We all have family secrets. For the last nine months, my family have shared a secret. Albeit very poorly guarded, (mainly due to my excited lack of restraint). Thankfully, the need for secrecy is no longer, and the full extent of what we have been working on is now public knowledge and can be officially ‘announced’.
We are leaving Australia to travel the world, on a family gap year for 10 months (we wish it were longer) of continuous travel, nomadic style. We will visit 30 cities and villages, across 3 continents, in 16 countries. We will have one suitcase each, plus carry on, and carry our life in these cases. We will experience opposite climates, from the Artic to the Pacific countries, all whilst world-schooling our three daughters. Now by ‘we’ I mean my husband, three daughters and me, but I don’t believe that I’ve ever officially introduced you to my tribe. Aka. family. These are the 4 people that keep me chasing. Chasing life. Chasing dreams. Chasing goals. These are my people. And this is our story.
FORMAL INTRODUCTIONS- WHO WE ARE
We are a family of five from Melbourne, Australia.
There is my husband, Andrew, along with our daughters, Paige (13), Lani (10) and Ava (8), and of course me. But no surprises there, as you know that I’m the voice behind Lost and Found Traveller which was conceived in 2013 after visiting Paris with my eldest daughter, Paige.
Together, we are storytellers with unique insight and at times unconventional opinions. Most likely because of the way we perceive and process the world, and the things around us. Fortuitously, this unique perspective leads to a unique voice, allowing us to tell a story differently, because we see the world differently.
Typically, we’re not one for labels, but if we had to define ourselves it would be:
“ intellectually curious travellers, who value unpretentious luxury and authentic experiences. Travellers who seek opportunities that foster a sense of connectedness to each other and the world around us.”
In the coming weeks, before our adventure begins in October, I will introduce you to each of the character’s (individual family member’s) in this story.
THE DAWN OF AN EPIPHANY
It all started in my kitchen on a mid-afternoons September day. Elbow deep in soap suds, the house peaceful and empty. The kids at school, my husband in Seattle, and me, staring into the depths of dirty dishwater when I had a life-changing epiphany. To be accurate, it was more of a vision. But through the vision came the realisation that as a Western society we have made money, wealth, and possessions our life’s ambition. It is often the measure of our success, as perceived by society. It consumes the majority of our time, and if we’re not making money, we’re thinking about how we can make more money, and if we can’t make more money we spend the time planning how we can save more money. And naturally so, because we have made money our security.
In doing so, we have made money our world. No longer is money just our source of financial provision for the future. No longer is it about having a clean, safe roof over our head, or just food on the table. It’s now the source of not just security, but of comfort. Of entertainment. Of happiness.
Somehow, without realising it, we all have bought into the status quo of what our culture tells us is “a life well lived”. Defined by our bank balance. Defined by our accolades. Defined by what we own. And if in Australia, a life well lived often means a well paying job with affordability for “ The Great Australian Dream” of home ownership. This is a life well lived. Or is it? Because when I think of Mother Theresa she had none of those things. When I think of Martin Luther King, his pursuits were otherwise. In fact the people whose lives were of most note, had nothing to do with what they had, but rather what they represented. It was about their character and the life that they chose to lead. But I digress from my vision whilst washing the dishes.
The vision was a bird’s eye perspective. I was looking down upon the world. And I saw a glittering gold city far in the distance. It was beautiful. Dazzling in every way.
Leading to the city were train tracks. These tracks ran at infinitum, stretching across the earth, towards the golden city.
A train appeared, but no ordinary train. It was a high-speed train, hurtling at full speed, express style, stopping for no one and nothing.
Aboard the train was all of Western civilisation. Crammed in and crowded, all single minded in focus on reaching the glittering golden city that lay ahead.
And as the train speed towards the distant city, it passed many stations along the way without stopping.
The stations were named: “Relationships”. “Quality Time”. “Memories”. “Mindfulness” “Health” “Wellbeing” “Stillness” “Joy”.
And yet the train, carrying all of Western society passed these stations, solely focused on reaching the city ahead.
After the vision, a word appeared in my mind/heart, and I recognised the truth of His voice. The word whispered “Togetherness”. That was it, just, “Togetherness”. [Yes, I’m still at the sink washing dishes].
