When Julie and Steven Hando bought a boat in June 2010, they didn’t intend
to use it on vacation. Instead, it would be their home.
The couple from south Wales had worked for years as civil servants for
the UK government (he a computer programmer, she an administrator and manager).
But in 1992, Steven got sick and was forced to go on haemodialysis until he
received a kidney transplant the following year. For the pair, the health scare
made it pretty easy to start planning for a life beyond the typical
“There were no fears whatsoever,” Julie said. “We
decided to just do it. We didn’t feel we deserved a break; it’s just that
Steven’s health wasn’t good and there were so many things we wanted to do. If
we didn’t do them now, we might never get the chance.”
But they didn’t quit their jobs right then. Instead, the couple waited
for 18 years, allowing their youngest child to grow up and leave home. In 2011,
after years of planning, they were able to make leaving their jobs more of an
early retirement – one they intended to spend entirely on their recently
purchased 18m-long, 2m-wide narrowboat.
The next year, in 2012, the couple sold their four-bedroom,
high-ceilinged Victorian-style house in southern Wales and either sold or gave
away most of their possessions. Today, they split their time between the
narrowboat, a motorhome and travelling, often on cruises.
“A typical day on the boat for us is very, very lazy. We wake up late,
have breakfast and check in with friends and family over Whatsapp,” Julie said.
“I’ll do some shopping while my husband watches black and white Western films.
I often go for a little half-hour run.”
When purchasing their narrowboat, they used their past motorhome experience
to select bed layouts, galley design and storage requirements. They knew they
wanted a boat no larger than 2.1m wide, with a maximum length of 18m in order
to navigate as many canals in the UK as possible. A multi-fuel stove and diesel
central heating provide warmth during the winter. Water is included in their
mooring fee; a meter at the marina provides their electricity. They buy bottled
gas, which they use for their gas cooker, and a washing machine and small
tumble dryer on board clean the clothing they’ve held on to.
“When you give up all your possessions,” Julie said,
“you realize that, after all, they are just
Since making the move to a more nomadic life, they’ve taken a helicopter
over the Grand Canyon, taken the Queen Mary 2 along the Suez Canal to Dubai and
cruised along the Baltic Sea to St Petersburg; they have also travelled to
Rome, Switzerland, Cyprus, Spain, Las Vegas, Sao Miguel and the Caribbean. They
drove their motorhome to the historic town of Dinan, France, where they dressed
up in medieval gear to join in the Fete
des Remparts celebrations; last winter, they took three back-to-back
cruises around the Mediterranean, visiting Istanbul, Italy and the Greek islands.
Next up: a trip to the Black Sea this October and November, where they’ll
explore Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Morocco. None of it, Julie said, would
have been possible if they were tied down by jobs and a traditional home.
Though the couple loves their new lifestyle, Julie encourages
those interested in boat living to consider certain factors. “Try spending time on a boat and taking vacations under different
weather conditions,” she said. “Think
carefully about where you plan to live, what facilities you have at your
disposal and where you can buy fuel. Think about how important is it to have
easy access to your friends and family. Do you want the added security, facilities and social benefits of a
marina, or would you prefer mooring on a canal with fewer facilities, bearing
in mind the costs of the mooring?”
Just as important, Julie said, is facing the fact that when living on a
boat and travelling, you’ll be spending a lot of time as a couple. “Be ready to
tell yourself that ‘Yes, I am happy to spend the rest of my time with this one
person,’” she said.
If it works though, the benefit to the lifestyle is being able to travel
on a whim – and see all of the places you want to see.
“I have my own bucket list of things I want to do,” Julie said. “If I
was still at work, I wouldn’t be able to tick everything off.”