9 essential tips to make the most of your first campervan trip

Every memorable adventure begins with a leap of faith and with not knowing how it will turn out in the end. This time two years ago, we took a plunge and bought a campervan – small enough to manage country roads and big enough, so we don’t feel on top of each other.

Waking up on our first road trip around County Mayo at 5.30 am, rolling over and looking out of the campervan window trough heavy eyelids and seeing morning mist linger over the coast, I knew we made a right decision.

Travelling in a campervan for the past two and half years has allowed us to visit many amazing places, a dream we had been patiently waiting for years, and along the way, we picked up many useful tips for a near-perfect trip.

If you’ve been itching to give van life a go, you know that unimpeachable trend, then this is certainly the year to do it. Ireland is full of hidden treasures, and there’s no better time to explore backyard while supporting the local economy. If you love the concept of living a simple life and wanna feel at home no matter where you go, then give van life a try!

Some days constantly being on the move can be tiring. It’s important to take time out from the driving and sightseeing.

9 essential tips to make the most of your first campervan trip

Being out in the middle of nowhere in the pitch-black night is an odd feeling and having travelled around Ireland for two and half years, we thought to give you a little insight to what life is in a campervan.

Travelling in a campervan isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s a great way to see the world as it combines adventure and simplicity. Who wouldn’t want to get an authentic and fulfilling travel experience while saving money and seeing more?

Here are our van life tips so you you can be more prepared to hit the road!


#1. Choose the right van

Giving up the comfort of the house – think electricity, never-ending flow of the hot water, cable and ability to roam around freely from room to room – just to spend weeks crammed into a tiny space doesn’t come without challenges. That’s why it’s essential to choose the right van for you.

But picking the right van, either you are planning to rent it or by it,  is one of the hardest choices. How do you decide between minivan, campervan, motorhome and caravan? Renting or buying? Then you have to make a choice between a new van or used one.  Low top or high top?

What kind of a van you need will depend on your family size and budget. The VW camper vans with the elevating roof can accommodate two adults and two kids. If your family is bigger than this,than you have to get creative. You can either bring a tent, get a hammock bed that goes over the front seat. If you’re a couple on a budget, then get yourself a small campervan. If you’re enjoying retired life with your partner, get a big and comfy motorhome.

If you are thinking of buying one, the best thing you can do is to rent a campervan first, because they don’t come cheap and you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on something that’s not working in the long run. Before buying VW, we rented one in Portugal for two weeks and had a test run.

IMG_5339
Huddled up in our campervan with cups of tea, we ate our packed lunches and listened to the soft rain.

#2. Be prepared for the life on the road

Let me tell you one thing – travelling in a camper van is unlike any other type of travelling and if you are bringing your kids and partner along you’ll need to adapt to living in a small space without any room for privacy. Finding alone time can be challenging, and sleeping in can be non-existent.

Even if you consider yourself to be a seasoned traveller that often goes off the beaten track, transitioning from a house to a tiny van and being out in the middle of nowhere in the pitch-black night is an odd feeling that doesn’t even come close to spending the night in a cosy hostel dorm.

One of the best ways to prepare for life on the road, either you are going for weeks or months, is to think about your travel goals. they can provide a plan and a purpose. On top of that – manage your expectations and don’t stress the small stuff.

  • If you’re new to driving a camper van, allow for extra time on your trip and remember that rural areas will have smaller roads
  • Plan for some downtime specifically if you have youngsters. Plan for breaks and rest stops.
  • Invest in a decent GPS Navigation system and bring real maps too
IMG_5468
Getting to see lots of nature’s beauty and waking up with good views are some of the pros when traveling with a campervan.

#3. Plan for unexpected

Van life is so much more than Instagram would have you believe. It’s definitely not all about taking naps in the middle of the day, reading a book while laying on the bed covered in colourful Pendleton blankets and enjoying the views through the window. It’s an exercise in flexibility and patience. It’s adjusting to space constraints and learning to unwind. It’s keeping the romance alive while feeling tiered

Everyone experiences some sort of van problems while out on the road. Having a mechanical issue or running out of water can be frustrating but it’s part of the adventure.

When your car also doubles as your home, it’s important to have it in tip-top conditions and it’s vital to have a back-up plan for when things go wrong.

  • Always clean your car before the trip, stock up on essential supplies, and check your van for breaks, fluid levels, tiers and pretty much anything else that could cause unnecessary problems.
  • Make sure you have spare money in case you need to unexpectedly repair your van or if you need to stay in a hotel.
  • Be sure to download the best offline GPS map apps to discover new amazing places and navigate the roads.
  • Let someone know where you are going and have a full tank of gas.
Nothing comes close to being back on the road.

