We have moved... come on over to www.annastravels.com

Hello

I have now moved this site over to annastravels.com where you can continue to hear about my journeys through van conversion, travel and life. I would love it if you would come on over to hear more!

However, given that I am in fact a technological idiot, if you are no longer getting RSS feeds, spot anything broken in the new site, etc etc etc, then I would really appreciate it if you dropped me an email at annapearce5683@gmail.com to let me know about it.

Thank you Blogger.  Here's to a Wordpress future!


The van is back on the road

It is back on the road people, it is back on the road.

After 18 months of confinement to the barn, the van is back on the road!

MOTed, taxed, insured, seemingly none the worse for wear following its' little sabbatical from driving (asides from a slight issue with the pressure in the clutch which I am hoping will resolve itself with use) and ON THE ROAD.

As in... it is now my car, as in I can drive it, as in this is really happening and this is my little house and it is on the road.

Did I mention the van is back on the road?

Major step forward.

Am I ready?


Recently a terrifying feeling of unpreparedness for my upcoming (2 months away!) travels has been seeping through my consciousness and filling me with self-doubt and mistrust.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I wrote a to-do list which turned to be 2 A4 pages long and counting...

Maybe it is because all my recent eBay van purchases seem to gone missing or been entirely different to what was advertised...

Maybe it is because it turns out that getting motorhome insurance for EU travel in a imported, left hand drive, self build conversion for an under-25 driver is actually, it would seem, impossible...

Maybe it is because everything I do seems to have hidden costs and unforseen complications...

Either way I seem to need a little lift each day just to get me through.  This was today's.

"‘Feeling ready’ is a fantasy. The process will always be confusing and uncertain. It’s normal and unavoidable.

...Self-doubt is a constant friend to the creative soul.
...Storytelling is intuitive. It comes from within us. Everything you need to learn will come from the voice within. Listen to it. Allow it to guide you. Begin."
And so, again, I begin.

8tracks.com...ear food!

I am one of those people who like to listen to music while they work, but hate my listening to be interrupted by advertising or DJs inanely babbling (so can tolerate very few radio stations), and also easily tire of listening to the same music (so downloading/buying music is a bit pointless).

Recently I stumbled across 8tracks, and my ears feel as if they have come home.

Any genre/mood/activity catered for? Check.  Total lack of advertising/chatter? Of course.  Super easy to entirely avoid any track I have ever heard before?  You bet.  And they also have an Android and an iPhone app (not that I have either of these...but if I did I would definitely be downloading it!)

And it even looks pretty and is nice to use.

Nice work 8tracks.  I like you.


Choosing foam for your campervan mattress

The mattress in situ
The only point so far during my van conversion journey that I have found it difficult to obtain the information I needed from a quick bit of Google searching or an email to a suitable product supplier or expert was when I was looking for a mattress for the van bed.

Now this was an item which I particularly wanted detailed information on, as I have a bad back and am therefore completely unable to sleep on an unsuitable mattress, yet am totally clueless as to what determines whether my back is happy or not.

So I discovered that there are no shortage of foam selling outlets on the internet, but unfortunately the vast majority seemed to have very little understanding of how foam works or what the specifications of their products were.

There was however one exception to this rule - Classic Upholstery and Foam .  Graham helped me to understand how density, fatigue and hardness work in relation to foam, and that it is critical to obtain this data in order to know whether a foam is suitable for the job you need it for.  Most of the other companies I contacted with had no idea of this data for their products, if they understood what I was referring to at all!  So thanks to CU Foam alone, I now have a Reflex 400X foam - which I can confirm my back is well and truly happy with.  This is not the cheapest source for foam, but for the confidence that my first purchase of foam would be my only purchase was more than enough to convince me.

I literally cannot recommend this company enough.  Sweet dreams!

How to make a campervan bed

Evolution of the van bed project...

Initial design
Firstly, plan out how your entire interior is going to look.  You want to minimise the amount of wasted space in your conversion while ensuring it has everything you really need.  Don't be afraid to ignore all the conventional wisdom on how vans should be built, this is your conversion and it needs to meet your needs.  I wanted a double bed while not sacrificing cupboard space or the ability to use the back doors of the van, so my layout is pretty unusual but it suits me perfectly.

Metal working is completely beyond the skill and toolset of either myself or anyone else who was helping me on the project, so I sourced a custom-made folding frame to my size requirements.  But it is a super simple design so if you have the knowledge I think it would be fairly easy to make yourself.

