Spain & Portugal: What did a two months campervan trip cost?

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The river Tormes in Salamanca

We loved touring around Spain and Portugal and highly recommend it.  If you’re planning your own trip to these or many other European countries these costs might be a useful guide, although WARNING – everyone’s trip is their own and everyone’s spending is different.  We are not uber-frugal campers and anyone could do this trip cheaper [even we could if we tried] but this is our trip, it isn’t all about money and we set out to enjoy it in our own way.  So below are a few notes on our spending.

  1. Of the 66 nights we were away only seven of these were spent free-camping, the rest of the time we were on campsites [although we stayed on low-cost camperstops and ACSI sites].
  2. In Portugal we had coffee and cake in a cafe almost everyday because it is cheap enough and the cakes are fantastic [hence the €434 spent in cafes] but we are vegetarian and so had very few evening meals out in restaurants as Portugal isn’t always ready for vegetarians.
  3. We did drink wine or beer every night but we did try some very cheap [and very good] red wine [the lowest we tried was 1.89].
  4. As you can see, we paid to get in to some attractions as we travelled, budget travellers could skip these.
  5. Other spending includes an occasional washing machine, presents for loved ones at home, bike spares, some clothes and a few household replacement items.
  • Diesel – €523
  • Food [supermarkets etc] – €864
  • Cafes & restaurants – €434
  • Campsites – €931
  • Bus fares, taxis etc – €48
  • Entrance fees to attractions – €174
  • Other spending – €146
  • TOTAL SPENDING – €3,120

Interestingly, this amount is more or less the same as we would have spent had we stayed at home [and while away we’ve not been using gas, electric or water in the flat] so the only additional cost to our normal spending has been the ferry.  Portsmouth to Bilbao is an expensive route at £730 but it does take you straight to Spain and I feel that this amount represents better value when spread out over a two month trip.

We have been generous with our budget and expected higher spending than this on our trips away so our annual spending for our first year of retirement is still looking good at the moment despite additional spending following the incident.

 

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Trying to do some good in retirement

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A pretty dish of flowers in a Greek monastery

One of my aims for retirement was to be helpful and do some good.  It is now over six months since I packed up my work laptop and phone and gave up my salary and it seemed a good time to review how I have got on with this aim.  Although I never think I have done enough and know that I could almost certainly do more if I wasn’t so busy enjoying myself, I have done a few helpful things.  Below is a flavour of how the retired can still be useful members of society:

  • We have spent a couple of days working in the garden for our son and daughter-in-law [not sure if this really counts as a good deed as we would do anything for these two]
  • I spent an afternoon helping a neighbour organising her work files on her laptop
  • I am the volunteer Treasurer for DIY Theatre Company, an established company of learning disabled performers and I provide support to the Artistic Director
  • I voluntarily take the minutes for the Board of Directors that runs the development we live in
  • I visit an elderly house-bound neighbour and have helped her with online shopping
  • We helped another neighbour clear his storage unit and fitted some furniture in to our van and took them to the auction rooms for him
  • We have collected litter locally to try and keep the streets a little tidier

It certainly feels good to have the time to do all these things but I think I could try harder.

 

Doing just one thing a day in our frugal retirement

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The Stretford End is usually packed for a match!

Now we are both here we are finding this retirement life pretty good.  As with our pre-retirement life, we are continuing to live frugally [that is within budget], stay active, get out and engage with the world and generally enjoy our lives.  We are also trying to remain relaxed and content by adopting a strategy of doing just one thing a day.  So far we have slipped in to doing two things just occasionally but the policy mostly applies.  Below is a list of our activities and spending on additional activities in the last week:

Day one – We attended a political meeting [free].

Day two – We bought day passes for the bus [£4.50 each] and went for a countryside walk.

Day three – We got free tickets for a play through the wonderful Show Film First and we went to the matinee because we can, walking there and back.

Day four – We walked in to Manchester to spend a book token Mr BOTRA had received for his birthday.  While we were choosing books, the book shop had a fire alarm and we went for a drink while we waited for it to re-open [£3.30].

Day five – We joined a shared lunch with friends and drinks for a friend’s birthday in Manchester in the evening [two things]!  [Public transport £13.20, drinks £23.60].

Day six – A guided visit to the interior of the lovely Ordsall Hall [£3 each]

Day seven – We went to see the Manchester United Reserves under 23 team play against Tottenham Hotspur.  Entrance is free and the crowd of a few hundred [the capacity of Old Trafford is over 75,000] watched Manchester United win 3-2.  We resisted the temptation to buy any of the over-priced refreshments.

So we spent a total of £55.10 [less than £8/day] on getting out and about this last week, this might be slightly unusual as we don’t celebrate birthdays every week [but we really enjoyed going out to the pub] and this amount is well within budget and has been so much fun.  We have learnt more about our local area, met some people with shared political views, enjoyed some culture and sport and kept very active.  Roll on more weeks of retirement!

 

 

Wales: surprising and delightful

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The Gladstone Library in Hawarden

Finding an unexpected gem is one of the lovely things about travelling and it can happen even near to home.  The Gladstone Library in Hawarden just over the Welsh border beyond Chester was one of those moments.  We were walking through the beautiful Hawarden countryside, watching early butterflies on the verges and stopping to examine the first signs of Spring.  In the village we sought out a tea shop for refreshments and found much more.  The grand stone 19th century building in the photograph is The Gladstone Library.  This building holds over 150,000 items in its library and has a reading room where many writers have toiled.  The magnificent building also runs a variety of residential events and courses; you can learn languages or brush up on your local history or theology.  Alongside this, anyone can pop in and enjoy the atmosphere and comfort of the building as visitors to the tea room, and sitting in the elegant dining room with excellent afternoon tea and a view over the well-tended gardens is hard to beat.

