By Mahima Kaur
THIS COUPLE who paused their NHS jobs to travel a whopping 25K miles and live in a tiny £450 Vauxhall Agila 2003 camper car are stranded in Morocco until they can raise the funds to adopt the stray pooch they took into their van after he ran in front of their vehicle almost causing them to crash.
Occupational Therapist Alex Hunter (29) and Prosthetist Doug Oldrey (30) were due to complete their studies in 2020 and go on a planned rally – The Mongol Rally, but because of the pandemic went straight into frontline healthcare roles.
The Mongol Rally is an intercontinental car rally that begins in Europe and ends in Ulan-Ude, Russia.
Once things settled down on the Covid front, Doug left his job and Alex took unpaid time off of her job at the NHS in order to undertake the rally that they had planned pre-covid.
Alex and Doug created their own rally with two other teams travelling 25,000 miles across 40 countries based on Covid border restrictions and current conflict areas and named it as the Long Loop Rally.
They wanted to start a charity rally that was as challenging as The Mongol Rally and so they hit three continents and went as far east into Asia as possible (Armenia), as far north in Europe as possible, in the Arctic (Nordkapp, Norway), to the most northern point of Africa in Tunisia, the Sahara and Morocco in North Africa.
They have raised £2650 of the £3000 target for their two chosen charities – Blesma, a charity working with military personnel and veterans who have suffered loss of limb, sight or other physical/mental health difficulties they may encounter, in order to help them live a fulfilled life, and Cool Earth who work with indigenous populations to come up with sustainable solutions to stop deforestation around the world.
They decided to complete this rally in their Vauxhall Agila, 2003 1.2 litre, front wheel drive which they lovingly named ’Sheila the Agila’.
They bought their car for just £450 and invested another £1000 to convert it into a micro camper with double bed, pull-out stove, kitchen and storage and even a fridge.
They have lived full time in their car since July and admit that living in a car is drastically cheaper than paying rent especially given the current prices and the rise in energy bills.
The couple have even picked up a companion, a Moroccan rescue pup named Tagha, who at five weeks old ran in front of their car, almost caused a crash but ended up stealing their hearts and they are raising money to adopt him from his country before they are able to leave Morocco.
They are raising money for two charities and have JustGiving pages for them.
So far they have visited France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, San Marino, Tunisia, Monaco, Andorra, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco
“Being in a car is certainly less expensive in terms of rent,” they said.
“We have come to terms with the fact that we will likely never be able to afford a house in the UK with current prices, the rise in energy bills etc. and so have had van life as our ambition for some time now.
“In our case living in a car is also cheaper to insure and run than a van.
“We also just don’t think we will be able to ever afford a house, especially whilst we continue to pay rent.
“Living in a car means we can save money in the long run and look at other opportunities aside from becoming tied to a mortgage.
“When we return from our current trip we have a plan to convert a van that we already own whilst working in the UK.
“Maybe one day we will want to be in a house and be able to afford it, but at the moment, a car suits us perfectly.”
Living in a tiny car is by no means an easy thing but the experience has taught Alex and Doug a lot of both- the good and the bad.
“As we live in a tiny car, space is even more of a premium than with living in a van, so we have to be very careful with packing and working out exactly what we will need for a journey,” they said.
“We did lots of short trips in the UK which helped us to work out what we did and did not need for such a long journey through so many different countries and climates.
“We have actually found the freedom that car life can really offer us and certainly made us rethink our future plans and aspirations.
“We have come to realise how simply we can live, with less possessions and less need for them.
“We have had to problem solve a lot of situations on the road because we haven’t had the exact tool or item to fix something outright.
“This has challenged us and given us a chance to look at situations from outside the box in order to solve them.”
By living in a small camper car, Alex and Doug have shattered many social expectations and this has led to varying comments from people.
“We occasionally have people in disbelief that we live in such a small city car, especially as Doug is 6’2 tall,” said Alex.
“We have had some people who were adamant that our plan to convert the car into a camper and travel in it wasn’t possible but we have demonstrated that you can make a camper out of a tiny car.
“In fact, it is more affordable and accessible to people and you don’t have to have a big van.
“We have also had many comments stating that we would not be able to cover the terrain we have done in such an unsuitable car.
“Again we have proved them wrong and taken Sheila over terrain that would challenge the best overlanding 4×4, including mountain slopes, deserts and the Arctic.
“Other than that we have been very lucky, people are usually just curious and perhaps we tend to be drawn to more like minded people and so don’t come across people who may disagree or criticise our lifestyle choices.”
It has been five months since Alex and Doug have been living in the camper but they will return to the UK after completing a full eight months.
“We became stranded on the last loop of the rally in Morocco in order to complete the adoption process for our newest family member – Tagha the Moroccan rescue pup,” they said.
“She ran out in front of our car on day four in Morocco and was around five weeks old with no mother or any hope of survival.
“We couldn’t possibly leave her behind so whilst the five month adoption process is underway we plan to continue to explore beautiful Morocco.
“We can’t express how much we have loved living in our car the past few months and have learnt so much about ourselves and each other and meeting people along the adventure.
“We feel we have also proven that you can explore the world with the security of a camper for only a fraction of the cost of a van or motorhome.
“All this we have done while raising money for charity and then rescuing a helpless Moroccan puppy.”
You can follow Alex and Douglas’ journey on https://www.instagram.com/sheilatheagila/
The justgiving link for their chosen rally charities is: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sheilatheagila
The justgiving link for helping to get Tagha, their rescue pup home is: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/puppyrescue?utm_term=zdn9wR4gb