Six months of travel in pictures

James and I left our home back in May. We had fun saying good bye to friends and family.

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First stop was the Bulgarian countryside.

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We helped on a campsite, enjoyed the sun and went rock climbing. It was amazing.

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We left for Romania in July and headed to help in a hostel and a restaurant on the beach.

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We had a lot of fun with new friends. On our last day we saw dolphins swimming in the water right in front of us. Just a couple of meters away. I was too excited to take a photo.

From the Romania beach we went to Austria.

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Our first stop was looking after a house in the north before visiting family further south. We are currently in Ljubljana, Slovenia and plan to head back up to Austria in the morning.

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Ljubljana is a very nice small city with a mix of the very old and the very new. The people seem to love dragons, bridges and food. The lack of traffic in the old part of town makes it perfect for sitting outside and enjoying great food. I would like to do some major shopping and cake eating here one day. The people are all very friendly.

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I’m not sure when we will next have WiFi so you might have to wait a while for snowy mountain shots and Christmas merriment.

If you want to know more about our travels please check out our earlier posts.

Food and Me

I wasn’t a fussy eater not even as a child. If I ate at a friends house people would tell my parents that I was easy to feed. That I ate whatever I was given without fuss
( as long as it wasn’t fish because of my serious fish allergy).
However since getting fat, during my university years and having two lots of major knee surgery, I started to look at my body and question what I ate and drank. My boyfriend, James, was also questioning his health and stopped smoking. He became interested in fuelling his body for sport and going to the gym.

During my university years I would cook processed/ convenience foods for James and I, and we’d get takeaways too often.
Or I’d cook good food from scratch but serve up massive platefuls.
I drank too much red wine to combat stress and aid sleep. I also consumed a lot of chocolate, sweets and sugary drinks. All this along with almost no exercise took me from a (UK) size 8 to a size 14. I wasn’t getting much exercise because my knees were being reconstructed for better stability . My only saving grace was my dog Ben. I walked him as often as I could. A couple of months into the recovery of my first operation I often took him out at 5 am. I would be on my crutches with a full leg pot and he would walk to the park, as good as gold, with no lead. He was a very responsive and well behaved dog but I wouldn’t take risk with cars and other dogs so 5 am was best.

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(Photo of me and Ben 2004 possibly)

Basically by the time both my knees had been corrected I was over 11 stone and had to train myself to walk with out looking at the floor constantly. This is a good point to leave the story of my knees, for later and to get back to my fussy eating habits.

It was James who first looked at our diet in-terms of nutrition, health and fitness. We read magazines and started to change what products we bought at the supermarket. As my knees grew stronger we would both go to the gym, go for bike rides and walk further with Ben

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(Austria 2008 me and James )

I went back to my childhood passion of riding horses and James enjoyed triathlons. He even stopped drinking alcohol. We where getting healthy and fit together. After a 2008 holiday in Austria with my lovely Austrian relations I had loads of photos of me that I hated. My bum was massive and I was ashamed of my extra chin and fat belly. But it wasn’t until 2009 that I started to seriously look at my weight and said that I wanted to get serious at the gym and go to weight watchers with my friend Jayne.

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(Image found on Instagram)

I wasn’t sure how supportive James would be but I was very lucky and he was very supportive of my dieting. Up until then James has simply said if you want to eat the amounts and the things you like you need to do more. Eat more, do more was working for him but not for me as I was still working on my knees and basic fitness. His support and unquestioning respect of what foods I bought and cooked for us was a massive help. He also taught me to run. By May 2010 I was back to a size 8 ( I’m only 5 ft 1) and happy running a slow 10k every few weeks for a local charity.

