangers went a long way. (Homage to the general public who are kind to children right here.) Those flights were sandwiched by a week in California, making ourselves truly at home amongst the totally marvellous unschooling tribes of San Francisco who roomed us and fed us and took us to their pottery workshops and museums and beaches and forests. (So much to say about that! Perhaps a whole other post … for now my photos on Instagram will have to do.)

Jet lag has been no issue this week; we are buzzing out on excitement alone- carried along from 5am to 10pm on rolling waves of let’s-buy-the-chickens-and-have-a-mudpie-kitchen-and-a-forest-school. (Um. And maybe a few good kiwi flat whites.)

Because on Saturday we move on to our new land, putting up our first little yurt next to a beautiful stand of native Kahikatea trees, ready to begin cultivating a huge veggie patch, a few orchards, and a life of wild learning and growing together. We popped in there yesterday, our first day in NZ and as we walked around there were two little piwakawaka (fantails) flitting around us, chirping and swooping and it just felt like they were giving us a little welcome, saying, make your home here with us!

When I was a tiny tike, despite always living in the inner city, I always said when I grew up I wanted to marry a farmer. (You can imagine the horror that bought my feminist mama. I also wanted to change my name to Eric so maybe that evened things out a little.)

It is a bit surreal to think we are well and truly becoming farmers now, living off the grid using solar energy and our stream for water.Rewilding - Family moved from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ

Over the next few weeks and months we have to build our own composting toilets (read about golden poos right here) and bathroom, we have to tap the springs so we have fresh water, put up our bigger, mammoth yurt, find places for our chickens and cows, and start planting out the food that will fill our bellies.

After a few months of travelling around (still planning posts about Paris and other adventures – i have been a bit distracted all summer by writing my new booooook) it feels so, so, so good to be grounding ourselves, embracing rituals and rhythms, connecting with the community of kindred spirits we have in NZ – in particular the family we are sharing the land with.

I can’t wait to be a part of Ramona and Juno’s learning journey as we learn together on the farm, through simply living and responding to creative urges and engaging with the natural world around us.
(I am an official Channel Mum vlogger person thingy and I did a video about our unschooling beginnings which you can see here…)

I feel so happy to imagine this childhood for our kids, one filled with bugs and mud and native birds and forest, one where they won’t lose touch with their wild selves.Yurt family - 30 days of rewilding

And then, amongst all this huge sense of anticipation and happiness are these random pangs of sadness. A memory from this summer, of swimming in an English river with my lifelong best friends or laying down in the long grass to watch the meteor shower with my beautiful sister, will shoot into my mind and just take my breath away.

And, underneath all these feelings, the grief and joy and hope, is this sort of intangible fear.

It feels funny to type that out. To name it. But there it is. It is a quiet vibration just humming amongst it all. Because we can’t separate what we are about to do from all the horror stories of intentional communities we’ve heard. We can’t deny the fact that are not born farmers, or that we are all stepping out of our existing community of marvelous hippies to do this together.

But it isn’t the scary kind of fear. Because we know, know, KNOW we have to do this.

We walked on to the land on January the 1st this year and went “THIS IS IT! This is our very future right here! This dell has been marked with our names!”

And we are certain we want to start living off the grid with others. We have always yearnt for interdependency and life-sharing and are convinced that sustainable living looks like this.

We didn’t want to grow old wishing we had taken a chance on nurturing a tribal way of life when we had it.

And if we can do this with anyone, it is with the family we co-own the land with.

So the fear bit? Mixed in with all those other emotions it is like sitting in a little carriage perched at the very top of an enormous, towering rollercoaster, staring down at that deep, inevitable, belly dropping swoop and roaring “WOOHOOOOOO!!! LET’S DO THIS THING!!”

Living off the grid beckons!

****

Read about our move from South London to a yurt in a forest in NZ, amongst a load of inspiring stories in my new book, 30 Days of Rewilding – find your place in nature and watch your family bloom.  The Telegraph did an amazing feature on it and on the first day of release it went to Number One in its category on Amazon. Whooop! I guess, what I’m trying to say is, um, read it, if you like…

Family Travel

“Hey!” says the sea, “come and PLAY!”

27 August, 2015

It’s pouring down with rain… Guess where we are… Last week’s blog post is a clue… YES you betcha baby, we are on the south coast of England camping in the rain again!!  If it wasn’t so ridonkulous we’d cry! 