The folding frame in bed mode...
Each section of the bed was then fitted with a piece of plywood and then the non-moving section of the frame bolted through the van floor.  Note that when you do this, you need to make sure that you do not damage anything that is attached to the underside of the vehicle - probably best to check this out when planning your design!

...and in chair mode
I then sourced some foam for the mattress (more detail on this to follow in another post and made an internal (to protect the foam) and external cushion covers for each section as per the rough (very rough) plan below.
Finally, pop the cushions onto the bed et voila! Bed...done.

The finished bed....comfy!
Want some advice on how to create other aspects of your van conversion?  Take a look at my other How-tos for a kitchen, wardrobe or curtains.

Sally's Swan Song

Last Saturday was Sally's last ever agility competition, and yes I cried after her last ever run.

Images courtesy of http://debsdogphotos.wordpress.com/



This sport, these places, these people and these dogs have been a massive part of my life since I was about 15.  Saying goodbye was harder than I ever thought it would be.

video

Update on the Master Plan

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. Einstein.

Me and The Boy


So, it has come to my attention that my last explanation of my Master Plan was…
  1. A very long time ago
  2. Not exactly what you would call definite

…so here is an update on the current (still somewhat fuzzy) plan for the foreseeable future

  • November – get the van back on the road, find volunteering projects to get involved in and finish work on 30 November
  • December – pack up my English life into various boxes, relocate my blog to my own hosted site, get my exam results and (hopefully!) my Psychology degree classification, say my goodbyes to family and friends and set off on my travels between Christmas and New Year.
  • January & February – drive through France and Spain to Portugal.  I aim to spend at least a month doing voluntary work in Portugal, the actual project I am going to join is as yet unresearched!
  • March – A one week visit from The Boy in Madrid and a two week visit from my Mum in Seville will pretty much fill up March I think.
  • April & May – drive up the Spanish coast from Seville into southern France, probably doing some more voluntary work on the way.  End of May will hopefully be another visit from The Boy in the Nice area.
  • June & July – travel up through France and Germany, doing voluntary work and general explorations.
  • August – Final visit for the year by The Boy either in Berlin or Bremen depending on where I have got to by then!
  • August – October – More travelling and volunteering, probably going up into Denmark then back in a UK-wards direction via Germany,Netherlands, Belgium etc.
  • October/November – A roughly one month visit home to England to see family and friends, MOT the van etc etc.
  • November – head off to Italy for a lovely warm winter of sunshine!
  • 2013 – Some kind of lap of Eastern Europe…again the Master Plan dissolves into fuzzy inadequacy.
  • 2014 onwards…who knows?!?!

I am currently swinging uncontrollably between terror and excitement, happiness and grief regarding what lies ahead.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. Marie Curie


Final exam...done

I have never been more exhausted.  Soon I will be back properly, right now my desire to write has been well and truly beaten into submission.

My brain aches.  But.  I did it.  4.5 years of study and a full-time job, no social life for zero debt and maximum savings.

Was it worth it... I neither know nor care.  All I know is, it is done.

Freedom is mine. 

Me on top of Helvellyn the other week

Fall Colours

Pennsylvania, USA

Another point of view

South Beach, Miami

Spot the lizard

Iringa, Tanzania

Gratuitous kitten picture


SoBe sunshine


African dreaming


Favourite viewpoint

South Beach, Miami

Tanzanian morning


Wake up and smell the frangipani


African woodland walk


For the sake of the journey

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

In his hands


Just my commute to work

Settle-Carlisle railway line views

Pet passport...check!


Lockdown

Indian Ocean... Tanzania 2007... may there be many more beaches like this :)
Starting from today...it is revision season.  My final exam for my Psychology degree is imminent, this represents the end of a very long 4.5 years.  As a result, I am now running at 100% capacity in my life, and in order for me to pass my exam and retain my sanity, various things have got to give.  One of these, unfortunately, is my blog.  Sob.  I will genuinely miss the catharsis of writing, however I am going to convert to images-only posts until mid-October.  I cannot bring myself to stop posting completely, I am quite proud of what I have built here.  Ironically enough, this announcement comes just days after I recieved my first AdSense check.  A whole £5.29 after nearly 2 years of blogging... good job I'm not trying to make a living from this gig! :)

This is not the only cut I have had to make, the following things are also temporarily being dropped from my schedule:

  • My weekly krav maga class - instead of spending an entire evening attending a class 25 miles away, I will train alone at home.
  • Learning Spanish online - there is simply no room in my brain for any additional learning.
  • All travel and van-based projects - these are all shelved until October.
And in October, when I return to my blog, there will be big changes afoot.  I will be moving over to a real website all of my very own to start my oh-so-grown-up travel blog to document my great adventure.  I appreciate all of you who read this blog and would love it if you had the patience to stay around and wait for this move.  It will happen.  These are not empty internet promises.

