The Reality of Living Off-Grid in a Caravan with Children in Central Portugal Over Winter

The Reality of Living Off-Grid in a Caravan with Children in Central Portugal Over Winter

It seemed like a good idea at the time… So what is it really like to live off-grid in a caravan in Central Portugal through Winter with two young children?

Well, I must admit it is nowhere near as cold as we thought it would be. In fact, we are warmer here than we were our first winter housesitting in Portugal in winter of 2015. We house-sat a huge four bedroomed house that was heated by one woodburning stove, it did have underfloor heating but cost a fortune to run so we tried to survive with just the woodburner. Oh my, was it cold. I used to dress in so many layers for bed and even wore a hat at one point and it wasn’t even that cold outside temperature-wise; although it did snow, but there were only a couple of frosts. The caravan seems to heat up so quickly though, and in the huge super king size bed we both have king sized duvets to keep us super warm, so no need for a hat here! The boys are snuggled up together in their own double bed, that is, when they don’t take the opportunity to jump in with us for extra warm cuddles.

Where we are now, near Penamacor, Castelo Branco region, almost in Spain, there are frequent frosts. In fact, it has been so cold at night that our gas bottle has frozen and we have had to endure quite a few icy morning washes; a very invigorating way to wake up!

Probably the worst thing about the colder weather is the space, or lack of it. When it was warmer we were outside all of the time. Outside or under shade trying to cool down. We cooked and ate outside, or in the awning and the space felt endless in our little spot under the cork oak trees. The children played outside constantly, their toys were stored and played with in the awning and it felt so good to spend so much time outside.

When it started to get colder and frostier in the evenings and mornings we had to start having dinner and breakfast inside, which in turn made things way more cramped and messy! The boys were fine with it though, they quickly adapted to the cold, although we did experience the wrath of the threenager and fournado whinge-fest overdrives when they had to go outside when it was really cold; Especially if nature called, the outside compost-loo isn’t quite as inviting in sub temperatures! Which in turn meant that the caravan’s toilet started to get much more use. The view from the compost loo is pretty phenomenal though, and makes the rather chilly visit, much more than worthwhile.

Sunrise, our view from the caravan, Topsy Turvy Tribe, Penamacor, Central Portugal

Oh and that’s another thing, solar showers outside have been put on hold until it gets slightly warmer too. Even though it is cold overnight, it has been possible on a few afternoons to have an outside shower. However, we just can’t bring ourselves to strip off outside in Winter so we have been washing in the caravan’s bathroom, using boiling water from the kettle. The boys have been subject to strip down washes a layer at a time so they don’t get too cold. I just love how adaptable they are. Yes they complain, but don’t all kids, but mainly they just accept it as being normal and go with the flow.

Actually, the definite worst thing about winter is the lack of electricity. Less sunshine meant less solar energy. When winter came along, a few dull days in a row meant reduced, and sometimes zero power. We quickly realised our caravan battery was actually a car battery, which really are quite rubbish in a solar system. We really need a proper leisure battery and a bigger solar panel, but everything costs money so we have learnt to seriously ration our meagre allowance of power, or simply do without. The car became an invaluable source of power, so whenever we go out everything is plugged into the cigarette lighter, including the laptop using the 12v inverter! The 12v plug used to be a backup when we used the phone as a sat-nav but now it’s a life-line. Ok, yes we don’t need to have power for the phone, but when you are trying to earn a living by working online as a Virtual Assistant and teaching English online, power is kind of important.

Frosty Morning Over Monsanto, Topsy Turvy Tribe, Penamacor, Central Portugal

We are lucky that we haven’t had too much rain this winter, as Portugal can be awash with torrential rain during the Winter months. Also, when it has rained it has done so at night, the best kind of rain! When we look at the land we are more than aware that the lack of rain is not good for our region, we desperately need the rain. The land is still so very dry, rivers that should be flowing are not and after the horrendous fires last summer there are real concerns about this area of Portugal. So from an entirely selfish, rather guilt-landed perspective, the weather, although cold, has been mainly to our benefit. Being stuck inside, in a small space, all day when it is cold and miserable with a threenager to entertain, is not that great. We have invented quite a few games which involved hiding under the duvet!

There are however still some magical days, magical, because even though it is so very frosty and frozen overnight, during the day the sun works wonders. The afternoons can still be crazy hot, the boys abandon their clothes and head off playing in the warm sunshine!

The caravan’s small space means that it heats up really, really, quickly. So when it is cold we have a lovely little gas heater that keeps us toasty warm. Or we put the oven on; not only can we cook casseroles or jacket spuds but we get warm at the same time. Double frugal bonus!

You can tell that the caravan has been in constant use, cooking inside, having the kettle and gas fire on means that the caravan often gets steamed up. There are a few signs of mould, which we keep cleaning off, but because the afternoons are so lovely and warm, we open up all the windows and ventilate. We also give the caravan the occasional rest when we housesit. At the moment we are housesitting for friends who’s land we stay on, in their Quinta until mid April so we have a wonderful opportunity to live in the house. What a luxury! You know what, we really appreciate having hot showers, a washing machine and electricity, the boys even have their own room…but we all slept a little better in the caravan and really miss it!

Have we ever asked ourselves why we are doing this? No, because we know. At the moment we are enjoying living in the caravan, if that changes then of course we will change the way that we live. We could move back the UK in a heartbeat and walk into high-paid teaching jobs, a two up two down house or squished flat full of stuff, like we used to have. But we don’t want that. We want a simpler life.

We want our boys to grow up outside, to learn another language, integrate into a new culture and community. We want to work less and spend more quality time together as a family. We want to grow our own veggies, live off the land and be more aware of our environment and surroundings. Do we need a house to do this? Do we need a microwave, a washing machine or electricity? Do we need loads of money? Simply put, no. We just need each other. After all the trauma and heart stopping moments when our youngest had a tumour we realise how precious life is and want to live it, live it to the fullest and live it our way.

Mayhem Enjoying Time Outside with Daddy, Topsy Turvy Tribe, Penamacor, Central Portugal