Baby on Board: Interview with Alice Smudge

Family SmudgeLiving their dream: Alice and Scott Smudge with their daughter Isabella and their dog Milla.

Ever dreamed of living life on the road?

Meet the Family Smudge: Scott and Alice, 1-year old Isabella, and Milla, the family dog. Earlier this year, Scott quit his full-time job, and they sold their house, scaling down their belongings to live in a camper. Three months later, the Family Smudge hit the road, setting out from their home in England on a long-term road trip around Europe. This isn’t just a family holiday: this is a complete change of lifestyle.

In this interview, TravelBlogs talks to Alice about their decision to pack up, live in a camper, and travel around Europe.

On your blog, you talk about leaving behind your life of “domestic bliss”. How hard was it to decide to sell your house and give up your main source of income?

There were nights though where I would lay in bed just before selling the house thinking ‘what are we doing, what if it’s a terrible mistake’ but Scott would always say: “This is what stops people from pursuing their dreams, fear of the unknown.”

It was a very difficult decision to make. I think most of us are guilty of falling into the comfortable way of life; secure job, mortgage, routine and then if, like us, you wake up one day and think ‘I want to see more, I want to try something else’ it’s quite difficult to give up the things that you see as your security. I think what made it easier for me was that both myself and my husband wanted to try something else (the baby and dog didn’t get a say!) so we always had the full support of each other. Scott gave up his long-term profession and a good job and that was a really big step, but with me working freelance for a couple of years we were pretty confident that we could keep some pennies rolling in so that made it a little easier. There were nights though where I would lay in bed just before selling the house thinking ‘what are we doing, what if it’s a terrible mistake’ but Scott would always say: “This is what stops people from pursuing their dreams, fear of the unknown.” I guess we just bit the bullet in the end and once we moved out of the house and into the camper, which we lived in for 3 months before we headed off, it was easier because the biggest step had been made. Now I have reached the conclusion that security can mean different things to different people. My security is when I have my immediate family around me, no matter where we are, and having always been a bit of a traveller anyway I guess I have just accepted that I might always do something a little bit away from the norm.

Why did you want to do this trip?

We wanted to experience another way of life with the possibility of finding a new way of life for ourselves along the way. After numerous conversations about ways to go about it and with our joint love of travel, the open road and seeking out new things, it simply made sense to travel Europe a bit more. We just want to see where the roads take us and be open to any opportunities along the way. In our old life we felt constricted by practicalities; now we feel free to explore all avenues. Ultimately I guess the thought of knowing pretty much where we might be in twenty years scared us more than not knowing.

How did your friends and family react when you told them what you wanted to do?

Some with shock, some with admiration, some with a lack of interest or maybe simply confusion as to why we were doing it! I think once we moved into the camper and people realised that we really were doing it, generally we received a lot of support.

You’re travelling with your dog, Milla. What kinds of challenges does travelling with a dog present?

MillaMilla: The challenges of travelling with a pet.

Before I met Scott and settled down I wrote for a travel guide so my experience of travel has mostly been alone. With that came little baggage (in the practical sense) and the freedom to explore anywhere and everywhere with no restrictions. Now with a young family and a dog, it’s quite a different experience.

Firstly we needed more space to accommodate all of us (otherwise maybe it would have been a VW camper!), we couldn’t go too far from the UK because we wouldn’t want to put Milla in the bottom of a plane and on a daily basis there are more practical restrictions. For instance, when we travel to cities we have to be aware of how long Milla can handle walking around streets thronged with people before she needs to break free to some open space, there are very few main sights that dogs are allowed in and not many hostels or hotels would take a dog. That’s why we came up with the idea of camping because it ticked all the boxes: budget, freedom and Milla. A good thing is that with the advent of the PET Passport, especially here in Europe more and more people are traveling with dogs so it is becoming more commonplace.

The upshot is that this trip was about the ‘family’ and as Milla is a huge part of our family it’s therefore more a case of simply adapting to travel with a dog. The good thing is that what we want to do now in travel is naturally more family-orientated; like long walks, picnics and hanging out in cafes; all of which are perfectly fine with a dog in tow.

One important factor that anyone travelling with a dog must build into their plans is cost. The cost of making sure she had her passport and jabs up-to-date was one of the biggest outlays!

You mention that travelling with a young family and dog is quite a different experience compared with when you used to travel independently. Are there things you miss about travelling alone?

I think there are definitely times where we both reminisce about life before having a child or a dog with us on our travels. Travelling alone you have no ties, no time restrictions and generally more freedom. There is really nowhere that you can’t go and nothing you can’t do. With a young daughter and a dog, that changes, but then when you take on family life, lots of things change anyway and we just seem to have naturally embraced the new and exciting things it is bringing with it. For instance today we were in St Raphael, Cote d’Azur and … it rained relentlessly. Travelling without a dog and a baby we could have dived into a café on the front, supped coffee and read our books all day. Not possible with a family. Instead we spent the day having pillow fights and making chocolate crepes in the camper, but that wasn’t such a bad alternative in our minds!

We do however get the odd pang for hiring out a moped for the weekend, but one year we were on a Greek island hiring a bike and saw a young couple with a son who must have been about 5 … he was squished in the middle of them with a helmet on; probably not very health and safety conscious but that’s how the Greeks do it – we figure we only have about 4 years before we can start to do a few more things like that again!

What have you particularly enjoyed about travelling as a family?

There is nothing missing and never a moment where you think ‘I wish I was sharing this with someone.’

It’s very difficult to put into words; I guess it’s just more fun. There is nothing missing and never a moment where you think ‘I wish I was sharing this with someone.’ You always have everyone around you for support when something doesn’t go to plan. Long car journeys are much more fun, seeing things through our daughter’s eyes makes them twice as exciting, walking is more interesting with a dog and there is generally a lot more laughter! Sometimes travelling alone can get lonely.

One interesting thing we have noticed is that people react differently to us as a family unit. They seem more open to come and talk to us, especially locals, so we find ourselves having many a chinwag with people who perhaps we wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have a cute dog and a baby with us as a conversation starter!

How long are you planning to travel?

We have initially planned six months on the road followed by six months living in rented accommodation in either France or Spain throughout the winter months. After that we’re not sure. Funds permitting we might go on to Italy and then to Greece, but really there is no massive plan.

I like the way you seem to be quite spontaneous about where you travel. Are there a few places you definitely do want to visit?

While in the UK we had thoughts of possibly settling down in France once our daughter reaches school-age. With this in mind we wanted to see more of France to get a feel for any places that we might want to go back to, therefore in France it’s just been a ‘get on the road and see what happens’ type thing.

Our first official stop is Granada, Spain, where in July we are meeting up with a friend of mine I met in Japan ten years ago. From there we are planning to go nearer to Portugal where another friend lives to get involved with the olive harvest in September. I guess originally Scott would have liked to have visited all the famous football stadiums, but with a dog this might be one of the restrictions to our travels!

What do you hope to get out of this adventure?

To enjoy a sense of freedom for a while, to spend time as a family that we couldn’t do so much before and for our daughter and dog to freely enjoy the great outdoors. To be able to do this whilst also seeing some beautiful parts of Europe, meeting new and inspiring people along the way is something we don’t think you can put a price on.

I guess most importantly we believe it will give our young daughter the freedom to explore life without limitations and hopefully this will be built into her character in future years.

Alice will be blogging about the trip on their blog, Traveling Tails.

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Discussion »

  • #1SOITATAMI

    Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

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