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As a freelance model and public speaker, I work all over the world.
So when I ended a long-term relationship in 2012, I assumed I’d simply continue on my travels with just a suitcase and my diary, saving money at the same time.
In theory, it sounded a wonderful nomadic life, but for two years, I mostly lived in crowded dorms with little sleep and a free slice of toast for breakfast before heading to an eight-hour photoshoot, grabbing a service-station dinner, and catching a long-distance coach to my next location, always dragging a 33-kilo suitcase behind me and fighting constant low-level anxiety. It didn’t work out.
I began looking for a small, cheap home in easy reach of public transport. At my mum’s house for the holidays, I woke in the twilight zone between Christmas and New Year and said, “I’m going to buy a boat.”
In the United Kingdom, “boat life” is not reserved for the super-rich. Narrowboats are romanticised by some but seen by others as a floating trailer, evoking all the same prejudices as trailer parks. I had to contend with my own misconceptions about the way I would be perceived as a “boater,” but this felt like the perfect solution, and as I didn’t know where I might eventually like to live, the answer would always be right in front of me: move the boat.
In the six years since I bought my narrowboat Storyteller, I taught myself to drive her, moved to three different marinas, learned how to change a gas bottle, put up shelves and fixed minor home problems, had devastating engine trouble, lost everything, sold the Storyteller, bought the wonderful boat that is now my home, and I am now spending the COVID-19 months in a peaceful marina, while my currently redundant suitcase lives under the bed.
My outlook on life has changed dramatically since buying that first boat:
I’m less afraid to get my hands dirty. Literally and metaphorically. Between working on my engine and scrubbing grease out of my nails the night before a photoshoot and doing the most hated task of all boaters (emptying the toilet), I am more adventurous.
Walks in the rain, sports outside, and camping are things I would never have considered before buying and living on my boat. Through embracing the physical dirt of life, I have made a mental change: I’m more comfortable dealing with unpleasant situations, knowing that just like greasing an engine or emptying a toilet, I’ll feel so much better when it’s done!
I connect with my surroundings more. Most narrowboats move at a glacial four miles per hour. Boat life has a slower pace to it. Car trips are convenient, but boat journeys are a day out in their own right: mooring in a beauty spot for lunch and listening to the water life, seeing views of the English countryside that you cannot appreciate at top speed, and sleeping in the cosy nests that form most narrowboat bedrooms.
I’m physically closer to nature without thick brick walls between myself and the outside. While Covid has changed my way of life and my business, I am taking the time to acknowledge that there is beauty in sitting still and watching the seasons change.
I am more open to new ways of problem-solving. Realising I was now in charge of managing my home and its engine, as well as my business, was overwhelming at first, but the more I embraced my independence, buying my boat felt like less of a means to an end and more of an empowering move. I felt more in control.
Through a combination of preconceptions and misconceptions, I had never considered “alternative living” before. Having lived on the water for nearly six years now, I cannot imagine living anywhere else, and the experience has left me more mentally flexible and open to trying problem-solving solutions that I may not have given a second thought to before.