Turning dreams into memories: how life got even better in my 60s!

CONTENT WARNING: THIS IS NOT STRICTLY A TRAVEL BLOG POST!

Author: Mr A

Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia

I’m 65 today, and that’s a bit of a milestone I guess. Certainly enough of one for me to reflect back and take stock of the first half of my sixties. If you’re interested in our story of how we have spent those years, the events that drove us, the key decisions we made, and the risks we took, read on. I hope there’s something in our story that resonates with you, or sparks a thought or two about your own life choices.

I glanced at my Facebook Memories a few day ago, and as someone who tends to look forwards rather than backwards, that was unusual, but yes it’s a big birthday. Here’s what I saw “On this day…” and the story that goes with those memories.

Six years ago, in 2015, in the last year of my fifties, I see that we were at our home in Curl Curl, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and I clearly remember wondering what the rest of our lives looked like. I had been made redundant earlier that year, from an organisation that, at least in Australia, I felt had become toxic for me. So it was a relief to find myself cast adrift out of the blue, but it also posed a lot of questions for us. Catherine was still working and not really enjoying it, but we didn’t have enough in our pensions to support both of us. It wasn’t really working for either of us. I didn’t have my best friend with me in the day to enjoy this new found discretionary time with, and she would come home envious of any fun things I had done.

Why would you leave this to live in a caravan?

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I fast forward a year and five years ago I see we were in Singapore with old school friends who were on their way to Australia with us to celebrate my 60th. Catherine and I had just returned from a six week trip through France and Germany in a rented motorhome and agreed we had just had one of the best holidays ever. Yes it was pretty scary for me driving a big vehicle for the first time, with eyesight thats not the best, but we got through that with just a few hairy moments, and we dreamed of how we could do more of this type of travel. We had barely scratched the surface of Europe, but that motorhome rental had been so expensive, how could we ever afford it again? My mind was whirring.

Hiking in the Pyrenees
Some of our travels through the French Alps and Provence
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France

One other thought we took away from this trip though was how much we had loved having a toilet and shower to call our own. At this point we had never had that luxury on our Australian camping trips, heading off with a tent and a smile for many years, then finally🙈moving on to a camper trailer. So we started to research upgrading to a caravan. Our financial planner said yes, we could afford it. We had been pretty sensible with commission from a big sale I had made a few years ago. No fancy sports cars or expensive holidays, and our share portfolio had also kept growing, thanks to a conservative investment strategy. We were doing OK, but still one of us was going to need to work.

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So then, four years ago, we are the other side of Australia in Perth. Catherine had applied for extended leave, been refused, so we had bitten the bullet and she had resigned. We were both free of employment, and together. Off we headed for our first multi-month trip, having found a way to fund both of us not working. We had taken the plunge and rented our house out in Sydney, furnished.

We were now committed nomads, and had also just flown Princess Tassie-the-adventure-cat out to join us. Yes, we could now make our trips purrr-fect 🙂 It was a hard decision to let strangers into our beloved home, but it was the only way we could see of realising our dream to explore this country together, the three of us.

The route that brought us to this point in 2017
The Adventure-Cat flies 3,290km from Sydney to join us

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Then three years ago I see we were in Noosa, sitting on the back of a friend’s boat and talking about possibly making Noosa our Australian home base and cashing out of Sydney. We had done a couple of long laps around Australia, spending a lot of time in the outback, and knew by then that moving back into Sydney didn’t excite us, and we hadn’t seen anywhere we liked more than Noosa. We had also been back to our house and seen the damage to our furniture (a low point) and decided to put everything into storage, and rent unfurnished. Noosa was fabulous. But was it right for us? We weren’t really sure.

Wonderful times with friends in Noosa

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Two years ago I see that we were in Normandy, France, viewing the Bayeux Tapestry and travelling in our very own little motorhome! We had done the sums and could see that if we used it over multiple annual trips, then financially it made sense. The share market had continued to do well, and our financial planner was not overjoyed but gave us the thumbs up, with the proviso that after a couple of years we needed to decide where our life and vehicles were going to be based and consolidate. We had already travelled through ten countries over several months and were hooked on Europe, wondering how we could get to spend more time exploring this fascinating region and all it has to offer. OK, well mainly its wine! We were starting to wonder if anywhere in Australia held enough for us? Could we live in Provence? Or Italy? Or Slovenia? We were beginning to think that Europe beckoned.

