Eight years ago my new boyfriend handed me a strong drink and said he was leaving the country on his small sailing boat. An invitation to join him swiftly followed and an enthusiastic yes came out of my mouth without any hesitation.
What followed was six of the hardest months of my life. I had accumulated £10k in debt from buying nothing in particular and drinking way too much. I knew I hadn’t been particularly happy and hadn’t found any good way to change that so escaping on a boat could only make things better. Many of my friends and family were concerned and suggested that ‘running away’ wouldn’t help. I’m so thankful I didn’t listen!
I worked two jobs to pay off all the debt before we left. In those months I also sold almost all if my possessions. It was stressful and liberating and exhausting and exciting all at once.
We left the UK with the same hectic fervour, throwing the last of my stuff into the hold as we untied the small wooden boat from the dock. It all happened in a blur and a frenzy but as soon as we hoisted the sails and watched the wind fill them I felt I had taken my first breath in many years. I felt calm.
I had no idea where we would go, what we would do or how we would pay for it but it didn’t matter. We were carrying our home with us and we were finally together with no other commitments.
We travelled for many years on that little sailboat; life on the move encourages a simple existence and gives you the opportunity to slow down. In fact, most of our travelling was done at walking pace, ambling down rivers and canals or sailing from one Mediterranean island to another. We rarely took the boat into port and preferred to anchor or set up camp under the beautiful trees that lined the rivers.
We worked when we needed and enjoyed days filled with life’s more fundamental problems. Where would we find fresh drinking water? How could we grow some of our own food? Which beach should we scour for wood to keep the stove burning?
After a time, it seemed like we should step back into society, work and enjoy some of the comforts we had been missing. I’m not sure if it was a feeling of anxiety from being outside of ‘normal’ or if we just wanted to be working towards something bigger. But having been in port and then on dry land, a few years passed and it became obvious that what we had ended up with wasn’t right for us. We had wandered back into a normal life with money and bills and security but we were painfully unhappy.
We spent a long time wondering if the other of us would be interested in a different kind of life, a back to basics farm with crops and animals and lots of ingenuity, something more permanent than those years spent idling the waterways. When we discovered that we were dreaming of the same thing, the basics lifestyle that we could sustain still seemed very hard to achieve.
Since then, the list of things we want to grow, make and build has increased each day, occasionally being prioritised and whittled in the hope of making it all seem more manageable. We began our search for a plot of land and discovered the beautiful Matarraña region in Northern Spain.
Our love of this corner of the world grew as we experienced the wonderful cuisine, friendly locals, stunning scenery and sleepy hilltop villages on offer. We’ve been working hard to create a place where we can live simply, keep animals and grow food for our family.
We’ve met others along the way who have transitioned from travelling to life off-grid. Friends and family seem to adjust better to the idea of a big adventure, life on the road seems exciting and they envision a time when you’ll return to do something a bit more normal. But life off-grid has a permanence that some relatives and friends find scary and some days I see their point. Working to pay the bills and grabbing everything you need from nearby shops is certainly easier than growing food (or trying to) and living hours from a decent supermarket. These days we repurpose everything, buy very little of the things I now consider frivolous (mostly clothes) and the things we spend our money on are essential for living or working in our off-grid space.
‘Normal’ life didn’t seem very easy when we were living it and since moving off-grid we’ve faced many challenges that make me believe that this ‘simple’ life is the harder of the two. But normal didn’t offer the kind of happiness, excitement and peace that we’ve found in our off-grid lifestyle. It didn’t offer the time we crave with each other or our children. It didn’t offer the joy of this endless countryside or the sense of achievement we get from getting basic things done.
Some days I miss ‘normal’, then I realise I’m missing something that never really worked for me. The happiness I’ve found in my day-to-day, myself and my family are things I doubt would have happened back in my old life. So we’ll continue with holes in our clothes and mud on our shoes, without the security that a wage and an easily paid rent bill provides. We’re happy and find excitement in the everyday experiences we’ve built. Our wallets are slimmer than they used to be but we’re richer than ever.