We are here with the whole fandamiliy for my mama’s birthday, it’s been planned for many a month, otherwise we’d have all sacked it off once they started issuing weather warnings y’know? But here we are! Making the most of it! 

As we walked through the town today, I was composing a blog post in my head called “Things to do on a rainy summer holiday in Britain” featuring things like “Go to the pet shop and stare at the gerbils” and then we turned the corner to the sea and everything changed. 

It was like the whole earth went TADDDAAAA! PRESENTING: Vast Magnificent Sea and Thunderous Make-Your-Problems-Seem-Tiny Clouds.

And there were kids swimming! HA! It is not just rainy, my friends, but freezing, three-jumper-freezing, and there, so determinedly on summer hols, were loads and loads of kids swimming. 

The waves leapt in, towards the concrete promenade, rambunctious and teasing. All the grown ups stood under bright brollies, miserable about the weather, but all the children had answered the call and had stripped off and followed the foaming water in, larking about together. 

 Our five started with their be-wellied feet, then shook those off. Then got their leggings soaked so legs were unwrapped, and then dresses wet, so they were untangled from them too. (Strip poker without the booze and cards.) Then that was it, they crashed right on in and jumped and splashed and swam. 

There was a fizzy energy on the shore, a catching happiness, an almost-giggle that spread from person to person like it did in a stern school assembly when somebody did a fart.  

 It was a giddiness, frankly. I think it was bought on by just watching so many children be utterly delighted in the sea. (It could also have been because for a few seconds we could spy where the sun was in the sky… a faint glow over to the west, behind a few less layers of cloud. The rain became just a faint mist for a few magical moments there.)  

 But I think it was the children taking up the invitation from the sea. The waves had drawn them into a complete ability to be In. This. Moment. Only this one, now, right here. And by watching it, we caught a bit of it, that presence, that being here with every bit of ourselves. It was joy combusted all over the beach like a busted open glow stick that has shaken its neon around. 

Nature is powerful like that. 

And I reckon children are still sensitive to this call of the wild. They can hear it and attend to it, without the inner voice grown-ups have, we’ll be warmer and comfier if we just stay sitting down in our cagoules, checking out other people’s holidays on Facebook. 

Yeah, we will. But we won’t be happier. 

Our kids seasided today like Bosses. There were quite inevitable tears when there wasn’t enough dry clothing to get on to their red, clammy bodies, but they’d had this huge happy connection with earth, each other, themselves- it was so worth it and they  would do it all over again tomorrow, no regrets. 

*checks weather forecast* Ah, yep, we will be doing it all over again tomorrow.

So that’s good! *smiles brightly*   

   PS I have just finished my book! All about this ancient, broken connection with nature, and the invitation extended to us to restore it, and to come alive through it. They are short chapters for busy parents who want to help their family begin a life long love affair with the wild. It’s out on Monday, hooray! Keep your eyes peeled: Thirty Days of Rewilding (or #30DaysOfRewilding because something doesn’t exist unless it has a hashtag right?) 

Family Travel, writing, yurt life

How to travel Europe with your family

18 May, 2015

So, you want to travel Europe with your family? Perhaps in a campervan? Or camping?

Good luck with that!

Hahaha. Oooh, I jest, I jest.

Two years ago we sold our house in London, and most of our possessions. We packed up our troubles in an old kitbag, and hooned off in a cool little VW campervan called Betty, to bury them beneath the sea. (Ideally the Adriatic sea… off the coast of Croatia.) After an agonising wait for our baby’s first passport and other hiccups, we were finally on the road. The woes of being very unorganised people. How we get through every day, let alone go on epic adventures, is QUITE a mystery.

These days we live in a yurt in New Zealand, where I write and we farm and go on adventures. For more inspiration about helping your family connect with their wild side please check out my little (*ahem* bestselling) book of daily readings, 30 Days of Rewilding.

I can hand on heart say that those months travelling around Europe with my husband, a three year old called Ramona and a baby called Juno held some of the most special, universe-exploding-with-joy moments I have ever encountered in my thirty years.Family Travel Camping Europe

(It also induced several poke-my-eyes-out-with-my-toothbrush moments of stress and agony too, but more about that later. Some troubles just won’t be buried.)

Our adventure sent us through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Spain…. ending up in a flight to New Zealand to begin a different sort of life as farmers. (Yeah, weird eh. We actually bought a cow yesterday. I don’t so much do the farming as writing about it and eating the food that grows.)