Exploring Brittany and Normandy in France

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Last year at this time I see we were in Devon in the UK, being able to travel once again after three months of a lockdown that was to change our lives. We were cat sitting for friends,  and starting to articulate for the first time an idea of possibly making England our home once again. We had watched spring and summer come and go in a beautiful English village, and now autumn was knocking on the door with its distinctive smells and colours. We had seen weeks of blue skies through the glorious spring weather, survived two named storms stuck in our tiny motorhome on a cliff top in Wales in mid summer. Then watched my sister and brother in law have their new tent ripped to shreds by another named storm in August. We had seen the best and worst of what England’s unpredictable climate can throw at you. And yet, we still had fallen back in love with her. We hadn’t seen our families a great deal because of the travel restrictions, but just being on the same time zone made a huge difference to our relationships.

Adventures in Devon
Back to the loving arms of our family

Like so many people, we had always taken our international travel for granted, as long as we could afford to buy an airfare. But we saw Australia not only limiting those who wanted to return home, but also refusing to allow its citizens to leave, in case when they came back they would bring COVID-19 with them. The world had tilted. We could not guarantee that we could come and go as we pleased in the future. It was time to make a decision. The foot in both hemispheres phase had to come to an end.

Today, as I reflect back on these memories of the last six years and the life we have led, I am very happy. that we took the path we did. Yes, we have missed our friends with our nomadic existence, but have kept in touch with as many of them as our often remote locations allowed. Our travels have enabled us to see some extraordinary things. We have learnt so much, and I think, grown enormously with the experience.

What did this reflection on the last five years drive home for me? When my late father used to say to me “Memories are better than dreams son”, I didn’t know what he really meant. But four years ago when we started this blog, we chose to use that phrase as our tagline, because we realised the truth in what he had said. It is great to dream, but unless you convert those dreams to memories, they remain just dreams. There’s always a reason to not make those dreams happen. We could have stayed working longer to accumulate more money, and just kept dreaming of more travel. Thats what our accountant at the time advised us to do. The “you can never have enough” principal. I always told my daughters I’d own a Porsche, and we turned our back on that approach. We could have listened to friends who said “renters are going to trash your beautiful home”, and yes the first lot did. But it’s only stuff. Or to the many people who said we were crazy not to come back into our house last October when we returned to Australia. Instead we have continued the adventure while largely avoiding big towns and cities which were always going to be hotspots for the virus, and taken the roads less travelled. We have been lucky that the share market has continued to rise through the pandemic, and I’m not sure I will ever understand that. I know going back in October to the gorgeous house and garden we had left is going to be hard, but that’s the choice we made.

It certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing when you commit to living without a permanent home to retreat to when things get tough. Falling ill with food poisoning for instance, makes you appreciate the value of connected plumbing! Throw a pandemic into the mix and things have got pretty scary sometimes. To be given an hour’s notice in England that caravans parks were closing as part of a lockdown, and we had nowhere else to go. That was stressful indeed. We were offered a rental, and were told we would be OK there for the duration, but then a few weeks later told we had one working day to find a new place to live.

But without that adversity we wouldn’t have found our little haven in Somerset where we fell back in love with England. Remote travel in Australia this year has also had its moments; like breaking down in one of the most remote locations at the centre of three deserts. Sometimes we have looked forward to a less exciting life!

Being carted off the Birdsville Track after a bolt on our water tanks sheered off!

But we wouldn’t change a single big decision we have made. We feel we have taken advantage of the situation we found ourselves in, where work opportunities here in Australia have been so rewarding for both of us. I certainly took some risks, moving out of my comfort zone in the human resource consulting business to a whole new field of sales. I suffered from imposter syndrome most of that time, but somehow managed still do OK. Without Catherine’s belief in me, that would never have happened. Spending 24×7 with me in a confined space of a caravan or a motorhome for most of the last four years, must have been an absolute delight (cough) for her, but somehow it has worked, and that trademark smile of hers has rarely been absent. Thank you Mrs A for making these the best years of my life (so far!). I know the next five are going to be exciting in a totally different way.

Bring it on!

A 65th birthday morning paddle on the Noosa River in Queensland