Full Time Caravanner Stories

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My husband, Des, and I read Ken and Lynn Finlay’s communications with great interest, as we had badly wanted to go full-timing. We have been caravanning for more than 20 years, spending our holidays at the coast either in Natal or the Cape. Our rig consists of a Fortuner diesel auto and a Jurgens Palma.

To make sure that this was what we really wanted, we decided on a month-long excursion in 2011: Kruger, from top to bottom; Mpumalanga, and Limpopo – as well as the Natal north coast. What a revelation! We decided against selling up and riding into the sunset with just our caravan behind us, and these are the reasons:

Pop-top caravans aren’t comfortable in cold, wet conditions. The caravan itself is not well-insulated and you feel cold when it’s cold outside, whether you have a heater on or not. One or two days of cold, wet weather is not a problem; but we had more than two weeks of bad weather and it did get us down. The caravan gets smaller and more cramped the longer the stay, and, even though sharing ablutions is not normally a problem, in cold weather an ablution block is freezing. Bear in mind that we deliberately visited the warmer parts of SA during our trip, knowing that the weather is cold in most parts of the country.

The monkeys were a problem at most of the campsites we visited. This resulted in our not opening our windows and curtains very often, which led to us living in a darkish environment - quite depressing - particularly when it’s overcast and rainy outside.

I sound like a moaning-minny, and many might say, ‘Why bother caravanning at all, if that’s the way you feel?’ Well, the above problems are not the main issue here, although they should be seriously considered. We would do a tour like that again if the opportunity arose – we had a lot of fun along the way and did enjoy ourselves.

My husband finally retired in June last year. What excitement; we were free! We put our house on the market as we’d decided to downsize to a much smaller abode in a security complex with low levies - a unit in Mosselbay which we rented out until our retirement had been realised and we had sold our home in Heidelberg, Gauteng.

After retiring, and while waiting for our house to be sold, we planned a three-week getaway to Rocky Bay – an old haunt of ours for many years and also part of our dream of one day joining the swallows in their three-month escape from the cold weather up-country.

A week before we were to leave for Rocky Bay, Des had a full medical for insurance purposes – he wanted to take out a life policy to cover the bond on our new home until the house in Gauteng was sold, just in case something happened to him and I was left with a bond to pay on a second property.

Well, a call from the doctor on a Friday evening can’t spell good news. He’d made an appointment for Des with the kidney specialist for the following Monday as he wasn’t happy with the results of some of the tests taken for the medical. On the Monday, the specialist told us to go on holiday and enjoy it. He was concerned about the results and did one or two further tests which he would discuss with us when we returned.

What fun we had. Three weeks of sun, sea and sand, and the thought of not returning to work, and, oh-so-many plans for our future. We booked for a two-month stay for May and June 2014. After our return to Gauteng, we got the specialist’s report. Des had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of bone-marrow cancer, incurable, but fortunately manageable.

We travelled home in stunned silence.
On our arrival, the estate agent phoned to say she had an offer for our house! Decisions, decisions. Should we stay or should we move? Should Des go on chemo treatment now or after the move? How would we manage without a support system in a new city? Far more questions than answers.

We decided to move as soon as possible and, upon consultation with the oncologist, delayed starting the treatment until after the move. When Des started treatment at the beginning of December, and then had a heart attack eleven days into the chemo. He has recovered remarkably well since, thanks to an excellent cardiologist and hospital here in Mossel Bay, as well as very caring neighbours. He re-started chemo in January, and has the good and bad days so familiar to all who have had to go through chemo.

It’s now March, and close to the long-awaited Swallow holiday. To be sure that we could manage, we packed up the caravan and spent a week at Jongensfontein Caravan Park, a mere one-and-a-half hours away. We loved it, and managed quite well. Des has shown me how to do some of the not-too-heavy stuff, to help him tow and set up camp within his capabilities, as he is quite weak and tires easily. We were delighted that we’d managed, and have decided to take to the road around the middle of April and, travelling no more than three or four hours a day, make our way slowly up to Heidelberg. There we will once again visit old friends, and then carry on to Rocky Bay for the long-awaited holiday. When we return in June, we will be planning our next excursion to Namaqualand to see the blommetjies during August and September, and, after that... who knows? With the caravan behind us and the sun in front of us, we are truly blessed. Having read the Finlay’s second article in the April Caravan magazine and Robin Joffe’s letter, we have decided to write about our own experience. Had we decided to go full-timing and sold everything, we would have been very sorry and would have incurred great expense in setting up home again during a very stressful time.

Our advice is to have an uitdroog plekkie, a small lock-up-and-go house in a safe area with low levies. A place where you can go to unpack and repack your caravan; and if you feel like staying at home for a couple of months, you can. Should illness strike unexpectedly, you’re already set up to cope with it. They have a very apt saying in Afrikaans for the over-sixties, ‘Ou boet, hulle kap nou hout in ons woud!’ We are in the age group where health problems can and do occur, and we should therefore take the necessary precautions and have a contingency plan.

We are very happy in Mossel Bay. We stay in a low-crime area in a complex situated 700 m from the Mossel Bay Mall and 3 km from Bayview Hospital. Our levies are R114 per month; the complex borders on a well-known retirement village to the left and there is a low-density eco-estate in front of us, where there is wild-life, fynbos and prolific bird-life. The obvious consideration is always cost. With that in mind, we bought a 133 m² home built on a split level consisting of two-and-a-half bedrooms and a 45 m² flat underneath.

Should Des be up to it, and should we like to full-time for a while, we could always rent out the house, move into the flat and use that as our uitdroog plekkie. Mossel Bay is known as the most pensioner-friendly city. It has three blue-flag beaches, numerous caravan parks and many pensioner discounts on various days of the week. There is a wide range of caravan parks within a two-hour radius of Mossel bay for that quick, convenient getaway during the year.

We are looking forward to our (first) two-month tour/excursion and hope and pray that it will be the first of many!
- Sheila Wrigley

This was published in Caravan & Outdoor Life Magazine.
If you would like to contact Sheila, please contact us.