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( Winter running 2010)

At one point during my early healthy eating days ( 2006) I would feel sick and get terrible pains if I didn’t eat a small amount of food every 3 hours. This my doctor told me was due to overactive stomach acids. His advice was to be careful not too eat too many calories but to control it with food so as to avoid taking drugs. Once my stomach got a bit smaller, through my little and often diet, my stomach acids seem to settle for longer. In 2008 I struggled with big meals, rich fatty meat and creamy cakes in Austria. I was physically sick a couple of times. (Whilst in Graz last month I was very careful not to make mistakes when eating out. )

Also in 2010 my whole digestive system was emptied by an Egyptian tummy bug. This actually seemed to reset things and my stomach acids where almost settled until stress and depression affected me in 2011 and 2012.

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(Happy in Egypt in May 2010)

I still find that if I go too long ( over 5 hours) between meals I get serious hunger pains and can feel very sick and week. My blood sugar seems to alter ( uneducated guess) and my head will hurt as a warning to stop and refuel. I have learned to recognise the signs and listen to my body.

I worked out, with some help from my doctor, in 2011 that I was intolerant of milk, white bread and fatty foods. Bloating is the only outward sign of my intolerance but internally I can be in a lot of pain and can’t stray too far from a toilet. Before I narrowed the problem down I constantly felt very uncomfortable and often had terrible cramps.

Since them my weight has wobbled and at one point early this year (2013) I was over 10 stone ( size 12) but my knowledge and interest in what we eat had grown too . I had let work and stress effect my eating habits and exercise levels but what we ate was still important to me.

I have a good understanding of how to lose weight in a way that suits me but really want to know more of the science and nutrition elements. I want to be slim, toned and super healthy.

Most of you, by now, know that we left our normal lives and boring jobs back in May 2013 but you might not know how chubby we had got or how we are actually managing to travel.

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( James working on a new veg patch for our Workaway host 2013)

Basically we are using a great site called Workaway.info to arrange free accommodation with food included in return for a few hours of work a day. What this means is my food supply is out of my control when the travelling model is working as it should. This makes controlling weight loss, nutrition and my bodies intolerances much harder.
Today, at breadfast, I had to avoid the bread as it was white, avoid the muesli as it has Brazil nuts in and eat a sweet oaty cereal with rice drink as I can’t have cows milk. My breakfast was nice and didn’t make me feel poorly but it was highly processed and full of sugar. Lunch was easier and a little better.

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( A box of cereal in our currents host kitchen)

Now as a traveller dependant on what’s in someone else’s kitchen it can be hard eating a sensible amount of calories, getting good nutrition from what I eat and avoiding going more than 5 hours between meals. As well as avoiding foods that my digestion is intolerant of. I could give up on keeping my weight down but that’s bad for my knees and self esteem. I could take the attitude that its too hard to think about nutrition and that over the months things will balance out. But will they, if I’m not making good decisions ? I now have my digestion under control mostly, if I’m careful. I don’t want to develop any new problems though a lazy attitude and poor diet.

I have over the last 5 months slowly lost a little weight. When we have eaten out I have felt like the fussiest eater alive and have struggled to make the right choices. I’ve had moments when my digestion has messed me around a lot.
It is very important for me to be fussy about what I eat but I feel that it should be important to other people too. Maybe they could feel better and be healthier if they thought harder about how they fuel their bodies. But I know its hard to do. I want to know what my body actually needs.

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I’ve started to try and research nutrition and dietary habits across the globe via the Internet. I realise that what I read might not be true. That people are not always qualified and that most people are trying to sell a product or service. But if you take what you find as just someone’s opinion then a lot of it can be interesting.

Our current host is a young Brazilian family and its normal for them to eat rice, beans and meat for lunch most days. In Brazil it is normal to eat bananas with your main meal and some salad.

Today the children had grilled turkey breast, spaghetti noodles and tomato sauce. Followed by Nutella on milk bread. Most nights they are given vitamins in the form of Medex syrup. Personally I don’t think that chemically produced vitamins are the way to go. But I don’t have children and don’t have to fight with them to eat what’s healthy so I shouldn’t judge. I’m not sure I’d be happy filling my children with the amounts of sugar most seem to consume. I’m a bit of a honey snob and wouldn’t give myself let alone a child cheap, poor quality honey. If for no other reason than it doesn’t taste good. I like honey from small producers, local to where I’m living if possible.

