Court­ney Adamo

Around the world with the fam­ily

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - Text: Hélène La­halle – Pho­tos: Amelia Fullar­ton

How did this ad­ven­ture be­gin?

A fam­ily gap year is some­thing I’ve wanted to do since I was young. I have al­ways loved the idea of trav­el­ling with our chil­dren and in­tro­duc­ing them to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, places and cul­tures. I’ve also al­ways been at­tracted to a sim­ple, bo­hemian life­style – bare­foot chil­dren and care­free ad­ven­tures. I shared my dream with Michael when I first met him, and it was a sub­ject that came up in our fam­ily prac­ti­cally on a weekly ba­sis! After twelve years in busy Lon­don, in early 2015 we were at a point where we started con­sid­er­ing life in other places. Would we be hap­pier liv­ing in the coun­try­side? Would life be eas­ier if we lived closer to fam­ily? In­stead of mak­ing a big move straight away, we felt like it was the right time to take a year off.

How did you de­cide to leave Lon­don and your re­spec­tive jobs to travel the globe with your chil­dren?

While the fam­ily gap year has al­ways been a dream of mine, it was ac­tu­ally Michael who sug­gested the idea. We were ly­ing in bed one night hav­ing the same old ques­tion about where to live and he just blurted out the sug­ges­tion of sell­ing our house and trav­el­ling for a year. I sat straight up in bed, asked him to re­peat him­self just to be sure I had heard him cor­rectly, and then started squeal­ing with en­thu­si­asm. The next day we called the es­tate agents to put our house on the mar­ket. With our el­dest be­ing 10 and our youngest be­ing nearly 3, it just felt like the right time for our fam­ily. Eas­ton was still a young, care­free boy, happy to be with his fam­ily and play with his sib­lings. School was not too de­mand­ing or rig­or­ous yet. It felt like a per­fect time for him to take a year out of school and be away from his friends. Mar­low, be­ing 3, was also at a good stage be­cause she was no longer a baby. We didn’t need to bring a buggy or a travel cot. It was also the right time in our ca­reers, and we were lucky to be able to sell our Lon­don home at a good time in the hous­ing mar­ket as well. Ev­ery­thing worked in our favour in terms of tim­ing.

Were you ap­pre­hen­sive be­fore leav­ing? Or were you just very ex­cited?

In gen­eral, we were both just re­ally ex­cited. We both knew a won­der­ful once-in-a-life­time ad­ven­ture was ahead of us. But of course, there were some tough de­ci­sions to make be­fore we could go. We were liv­ing in our newly-ren­o­vated home in Lon­don. Our three old­est chil­dren were hap­pily set­tled in a beau­ti­ful school we all loved. Michael had a full-time job as a film pro­ducer with a com­pany he had built from the ground up. It was a big de­ci­sion to sell our home and our be­long­ings, take the chil­dren out of a school we loved, and es­pe­cially for Michael to leave his job. After over twenty years in the film busi­ness, it was a big deal for him to step out of that in­dus­try and leave be­hind a com­pany he had cre­ated. We were also wor­ried about tak­ing our chil­dren out of school – wor­ried what the teach­ers and the head of the school would say when we told them – but they were all so en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ive of our de­ci­sion, so our anx­i­eties were im­me­di­ately put at ease.

How did the chil­dren re­act when you told them?

They were all so ex­cited! We told them on New Year’s Eve. We thought it was the right time to ex­plain to them that the year ahead was go­ing to be one of the most mem­o­rable, won­der­ful years for us all. I re­mem­ber when we told the kids, Eas­ton, our el­dest, asked us who would wa­ter his lemon tree, which he had planted from a seed and had spent the pre­vi­ous two years nur­tur­ing. Of all the things he could worry about, he was wor­ried about his lit­tle lemon tree!

Had you planned to choose a fi­nal place to live, or was it some­thing you de­cided after tour­ing the globe?