I have been writing this post in my head since the day that trip ended. I wanted to put together something really useful, to help people take this dream of travelling around Europe with their family, and make it a reality. So this is pretty long, and pretty comprehensive. Here are practical tips, links to much more detail, websites we relied on, and our ultimate trip highlights.How to plan a family adventure around europe

So, you want to travel Europe with your family? This is for you.

Things you will need to travel Europe:

Money.
(yeah, I know. duh.) It says a lot that the cost of our first night camping in our campervan on our Great Journey blew our brains. £25! We tossed and turned all night wondering how one earth we were going to manage £25 everyday for accommodation for 5 months! How little research we did before we left! Laughable really. So, if you are going to camp in campsites, plan in a good wack for accommodation. And have masses of money. For us, we decided to free camp. And that decision led to almost entirely free accommodation for 5 months and lots of adventure.

Time.
We spent our first 3 weeks on a total mish- buzzing from place to place “Having An Adventure, Really, Arent We?!” and almost went insane. Aim to spend lots of time in places, meandering, getting to know little villages and rivers, and it will be a lot more pleasant for all of you! Especially for the children. Family Travel Camping Europe

Loose ethics (1) – wifi at Mcdonalds. We were so surprised that there wasn’t wifi all over Europe. You could get it at £25 a night campsites… but there was none free anywhere else. Apart from Mcdonalds. I had successfully avoided Maccas for two decades before we went to Europe. But when we discovered their free and fast wifi, we were sucked in. With a side order of fries. Once we got to Spain we managed to get our heads around buying a SIM card and having a special short term deal. We genuinely couldn’t work this out in the other places!

Loose ethics (2) – compromising on food ethics/ health. When we are settled we try and eat mostly organic. We found this really hard to do whilst we were travelling. In France they had good, obvious “bio” options, but we struggled to maintain our commitment to that, and also general awesome nutrition, over the five months. It could be done though, with much more effort put in to the food side of things. But we didn’t prioritise it. I do regret this a little, as I think Juno’s dental health was impacted by me mostly eating bread and foraged figs whilst breastfeeding. But I raise it in order to say that there are some things, whilst constantly on the move, that are tricky to work out. And there does need to be a little compromise, I think.

Fearlessness – or exceptional organizational skills. Our courage increased as we went. We became better and better at turning up at place expecting to find somewhere good to sleep. We tried hard to always arrive at a place in the daytime so we could suss everything out well once we were there. Alternatively, you could plan ahead. We are not good planners at the best of times, and when it required so much time in Old Macdonald using up there wifi, we basically stopped planning anything.

An open heart. The absolute best thing about travelling is the random things you end up doing. But you do need to have an open heart for this. I guess if you are planning a trip of this kind, then you have it. Say yes when an old granny offers you some cherries, invite another family on the campsite up to the café for chips, ask locals for the good swimming spots and ALWAYS skinny dip at the Playas Nudista. After taking a punt and asking another family out for dinner they became our fast and firm friends and we met up with them several times over our adventure- we celebrated two birthdays with them.

Suspended hygiene. The truth is, if you are doing a lot of swimming, you don’t need to shower. And if you are free camping, showering and doing laundry and all those things can be a bit tricky. RELISH the freedom of being a bit smelly and read up on all the reasons a bit of bacteria is so good for us. Hehe. Honestly though, we were probably swimming two times a day, for most of the trip. If you are not a big swimming family – you might need to suck it up and stay at camp sites more often. (But do also read this post: Do Children Need a Daily Bath- 8 Reasons To Stop Washing So Much.)

Family Travel Camping EuropeA hobby. Because travelling is best done at a snail’s pace it is really nice to have a little hobby to turn to. Sketching or writing poetry or taking photographs – these can help you see a place through a different lens. And they can pass the hours while your children bury each other endlessly in the sand. I learnt the ukulele while we were travelling around Europe and now I play and sing everyday.

A purpose
Before we left I did a bit of a shout out on my blog, asking for people’s suggestions of where to go. We decided to visit a few projects around the place that people had pointed us towards. Such as the Forest Kindegarten in Germany – read about their knives and stuff, if you like, and the Sunseed Eco Village in Spain (read about the hippy that laid a golden poo there.) We also did as much of the Wild Swimming France book as we could. This just adds a bit of a fun dynamic.