It became a weekend of memorable cafe stops, as the one we found the next day made a good attempt to rival the Gladstone Library.  Having stayed near to Llanrwst we walked in more sunshine to Grey Mares Tale waterfall and through the woodland and old mine workings emerging over the hill to a panoramic view of the Snowdonia hills across the trees.   We stopped for a picnic lunch at Llyn Geirionydd, watching red kites soar across the blue sky.  At the remote Llyn Grafnant you wouldn’t expect to find any facilities but here we stumbled upon another fantastic Welsh cafe on the banks of the lake.  The cafe was being run by two people who sparred in an amiable fashion over the cakes and teapots in the converted Welsh stone barn, entertaining us as we chose which cakes to try.  We sat on a bench in the garden with home-made cake on china plates, lazily watching kayaks on the lake and making friends with the ginger tom cat that stopped by, it was blissful.

It seems that even places just an hour or so from home are still waiting to be explored.  It is just as well we are retired and have the chance to find more hidden gems.

 

 

 

Recognising the pattern of our day will be different in retirement

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For as long as I can remember Mr BOTRA and I have generally spent the first half an hour or so after work in what I think of as our evening debrief.  Once we are both home from work we will put the kettle on for that essential pot of tea and then sit down and share our news from the day or talk through something we need to sort out.  We might chew over a tough problem, making use of the each others insights to find a solution, we might share something we have learnt or blow off steam about something annoying.  This dedicated time has always given us chance to catch up with each other, transition from work to home and it allows us to then leave work behind for the evening.

When the weather is warm enough we will take our mugs of tea outside and sit in the garden for this debrief.  As our garden is now a shared space this can sometimes mean that we meet neighbours and catch up with them too.  Our garden is in a sheltered quadrangle and has benches that catch the evening sun making it a perfect spot to relax at the end of the day.

When it is cooler or wet we will stay in the flat and sit on the sofa, hands hugging our hot tea gratefully after cycling or walking from work.  There will be no radio or TV on and we just focus on talking to each other for a short while.

Retirement will mean we will mostly be together during the day and this will change the pattern of our days.  The daily debrief will become redundant and I know that I will miss that time.  Will we need to build in dedicated time during the day for talking through ideas and issues or, will our relaxed and retired selves find time to chat to each other naturally throughout the day?  We shall see.

Happy in Arnside whatever the weather

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Looking towards Grange-over-Sands from Arnside Knott

Very soon we won’t be constrained by the weekend for our camping trips, we will be able to take off as soon as the sun peeps through and come home when it is damp and cold.  And yet, we do appreciate the variety of weather and seasons we get in the UK and perhaps we will still purposefully take some rainy trips out in the campervan.  We are just back from a few days in Silverdale and Arnside, one of England’s most beautiful areas whatever the weather.  The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has everything for a perfect holiday; atmospheric woodland, quiet bays, good tea shops, lots of wildlife and good campsites.  We climbed up Arnside Knott, which is criss-crossed with footpaths and looked down on the river Kent and a moody and magnificent Morecambe Bay from the top.  After a cafe stop in Arnside we explored the chasm of Middlebarrow Quarry, a huge disused quarry, and walked through the lovely Eaves Wood back to the campsite.

Returning to the ‘van we put our feet up with a brew and read the paper, leaving the big sliding door open as it had stopped raining and the weather was fairly mild.  We were joined by this gorgeous ginger tom with kitten soft fur and deep amber eyes.  He came in cautiously at first but after exploring all the corners of the’van curled up on my lap and purred loudly.  In the ‘van with a brew, the paper and a purring cat – I was in heaven!

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A furry visitor joined us in the ‘van

 

Writing into retirement

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I am now ten weeks in to retirement [and still smiling] and very soon my retirement will be our retirement when Mr BOTRA joins me.  I am looking forward to a shared retirement and with warmer weather and opportunities to get out and about much more I have been thinking hard about my writing life and in particular how often I post on my Back On The Road Again blog.  Last year I set myself the goal of publishing posts twice a week as I built up the blog.  I have mostly achieved this with occasional failures [for which I beat myself up about of course].  In addition, over the last year I have written a travel article at least once a month and submitted shorter articles and campsite reviews and I have tried to keep on top of my Memorial Bench Stories blog.  In the last twelve months I have worked at practicing my writing at least five days a week in an effort to improve my writing and create some discipline and structure to what I do.

Despite all this practicing I have never really managed to become a fast producer of words and my craft is slow.  I spend hours editing even a short 400 word article, reading and re-reading to find just the right words and put them in what I think is the best order.  In addition, for every piece of writing you see there are hours of background research.  I really enjoy this aspect of writing as it feels like studying and learning and reminds me of those happy days as a student.  It doesn’t matter that much of what I learn never makes it on to the page.

During the last year my Back On The Road Again blog has taken up lots of my energy at the expense of my Memorial Bench Stories blog, never mind other new ideas I have in my head.  Although I feel proud to tell people I am a travel writer, I have other aims and plans for retirement and I want to leave time for study and reflection.  And so I feel it is now the moment for blogging to take up a little less of my time.  Although I intend to continue to make time to write almost every day during the next year, some of this writing may be just for me and may even involve pen and paper rather than a keyboard.  The retirement of Mr BOTRA represents real retirement and I feel ready to now really shift gear as I move in to my new retired life.

My revised goal is to publish a blog post here at least once a week.  This new ‘regime’ [I am in no way pretending this is a tough target] might give me time to write other blogs, space to complete around six travel articles a year and continue writing a few short articles.  This will also give me time to travel, to exercise, to find out new and interesting facts and just be.  It should also give me space for new and exciting projects [some of which I haven’t even had time to dream up yet].  So here we go!