Trav­el­ling for us was not only about spend­ing a year to­gether as a fam­ily and dis­cov­er­ing new coun­tries and cul­tures, but was also about help­ing us de­cide what

our pri­or­i­ties were for de­cid­ing where to live next. We were cu­ri­ous to see which coun­tries and cul­tures would ap­peal to us, and we def­i­nitely saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore new places to call home. We didn’t orig­i­nally rule out re­turn­ing to Lon­don, but within a few months of trav­el­ling, I think we all knew we wouldn’t be able to re­turn to that city. As much as we loved Lon­don, we were all ea­ger for new ad­ven­tures, and more im­por­tantly a slower pace of life. We couldn’t bring our­selves to re-en­ter the busy work­ing world in Lon­don or to take back on the high ex­penses and de­mands that come with life in that big city. Dur­ing our trav­els, we re­alised we are hap­pi­est as a fam­ily when we are able to spend time in na­ture. We also dis­cov­ered a love of surf­ing and it be­came a ma­jor theme of our trav­els. After catch­ing the surf­ing bug, we knew that where we ended up had to be near the ocean. We also re­alised the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity and we craved a place where we could con­nect with like-minded fam­i­lies.

Why did you choose Byron Bay?

Dur­ing our trav­els, we spent five weeks in Ban­ga­low, a small town just out­side Byron Bay. Dur­ing that time, we made so many new friends and dis­cov­ered the won­der­ful life­style here. Within one month of ex­plor­ing beau­ti­ful Byron Bay and the towns dot­ted through­out its hin­ter­land, we all agreed that this could be our spot. We had eas­ily made dear friends and found a rhythm and rou­tine that was in­cred­i­bly nat­u­ral for our fam­ily. We felt an un­de­ni­able con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral beauty of the area and were drawn to its in­fec­tiously happy res­i­dents. Of course there was also the surf­ing, the sun­shine, the good food, the cre­ative com­mu­nity and the bo­hemian life­style that’s al­ways ap­pealed to me. We had fallen in love with this place! We quizzed the kids: could you live here? Their an­swers were al­ways, and un­am­bigu­ously, ‘yes!’ At the end of our month-long stay, we couldn’t wait to re­turn. The com­mu­nity here in Byron is so cre­ative and col­lab­o­ra­tive. There are so many won­der­ful brands and busi­nesses that are do­ing such cool things, and ev­ery­one is re­ally sup­port­ive of each other, which is nice.

When you travel, of course you ex­pect to dis­cover new places and land­scapes and a dif­fer­ent way of life, but don’t you learn about your own fam­ily most of all?

Of course! We all saw and learned so much from our ex­pe­ri­ences that year. We gained a new per­spec­tive on our world and the dif­fer­ent cul­tures, peo­ple and places in it. We made so many friends all over the world that we feel a deep con­nec­tion to ev­ery con­ti­nent. It is so lib­er­at­ing to have this con­nec­tion to other places and peo­ple – to not feel an­chored to one spe­cific place. The no­madic life­style is a very ad­dic­tive! But of course, in ad­di­tion to gain­ing per­spec­tive about the rest of the world, you also dis­cover what is im­por­tant to you. After spend­ing a year liv­ing out of a small suit­case, wear­ing the same out­fits on ro­ta­tion, sleep­ing in rented beds with just a few per­sonal pos­ses­sions to hand, we re­alised how lit­tle we ac­tu­ally need to be happy. None of us missed the things we left be­hind. The kids didn’t have any toys, apart from the few items they could fit in their back­packs, but they man­aged to play all sorts of imag­i­na­tive games and stay en­ter­tained and happy all year long. It wasn’t easy to part with all the things we thought we needed, but it was very lib­er­at­ing once we did. I hope we can al­ways be re­minded of those sim­ple, happy days. I don’t want to go back to need­ing and want­ing ‘stuff’ in my life. Also, be­cause we home­schooled the chil­dren for 18 months, we got to know our kids as stu­dents and to un­der­stand how they each learn and which sub­jects they are truly pas­sion­ate about. Homeschool­ing was chal­leng­ing at times, but it was also in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing. See­ing our chil­dren in this light has of­fered us such a good un­der­stand­ing of their in­di­vid­ual strengths and weak­nesses, and it will al­low us to sup­port them in for­mal ed­u­ca­tion mov­ing for­ward. Col­lec­tively, I think we will all look back on this year and feel it has made us an even closer and stronger fam­ily. We have happy mem­o­ries that will last a life­time and a re­newed out­look on life that will hope­fully shape the way we will live and the val­ues we will hold most dear.

How did this trip change you?

It def­i­nitely shifted my pri­or­i­ties. When we lived in Lon­don, Michael and I were both work­ing long hours. We felt the pres­sure to work hard so we could af­ford life in Lon­don and the life­style we had grown ac­cus­tomed to, and this meant that we spent less time with our kids, and when we were with them, we were of­ten dis­tracted by dead­lines and the pres­sures of work. Life was busy and the pace was quick. Our el­dest turn­ing ten was a big eye opener for me – in the blink of an eye, a decade had passed! I re­ally wanted to slow things down and be more present with my chil­dren. I don’t want to look back on this pre­cious time when my chil­dren were young and have any re­grets. I want to cher­ish th­ese busy, messy, tire­some days be­cause, as my dad al­ways says, ‘th­ese are the best days of your life’.

