on a constantly cruising narrowboat
People often ask, “How do you live and work off-grid- on a narrowboat?”
Living the Dream… a lifestyle of freedom while having enough money to survive, is not impossible. I do it, and so can you! How to live and work off-grid is one question, but how can you do this from an ever-moving location such as a narrowboat?
The reality of living a lifestyle of freedom while having enough money to survive, takes a pinch of self-discipline, a sprinkling of creativity and a dollop of self-belief. Three months into my new lifestyle, a most unwelcome viral attack upon my inner ear left me with permanent balance problems, which three years later I’m still suffering from. My driving license disappeared overnight, along with my independence and my job.
‘Off-grid living and grafting’- the pitfalls!
At 3am I awoke to the cabin spinning 360 degrees around me. A round-a-bout you can’t jump off! At 9am I was dressed in a straight-jacket, led off the deck like a horse on tight reigns. Trundled along the short, rough towpath and past a pub full of hungry onlookers waiting for breakfast, I clutched a sick bowl in which I spewed every ten minutes. Loaded into an ambulance, I endured a further bumpy escort to Accident and Emergency.
The next few weeks I am viewed as the local drunk, hanging on my husband’s arm, unable to walk or see clearly. I feel like I plundered more booze than the most seasoned of alcoholics but without any of the laughs, waking hung over only to navigate a new day. Couples with kids gave me a wide birth, stepping into the road on pavements, with dubious expressions of judgment, concern, and pity; and that was before Covid!
Teenage boys drove past, heckling me as I did my walk of shame and hung on to railings, wishing I hadn’t attempted a walk to a nearby coffee shop on my own. Once sat, at the café table the whole bench would sway. In a supermarket, I took to sitting outside, instead.
Two are stronger than one! If it hadn’t been for my husband’s support, at this point, and only three months into our new lifestyle, my narrow boating days would have been finished. Consider, before embarking on how to live and work off-grid, what you will do if disaster strikes.
From full time profession to dropping off the radar!
Life changing events sometimes alter your destiny, this one was no exception. I was a teacher. Now I wasn’t! I imagine teaching is a hard career to choose, while surviving on a narrow boat. I certainly don’t miss the stress, the late-night marking, the planning on my day off and the unrealistic expectations that kids can never do wrong. Where would you keep all those books and resources too?
My education dumbed me down, kept me in line, made sure I was never better than average. Factory fodder. Production line. Puppets being played. But who pulls the strings?
We are not taught to ask those questions, such as, ‘how to live and work off grid’, to understand world finance, or how to solve the real problems of life; and why would we care, when all is so comfortable numb! It is a select few who are prepared for success in this world. So, you can detect, I have deeper issue with being part of this servitude.
I began on-line tuition to Chinese children once I was well enough to read. Little oriental faces as young as three or four years old, peering out of the screen, often late into the evening for them, but morning for me. The difference in respect and appreciation, from both parents and children, compared to being a teacher in British schools, is liberating! I can choose my lesson times. Planning takes minutes instead of hours. The kids love their lessons. Many Chinese work too hard- the competition is high! My pay is also appalling!
Slam on the breaks- “You’re going the wrong way!”
Two years later I began writing. My floating life, my illness; both served to make me stop and sit down, to think about what I like, what I’m naturally talented at. I was propelled to learn, how to live and work off-grid from my narrowboat. The breaks full on, my journey came to an abrupt halt.
A new direction begins. I return to my childhood days, looking for the person who got lost someplace and begin re-assembling her, piece by piece. A book lover, a writer of stories, an artist, a happy and free, inquisitive spirit- a thinker and an explorer.
I’m glad to have stopped. Thankful, that I was made to sit down, set on a different path. I’m not sure sometimes I’ll be successful but I’m confident I’ll enjoy the journey. The easy, short route is the one with no scenery, a ruler like, broad and boring road that seems to never end. You recognise all there is to know, and frequented by the many , you’ve trodden this path repetitively, the people- all look the same. The longer and more arduous road is narrow, a beautiful way- interesting bends and unseen views, fresh flowers and new faces, it is no effort at all!
Surviving the day job off-grid- jumping the hurdles
Many working options exist for off-grid canal boaters. So far I’ve met: a nurse, delivery driver, radio broadcaster, musician, festival trader, boat café, floating foodie, artist, crafter, and a freelancer. From boat painter and fruit picker, to coasting theatre or cinema; with a bike or a car and perhaps some entrepreneurial skill, open to you is a colourful array of opportunity. Remote working has made this even easier. Some boaters are retired, but for those without that option, work goes on…
The logistics of working from a tiny boat might be a little challenging at times, but you learn to solve the problems. Internet connection has been one of the hurdles of my constant cruising as it doesn’t always pick up the signal needed for my coaching. Rural locations are often poorly connected. Towns and cities give the best upload- download speeds, and signal strength. With time, you discover which places to avoid. A quarry can be a black spot as can a woodland of trees or low-level land in-between those green hills. A quality router helps, but some get by with just a phone.
Having a place you can go to- a quiet café, library or an acquaintance’s home, is a wise back up plan. I had to take an interview at a friend’s house once. In a world where most are looking for a work-life equilibrium, there is always some compromise.
Winter can make it more difficult too, especially the short days, when coming home from work on a dark, wet night through the thick mud to a cold steel cabin, is the worst! Then you must prepare for eating, heating, sanitation, and water supply, well in advance! Renting an expensive mooring could ease some of these challenges; personally, I’d rather keep cruising.
How to live & work off-grid… Why bother?
Some people want to ‘go green’, leaving a smaller carbon footprint behind them for a future generation, to protect our environment and help endangered species survive. Others seek independence, control of their resources outside of the narrative, a reasonable cost of living, a healthier and happier- quality of life. One or two want to disappear off the radar, never to be tracked or traced. Most desire a quiet life, and love their rural surroundings- to be at one with nature.
With loss of income, property and savings, tracking and tracing, heavy policing, national debt and deterioration of health and social care; this year has seen the popularity of buying a narrow boat soar! Hard times challenge us to think outside the box. They shake us and move us out of our malaise, to get up, to seek change. There are those who bury their heads deep in the sand, some who just run, and others that wake up and sketch a new way.
Off-grid canal craft living is a simple life; you don’t have all the bills of a house, you don’t need as much, or shop as often. With a Canal & Riversway Trust cruising license costing us £900 a year, a bit of gas, a mobile and internet bill and food… that’s it. You can spend several thousand pounds on marine maintenance, depending on the state of the vessel you bought! Except this narrow boat is your home. Making it beautiful, creating your own unique space, is fun!
You don’t realise how much money you lose each month to live in a house, until you leave. Some people prefer modern conveniences at that cost. But many people drown in their own comfort. I wouldn’t live on a boat with kids, even though some families do. But a narrow boat isn’t your only option for learning how to live and work off-grid successfully.
Life and working off-grid- the verdict!
That rat run is behind us now! I’m learning new skills- website design, marketing, editing, and I write blogs. My husband’s part-time work provides enough for us, leaving me the time I need to recover my health. I relax, live day by day, enjoy creative hobbies, learn new skills, and visit family or friends. We travel, build, dream, plan… and learn each day- how to live and work off-grid; to live and love the sheer beauty of our rural life!
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