Amazing Insurance/ Breakdown Cover. Because if you have this, you CAN be a little bit fearless. And, you know, you might break down. Really seriously. Twice. *Ahem*Family Travel Camping Europe

Baby Wipes
They can clean ANYTHING! I’m not gonna lie to you, at least 3 times I did a day’s worth of dishes with a few baby wipes.

Audiotapes or mixtapes your friends make you for the journey. We tried to make the journeying quite pleasant, so rarely did more than 100 miles in a day. But you still clock up a lot of time on the road and having stories and new music from our friends was really cool.

Be prepared for:

All the emotions (1) – From your children
For the most part, our children were buzzing out on our own good vibes of freedom and happiness. However, our three year old did express a lot of emotion quite often. Sing goodbye as a ritual (we used to name each of the things we loved in each place, as I strummed away on the Uke) Give lots of time for goodbyes (oh- I have an AMAZING Guide to Helping Children Say Goodbye RIGHT HERE!) Find ways to incorporate your children’s wishes and aims – one of the families we travelled with had a family meeting every morning where everyone said what they wanted to do that day, and everyone’s ideas were respected equally. This could be quite a disempowering time for your little ones, unless you support a better alternative for them.

All the emotions (2) – From you
The highs! The lows! There is something about travelling that rips open your heart. At 4:30pm you’ll be sitting by a river with tears in your eyes because you are JUST SO HAPPY look at our angelic children and my dashing husband we are all perfectly content and we love each other so much! And then, inexplicably at 4:50pm, you’ll be like F*CK THIS SH*T WHAT ARE WE DOING LET’S GO HOME YOU B*STARDS

I think that having a lot of empty time makes you more attuned to your feelings. Emotions that you’ve perhaps tucked away neatly in order to carry out an orderly, systematic breakfast/work/mortgage/ dinner sort of life are suddenly given some space to pop out and yell BOO in your face.

Be prepared for it. And get good at mindfulness. Hehe. True though. We downloaded the app Yoga Studio and it SAVED THE DAY! (Tim and I aren’t naturally yoga-y, although we would like to be, we would rather eat chocolate and read Jack Reacher. But when you have lots of extra time it is quite do-able to fit in some mindfulness practice and did really help us.)

Country Guide
Here is a little whiz around the countries we went to, with particular reference to the camping situ….

France – France introduced us to wildcamping.  Staying by lakes and rivers, also almost every town has a free motorhome car park. We met lots of beautiful people doing this, all very respectful of the spots. France was such a breeze, a really wonderful intro to camping around Europe. In fact, we could easily spend three months in France alone.

Switzerland– the odd bit of free camping and absolute gobsmacking beauty. The stunning buildings and clear lakes and mountains. We fell in love with Bern all over again…. but pushed through quite quickly as everything was so dear and we did feel like we were chancing the free camping a lot. One night we accidentally stayed over in a Graveyard. We arrived in the dark thinking we had found a wonderful peaceful spot and in the morning realised it was a cemetery. OH! We zipped out of their pretty fast. Read more about our campervan bustling around France and Switzerland.

Germany– There was the odd bit of freecamping to be had in Germany, but not in the touristy spots – probably rightly so that the Black Forest should be protected by rangers. We did some cool things here in Germany and it is very easy to travel around with only your one pathetic language under your belt. Bit of a warning though, the German elderly are completely and utterly OBSESSED with your babies being cold. I am talking stopped-in-the-street-on-boiling-hot-days-every-single-day OBSESSED. Be prepared for them waking your baby by squeezing their bare feet and sternly saying KALT!KALT!

Italy – we stayed in campsites in Italy (mostly because we were broken down but also because we heard it was slightly unsafe) And we blew our budget somewhat on the incredible pizzas and pasta – this was absolutely the culinary highlight. It was an absolutely lovely place to be for the children – people literally call across the street “CIAO BELLA!” just to be kind and jolly to the children. If you do Venice- stay at the campsite over the water and get the boat in. Far cheaper and lovely way to do it. Read about how to do Italy and Venice hear. Also, another breakdown story. Eep.

Family Travel Camping Europe

Croatia– Be warned, there is NO FREE CAMPING there. As a result of landmines in the past, they are very strict about not wandering/driving off the beaten path. Croatia was surprisingly expensive, not the tuppence-a-day place people remember it as, and there was a sort of tourist-weariness amongst the people there, they are still quite clearly recovering from a very tragic conflict. It still made it into our highlights, though. (Read on.)