In Austria last month we found that it was hard to get meat and veg when you order from a menu. Their salads are very basic and if a sauce has the slightest bit of veg in it’s classed as special. I do like the taste of their pickled veg though. They eat a lot of meat.
Most of their meat is covered in bread crumbs and soups are very oily which plays havoc with my insides. I had the veggie option a lot. The only problem with the veggie option is the amount of dairy products. I’m ok with dairy in small amounts but not in the quality that comes with say a cream sauce. Hard cheese is less of a problem but can make me constipated. I don’t know what a vegan would eat in an Austrian restaurant.

Slovenian traditional food ( in the capital Ljubljana ) is very interesting as it’s a Balkan mix. There are strong Italian influences, Greek elements and foods similar to that which I experienced in Bulgaria.

I admit that I love pizza or spaghetti bolognese. A good interesting salad such as a Greek or Shopska Salad is always tasty and filling. But I avoid the spicy meats and fatty sausages.
Whilst in Bulgaria , back in June of this year, James and I where introduced to a raw cabbage, carrot and sunflower seed salad made with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We loved it and have made it for ourselves a few times since. The fresh, amazingly tasty tomatoes, cucumber, onions and bell peppers all made a big impression on us. Tomatoes in the UK often have no flavour and are mostly water. The best ones, I think, are the small plum ones.

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( Couscous cooked in orange juice with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and raspberries)

There are loads of ways to eat better for example choosing raw products that haven’t been messed about with. Organic potatoes, fresh fruit and fresh veg, nuts and seeds.
I like to eat whole grans, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. They fill you up more and its said that your body works harder to process them and burns more calories. Because I suffer if I eat white bread I always choose brown or go without. If I can choose a lean meat like turkey I do. Avoiding eating processed sugar is a little difficult but I think its worth trying.

I have been thinking about the importance of knowing what food your food eats or is grown with.
However this takes being fussy to the next level. I think my fussy food habits are here to stay. I just hope I don’t annoy too many people along the way.

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I don’t like cities but……Part 1 Graz

Graz is a hit with me because its centre is compact and has some very unique buildings. It is full of little alleys, courtyards and archways, not to mention the thousands of bicycles.

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( taken with my iPhone October 2013)

It’s not the first time I have visited because I have family that live here who have a long history with the city and the university. I will always remember how my cousin Roland expressed his regret at the worn out music coming from the Glockenspiel
(a clock with traditionally dressed, carved wooden, dancing figures).
There are many old buildings here, some from the Middle Ages, as Graz is over 900 years old. Unesco made it a cultural heritage site in 1999.

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( I took this photo in September 2008)

For me, going up the stunning Schlossbergstiege ( nearly 260 steps) is a must to see the landmark Clock Tower up close. There is a story about its hands being the wrong way round that related to its original use. They wanted people from far away to be able to see what hour it was so just put one big hand on its face. However, later they decided to show minutes as well but when they added the hand it had to be smaller to look different to the hour hand. You should really see this place for yourself if only for the amazing views of the old rooftops, the way they roll up and down like waves in the ocean, and the somewhat alien form of the art museum.

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The art museum is just across the river Mur. The closest bridge to the art museum has hundreds of padlocks locked to it. They are of all shapes, colours and sizes. People, often couples, put their names and a date on a padlock that they then lock to the bridge. They must then throw away the keys so that their love at that moment is everlasting.

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We are on a tight budget (we don’t have one) so haven’t paid any entrance fees to anything even the art museum. Buying a €1 padlock and joining in with the love on the bridge was however deemed justifiable. I think this has also been done in Paris and Cologne

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Graz has a lot to visit but this is a blog not a tourist board advert so enough about how wonderful it is.

