First of all – with such a huge life change, can you tell us about the inspiration and drive behind your decision to pack up and travel around Great Britain in a motorhome?
Just before I was fifty I took a gap year from the BBC and travelled solo around the world with a rucksack. During that trip I felt ageless because I was mixing with all generations and having such fun. I also realised that I could live with few possessions and still be happy. That, and coupled with seeing how ageist and materialistic society was becoming, I started to plan that when I retired I would get rid of most of my belongings, buy a motorhome and explore Great Britain. I wanted to champion positive ageing and challenge the ageist stereotypes of what society seems to think retired women should be doing. I was not going to be shoved into a box. My plan was to have no plan and to go with the flow – which is what I have been doing for over two years and I have never been happier!
Can you give us a glimpse into your life on the road?
I am usually parked up on a site somewhere beautiful in the countryside. I try to get up for sunrise. I put my bed away, make coffee and then take in my surroundings. It took me a while to learn to do nothing. I felt that I had to do something to justify my existence, but now I am pretty good at living in the moment and enjoying the peace of doing nothing. I do some reading and writing. I love cooking from scratch now that I have the time, so I often make stews and chillies in my slow cooker and then go for a walk or a ride on my amazing electric bike. When I am ready to move on I look at the map and randomly decide where I want to head next. Then I read up about the place to see what there is to explore and where the camping places are. I prefer to go for smaller sites on farms or in remote fields with very few other motorhomes. I love being able to wake up with a different view every morning – some of them have been incredible!
What are some of your best moments so far?
One of the best moments for me was being able to be with family after the end of the first lockdown. My daughter and her boyfriend, my brother and sister and their partners, nieces, nephews and cousins all came with their vans and tents and we had a mini Glasto weekend just reconnecting, going for walks, having BBQ’s and hanging out listening to music. We did not let the heavy rain spoil it; in fact it gave it a more authentic Glastonbury feel!
More recently exploring Scotland and the Isles of Mull and Skye have to be one of my highlights. The scenery and walks were wonderful and the people were so friendly. I will be heading back there again next year to explore the Outer Hebrides. Also the Yorkshire Dales never cease to take my breath away; it is such a wonderful place to have adventures.
Hardest challenge you’ve had to face?
When I first hit the road I have to admit I was scared of the unknown, but I have been learning so much along the way – about how to live my best life in a motorhome and about myself, and realising just how resilient and capable I am as I age. Surviving the pandemic in my motorhome was very hard during the second lockdown. I was on my own in a field in Norfolk for five months. I was devastated when my daughter couldn’t join me for Christmas with the last minute change in lockdown rules. At one stage my pipes froze in the snow, so I had to gather snow and then melt and boil it to use for drinks and washing. In my lowest moments I questioned what I was doing – but then I decided to use my journalistic skills and do some Instagram lives with other inspirational women on my Instagram @shuvonshuvoff. It was scary because I never knew if the signal would be strong enough, but I had some fabulous guests from all over the world, including Britain, America and France. Hundreds watched them and connected with me, which gave me the confidence to continue with my challenge and to champion positive ageing. At the same time I was writing articles for magazines and newspapers, which resulted in bookings for my inspirational Zoom talks, including bookings from many Women’s Institute groups.
Any particular lessons learned along the way?
I have learnt that it has taken me until my sixties to become the woman that I should always have been. I have learnt that I can say NO when I want to and YES when I want to, that my opinion is valid and that people are interested in what I am doing. I have also learnt that there is great strength in women supporting women.
What advice would you give to midlife and beyond women who are beginning to feel invisible and perhaps looking to start their own venture or adventure?
I would say do not lose yourself. Just say YES! Find what it is you want to do and then take as long as you want to plan it, because overcoming the hurdles to finally having your own venture or adventure is part of the excitement. The feeling when you overcome something that you thought wasn’t possible is amazing and well worth the struggle to get there. We only get one shot at this living. I would urge you to live and age as positively as you can and to grab every opportunity you can. Also reach out and ask for help if you need it; there is a great network of women out there who are supporting other women.
