I Quit My Job to Live in a Van and Travel: My Story

I Quit My Job to Live in a Van & Travel


I am 5 months in to vanlife and 5 weeks into my unemployed travels. This morning I ran six miles into the deep forest of Northern Sweden’s artic circle, and I heard wild wolfs howling. I have never felt freer and more alive.


This is my story…..

Hull, the Underdog

I was born and raised in the city of Kingston Upon Hull, which is really a posh name for the abbreviated Hull or if you are local ‘Ull’. For those that don’t know, Hull was one of the most important cities in the UK pre-war as the ports were the trading gateway to Northern Europe.


This was the reason during World War 2 Hull was a German bombing target called the ‘Hull Blitz’. Hull was annihilated, 95% of houses were damaged or destroyed and half of the population were left homeless. After a slow start to the cities renovation the housing situation was restored by the 80s but unfortunately the industry was not. A lot of money was invested in building a number of large welfare / council estates including the biggest council estate in the UK Bransholme, but little money was investment in repairing the ports and the industry. Thus, leaving few jobs and a high number of unemployed. 


Why do I share this? Well, I am trying to paint a picture of where I grew up. Hull was not exactly the land of opportunity. To get in one of the few big well paid corporate companies you had to be middle / upper class and be related too or have a very strong relationship with someone who already worked at the company. I had no chance.


Although Hull has its challenges the strong sense of community is what makes Hull a great place to live. People are very humble and there is an energy about the city, Hull folks care about their neighbourhood and each other. People are warm, friendly, fun and tend to be more generous. There is a debate to be had about why it is that people who have less give more, but in my experience most of the time they do.

Note: Part of where I am going is knowing where I come from

Hull Blitz Bombing
Hull City Centre May 1941

Ambition is Not a Dirty Word

For reasons I will not go into in this blog my sister and I found ourselves moving into our own home when I was sixteen and my sister was eighteen. We were broke, I mean really broke. I remember I once lived off a 50p broken bag of biscuits for 2 days because that seemed like the largest quantity of food for the 50p I had left in my purse until pay day.


Fast forward to when I was in my late teens, I had finished college I was determined to get a good job and work my arse off to earn enough money that I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. I wanted to be financially stable, and I wanted to have the ability to treat the people who I cared about. In Hull this goal wasn’t going to be so easy.


After a couple of years of low paid admin jobs in Buying / Procurement teams I became aware that the city had a shortage of qualified procurement professionals. This was down to a few reasons, but one big reason was that Hull University did not provide the degree which most of the big companies were requesting. In the land of little opportunity, I realised that I may have just found one. If I could somehow get the Procurement qualification, I may have the pick of these well-paid jobs for a company which offers progression. Once qualified I would have little competition in the recruitment market.


I decided to buy the syllabus books and teach myself. The degree would take 3 years, I taught myself and attending an open exam centre in York. Having expedited the studying and the exam sittings, I qualified in two years. When I was twenty-six, I was offered a role in the Oil and Gas industry with one of the best employers in the city. After three years at this company, I was promoted to the head of the function, and I was on the local Leadership team.


I worked at this firm in Hull for 6 years and it was one of my favourite jobs, I loved it. I had a great team who I adored and admired dearly. We all worked hard but had a blast doing it. We surpassed all the team’s targets, and I was recognised by been offered a job covering Europe. I accepted the offer and moved to the Netherlands on an expat assignment.

Politicians At Work

Taking this new job exposed me to very senior people within the business. Moving from an operational frontline location in Hull and into the big global corporate world I had my eyes opened to the politics. There are a lot of good leaders at this firm but there are also a lot of bad leaders. A lot of these bad leaders are the type that have a lot to say but don’t really say anything. And they certainly don’t do or deliver anything. They are power and money hungry and care more about climbing the ladder than what is right for the firm and the people. I have seen these leaders publicly shame and humiliate others to make them self-look good, I have seen them manipulate, lie and steal other people’s work and claim it for their own. Take away the dragons and the decapitation and the environment was a real-life version of Game of Thrones.


Unfortunately for the department I worked in, these types of leaders were the majority and I noticed that these behaviours were contagious and spreading like wildfire. I had to ask myself is this the type of environment I want to spend 40+ hours a week in?

Covid = Time to Think

Covid arrived when I first moved to the Netherlands in 2020. Only knowing a few people in the NLs and living with curfews it gave me lots of time and space to think.

