In my latest edition of World Travellers meet a couple who have “retired” but yet are out globetrotting the world! Danila and Chris are an inspiration to us all and their website has a quirky title – “not dun roamin” – a nice to ring to it, let’s meet them!
Who are you?
Danila Mansfield and Chris Gill. We’re recent “retirees” who don’t want to put our feet up and fester! We love travel, and so we’ve sold our home, sold or given away all our possessions and are now permanent travellers!
Where are you from?
We’re both Brits, met and married in England, then moved to California in 1994. And now we’re travelling!
Where have you been?
Before we met, we had separately been to England, Scotland, Greece, Wales, Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Andorra, Spain, Thailand, USA. On our third date, Chris surprised Danila with a weekend in Paris (what a smooth move!). Since we’ve been together, we’ve visited Cyprus, Prague, many Caribbean islands, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand, Italy, Bavaria, Canadian Rockies, Mexico, Japan, and 23 US states. There’s a lot of world to see!
Where are you now?
In Beckenham, south London suburbs, staying with Danila’s mum. We’re catching up with family and friends, playing tourist in England and planning our next few months’ travel.
What are the top 3 places you’ve visited?
Venice – it’s just like the photos, only better! It’s like being on a film set. Every corner you turn round has a gondolier singing, or a view of colour-coordinated flowers on balconies overlooking a small shady courtyard, or old buildings looking like they’ve been perfectly decayed, with the plaster chipped and the paint peeling, just waiting for your camera! Yes, it’s touristy, but it really is amazingly beautiful. We’ve only spent a few days there, but we definitely plan to go back, and rent an apartment for a couple of months.
Belize – probably our favourite dive location. It’s the place we did our first dives after certifying in 1996, and we had the incredible experience of having a whale shark joining us towards the end of a dive. It’s also the location of Tom Owens Caye, the home of ReefCI, (www.reefci.com) where we first experienced working on a conservation project, which gave us the inspiration for the theme of our future travels.
Lucca – in Tuscany, central Italy. This is where Danila’s family lives. Lucca is a beautiful small walled city, set in gorgeous countryside, with the added bonus for us of having seemingly endless numbers of cousins, all willing to put us up and feed us wonderful Italian food!
What is the best travel experience you’ve had?
When we were travelling across the US from California to Florida, we stayed in Austin, Texas for 2 weeks. The airbnb owners we stayed with (Edie & Alberto) introduced us to their friends, Bill and Janine. We had lots of fun in Austin with them, but the best thing was when we they told us that they have a house just outside Cape Town, South Africa, and they usually go there for 3 months during the US summer (S.A. winter), and would we like to go and stay there with them for a while?! Luckily our travel plans were flexible, so we said yes! S. Africa was “on the list”, but not actually planned, so we took advantage of their kind invitation, switched our plans around, and we have now booked to be in S. A. for 3 months: August, September and October. We’ll be working on a couple of conservation projects, then spending some time with Bill and Janine, in their home, and also travelling along the Garden Route.
What is the worst travel experience you’ve had?
We’re pretty lucky really, we haven’t had any terrible experiences. We find the worst part is air travel. Hanging round airports, waiting to have your passport checked to leave the country (!) security checks, especially when they decide to open your carefully packed carry-on bag. Waiting, waiting. We find that pretty stressful. We’re trying to learn to chill and use the time to relax and read, but it’s still difficult!
What is the funniest travel experience you’ve had?
We did our PADI Advanced diving certification in Belize at ReefCI in 2013. As part of the buoyancy test, Polly Alford, our instructor, had us go upside down, keeping our heads a few inches above the sand, and then twirl round, staying straight upside down, and preferably not screwing your head into the sand! It was so funny watching each trainee diver flail around and/or drill themselves into the sandy sea floor, and I was laughing so much, I almost spat out the regulator! It was even funnier to try doing it and I think I would have ended up completely burying my head if I hadn’t stopped! I’m happy to say that after more practice, we both passed the buoyancy test, as well as the PADI advanced!
What is the scariest travel experience you’ve had?
We lived in California from 1994 to 2013, and soon after we arrived we bought a Harley-Davidson Sportster. We loved taking trips on the bike, and we had a long weekend trip planned to go up the coast on Highway 1, to Mendocino, then turning inland to Clearlake. Chris was driving and Danila was navigating, resting the map on his back and shouting directions over his shoulder. Well, the map showed a narrow road which would cut off about 20 miles of main road, so being the adventurous types, we decided to take it. After a few minutes the asphalt road turned into dirt and gravel, but the bike was handling it well, so we continued on. Then a couple of mountain bikers came past us in the opposite direction and gave us funny looks, and we continued on. The road started to climb and narrow, and we carried on. After a while we realised that the Sportster, laden with our panniers for a long weekend, was absolutely not going to be able to turn and go back down this, by now, quite steep gravel track, so we just had to hope it was going in the right direction and that it wouldn’t get worse. We were by now feeling a bit nervous, and became really worried, when we turned a corner, and came upon a guy with a gun shooting up an old wreck of a car at the side of the road. We gulped, smiled and waved at him in our most friendly fashion, and then got out of there as fast as we could. We did wonder if in 10 years’ time, the local papers would be reporting the discovery of 2 skeletons next to their rusty old Harley, but fortunately soon after, the road started going downhill gently, widened out and became asphalt again, and to our great relief came out onto the main road we had aimed at and hoped for! Phew!