You sold your flat and most of your possessions – do you think consumerism is beginning to overtake the more simple pleasures in life – especially for the younger generations?
It wasn’t difficult for me to make the decision to declutter my life and get a motorhome. Before I started my nomadic life I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the way people were working long hours to earn money to buy STUFF that they didn’t really need, and that meant that they didn’t have enough hours in the day to have quality time with family and friends. It just seemed a crazy way of living to me. I have far less STUFF and money, but I get more time and energy to be with family and friends. I hate the way consumerism really does overshadow life’s simple pleasures, like going for a walk or hanging out chatting with people. I don’t think it’s a generational thing. I think we have all been guilty of being sucked in by consumerism and we need to rethink the way we live our lives and what is really important.
I know that ageing positively and challenging ageist attitudes is very much your ethos – do you think we are beginning to see a positive shift in ageist attitudes – or do we still have a long way to go?
I think we still have a very, very long way to go to challenge ageism. Ageism towards younger and older people is still prevalent. The good thing is that it is being talked about more. This last year the World Health Organisation issued a global report on ageism stating that it is a global issue and every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes. My experiences in the media have shown me that there is a big problem with how women are treated and represented. Admittedly they are trying to address the problem, but just having a few older women to placate the public is not good enough; there needs to be a proper career structure where age is not a barrier to progression. I love that some in the cosmetics industry, like Studio10, are beginning to realise the importance of PROAGE. We do not want ANTI AGEING lotions and potions. I am not ANTI AGEING. It’s a PRIVILEGE to age. I want more POSITIVE AGEING PRODUCTS, with more older women modelling and advertising them. We want to enhance the way we age. So I am all about changing the narratives and images surrounding ageing. Ageing is a good thing and anything that helps me to do it the best I can is a welcome addition!
Top beauty must-haves in your makeup bag?
You’ve written about how debilitating the menopause was for you – we are definitely seeing a wider narrative and understanding now surrounding the menopause, but what more do you think still needs to be done for greater awareness?
I think it’s fantastic that people are standing up for women who are going through the menopause. For me it was a horrible time of my life. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going on and really thought I was going mad. I was angry all of the time, I couldn’t remember things, I was exhausted and I piled on weight. There was no help available for me at the time, so it’s great that there is now a better understanding in some areas. We need to have legislation in place to help women in the workplace. Too many are still leaving work in their fifties because they cannot cope. What they need is the right kind of support and understanding. We need to go into schools and talk to girls and boys about the menopause, because it can impact so many relationships within the family. Knowledge is power. Men need to have an insight into what is happening, and women need to be able to understand what is likely to happen to them. Often it is the fear of not knowing what’s going on that makes the situation worse. Doctors need to undergo proper training on menopausal symptoms so that they can offer the appropriate support. Having said this, it’s wonderful to know that with a greater awareness now, future generations will not have to go through what I went through in the menopause.
My top beauty must-haves for this adventure are moisturiser for my face and factor 50 sun protection – even in winter – because I spend so much time outdoors. Also – a nice pink lipstick, which I wear most days, even when I’m collecting horse poop working on the farm in Dorset!
You have a Blog – shuvonshuvoff, you do live Instagram interviews, and you are in the process of writing a book – AGELESS FEARLESS WOMEN: You can do it too. Are there any other plans going forwards for you and Dora the Explora that you can share with us?
My book is coming along nicely. It covers my adventures and, based around my experiences, it has plenty of tips for older women who are looking to get a van and experience their best lives on the road. I hope to have it finished in the new year but I have yet to find a publisher – so if anyone is interested please contact me. In the meantime I am looking forward to taking Dora the Explora to Ireland next year and giving some AGELESS FEARLESS WOMEN talks to hopefully inspire more women to say ‘YES’ to adventure.
And finally, do you have a favourite quote?“Always chose to be kind as it is a strength, not a weakness.”