#4. Cherish the small moments

Staying in a hotel, you can easily take a shower, switch on the TV, connect to Wi-Fi and order food. Travelling with a campervan and being constantly on a move while trying to get ahead of bad weather can sometimes take its toll. The showers are far and few apart, you spend every waking and sleeping minute with your travel companion and when you add the stress of parking and driving a large vehicle, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Learn to let go of your expectations and start to feel grateful for the little things that we often take for granted. Don’t try to do too much or expect too much from your first trip; make sure you enjoy the ride. Don’t let your emotions control you; standing on the edge of the unknown without any previous experience or reference point makes our understanding go deeper. Travelling with a campervan is all about being in the present moment which can be a pretty vulnreable place.

Cherish the small moments; we are conditioned to think of success as something big, but in reality, joy is found in the small stuff that we do consistently over time. A cup of tea prepared just right. A warm meal. A hug. The family time. An evening stroll. A good laugh.

We need to learn to appreciate each moment on our journey. 

#5. Plan a rough itinerary

Travelling by car is often one of the most favourite things among the modes of transport – being in control of where to go and where to stay, having the flexibility to change your itinerary – what’s not to love about a road trip?

Having everything you need in one place and going where you please is one of the most appealing aspects of travelling in a campervan. Waking up and deciding where you are going to go next while having breakfast is one of the vanlife allures. Not to have a set itinerary is great but it doesn’t hurt to do some planning, especially about where you going to park for the night.

In Ireland, we don’t have an option to go off the grid and get lost. But if you choose to explore North America, a place with vast open spaces that don’t see any humans for days, you have to know where you are going., because you wouldn’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere.

Exploring County Cork and visiting Gougane Beara.

#6. Take only what you need

Don’t get carried away with bringing half of the house with you just because you can. Pack only the essentials, and you’ll learn that living small is the ultimate freedom. In the camper, every square inch counts and the less stuff you bring, the more space you’ll have to roam around.

  • Toiletries | Solid shampoo bar, bar of soap, wet wipes, insect reppellent, sunscreen
  • Clothes | Pack for all weather conditions
  • Food | Stock up on plenty of dry and canned foods and avoid buying anything at gas stations. For your daily dose of veggies- keep an eye out for farmers markets.
  • Water | Always take enough water with you as there isn’t always a supermarket at the end of the road
  • Headlamp | Packing a headlamp is to never go to disappoint. Out in the wilderness, it gets dark very fast and instead of firing up the engine, go for a frontal headlight that will keep your hands free.
  • Kitchen essentials – one small and one medium pot, cutting board, a pan, plates, soup bowls, cutlery
  • Fun stuff | Books, cards, sketch book, guitar
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault 

#7. Plan your meals and learn to cook

In an ideal world, we would take off the open road and look for adventures without worrying about a thing. In reality, if you are miles away from the grocery store or arrive past closing time with nothing else around, you can go hungry. Eating out at restaurants can be expensive, not always healthy, and that’s why it’s more satisfying to make your meals.

The fridge in a campervan is nowhere as big as you have it at home so most likely you will end up food shopping every 2-3 days. You don’t want to do a week-long shopping because things can happen. What if you lose powers or run out of gas? Wasting food due to maintenance malfunction or due to irrational tendencies is a bad habit. By planning ahead you’ll safe yourself lots of head-scratching.

Having an option to cook every meal is also a great way to have control over your budget, but with limited space, it’s best to make simple recipes that doesn’t require fancy equipment. We have a stove inside the van but you can opt for a smaller portable stove to cook outside.

  • Don’t let the notion of not having a full size kitchen prevent you from experiencing life on the road
  • Cook before you are hungry
Vanlife living.

#8. Keep your van clean and organised

Your campervan is a sleeping area, kitchen and living space all in one place and to keep it fully functioning you have to get organised. It’s important to know where the things are when you need them. The best thing to do is to get a little more creative in keeping your van clutter-free because even a small mess in a tiny space can be a huge annoyance.

When it comes to campervan organisation, space constraints may make it that much harder to keep it tidy especially if you are sharing it with someone else. Even if you don’t have all that much stuff it’s important to be organised. If you don’t have drawers and cabinets in your camper you can opt for plastic containers with lids. They are waterproof, it’s easy to see what’s inside, you can stock them on top of each other and the lids will keep the bugs out.