What is the most random job you have had on your travels?
One of our favourite dive places is the Sapodilla Cayes in southern Belize. We’ve been twice with a reef conservation organisation called ReefCI. (www.reefci.com ) It’s great fun and very satisfying to help collect information on the health of the reef and the marine life there. One of the jobs we’ve done is conch tagging. We work in pairs, with a bag containing calipers to measure various parts of the conch, the numbered tags, and an underwater slate and pencil for recording. First you find your conch, then without touching, you look carefully to see if it might have eggs, which just looks like a scruffy bit of sand and scraps sticking to one end of the shell. If there are eggs, you record 1 female found, and leave her alone. If there are no eggs, you start to measure the conch. One person holds it, and the other uses calipers to measure. Sometimes the conch objects to this gentle treatment, and thrusts out its very muscular foot and tries to walk away. You’d be surprised just how powerful a 10 inch conch can be when they try! It’s pretty funny trying to gently but firmly hold down a conch, so your partner can measure him, all the while trying to keep off the sand so you don’t stir it up, and maintain good buoyancy. Fun job!
How do you fund your travels?
We’re “retired”, and childfree, so we’ve saved over the years. In November 2013 we sold our house in California, and sold or gave away all our possessions. Without the regular expenses of maintaining a house: mortgage, property taxes, maintenance costs, utilities etc, we can afford to travel, staying in local apartments rather than hotels, and cooking in as much as we can. We balance staying with family in London and Italy, with working on lower-cost volunteer conservation projects, which also gives us a chance to see interesting places, do some meaningful things, and keep our bodies and brains active.
What 3 tips would you give a new traveller before they set off on their adventure?
- Pack even lighter than you think you can. We started out with one regular suitcase and one carry-on each, but we found we were simply dragging around a bunch of stuff we didn’t use or wear “just in case.” By ditching all this excess, we’ve now got it down to one carry-on size bag (which we check when flying) plus a smaller bag to take into the cabin, for each of us.
- Plan to a certain extent, even 6 to 12 months ahead, but be flexible and willing to change everything or even to toss all your plans, if an unexpected great opportunity arises. That’s how we were able to take advantage of a generous offer from new-found friends, to stay in South Africa!
- Carry lots of water and drink it. We find that tiredness and crankiness are often thirst in disguise.
What are your future travel plans?
We have 3 months planned in South Africa. We’ll be going at the end of July, where we’ll spend August working with WildlifeACT on some of their game preserves. In September, we plan to work at Buffelsdrift game lodge and then we’ll spend two weeks with Marine Dynamics, volunteering on their Great White Shark research and dive operation, where we hope to get a chance to cage dive with the great white sharks. In October we’ll meet up with Bill and Janine, spend some time in their home in Betty’s Bay, which is part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and also do some travelling with them along the beautiful Garden Route, visiting Addo Elephant Park and the Cango Caves. At the end of October, we’ll be going back to England, and probably spend Christmas with our families for the first time in many years. After that, we’re thinking of turtle projects in Costa Rica, more diving and reef conservation in Belize, a chance to help with conservation work in the Galapagos, then who knows? Maybe the US for a bit, maybe Australia, New Zealand and SE Asia… there’s a lot of world out there!
We are Chris Gill and Danila Mansfield. Married since 1993, both born in England, lived in California since 1994. Chris was a high-tech entrepreneur, and Danila was in sales and marketing. Now “retired” and permanent travellers since November 2013! We’ve always loved to travel, and have been PADI SCUBA certified since 1996, and then our travel became very water-focused! We’ve taken our interests in travel, exploration and wildlife, and we intend to use our time in some of the many volunteer travel opportunities in conservation and wildlife around the world. We will also mix and match the volunteer travel work with renting apartments for periods of time (weeks, months?) in interesting places that we would like to see. We are NOT dunroamin yet!
Thanks to Chris and Danila for being the latest in my series of World Travellers! If you travel the world and run a travel blog or are a travel writer, please get in touch, you can be featured (there’s a HUGE waiting list at present), either e-mail jonny (at) dontstopliving (dot) net or head to my contacts page and get connected! You can also subscribe to Don’t Stop Living by filling in the form below! Safe travels!