I am so close to my freedom I can almost taste it.  All the sacrifices will be worth it.

Ilotopie


Lakes Alive held an awesome free performance by Ilotopie in Keswick recently.  If these guys are ever performing anywhere near you I recommend you pay them a visit.


Basically it’s a kind of circus/performing arts type show with fireworks…on a lake.  Cue boats, cars, bicycles, beds and all kinds of strange boats and wonderful costumes out on the water!

 
Very weird, but very good!


Separate and separated


I have written before about how I want to break through my resistance to anything resembling change, and how I feel my life plan of travelling is the perfect opportunity to do that.  Sometimes I believe this completely, and sometimes I wonder if I am lying to myself.

Will exposure to an entirely fluid and constantly moving world force me to face change head on until I become an entirely flexible yet involved person, or does it actually give me the perfect excuse to never quite connect sufficiently for any change to ever be significant?  Maybe my craving for the feeling of constant motion, of transience, of travel is not based in a desire to experience more, but from a desire to excuse myself from really experiencing anything at all?

Even in England, I often find myself on the periphery of experience.  In groups of people, I am almost always the quiet one.  Even when alone with someone, I am rarely the one who leads the conversation.  Even when entirely alone, I often feel detached to the point of numbness.  Of course, it is all an illusion, a feeling.  I am unavoidably embodied within myself, my culture and this world, I am as much a part of it as any other.  But this is what I know, and not what I feel.

And If I feel like this here, in my home culture, my home country, my home town, how easy will it be for me to remain on the periphery in a country which is not my own?  If I feel like this when surrounded my people who understand my language, my behaviours and have so much in common with me, how easy will it be for me to never deeply interact with those less similar to me?

How easy, and yet how sad.  Always present, yet never connected.  Seeing the wonders of this world, but always from the sidelines.  Going everywhere, belonging nowhere.  A passive observer, nothing more.

Not belonging cannot be the excuse I hide behind for not trying.  And yet it is a pattern which repeats over and over.   I don’t want that to be my life. 

A breath of summer



Finally something approaching summer has arrived in Cumbria, and of course I have been out making the most of it… 


…and exposing my scarily white skin to the world!


Of course, it didn’t last long and now it’s back to the traditional grey, made all the more heartbreaking because you know just how stunning this place is when the sun shines!


The Puzzling Place

Ames room fun and games
I visited the Puzzling Place in Keswick, Cumbria the other day with a couple of friends and Sally dog.  If you find yourself in the Lake District any time soon, it's definitely worth checking out!

Many me!

As well as standard illusion attraction items like entertaining mirrors and holograms and things like that, they have an insane anti-gravity room which really seriously messes with your mind, and an Ames room which is so much fun to play in.


 
So much fun... even though Sally was decidedly unimpressed by the illusions!

Dog's life


Awesome.  This video sums up exactly why I want to travel with my dog.  This world is the perfect playground for anyone, regardless of their age...or level of furriness!

How to choose a digital camera...or how to choose a Canon G12 anyway!

So after much umming and ahhing and should I or shouldn't I, I have finally plucked up the courage to buy a decent camera to document my travels with.  The capacity to take decent shots is essentially my only luxury must-have, and I am happy to accept that this means I have to buy an expensive piece of kit which will inevitably need replacing on a regular basis.  Mainly because technology and me have a habit of parting ways - I have killed one mobile phone by dropping it down a toilet and lost one camera by leaving in a public toilets.  *Note to self: toilets are clearly dangerous places, you should probably avoid them!

I have purchased a shiny new Canon PowerShot G12 for the grand sum of £280 (the cheapest deal I could find for this model).  Why the G12?  Well it was a long and painful process of research, but here are some reasons why...

