Finding himself “continuously adrift in a sea of Monday mornings,” Oliver R. Moore-Howells snagged a live-in vehicle and hit the road. Lots of roads in fact! Here’s how he did it…
There’s a story that tells of a religious guru sitting outside the gates of a grand palace. Eating lentils from a wooden bowl, he awaits his student, who, finishing off his royal duties within, is due his religious instruction. Suddenly, the gates open. “Master!” his servant calls, weary from his long day of labour. “If you learn to be subservient to the King, you won’t have to live off lentils.”
Putting down his spoon, the master looks up, a serene and joyous twinkle alighting his eyes. “Ah yes,” he replies, “but if you learn to live off lentils you won’t have to be subservient to the king!”
For many of us, imagining a long, stressful day full of process-driven work duties where our only respite is lunch, weekends and the occasional holiday isn’t that difficult. After all, riding the non-stop, sick-cycle career carousel isn’t a thought or a dystopian nightmare: rather, in all probability, our life.
World-renowned academic Noam Chomsky takes things even further, stating that to work what we define as ‘a job’ is in essence an assault against our human rights and dignity: subjecting ourselves to an oppressive leader who, for the majority of our waking life, has the kind of control over us that even Stalin himself couldn’t have dreamt of. Extreme, perhaps – but surely, as children, we all imagined something more. Adventure. Creativity. The beauty of childlike marvel trickling into, and perhaps even throughout, adulthood. But why have we done this to ourselves?
Or rather, has it been done to us? And if so, who is this sick, faceless monster, and why are they so intent on squeezing the Kerouacian wonder out of us? Who knows, but it’s likely that they’re as caught up in this perverse deal as we are, with nothing but a “Yay, it’s Friday!” GIF to sooth the dull ache of their spirit-sapping languor.
Taking time to enjoy the simple life shouldn’t be a luxury, but a mandatory requirement for everyone in possession of a soul. It’s not like we’re all needed at the coalface, or to help rebuild after some post-war economic collapse. And as for GDP: really? Get a life – in a very real sense. What, after all, is the alternative – waiting until you’re 70?
Realising we were continuously adrift in a sea of Monday mornings, with meaningful time to ourselves lost to the horizon, my wife and I decided to do what thousands of others were doing: take time out, buy a converted van, and travel; If we were going to wring life of its sweeter juices, we had to act – and fast. So, moving into a shared house and saving up for a year, we made plans for our getaway. Then, like many Vanlifers, we headed for Europe.
Do you remember a time when your days were your own? When you didn’t have to excessively plan your holidays but could instead drift with the wind, the sunshine and the seasons? When your destination wasn’t entirely known to you? What such freedom can do for one’s mental health is incredible.
However, one first has to overcome the debilitating fear of the unknown. A colleague’s words still echo in my ears. “That’s brave!” she said, reminding me how institutionalised we can all become. But which prospect is the more disturbing: taking a risk, or sacrificing the healthiest and best years of your life building wealth and security so as to enjoy your relatively few dwindling days upon the earth? (“Like saving sex for your old age,” as Warren Buffett might say.) For us, it was the latter, therefore buying a van and living simply seemed like the perfect solution. A laptop, a cooker, a USB charging socket, a portable shower and a Portaloo was about as complex as we got.
Hanging out in locations including Cornwall, Amsterdam, the Yorkshire Dales, Bruges, Bordeaux, Seville, Brighton and Porto – at our leisure, and for very little cost – was incredible. Easy to see, too, why some have decided to opt out altogether, choosing instead a different way of life. And of course, with agile working being all the rage nowadays, increasingly doable.
Given that time tends to fly by regardless, how important then to make it count, to personalise it. And I don’t mean the odd hour here and there, but real time. Time to hike, to explore national parks and beaches, to visit museums, cafés and galleries; to develop new and interesting skills; to take up hobbies; to learn a language and meet and talk to people you might never have otherwise had the chance to.
“All well and good,” I hear you say, “but I have children to consider!’’ I understand. But meeting a family of five living in a motorhome in Lisbon taught us that anything is possible. And of course, there’s a million ways to take time out, to enjoy and reassess one’s life. How you do it will depend on your own personal preferences and circumstances. It could be for a month, six months or a year. Either way, ask yourself, whilst you still have breath in your lungs, “Am I a hamster? Do I really need this wheel… or is there more to life?”
words and photos OLIVER R. MOORE-HOWELLS