From Overworked to Living Free

Join me on my dream of being able to work on my own terms whilst travelling in my van around Europe

Debs Thorpe

5/20/20249 min read

Come and join me on my #vanlife adventure in Europe...

It was the culmination of so many days spent dreaming of a time when I would have the freedom to hit the road, exploring new places, meeting new people and working in a way that aligns with that.

For so many years my life couldn't have been further from that reality. Starting my own business at 24 years old was me trying to build a life towards that freedom, after all, that's what being an entrepreneur is about, right?

But somehow, before I really understood what was going on, I was living a life that was very full, very busy and helping a lot of people, but was far cry from the freedom I day dreamed about often.

So how did I go from overworking on average 100 hours a week in a physical business that meant I had to be in the same place each day, to living out of my van for 7 weeks with my two dogs?

Well I think it started more with no longer denying reality rather than leaning into the dream...

Freedom has always been a core value of mine as well as experiences. I am the person who is far more likely to buy someone a day out than a new handbag. I am also the person who left a perfectly stable job at Exeter University to start my own business.

I am also the person that endured the polar opposite of those two core values for years in the belief that the sacrifice would ‘get me there’.

Maybe in a different lifetime, with a different ‘me’, it would have done. In fact, what it led me to was burnout.

It’s funny how we can uphold a value so strongly and yet the reality of our life look so different.

Part of my healing journey from burnout was radical honesty, and that meant I could no longer pretend it was working. I had to start creating the life that I wanted here and now, not at some imaginary point in the future.

So as I began to really tune into freedom, it became clear that, for me, that meant the ability to work whenever and wherever. At the time of realising this, my life couldn’t have been further from this working from a physical building and in person. However, making that decision started a succession of events that I could never have dreamed would lead to the realisation of many deeply held desires…(you'll find out more at the end of this post)

Sitting in the afternoon Tuscan sunshine, my two dogs at my feet, David relaxing in his ‘penthouse roof tent’, pen and notebook in hand listening to the birds filling the haze with song as a dog from the next farm pipes in every now and again, I pinch myself that I’m here. That after 12 years of being bound to a building in order to work and earn money, I am finally living free on the road in my van seeing clients from my laptop.

On 29th February 2024, I left the shores of the U.K. with my two dogs to embark on our first ever trip outside of the U.K. in the van. After months and months of planning and prepping, the day had finally arrived and I was pumped!

For as much as I LOVE staying in the van, we had only ever done weekends away in the U.K. and let’s just say David wasn’t as keen as I was at the thought of spending six weeks in a VW T5 that you can’t stand up in.

I, however, was undeterred. I wanted to travel and work in the van, and this was the van we had so I was prepared to make it work 👍

I am so very thankful for the people in Facebook groups and blog posts who so generously share their knowledge and experience, which means I was super prepared for the whole trip (I’m compiling a list of all my useful info to provide a guide for you too).

As is something of a theme with big decisions in my life, they tend to happen at natural reflection points throughout the year. Like the start and end of the year and half way through. It was around July 2023 when I really started seriously considering taking off and travelling in the van for a few weeks. This coincided with me building a therapy business online, which by this point was becoming stable enough for me to have a reliable income.

A few different factors influenced the final set off date of 29th February 2024:

-I needed time to prep, organise and ensure I had everything I needed

-Even though I closed down my physical company, I was still dealing with lots of things relating to that and so I needed time physically in the building whilst that happened

-I knew I would struggle to live in the van during the Summer months with no a/c and the Winter was a no-go with regards to the seasonal opening of campsites (and not great weather)

-I signed up for the Rome marathon which was due to take place on 17th March 2024, so that gave me a place and time to work everything else around it

So the end of February was the first moment I could leave the U.K. and have access to the first opening of many campsites.

Many, many hours were spent researching the route, campsites and duration.

I knew I couldn't just 'hit the road' and see where it took me because 1) I had the dogs and not every campsite accepts them and 2) I still needed to work and so I had to have a stable internet connection (as well as hot showers!).

What started out as a solo adventure, did evolve somewhat as the planning progressed.

It had been a pretty tough year for both myself and David and he needed a break away as much as I did. Originally the plan was that I would do the first three weeks on my own and he would fly out to Italy and join me for the remaining time. However, it quickly became him joining me earlier by flying into Geneva and us carrying on the trip together from there.