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(The Bishops Chair taken by me back in 2008)

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(Again from my 2008 photos)

Whist in this historic area we have stayed with my loving cousin and his beautiful family. We have also enjoyed living in a very new hostel with university students.
Again, due to the lack of budget, we opted to share a dorm room with 6 other people. We made 3 new international friends, an Italian, an Iranian and a Turk. We talked about the english language, politics and the environment. They were students just starting university courses and waiting for their accommodation to become available. We enjoyed learning about them and their native countries and cultures. We didn’t, this time however, meet any other travellers.

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( My family photographed by my boyfriend using my iPhone last week)

I am no longer a laundrette virgin as we did our laundry in the local automated washing centre. I’m sure for some people this is something you have either done a lot or not at all. For us it was a first and a little difficult because the one step we couldn’t work out was the only stage not translated to English in the instructions. We resorted to asking for help. The second time we went we took our new Italian friend with us so that she too could learn to use a laundrette. We felt less silly the second time as a German speaking lady also had problems working out what to do.

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( iPhone photo, of a Buddhist temple, taken last week whilst eating bread and cheese in one of the cities many parks)

We are now heading to Ljubljana in Slovenia which is also historic and small so I have a good chance of liking it too.

Thank you Graz ( and my family) for an enjoyable city break.

Helping Hans

We got off a bus to be picked up by a friend of our Host. Simon told us that our host Hans had gone to a thermal spa for the day and would be back that night.
Simon showed us around and answered our questions. He washed up and helped us cook the evening meal for everyone.

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Simon and one off the children on the site. They are standing between the toilet and our caravan.

We were sleeping in a messy caravan that we had to clean to make usable. The caravan and trailer/wooden wagons have electric but no running water. You collect water from an outside tape several times a day. To wash up you boil the kettle but there is no washing up liquid because there is no drainage/sewer. They don’t want to put chemicals into the ground so just use warm water even on oily items.
A washing machine had been plumbed in inside a breeze block garage along with a small electric water heater but we didn’t get a chance to wash any clothes.

The toilet was a big bucket in a wooden cupboard which had to be emptied onto a compost heap. To prevent the bucket getting too heavy we were advised to wee in the woods.

There were four adults living there all the time, plus volunteers. Along with children age 2,4 and 7 all living in wooden huts on wheels. A baby is due after Christmas. There were four English volunteers on the site, including us, during our stay.

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Dairy of living with a shepherd.

Day 1

We enjoyed fresh goats milk on porridge oats for breakfast.

We collected and chopped firewood before lunch which was bread and cheese then went to the flock.

I watched Hans use the dogs to walk the sheep very slowly down the road whilst James helped Mingo remove and re-set the electric fences at the next location.

On route from one field to the next a local publican had his photo taken posing as shepherd with the sheep. He then gave us coffee. Along the route we stopped to collect sweet chestnuts that we later cooked for dinner.

I was shown how to make Turkish rice and mint tea from dried wild mint.

Day 2

In the morning before the others got up I got hot water and had a strip wash outside the caravan. James did the same. We also washed our pants and socks. The weather was hot and sunny again so drying them was easy.

When the others got up they all went out for the day. James and I were left behind to wash up, sort more firewood and cook an evening meal for 7 people. James also emptied the toilet bucket and compost bucket.
We cleaned out the caravan so it wah easier to live in.

Day 3

We started by collecting and chopping more firewood because we hadn’t taken the breakfast foods out of the kitchen the night before.
Everyone was banned from the kitchen wagon until at least 10 am because Hans and Mingo slept in there with their 2 year old son.
After our late breakfast we did some more firewood then took a packed lunch out with us to the sheep. Basically James and I took down loads of electric fence and took it, 5 km down the road, to a small field next to a hotel. Where it all had to be put up again in time for the sheep arriving on foot. This took over 4 hours to complete.

One we got back to the wagons we had dinner and fed the dogs. We tried to clean up and went to sleep after a long and heated conversation about racists.

By this point our personalities where clashing with that of our host Hans the Shepherd.

