It started five years ago when we waved our youngest son off to university.
You could call it Empty Nest Syndrome – our three boys were grown up and thriving, and my husband James and I were left wondering, ‘What’s next for us?’
Our job as parents was done and we began to think about celebrating this new phase in our lives – and our marriage – by doing something we had always wanted to do: we wanted to fly the nest too.
We’ve always loved travelling, and our whole lives we’ve been saving for the next big trip. We spent years doing up our old house, because we were always using our money for holidays with the boys, rather than the fixtures and fittings we needed.
Now the boys were grown up, we didn’t want to just slip into our old age wearing our slippers by the fireside – we decided we should fly away to somewhere tropical and live in flip-flops instead. We began to plan to up sticks and travel long term.
We didn’t have a big bank balance, so this meant selling practically everything we owned: house, car, furniture, my husband’s heating business and his van and tools.
We lived in a small cottage in rural Dumfries and Galloway, and it was hard to let go of a place so full of memories.
I’d spent years as a housewife, happily bringing up our family and self-publishing my romantic adventure books in my spare time – now it was time for our own romantic adventure. At first it was hard to be parted from the things I’d once saved up for and valued.
But the house took a year to sell and over that time we became more and more ambitious about what we wanted to do. By the time everything was sold, I was ready and excited to go, and felt strangely liberated without our old stuff.
The plan was not to have a plan. That way our adventures would feel like a natural journey, and we could alter our course as we wished, getting tips from locals and tourists along the way.
Our first stop was a tiny Caribbean island called Utila, home to the world’s second largest reef. James is a keen scuba diver and was soon volunteering with a marine conservation project.
We both realised straight away we’d made the right decision – every day is exciting and we both have time for our passions: James does a lot of diving, I write my books or travel articles for magazines.
We soon settled into our new lives on the road, choosing to stay in a location for a few months so we’d really get to know what it’s like. We live modestly, matching our expenses with our small income from writing and diving, and only using our bank savings to pay for travel costs. The countries we visit are often a lot less expensive places to live in than the UK, so money goes further.
When we first left, it seemed impossible to cram my life into a backpack. When we set out, my bag was so heavy I could barely pick it up – now it weighs just 15kg. I used to be a shoeaholic, now I have a pair of old trainers and some flip-flops. I don’t miss material things or having a wardrobe full of clothes – what I have to replace all that is far more exciting and precious.
Five years on, we’ve visited 55 countries. We’ve now been right around the whole world twice! The first time we circumnavigated the Earth it took us several years, but the second took us a little over six months.
Some of my highlights have been helping out with orangutans in Borneo, working on a green turtle conservation project on an island off Malaysia, and swimming with dolphins, pilot whales and a whale shark.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe how beautiful the places we visit are, like the British Virgin Islands, where we sailed off in a wooden sailing boat that had been used in the filming of the original Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, before exploring white sand beaches and lush green tropical rain forests.
Of course, we miss the kids, but we speak to them most days. We FaceTime, send video, voice messages and endless pictures of our adventures. A couple of times they’ve come out to meet us, and we go back to the UK from time to time. They’re proud of us for living our dreams. I don’t get homesick because we don’t have a home any more, so where would I be pining for?
We’ve had all sorts of adventures. Like the time we climbed seven waterfalls, each one getting steeper. It didn’t occur to me until we reached the top that there wasn’t a route down – the water had carved natural flumes out of the rocks and the guide showed us how to slide down from top to bottom. I was petrified, but by the time I got to the bottom I felt exhilarated and more alive than I’ve ever done.
There are some things I miss, like British sausages and French cheeses, but I love tasting exotic foods from around the world. Right now, we’re in the Caribbean, renting a little wooden house shaded by a big mango tree that’s not far away from a white-sand beach.
Fresh supplies are brought in on Tuesdays and Fridays, but the food choices are limited for the rest of the week – tropical fruits from the trees, or fish fresh from the sea. Sometimes my son will send a snap of a casserole and I’ll be drooling.
I post lots about our travels on my website and Instagram , and last year I was contacted by a book editor who said she’d been following my adventures and wanted me to write a novel inspired by our travels.
I was over the moon. In order for me to concentrate on writing, we took a six-month assignment in south-west France looking after a beautiful 500-year-old chateau and a cat called Mr Smudge.
Since we left Scotland, I’ve never looked back. A life of continuous travel may not be for everyone, but I do think we should all try to live our dreams and to not slide into a sedentary retirement.
We’ve met lots of couples doing empty-nest travelling and it seems like it’s becoming more popular – it isn’t just for gap year youngsters any more. People message me on social media and tell me I’ve inspired them to travel and to seize the day, and that makes me so happy.
We sold everything we own to live this life, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
IN JANICE’S BACKPACK…
● A nice-ish dress in case we go out for dinner
● 3 vest tops and a couple of T-shirts
● 2 pairs of shorts
● A couple of sundresses
● 1 sarong
● A couple of bikinis and some underwear
● A laptop and my Kindle, so I can read plenty
● A few miniature toiletries
● Coconut oil, which I use for everything, from keeping the flies away to conditioning my hair
- The Backpacking Housewife by Janice Horton (Harper Impulse) is out now. You can read more about Janice’s adventures on her website, Thebackpackinghousewife.com