Spain – if a lover of France is a Francophille is a lover of Spain a Spancophille? Sounds totally wrong, if you ask me. But I am now one! The freecamping around Spain was PERFECT. A real community. Read all about campervanning around Spain with your family, and a surboad and a caterpillar here.

Handy Websites to travel Europe with:

There were two sites that we referred to on a weekly basis.
Wildcamping Forum – this was very important to us – so much good advice for travelling around the Uk and Europe in a campervan. Their Spain Forum was so helpful.

Trip Advisor – we had some lovely house-stays in Spain as a result of Trip Advisor. (Courtesy of our breakdown insurance….) If you stay 3+ nights in a place it can be super cheap. We relied on Trip Advisor a lot for restaurants and hotels and ideas for things to do. It has to be one of the most helpful sites for accomodation and activities to travel Europe with.Family Travel Camping Europe

Travel Highlights of Europe:

The national parks in Croatia were incredible, despite being very touristy. Well worth the visit. And the completely astonishing Croatian shoreline, azure ocean and islands. We didn’t really enjoy the vibe there (got to make your own fun, for the most part) or the food available to buy (don’t hate me, I am just being honest) but we loved foraging walnuts and figs all over the country and we fell head over heels with Dubrovnic and Split. In Love. Wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Read about flea markets in Split here.

Seville in December. What a wonderful place! We loved the cafes, the culture, the street art, the late night churros and hot chocolate, the general vibe. In fact- Spain. It is amazing! We LOVED how much they cherish children there, and how involved in all of life. We adooooooored being out on the town at midnight with all the children having fun!

The Black Forest, Germany. We were fortunate enough to make wonderful new friends in Frieberg and perhaps this tinted our time there. But we loved the wildness of the Black Forest, picking millions of tiny wild blueberries on walks to little lakes and buying smoked fish outside the Cathedral and chasing paper boats along the mini waterways.

Wild Swimming and the Children’s Festival in France. Some of the river swimming in the mountainous areas of France is out of this world. Shockingly cold but, injects YEARS of life into the weary bones of parents! We also went to Le Grand Bornand Bonheur des Mômes festival in the Alps –the biggest kids festival in Europe and what an inspiration! So much fun – an acre of wooden train set to build and a whole pasture filled with massive musical instruments made from random recycled rubbish – La Jardin Musicale.

Frequently asked questions about how to travel Europe:

How did the kids cope? Generally, I reckon if parents are happy, than kids are happy. We were all carried along in a spirit of nomadic freedom.  We prioritised their needs, planned travelling around sleeps and tried to park in places that they would thrive in. They LOVED having both parents around and the unstructured time.

What about stuff? We took waaaay too much stuff. Could have chucked half of it.  Pack your bags and then take half of it away! We also didn’t plan places for everything. The other family we roadtripped for a while with had a perfect place for everything. Do this, would you? It will help with the madness. 
Family Travel Camping Europe
What about baby paraphernalia? We didn’t have too much. We cosleep, so that was easy, and just had slings. And we are nappy free so Juno didn’t even have stacks of that. At night time she used to wear a Tena, hehehehehe… we rescued a massive stash of unused adult incontinence pads for the trip….

Argh, recalling everything is giving me a fluttering in my chest, and ants in my pants, and a desire to fling my clothes off and pretend my local seaside is a Playas Nudista.

What about your budget? When I say we were thrifty, I mean we were like, super cheapskate. We freecamped. We cooked almost EVERY MEAL apart from birthdays and special occasions with friends. (Well, apart from completely not resisting Italian carbs and Mcdonalds chips. Wifries.) A ferry trip, cover price to the Alhambra, and entry to Croatian national parks were probably the only activities that weren’t free. We chose walking and swimming and dossing over actual activities. We don’t feel we missed out at all- in my opinion theme parks look the same the world over. We lived on less than we lived on whilst in London, and made do on a mixture of savings and a tiny bit of income from my writing. Petrol and groceries were our two big costs.

Embrace the fear, race your kids along the shore, scrabble over the cliff to a waterfall, dig out your inner nomad and have a family adventure that will set your heart aflutter for a lifetime.

PS I hope that was helpful! If you have any other questions, please ask them in the comments and I imagine I will edit the extra questions and answers into this mahoosive post.Family Travel Camping Europe

And for more inspiration you probably need to download my ebook, 30 Days of Rewilding, The Telegraph called it “a manifesto for life lived in nature” – there is one with your name on it!

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