Have you ever thought about packing it all up, putting your working life on hold temporarily and taking time out to travel with your loved ones? For some it's a pipe dream. Something you would love to do but the reality is a little daunting.
For Emma Burton however, a night out in Newcastle upon Tyne in May involved more than a fun night out with her husband, Paul, it led to a conversation which saw her and Paul pack up their belongings, buy a motor home and take off to see the sights around Europe with their two beloved dogs, Ozwena (Ozzie) and Uluru (Roo).
Here's her story...
It’s nearly 5 months now since we left the UK to explore Europe in our motor home. We first decided to go on our trip earlier this year after a night out in our home town. Aged 41 we had both become stagnant in our lives and needed a change. We had backpacked around Australia and Asia for 18 months a good few years ago but that didn’t involve taking two much loved dogs and a motor home to look after to live in. With our decision made we had the bit between our teeth and looking back, our sheer determination, risk taking and often downright naivety brings us to where we are now.
To be honest it was all a bit of a rush after selling our home of eight years. Once we’d resigned from our jobs, packed up our much needed belongings and of course our two dogs for the trip, we were ready for the off. Full of excitement, it has to be said buying the van two days before leaving is not recommended!
During the five months we've been on the road so far we've covered 10 different countries. We have experienced the wonderful wines in Italy, dog walks in France and beautiful scenery in Austria. All 10 countries have been worthwhile and memorable for all four of us in their own way.
I write this from a small port on the Southern coast of Spain in a place called Almerimar. It is a beautiful harbour filled with some expensive looking yachts and also small fishing vessels that locals and tourists frequent. It is December 5th and the sky is clear blue and the temperature warm enough to warrant sun screen.
Ozzie on Palamos Beach, Spain
After some initial bewilderment about living in a van, our dogs Ozwena and Uluru are enjoying the trip and have had many an adventure including going missing overnight in Palamos and getting up to all kinds of mischief. Those of you who have Beagles will know all too well how naughty they can be and if you can imagine the challenges of taking your dogs on a trip around Europe then please read on.
Our five-year old Beagle Ozzie is full of character and has been up to all kinds of mischief hence the reason I started to document these all in my journal which I am now turning into a book called 'Dust' which I hope to release in the New Year. Our loveable Roo a red fox Labrador just wants to shower you in kisses all day and every day, she loves affection and is a loyal three-year old girl who often gets influenced by Ozzie getting herself into trouble also.
Travelling around Europe with a dog, or dogs has both advantages and disadvantages. Pet passports are easy enough to obtain though we haven’t yet had to produce these at any border control. Vets are also available in most cities and towns and I have found them to be much cheaper than the UK for consultations and medication.
The main disadvantage is accessibility, or lack of it. Places to stay with dogs are in general not difficult to find though some do charge a couple of euros per dog for the privilege of staying there. This isn’t a lot of money but does add up with two dogs if you are staying somewhere for a while.
The accessibility issue is more for restaurants and landmarks. We don’t like to leave the dogs in the van for any extended periods so the days of eating at top restaurants are over and if eating out we choose dog friendly places or those with an outside seating area.
Trips to places such as Vienna, Venice and Pisa are planned with military precision. Late night and very early morning visits to cities allow us to see what we need to without troubling other tourists and holidaymakers. In hindsight this has actually been fantastic as seeing Venice at 6am with only the street cleaners for company simply magnified the beauty of this amazing city.
Emma and Ozzie in San Marino
The main advantage for us is having the opportunity to explore further afield than most.
Motorhomers seem to fall under three categories. Those who pull up and don’t leave the van. Those who may only venture to the nearest bar or cafe. And those who have two very energetic dogs who want to explore every last blade of grass, sand or mountain in an area. Throw in the fact that my husband and I enjoy running and you’ll get the picture that we have seen more of the places we have visited than most.
Lagrasse in France, Cinque Terre in Italy and Palamos in Spain are probably our favourite three places for a balance of great walking and running trails with a town(s) to explore sights, cafes and bars.
Paul and Ozzie in Savines-le-Lac, France
Italy was a place we were planning on missing out altogether. Too expensive and not safe were comments we often read on blogs and social media. Visiting Venice was the reason we ignored these comments and I think all four of us would agree it’s been the best country visited. Yes, it’s not cheap, though it’s also not as expensive as we had read or imagined and safety hasn’t been an issue, though we did drive through Naples with windows up and doors locked.
Ozzie and Roo in Venice, Italy
From Pescheria on Lake Garda, to Santini Vineyard in between Rimini and San Marino, Pompeii and Vesuvius, we finished our Italian leg by heading north to the Cinque Terra region. Each of the five towns is worth a visit.
The Burtons in Lake Garda, Italy
Further north we found free parking on weekdays in San Rocco provided the perfect base to explore tourist meccas such as Portofino and Frutosa where we took a short boat trip to see Christ the Abyss which is an amazing sight. Both places are a strenuous 2-3 hour walk from San Rocco though ideal to let the dogs off the lead and tire them out.
Ozzie and Roo in front of the Statue of David in Florence, Italy
San Rocco has a couple of bars with a cheapish local place alongside a fantastic bar cut into the rock which is perfect for sunsets. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to sample any drinks in the sunset bar as both our dogs were violently sick on the path as we queued outside for a table. You can imagine the disgust from the customers dining close to us and we felt very embarrassed as we cleaned the mess up using numerous poo bags we had with us. We left with our tails between our legs sorry that we had missed our chance to visit this place.
We have had plenty of ups and downs throughout our trip. Mostly ups though which keep us going and we are now planning our next few months heading to Portugal and then into Switzerland in the New Year.