I started with a bucket list:

  1. Budget - under £500. 
  2. I wanted it to take really good pictures, even in poor light, with not too much fiddling with settings to be done.  I am no camera expert, though happy to learn the basics if it results in significantly better results.  It needed a reasonable automatic setting though as I won't always have time to play about with it.
  3. It couldn't be too big.  I don't need something so small that it will fit in a girly sized pocket, but I didn't want something huge that screams "steal me" and weighs a ton.
  4. If lenses are required, they needed to be small.  Very small. 
  5. Video is a nice to have...but doesn't need to be amazing quality.
  6. Something which at least makes a vague attempt to be durable, shockproof, waterproof-ish.
  7. A screen on the front or a flip round screen would be great.  I'm a lonely loser who has to take pictures of themselves, and it is a freakishly hard task with a normal camera arrangement.
  8. Good battery life.  I have yet to meet a camera which doesn't require to be virtually constantly on charge, and I dislike their addiction to power. 
With a little research (read: help from a friend), I learnt there are four main types of camera.  SLRs (the enormous ones...didn't want one of them), compact cameras (cheap and rubbish...didn't want another one of them) and two types which fall somewhere between these two: bridge cameras and compact system cameras (CSCs).

CSCs have the same kind of sensors as SLRs but in a much smaller body. They then have removable lenses which are again smaller than what you would use with an SLR. The advantages of these are that you get the image quality of an SLR but in a smaller form factor.

A bridge camera is closer to a compact in terms of the techy bits (sensors etc) but has the physical appearance of a SLR but smaller. They also have a permanent lens which normally has a massive zoom range. In general they are pretty good but you won't get as good picture quality as a CSC camera. They are generally cheaper and have more features though.

I decided that having a flip screen was the most critical feature from my bucket list, which is very rare in CSCs, the only one I could find from the "Big 3" manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Panasonic) was the Panasonic DMC-G3.  For bridge cameras I had more options and ended up shortlisting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 and the Canon Powershot G12: essentially the highest end models within my budget that seemed to still be of a reasonable size and weight.

I then dragged myself along to Jessops to take a look at my shortlisted 3 cameras.  The G3 is for sure the "best" camera, but it was just too large for me and this problem is not improved by the need for a separate lense.  However it is a brilliant price for the quality of camera it is and it would be a great buy for anyone prepared to carry the extra weight.  Personally, I was doubtful that I would necessarily fully utilise its additional abilities, and even if I would do 'Im not sure that would outweigh the issues caused by it's size.

I didn't like the FZ150 at all in the flesh, it seemed really huge and it didn't feel that good quality...everything looked like it would snap off really easily which is not a great feature for a very expensive camera!

But like Goldilocks and the three bears...the Canon Powershot G12 was just right!  It is not too large, everything feels chunky and durable, and I also liked how it had lots manual rather than purely touchscreen-based controls.  So after a little internet shop-around, I am now the proud owner of one, it is definitely my new favourite toy.

Now...I just need to learn how to use it!

Why we travel

Recently, as my impending departure draws ever closer, the part of me which doubts has been screaming ever louder "Why are we doing this?!?"  Not because I do not want to, but because it is too huge a commitment to make without knowing why I am doing it.

It is so easy to dismiss this query with an entire eulogy about how beautiful the world is, about the places I'll go, the people I'll meet, the experiences I'll have and even the possibilities for me to make some small difference in this world.  But these are merely reasons why travel is rewarding, none of them are the actual reason why I want to, need to, travel.

It would be equally easy to propose that I am aiming to find happiness, or a purpose in life, or some other personal attainment.  But these are merely side effects of the travelling process, none of them are the reason why I must travel either.   

And then on my trawling through the internet one day, I found a man called Pico Iyer, and his piece entitled "Why we travel".  Go, read it.  It is worth the time.  Better to go and read that piece than finish reading this blog post!

The man, coincidentally writes with a genius like nothing (literally nothing) I have ever read.  You can read more of his fabulous work here

Now this piece is 12 years old, and yes, some of it does perhaps feel slightly dated, and some of it is perhaps so personal to Iyer that it will not be particularly universal.  But the core message resonates clearly through the piece and makes perfect sense to me.

I have long believed that love is the driving force behind those aspects of life which make us human, the things that take us mentally, physically and existentially beyond the constraints of our evolution.  This is not some fluffy naive philosophy, I am referring to love as a driving force for conflict, hate and greed as much as I am to a force behind happiness, selflessness and relationships.  But good or bad, love is ultimately the reason why, or at least the reason for our conscious mind.