Make sure you have separate containers for dry foods, clothing, bedding, swimming and hiking gear. You can even label each containers group accordingly and sort them in a way that is easy to access.

If you travel with small children and struggle with car seats, strollers and beach toys than a small pop up tent can be a fantastic solution where to store large bulky items overnight.

Being on the road often, can put your campervan through a lot. To avoid the normal wear and tear, wash your exterior at least once a quarter.

#9. Don’t leave valuables out in the open

To ensure your safety as you would at home, use common sense at all times. Make sure everything is always put away into cupboards each day, so there’s rarely anything on offer to tempt anyone. Keeping your possessions safe should be your main priority while travelling around in a campervan.

  • Keep a record of the description and serial numbers of your valuable items e.g digital camera,camcorder and your phone
  • Carry important documents with you – credit cars, passport and travellers checks.
  • Always lock your campervan and keep windows secure
  • Don’t leave visitors brochures, maps and luggage visible in your van
  • Pull up the internal shutters
Always close your doors and windows.

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Now, over to you!

Have you ever been on a campervan trip? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a road trip and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

59 thoughts on “9 essential tips to make the most of your first campervan trip

    1. You don’t have to be a hippy to hit the road in a campervan. We’ve been travelling around Ireland for a few years now and can’t even imagine doing it any other way; these vehicles give you the freedom to go where you want when you want, knowing you’ve got a comfy bed waiting for you at the end of the night. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We don’t have vast wilderness territories where we could disappear for weeks on end, yet we had immense fun travelling around Ireland. Due to the recent outbreak, we never made it to the mainland Europegliding; through a string of different countries would be such an amazing adventure. Hopefully, we can do it next year. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 2 people

  1. We’ve done our fair share of tent camping this past summer and we’ve been contemplating buying a campervan or trailer. It’s tough when the weather is cold and wet, and it would be nice to have a warm dry space when spending a lot of time out on the road.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Travelling around the country where it rains nearly every day, buying a campervan was the best decision ever. Before we got a campervan, we always had to choose what to bring along on the trip. There was no way we could carry three surfboards, hiking gear and two bikes with us. It’s so nice we can finally bring everything we need. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said. During this pandemic year, campers, trailers and RVs have been flying off the lots as people change their travel plans. We never owned one, but did rent on for 3 weeks in New Zealand, when our oldest was just 16 months old. It was the adventure of a lifetime and we enjoyed the freedom of taking our home with us. Thanks for sharing Aiva. Stay well. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We rented for 2 weeks in Australia and loved it…. but we’d camped for years and had a caravan for a few years. We are seriously considering investing if the pandemic lingers but as you said above Aiva, we’ll rent and try it out first on our Irish roads. My only reservation is not having the freedom of leaving it parked and heading off with the car… that was the advantage of the caravan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. After several months of moving between the living room, the bedroom and the kitchen during the Corona pandemic, it was so nice to be back on the road and not worry whether the hotel rooms was sanitised properly. It was also a great way to reach your destinations in an alternative way and without the need to use airports, train stations etc. From what I’ve heard, due to the high demand, campervan prices (both, rental and buying) are very high in Ireland. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic way to escape from the usual, well-trodden itineraries of mass tourism, and instead to discover the magic of undiscovered Ireland. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Travelling around Ireland with a campervan was one of the best adventures ever. Being in a van surrounded by the sea, nature, the mountains… you can relax and have the total tranquillity and peace of mind for being away from the crowds of people, away from all kinds of viruses. Taking into consideration that all the restaurants and bars will take time to return to normality, you can completely enjoy your campervan since you have all the freedom to prepare a good meal in the kitchen inside the campervan and be mesmerized by the exceptional views with some fresh beers in the fresh air outside. Thanks for reading, Allan and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Katie. Taking road trips with a campervan is one of the best ways to see a new place. You have absolute freedom to explore on your own schedule and get off the beaten path. It’s one of the best adventures ever. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Risk of contracting the virus when travelling on the airline starts at the airport where social distancing can be difficult. That’s why staying close to home and travelling around Ireland with a campervan was the best way to avoid large groups of people. Making stops along the way for the gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your travelling companions in close contact with other people and surfaces, too. That’s why it’s important to plan your trip properly. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We have always enjoyed camping. It is an affordable option when you have a growing family. But as we moved to Irelands West coast, started surfing and biking, we had to find a way to bring all the equipment with us without breaking our backs. Travelling with a campervan offers us an opportunity to cook healthy meals three times a day and make hot tea without getting out of the bed, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The vanlife trend has taken the world by storm in the past few years and most of the things we see and hear on social media are the good bits. What we don’t see in pictures posted on Instagram are the struggles and challenges that come from being on the road. From finding a place to park to getting internet and doing laundry, there are lots going on behind the scenes. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva .

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of people see the glamorous side of travelling with a campervan – waking up to stunning views and being on the open road with someone, but there”s more to it than it looks. Sharing a tiny space and learning to cook without a proper kitchen isn’t for everyone, but we truly think vanlife has brought us even closer together as a family. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Though you might see your favourite IG influencer glamming it up in their cross-country camper travels, that’s not always the reality. In truth, some aspects of camper van living are really tough. To help you decide whether camper travel is worth a try, you have to look at all the pros and cons. Thanks for stopping by, Indi and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, your family is quite the adventurous bunch! Van life has become a major travel trend in recent years and, while it does sound romantic to have a mobile home and the freedom to go anywhere/anytime, I don’t think I could ever have the guts to make it a lifestyle. Kudos to you and others I know who’ve done it, though, as you really get to see so much more out there! Here’s to safe travels along the way. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Rebecca. Seeing how trendy van life has become in Ireland, we wanted to share a few useful tips for anyone who wants to give it a try. Because there is a big gap between what we can see on Instagram and how things are in real life!

      Whether you’re living in a van full-time or are just on a sneaky little road trip, you’ve got to expect some everyday things to take a bit longer than they might in a traditional home. This can include taking down and setting up your bed every day, you need to secure things before driving, gotta wash your dishes instead of sticking them in the dishwasher etc.

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great day. Aiva xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always love your photos and adventure stories, your little girl looks just like you. What a beautiful little girl, how fun you all must have together. My kids, in their ‘s now but they still love road trip adventures. I remember going on road trips with my cousins as a child. They owned a motorhome and that was so much fun. All us kids would head to the back room where the largest window was and watch the world go by while my dad drove from one state to another. My uncle sat next to my dad and our mother’s prepared meals for the day while this moving home drove on. It was so much fun. It can get dirty with kids everywhere, best tip is to keep everything clean and have lots of fun activities for the kids on board to help kill time when inside resting from a long day of fun and exploring. I love this post, thanks for sharing.

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  5. My, that child has grown!
    All good advice and I wish I’d known all that before we bought one (many years ago). We didn’t enjoy the travelling and sold it after one summer. I’m really a hotel sort of person, with room service on tap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Travelling via camper van is arguably not for everyone. I love staying at a hotel, and I love all the comforts that come with it, but going away on a family holiday and eating out every day in Ireland can cost a small fortune. That’s why we decided to get a campervan. This way we were able to go away most weekends for the past three years. Thanks for reading and have a lovely day. Aiva

      Like

  6. Lovely camper van Aiva and a smashingly good, interesting and informative article. When I lived in the US I often thought about taking a road trip on a camper-van all the way to Alaska. Maybe next year, and thank you for such great advice. Stay well, stay travelling 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Francisco. I would love to visit the States one day and to go on a proper road trip adventure and to visit as many national parks as possible. Travelling around Ireland with a campervan is so much fun, but if you have never driven one before there are a few things to keep in mind. Like the height of your vehicle and being careful when driving in windy areas as your vehicle is much higher than a passenger car. There’s a national weather warning in place; storm Aiden is expected to reach speeds of 100 to 130km/h. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My friend, Godspeed to you and I hope you fare well through that storm and that it passes quickly without harming much of that beautiful land and its beautiful people, like you and your lovely family. All the best to you and thank you for the driving tips, you are so right, driving a caravan is certainly not like driving a car. All the best to you!
        F.

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  7. Your trip sounds so dreamy and your advice is definitely on point! Going on a campervan trip has always been a dream of mine, and I haven’t visited some countries or places especially because I want to do it in a campervan with people I love (and know I won’t murder after 2 days ahahah)! 😍 This inspired me so much to actually plan it for when we can really travel! Thanks a lot for sharing these great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Juliette. Travelling with a campervan is the best way to practise social distancing and to stay away from large groups of people. We don’t have to worry about where we gonna eat and sleep. Although once in a while I like to relax in a proper bed, I can’t imagine travelling any other way, because you can bring along pretty much everything you need and want! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Aiva for sharing this. Truly an exciting possibility for me & my family. Haven’t even done camping in ages. Usually it’s all day trips for us. With hotels out of our list, campervan could be our next option for big roadtrips . Have a wonderful week, regards to your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. A campervan is our primary family vehicle, and we go pretty much everywhere with it, even to the grocery store. After three years on the road, I wouldn’t be able to travel in a normal car. We are so used to space, having everything at hand and opportunity to make a fresh cup of tea anytime anywhere. Thanks for stopping by. As Americans are voting in one of the most divisive presidential polls in decades, we are eagerly waiting who is gonna gain four years in the White House. Take care. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Waiting too with much anxiety and anticipation. It’s like watching a thriller movie only we are part of it. Whoever wins, I hope that leaders will truly lead us all, together. No more right or left, Republican or Democrat. Everyone should work together as one America.