I reflected on the last two decades and I thought hard about what I wanted from life. I realised I had always been very driven but over the years my motivations had changed. My early motivations were about meeting basic needs, gaining security and stability i.e., having a house, clothes, food etc.


More recently however, I recognised it was about proving to myself and others the poor 16-year-old girl from Hull could make it. What I hadn’t done before is stopped to realised, I had. I had achieved and delivered more than I ever thought I could. I did it all through hard work, actual delivery and motivating the people around me. I far passed my goal of never needing to eat broken biscuits to survive. I owned two houses, had a good rainy-day savings account and was able to treat my family. I felt proud.


I remembered the ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid’ from my studies and referred to it.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I recognised that over the last 15 years my motivations were aligned with each of these needs. It dawned on me that this revelation of my proving my self-worth was the last step on the hierarchy.


I had several conversation about my motivations with my line manager. I explained that I had arrived to a point in my life and career that I was no longer motivated by money and promotions but job satisfaction. I explained that success to me is landing a role where I can make a big impact to the business and where I can mentor others. This did not necessarily mean an upward move, it could be a sideways move.


I had no support or understanding from my line manager only confusion, frustration and disappointed that I didn’t want to push to get in that Iron throne. 


Being a free spirit at heart most of my hair-raising goose bump moments have been when I’m travelling and in nature. Catching a big wave during a surfing session, interacting with wild dolphins, hiking along cracking glaciers, snorkelling the barrier reef, these experiences are my happy place, they are my drug which gets me high as a kite.


My mind was starting to explore the option of taking a year off and using my savings to travel around Europe in my tiny house on wheels creating these everyday moments for a year rather than three weeks of the year. I could wait until I retire but will I have my health by then? The timing seemed right, it was Winter 2021, and I was about to move back to the UK, I could move straight into my campervan and start the adventure by remote working my notice and then head off. Work has a sabbatical policy which I could also use, meaning there was little risk to this option, I would have a job to come back to.

Note: You are always one decision away from a different life

Crunch Time

Just before Christmas 2021 I was offered a promotion to a senior level leader, another jump up the ladder.

‘Can I have 24 hours to think about it?’. I asked my line manager.


I slept on it.



I found myself at a crossroad. Do I take time off and adventure for a year, travel, explore? Or do I take the promotion as an opportunity to try and better the company and push to change the narcissistic culture which had been created in the team and my wider function.



‘Well, I’m shocked’ said my line manager quite annoyed at my response. ‘I have never had anyone turn down a promotion, can you not hold off for a year?’


I told my line manager that I wanted to take one year off and use the company sabbatical policy which allows you to take up to two years off. It was line manager discretion. Not surprisingly he rejected my request as he was worried I would inspire others to do the same. The promotion offer was left on the table.


A couple of days later I bit the bullet and handed in my notice. Despite my line managers unwillingness to be flexible and me not been able to set an example of taking a sabbatical, I do hope my actions still inspired others, I hope it inspired them to be bold, to take control and own their own decisions. I hope it inspires them to not put up with bullshit.


There we have it, I left my six-digit salary for my freedom and my time. I felt liberated.


Maybe I will take a year, maybe two. Who knows, maybe I will change profession maybe I will go back to the corporate world with new energy and succeed in changing the culture. I’ m not quite sure.


What I can say is that for now, I am going on an adventure of a lifetime. I may not enjoy it, I may change my mind part way through, but I know if I do not try it I will always regret not giving it a go.


None of us know for certain how long we will be here, life is short and we only get one go at it. Life is for living, for growing and for enjoying the passage of time by doing the things that make us happy. I mean are you even living if you haven’t run six miles with wolfs before breakfast?

My 1 Year Travel Itinerary of Chasing the Sun

Below is mine and Jamie’s travel plan for the next 12 months. We will be going North in the Summer and South in the Winter, following that sun!


We are also on social media if you would like to follow our journey!  

1 Year Europe Itinerary

Thank you for reading my blog!

Fast forward 18 months and get the latest instalment of my journey How Vanlife Transformed My Life – Love, Joy & Belonging

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5 thoughts on “I Quit My Job to Live in a Van and Travel: My Story”

  1. Hi Emma,
    I love reading your stories and adventures, you are one of very inspiring people that I know ❤️
    Keep going and enjoy life..
    Lots of love

  2. Nice one Emma, glad you’ve made it to Scandinavia. I thought you were meant to dance with wolves not run with them 🙂

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