Around the world with the family
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.