Day 4
James had been stripping off and washing at least once a day. but I was a little less OK with being naked in front of others so took my chance to have a quick wash before the others got up.
We had everything we needed for breakfast so ate when we were ready before sorting and chopping more firewood. But most of the day was spent helping build a wooden hut on wheels for the winter.

We all had dinner together again and I fed the dogs. We liked the other volunteers but found Hans very difficult.

As normal we where all sent off to bed at 9.30 pm despite not having to get up before 9 am.

Day 5

Breakfast was porridge with sweet chestnuts and honey that one of the other volunteers made. It was really nice. Then we all worked on the wagon construction all day with only a quick lunch break.

I was covered in sawdust by nightfall and decided to get naked and wash before dinner. It was good to feel clean.
Dinner was interesting as it was surplus food from a hotel near the sheep’s current location. It had been given to them in a bucket for the dogs. However most of it was served for dinner. This was a big problem for me as it contained fish and I’m very allergic to all fish products. I therefore just ate spaghetti and tomato sauce. After dinner we went to collect a massive, old, very heavy stove. It was dark and difficult to say the least but the stove made it back to the wagon with out anyone getting physically hurt.

It had been a long day and our patience with regards to our host’s attitude, ego and arrogance had run out.

Day 6 Thursday.

We decided to get up early and leave.
The host Hans had been deceitful the day before with regards to promises he had made to the other volunteers. He had lied to them and let them down so that he would gain. This was not something we wanted to deal with on top of the lack of washing facilities and poor kitchen hygiene.

The food was often fresh. We had home grown vegetables and salad. The available fruit was mostly apples from local trees and the meat was always their own lamb. We ate a lot of sweet chestnuts and walnuts again harvested in the area by us. There was a variety of cheese in the fridge along with milk from Cindy their goat.

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We had gone to Hans expecting to camp out with his flock of sheep and walk in the mountains with them. We had expected not to wash much and to go to the toilet in the woods. However Hans was no longer nomadic and had sold most of his sheep so no longer used the Alm in the mountains. He did not bother to tell us this before we arrived. We didn’t expect him to have a two year old and a pregnant partner either.
Life had changed a lot for them but they had not updated their profile on the workaway website or on their own website.

The sheep that they have now are still nomadic as they don’t live in one place. Hans doesn’t have a farm or any barns. He just ask people nicely if his sheep can use their land. During our stay we saw the sheep fenced into small fields next to posh hotels and into large gardens behind houses. Hans and his wife are constantly asking people if they would like the sheep to cut the grass for them. Other people with land will ask Hans to put his sheep on their land for a week or more.

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James and I have spent more time working on a new wagon and collecting firewood than we have working with the sheep. We liked the wagon construction because we like working with wood but we wanted to learn shepherding skills, more German and other new things. This week has been disappointing. The other volunteers have been fun and interesting to talk to and work with but we haven’t learned much or experienced life in the mountains as we had hoped, yet.

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We are in debt to the amazing unseasonal weather. This last two weeks has felt like summer when it is actually late autumn. I don’t think I could have managed very well, on the makeshift campsite, if it had rained much despite having wet weather gear. The campsite would have been one massive puddle with mud getting in and on everything.

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We haven’t had all the challenges that we had hoped for but we have had an interesting experience. It’s not one I would rush to repeat but it could have been a lot worse. We really enjoyed meeting other volunteers that were also using the workaway model.

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Being prepared for the Outdoors in Austria

We arrived in Austria two months ago with only summer cloths. We knew that if we were going to stay in this part of the world for winter we would need appropriate kit. But before we had our winter gear sent from England we needed to be sure we where not going to fly south instead. The last thing you want is a bulging rucksack full of gear that just gets in the way of the few pieces you actually need. Travelling light is so much easier especially if it’s warm.