My parents had also never visited Italy, and I thought the Rome Marathon was the perfect opportunity for them to come and experience this amazing country. So I arranged for them to fly into Rome where they they continued on the rest of the trip with us (staying in B&B's and Agriturismo's), before flying home a couple of weeks before we drove back.

I'm currently working on an eBook filled with all of the details and day-to-day experience of my first European van life adventure so I won't go into that too much here (sign up here to get exclusive snippets and be the first to know when it's released).

You can also check out my Instagram for more info :)

But I thought it would be nice to sum up my key lessons and learnings in this blog post.

  1. Make the decision

I talk a lot about the power of decisions and giving ourself permission (check out my podcast episode all about it here) because everything changes when we truly decide something. At the time of deciding to go on this adventure, I didn't know how it would be possible, but I made the decision anyway.

It is so true that once the decision is made (and I mean you really commit and embody the decision), the 'how' begins to open up. In my case, I found Facebook groups and blogs providing lots of useful info. I continued to build a strong and consistent client base as well as ensuring all of my affairs were in order at home.

  1. Surround yourself with your desire

For the best part of eight months, every spare moment was spent researching the trip or watching videos on YouTube of the places I was going to visit. I immersed myself in the experience to the extent where it felt totally normal to me. It took me by surprise when people’s response to finding out I was embarking on this trip was one of shock, like they could never imagine doing such a thing, especially beginning the trip on my own. Of course, I was facing many 'firsts' and that included lots of unknowns, but I was also surrounding myself with enough information to feel more than prepared enough as well as trusting my own self to figure things out.

  1. Choose courage

If we imagine our different emotional states as characters, I genuinely love courage. I imagine her to be the gentle, humble, calm warrior who is well equipped for any situation, but who also exudes this inner confidence. She doesn't need to be loud or in your face. She is the one you find alongside you in those pivotal moments, only visible if you actually turn around enough to see her.

I lived much of the first half of 2023 in an extreme stress and fear response that I couldn't get out of. I couldn't have been further away from courage or peace or compassion.

But, there was something about making the decision to go on this adventure, that made me change my gaze and I found courage again. Whenever fear or nervousness showed up, I could turn to my side and there was courage, providing this almost indescribable still presence that reminded me, that even though there might be lots of unknowns and challenges ahead, I had the strength to keep moving forward, and that's exactly what I did.

  1. Choose your story carefully

Embarking on my own WholeHearted Journey these past few years has taught me many things, one of them being that the stories we tell ourselves inform a huge part of our experience and reality. And here's the kicker, they very often don't even help or serve us, especially when it comes to our dreams and desires. We have to learn to take back control of our thoughts and direct our inner experience.

For example, a week before I was due to leave, my dog Dexter developed a limp. I took him to the vets where they gave him a thorough examination and x-rays, and couldn't find anything wrong. His carpal hyperextension was likely a result of jumping and landing funny and would eventually heal on its own. I was now faced with a dog that couldn't walk for a few weeks and a trip that involved lots of exploring. Rather than get caught up in what this meant and what the Universe was trying to teach me, I ordered a dog backpack off Amazon and saw the opportunity of carrying a 16kg dog on my back as good leg strength training for the upcoming marathon :)

Life happens, things don't go to plan, accidents happen. We get to choose our reponse and the story we tell ourself about what it means. Choose your story carefully.

P.s. I lost count of the amount of people who came up to me whilst I was carrying Dexter, I think I was something of a novelty :) And he seemed to enjoy it too...

And lastly for now, I want to leave you with something you'll hear me say often...

We have this one short precious life, it's happening right now in this moment. Don't waste a moment of it being someone you're not or living a life any less than you truly desire it to be. I speak this from my own experience, and that of supporting many clients over the years, there's no medal for the amount you suffered or endured at the end of this. So please don't put yourself at the bottom of the pile of life. You are worth the journey of reconnecting to your true authentic self and creating an amazing life from that place.

Oh and to follow up with how the decision to embark on this adventure led to the realisation of many deeply held desires..?

Here is a photo of me and Bailey picking up the keys to our very own place in Italy! And that leads onto a whole other adventure that I'll write about very soon! :)

Debs x

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