Laura Woodley, 35, has always liked the idea of living unconventionally. So she moved onto a boat.
She decided to start documenting her experience on social media to connect with like-minded people.
She enjoys the lifestyle, but says it's more difficult and expensive than it seems.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Laura Woodley, 35, a TikTok creator who lives on a narrowboat. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I've always been a bit of an unconventional person. The standard, cookie-cutter life pattern has never appealed to me.
So, when I could no longer live alone in London due to rent increases, I decided to start looking at alternatives. Lots of people in London live on canals around the city in "narrowboats," which are usually 6 feet 10 inches wide.
Whenever I was walking down the path near the canal, I'd always look at the narrowboat community. I'd see people sitting together on the boats, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
I spent a lot of time online researching what it was like to live on a boat and watching videos of other people doing it. The more I found out about it, the more it appealed to me. So, I decided to take out a loan and buy a narrowboat to try it out myself.
Making the move during the COVID-19 lockdown was stressful. I was away from my friends and family, and I had to learn how to do a lot of things myself, but the experience has helped me to become more confident and self-sufficient.
I began posting about my life on a narrowboat on Instagram and TikTok to connect with like-minded people. I love living on a boat, but I want to make it clear that the lifestyle is not for everyone.
My first months on the boat were a struggle
I had a fantastic experience living with housemates, but when I reached 31, I was getting to a stage where I wanted to live alone. Living on a boat felt like the obvious next step.
At first, it was difficult. I've got a phobia of fire, so using the gas stove was a struggle. I'm also quite scared of machinery, which feels silly because I live on a machine.
A week into living on the boat, the UK went into lockdown. I'd bought it in Northampton, which is about 60 miles from London, and I'd hoped I would be able to cruise it back to the city, but I didn't make it in time. I was away from my family, friends, and community, and nobody was allowed to come and see me because of lockdown travel restrictions.
At the time, it was very stressful. But looking back, I think it was a good experience. Knowing I handled things by myself helped to build my confidence.
I began to make videos about living on the boat to connect with other people in similar situations
My day job is in social media, so soon after I bought the boat, it made sense to start posting videos on Instagram. I enjoyed the sense of community that came with connecting with people online who had done similar things.
After about a year of making Instagram videos, I started making TikToks, too, showing people what the inside of my boat looked like, answering questions about my job, and explaining how I do basic everyday tasks, such as laundry (at friends' houses, usually).
I didn't expect my videos to be that popular, but some of them went viral. From reading the comments, I've learned there are a lot of misconceptions: Some people think it's really cheap, while others think it's very expensive, and a lot of people assume living on a boat means I don't work.
Lots of people think that living on a boat means you always stay in one place. But I don't have a permanent mooring, meaning I have to move the boat frequently, staying in different parts of the canals depending on the week.
Living on a boat isn't as easy or as cheap as many people think it is
People were particularly interested in my video explaining how much I pay to live on a narrowboat, which received more than 1.3 million views.
Many people think that I'm living on a boat to save money, but I actually spend more than I did when I was renting, although I now live alone instead of with roommates.
Living on a narrowboat is not as simple as having a set of fixed monthly expenses like you would if you lived in a house. I took out a loan to buy the boat, and repayments are about £650, or $810, a month, but I will have hopefully paid it off by early 2025.
The other main expense is the license required in the UK to keep the boat on canals and rivers. This is about £60 a month. I don't have access to utilities, but other bills, such as laundry (when I don't have access to friends' houses), coal and wood for heating, and the cost of pumping out the toilet waste, come to about £190 a month.
Maintenance is about £175 a month. This can vary, though, and I keep savings in case something goes wrong. A couple of winters ago, half of my chimney fell off, and my heating broke, and I had to pay £700 to fix it.
When more minor things go wrong, I often have to fix them myself because there's no one else there to help me, which is hard as I'm not the best at DIY. I can't just call a landlord.
I'm a pretty competent boat driver now, but it still makes me a little bit nervous because whenever I have to move the boat, I'm moving my entire house. I don't want anything to go wrong.
Other things involve a lot of unexpected time and effort, too. Sometimes, I have to walk two miles just to dispose of garbage. There are times I've run out of gas, and I've had to go and fill up the tank. It doesn't happen very often, but you have to be prepared. A lot of boaters will tell you a story about the time they've had a bad day and tried to make a cup of tea, only to find that there's no gas.
Sometimes, the toilet breaks, or the heating system breaks. Keeping on top of everything can feel like having a part-time job in addition to my full-time job. Before I lived on the boat, I was renting a house, so I'm not used to having this responsibility on my shoulders.
Occasionally, I've wanted to give up this lifestyle, but the boating community makes it all worth it
I've had some difficult times on the boat. I've even had fleeting thoughts where I want to give up completely because it's a lot of work. But the community keeps me going. I've found that other people who own boats and live around me are supportive, helpful, and friendly, and it's incredibly diverse. We all look out for each other, help each other, and spend time with each other.
When you live in a house, you can just stay in your own little bubble, but on a boat, you have to extend kindness because you'll probably need help at some point, too.
It's important to go into it with realistic expectations, though. I wouldn't tell people to just go for it because it's a difficult life. From the outside, it can seem really tranquil and idyllic, but it's not always like that. There can be a lot of stress.
Part of the reason I wanted to live on a boat was to make me braver, and it has worked. I've had some struggles, but I think they've all had positive outcomes. I'm a much braver person than I was before I bought the boat.
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