The reason that it was difficult to know if we would stay was because of the type of travellig we are doing. We had been emailing Workaway hosts with regards to late summer and autumn positions since late July without much of a response. Looking for opportunities in Austria for October was going very slow until we found a shepherd needing help with his flock. Committing to helping with the sheep meant committing ourselves to our cloths and thus not heading south. We also decided that we should get fit ready for walking in the mountains with the sheep. Both James and I have enjoyed running and cycling in the past and found that Litschau was perfect for this. There are loads of off road tracks that take you through farm land, woods and around lakes. It was beautiful and made us feel very healthy.

After leaving peaceful Litschau we descended, at short notice, on my Austrian family. We had a lovely time catching up, eating fantastic food, walking in the mountains and checking out Graz. We can not thank them enough for their love. I’m sure we will see some of them again before we leave this part of the world.

Now we are with Hans, his sheep and his family but that story you will have to wait for. All I will say is that I will not disappoint you.

Remember followers there is no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate preparation and kit.

First Impressions of house sitting

We have recently finished house sitting in the north of Austria. It was the first time for us and seem to go very well. From what my research has shown me house sitting is a cheap way to holiday /travel around. A lot of house sitting posts require you to look after animals and or gardens and house plants. Our experience has included all of them. A regular house sit might require you to contribute to the electric you use and other similar bills. The best ones, require a lot of experience but actually pay you. Our post was not a normal house sitting position because it was organised through http://www.workaway.info however it wasn’t a regular workaway either. A normal workaway position requires you to do 20-30hours work a week in return for your accommodation and 3 meals a day. Sometimes you cook for yourself and sometimes for everyone or never, but the cost of groceries is the responsibility of your host. Our host however was away working and it wasn’t practical for her to feed us. Thus we had a combination of house sitting and workaway models. This basically gave us free accommodation and some food from the freezer/store cupboards. In return we looked after 3 cats everyday, a dog sometimes and did a couple of hours each day decorating and/or gardening. The decorating was mostly to help the house get through winter without the cold weather damaging anything. This combination has allowed us more free time but has cost us an average of €100 a week. It was a cheap house sitting (almost a holiday) experience for us but not something we can really afford to do again anytime soon. For us, long term travel is only possible if we spend money only on transport between workaway posts. We have no objection to putting in the hours to get us a free living. We have enjoyed the amount of free time we have had and have been working on our fitness levels so our time and money has been well spent. We are now with family which is a lot of fun but also cost money thus is only a very short term stay. Our next adventure, we hope, follows the normal workaway model and should greatly reduce the need to spend our savings. We will house sit again, in the distant future, as it is a great way to thoroughly explore a small area without spending much money or missing out on home comforts.

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Moving on part 2

The fun of not knowing

Each time we agree to a new Workaway placement I get very excited as opposed to anxious. From our experiences over the last 5 months I’ve learned that we can deal with whatever comes our way. Back in February I was worried that I would find the unknown and constant change stressful however I needn’t have worried. We originally over planned our first 6 months. We didn’t want to waste money travelling around willy-nilly so lined up Workaways from June to October in Bulgaria. This all changed in the July when we decided we would move on from the expat community in Bulgaria and go stay with young hard working locals in Romania. Now we have beach bum tan lines and are house/pet sitting in Austria before heading into the mountains to look after hundreds of sheep.

We felt at home on the campsite that we helped run in Bulgaria and fell in love with the Romanian beach party town. So far Austria has provided us with friendly people, home comforts and good food. We are getting healthy and fit amongst its lakes and trees in the lower wood quarter. Our next position is with a nomadic shepherd south of Vienna, East of Graz at the start of the Alps. This is all we know. We think that it is safe to assume that he will feed us and that we will be able to get dry and warm each night. We hope that he will like us and us him. He seems to have Internet access that we might be able to connect to. All we really know is he definitely has sheep and is expecting us by the 19th of October. None of this uncertainty fazes me because I know that if after 2 weeks James or I are unhappy we will pack up and move on. It’s that simple.

When the most stressful moments in your life are ones that concern the contents of your rucksack ,which items of clothing do I keep for example, you know that life is about as simple as it can get.

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