So why travel?  Because to travel is to love.  To love in a way which a static life could never fully elicit from me.

As Iyer says...

"And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end."

The Olympics is in town!

Something tells me Sally is not impressed!

It makes an excellent bird swatter!


Today is the start of the 2012 Olympics, this year I am lucky enough to be present in the host country... but unlucky enough not to get any tickets!  So playing about with the torch my Mum carried is probably about as close to the Olympics as I am going to get!

To match the inferno of life

Blogging future

Now that my 24th birthday has been and gone, and it is now approximately 150 days until I am due to leave the UK, the future seems to be rolling in at an alarming and unstoppable rate.

There is lots to be done before the waves hit the shore, not least of which is deciding and implementing my chosen blogging solution for my travels.

My original aim was that this Blogger space would be my learning zone.  Practice for free when it doesn't matter, gain the habit of writing.  Then when it was time to leave, migrate the entire blog over to a Wordpress hosting on my own domain to create something which was more permanent and potentially monetisable.

While I still definitely want to go ahead with my plan to set up another blog to document my travels on, I am unsure whether I want to merge it with this one or create two separate places for me to write.  This blog has been a cathartic experience for me and I don't want to lose the capacity to express the things which are very important to me and yet not directly related to my travels.  But yet I am also not certain whether I necessarily want to express all of these things in a space which is open to all my family, friends and co-workers from my past, present and future have open access to.

Of course, anyone who really wants to could access both if they wanted to, but I am wondering whether maintaining two blogs, one very publically and one without any publicising, would create a more comfortable emotional position for myself...

...But on the other hand, when my life is a whirlwind of travel and adventure, would I have the time to maintain two blogs?  And even if did, should I?   Didn't I say that one of the things I have learnt from my blogging experience is that I should expose more of who I really am in everyday life to achieve a greater congruency in identity

Kaleidoscopic!


"At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities."
~Jean Houston 

The big answer

Yes it's a dog video

video

It is.  It's a dog video, and it is 3 minutes long.  Apologies, I genuinely do understand that this is utterly boring to basically everybody.

But for me, she is the love of my life, and I am completely ok with that.  And today is my birthday, so today is Sally-dog video day.  Yay! Happy Birthday me! 

(anyone who is not me is therefore absolved from the responsibility of watching it!)

Alarming trickery

In my last biphasic sleeping update, I talked about how hard I was finding keeping up with my biphasic schedule due to the increased daylight hours of summertime.  Well I am pleased to find that a strategy as simple as putting my alarm on the other side of the room has most certainly helped me get back on track.  I think my hold on my new sleep cycle is still somewhat tenuous, but until I start becoming willing to just lie down on the floor and go back to sleep this tactic seems to be working.


Another more welcome side effect I have noticed is that my body seems to have come to expect a 6 hour total sleep when I have a monophasic night.  I rarely sleep for more than 7 hours and usually bounce awake soon after six hours, regardless of what time I actually went to bed.  This is a world away from how my sleep-greedy spoilt brat of a body used to behave, so I am actually quite pleased with this development.

Nemesis Mondays

Some days at work, not the busy days, or the difficult days, but the monotonous days, I wonder why.  Why I ever thought it was worth it to work this long before I left on my travels...

Now I don't doubt that it is helpful, safer, sensible even to have a financial safety net for any kind of travelling.  Money to fix a broken van, or a broken leg, or to buy a flight home.  Obviously not everyone has this safety net, but personally I feel it is worth saving long enough until you have this.

I also don't doubt that it is also preferable to have enough money that you aren't living hand-to-mouth each day.  Money available so that you never go hungry.  Again, not everyone who travels has this, but for me, this is worth saving for.

But beyond that, where is the line?

If I leave work at the end of the year with £50 000 in my bank account, maybe I can make this last for 6 - 8 years depending on how things go.  I will have bought myself 8 easy years for 4 wasted years of working.  Does that sound like a good deal?  I'm not so sure.

In 8 years time, I will be 31 and (I hope) my travels will be far from over.  I will need to find a new way of providing for myself.

Yes those 8 easy years will be nice, they will be brilliant.  But they will end.  And will they be worth the 4 wasted years?  I'm not so sure.

I think I have may have crossed the line.  Perhaps it is something I should have considered sooner.

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