        Like

  9. I am definitely saving this post. Thank you so much for the insight on vanlife! We live in our camper full time but are looking into traveling in a van on our weekend adventures. I couldn’t agree more about cherishing the small things in life!
    Once you move into a smaller space with someone you love, it really does make you appreciate the small acts of life and not be so consumed with materialistic lifestyles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Amber. On Instagram we see the lifestyle of van lifers to be all glamorous and perfect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Getting prepared to travel or even live in a campervan consists of a lot more than just building your home-on-wheels, packing, and planning for your adventures. Before setting off on your journey, you need to mentally prepare & educate yourself. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, kindly. Our initial plan was to buy a campervan for a year, but we love it too much to sell it! Travelling with a campervan is not just as easy as selling your stuff, buying a campervan, and hitting the road. It requires both commitment and dedication to accelerate you through the rough and bumpy roads you’re going to experience.Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

      Like

  10. Though we’re a travel trailer family, my colleague LOVES her campervan. She finally had to get rid of it a few years ago because it was so old and costing so much to keep running, and she mourned that thing. She got a pop-up camper next and hated it. It was gone in less than a year. She bought another campervan after that and all is now right in her world. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, guys! One of the reasons why we decided to get a campervan was the ability to bring along our hiking, surfing and biking gear. Travelling with a campervan is a very startling, exciting and unpredictable experience. You wake up every day with a different view beyond your front door. You don’t know what challenges or adventures await you the following morning. Every day is different, and that’s what makes it intriguingly exciting. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Travelling with a campervan is fun, but there are also a few sacrifices and challenges, like parking, insurance, vehicle maintenance etc, that come with it. That’s why it’s so important to approach everything with a positive attitude. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Like

  11. These are some great suggestions for life in general. I especially want to echo, “Cherish the small moments.” It is so easy to take so much for granted. Stay safe and keep the photos coming. Your daughter is adorable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Ali. Cherishing the small moments is something we’ve been trying to do through our travels around Ireland. Although they are often fleeting moments of meaning and joy, I’ve learned to savour small moments and store them in my invisible treasure box. Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is well. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  12. All I need is someone wonderful to go with me and I’d be off… 😉 This is seriously the best way to travel and see things for cheap. Your experience and advice is always so good…. and those photos! Your little girl will always cherish the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Pam. With its rolling green hills, pubs, and rich history, Ireland is one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe. But a vacation in Ireland can be very costly, even for those who live there. Keeping in mind that public transport services and infrastructure in Ireland are “uneven”, with rural western areas losing out to the east, we decided that getting a campervan would be the best mode of transport to explore Ireland. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Hi, Jo. We really wanted to see what it’s like to travel around Ireland with a campervan. We learned to love the simplicity of it and can’t imagine travelling any other way now. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much. Van life has really been going viral on the web recently. With its rapid increase in popularity, many enthusiasts question this lifestyle and wonder what exactly it is. Our advice – do not make decisions based on what you see on Instagram. Beautiful landscapes out of your backyard are not an everyday thing when travelling in a campervan. Some days you will feel like you’re on top of the world, while on other days you’ll be in a grocery store parking lot with nothing to do. Thanks for reading and have a good day. Aiva

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  13. Never been on a campervan trip, but we are pretty sure it’s so much fun! It must be so cool to wake up in the morning, look out of the window and see all that beauty. Also, it’s an excellent way how to travel, especially know with the virus. Stay safe Aiva, Martina.x x x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Martina. We love camping but were eager to give vanlife a try, too. The camping life is fun, but our tent isn’t always handy when it rains or you can’t find a spot to pitch your tent. With a small campervan, we can still enjoy the camping life but would be better protected against the neverending rain. I hope all is well with you guys. Four more weeks until the end of lockdown here in Ireland. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see our friends and family for Christmas. Take care. Aiva xxx

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