How did it change the kids?

For our kids, the trav­el­ling re­ally opened up a world of pos­si­bil­i­ties for them. They feel more like world cit­i­zens now than Bri­tish or Amer­i­can kids. They have gained per­spec­tives about the world – not just with their un­der­stand­ing of ge­og­ra­phy, but with a deep con­nec­tion to the coun­tries we’ve vis­ited. When they think of South Amer­ica, for ex­am­ple, they can en­vi­sion the coun­tries, the cul­tures, the peo­ple, the foods, the

lan­guages, the colours, the smells, etc. They think of our friends who we met there, and they have a tan­gi­ble per­spec­tive on th­ese places. They’ve also seen how many dif­fer­ent ways there are to live, and that you can find hap­pi­ness in lots of dif­fer­ent ways. We met so many peo­ple in Sri Lanka who, in com­par­i­son to so many Western­ers, have noth­ing. They live with four poles and a tarp over their heads, and yet they were some of the hap­pi­est, warm­est peo­ple we’ve met, invit­ing us over to their homes for din­ner and of­fer­ing small gifts to the kids. Hope­fully my kids will con­tinue to re­mem­ber th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences through­out their lives.

Were you used to trav­el­ling with your par­ents when you were a child?

I grew up in the very north-west corner of Amer­ica. We lived about twenty min­utes from the sea and about an hour from snow-capped moun­tains. It’s a very beau­ti­ful part of the world, but it was also a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can small farm­ing town, not very di­verse and not ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing cul­tur­ally. I’m the old­est of five kids, so it was al­ways busy in our home. We had lots of space and free­dom to run around out­side. But the older I got, the more I craved ex­po­sure to the rest of the world. I think this is when the wan­der­lust kicked in. One day, the fam­ily liv­ing next door to my grand­par­ents took a year off and trav­elled the world. I re­mem­ber be­ing so fas­ci­nated by that con­cept of trav­el­ling around the whole world. It seemed so ex­cit­ing! They came back with such won­der­ful sto­ries and pho­tos, and I re­mem­ber think­ing then that I wanted to do that some­day when I had chil­dren of my own. When I was 16, I saw an ad in the news­pa­per for a study abroad pro­gram to Europe. I called the num­ber and re­ceived an ap­pli­ca­tion in the post the next week. I filled out the ap­pli­ca­tion to live in Spain for the sum­mer even with­out telling my par­ents. I was ac­cepted, and ended up spend­ing two months that sum­mer liv­ing with a fam­ily in Barcelona. I came home from that trip with a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of Span­ish as well as a de­sire to travel and ex­plore more of Europe. Hav­ing chil­dren has only fed that wan­der­lust; it has only made it more en­joy­able and re­ward­ing to travel.

Do you think trav­el­ling en­cour­ages you to live in the present?

I def­i­nitely think trav­el­ling pro­vides a con­text for your own life and forces you to ques­tion the be­liefs and cus­toms you are fa­mil­iar with. See­ing the way other peo­ple live and ex­plor­ing new cul­tures en­cour­ages you to re-ex­am­ine your own po­si­tion in the world, and of course this pushes you to be very present.

Do you know how long you will be stay­ing in Byron Bay? Or do you just live with­out plan­ning any­thing?

We re­ceived our Aus­tralian visas in Novem­ber, so now we are en­ti­tled to live here per­ma­nently. We are hop­ing to buy some land and build a home. We’ve also con­sid­ered set­ting up a Bed & Break­fast. We love the idea of hav­ing a busi­ness that at­tracts other trav­ellers from around the world so our kids con­tinue to meet and en­gage with in­ter­est­ing peo­ple. Now that we’re set­tled here in Byron, we’re also hop­ing to ex­plore more of Aus­tralia. We’ve never been to West­ern Aus­tralia, and we’d love to also visit Tas­ma­nia.

What would you say to fam­i­lies who dream of do­ing the same with­out dar­ing to do it?

Do it! Don’t over­think it. Don’t dwell on all the what­ifs or po­ten­tial prob­lems that could arise. Look­ing back at the past few years, tak­ing that leap was the best de­ci­sion we’ve ever made.

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