In the hours that followed it became increasingly clear, togetherness is the purpose. The point. The pursuit of life. ‘Togetherness’ holds friends together. Family together. Society together. Togetherness is about quality time. About deepening relationships and making memories. ‘Togetherness’ is a bonding agent. It revealed that healthy relationships are the fertile ground needed for all good fruit to grow. Togetherness is the foundation. This revelation and vision inspired our family gap year, (but I still had to tell the hubby who was in Seattle).
My husband and I had never spoken of anything remotely like this before. We’d toyed with the idea of working and living overseas. But never an idea that involved giving up everything to just be still. To be completely present in each moment, all of us. Wind the clock back 30 years and some may have referred to it as a ‘pilgrimage’.
I shared my vision with him over the phone whilst he was in Seattle for the week. And as if by providence, he responded, “I was going to phone and tell you something similar”. Except his epiphany was around education. This led to the revelation that engaged learning brings the world around you to life. And that our current education system which stems from the Industrial Revolution and is more about credentialing rather than learning, is failing our children. The children of the future, (but that’s another in-depth blog post best saved for another time).
For those that missed the meaning behind the symbolism within my vision, here is the translation.
The gold city : wealth creation, capitalism, material possessions.
Train Tracks: Life/Our Journey
The Train Stations: Opportunities
To be clear, grand houses, shares, investment portfolios, beautiful material possessions… there is nothing wrong with any of these things. I love them as much as the next person, but my epiphany whilst washing the dishes was about what we sacrifice in pursuit of these things.
It’s about the true price we pay to acquire them because we just accept the culture we’re a part of , and sadly without really thinking about it.
THE FAMILY VISION STATEMENT
So where did my epiphany of ‘togetherness’ and my husband’s of ‘education’ lead us? To pen the following:
“A ten month gap year to redefine what a ‘life well lived’ means by focusing on family without the distractions of ‘every-day life’, whilst embracing Jesus’ love as our foundation to gain a worldwide education, a deeper reverence for life and resilience to navigate an ever changing world.”
THE PRACTICAL APPROACH – ‘HOW’ DID WE PLAN A TRIP FOR 1 YEAR?’
General Education & Food
We have been strategic in approach, always cross referencing all our plans as they developed with our vision statement, assessing whether the two are aligned. The plan on paper has amassed more hours of research than I could count (and still going).
Nine months of solid planning every single night into the early hours of the morning, around education, budgets, cultural expectations and etiquette, foreign rules, health and immunisation requirements, food, tours and activity options.
During the past nine months, we set about ‘skilling up’ in preparation for planned physical activities abroad like, surfing, ocean swimming with dolphins, horse riding etc, along with filling the gaps in our knowledge of art and history with trips to our local library and state art gallery.
We deliberately exposed our tastebuds to many weird and unfamiliar foods and flavours, which involved trips to Asian supermarkets and cafes, so as to familiarise our children’s palette with the flavours found in countries such as Japan. We also tried our hand several times at home style Japanese cooking (which was a very hit and miss affair). It was part of the exposure and pre-conditioning for when we arrive in Japan. We wanted to limit the culture shock, and to mitigate against the possibility of stressful meal times when their ‘normal Aussie’ diet is no longer an option.
Hubby has created our own individualised learning program for the trip, with tailored lesson plans to ‘world-school’ our daughters. This is to ensure they will still meet learning outcomes expected by the curriculum, but the best part is having the flexibility to devise the learning method and approach. The benefit is we learn in a way that suits us, not merely a regurgitated curriculum set by the government to a set of standardised expectations.
(But more about how our learning approach in a later post. Education definitely needs a blog post of it’s own).
Budgets were set based on finding suitable accommodation, transport, flight prices online (made Google my best-friend), and activities. The rest was a matter of excel spreadsheets and formulas using the data and information from our research.
Excel has been brilliant for scheduling. Listing all the dates, where we will be, and when we will be there, alongside the accommodation booking, with method of transport . We then aligned this with the accommodation to ensure we don’t accidentally double book somewhere, or miss a night on the calendar because of a time zone change. It also allows you at a glance to process all your flights from departure and arrival points, to flight numbers and times.
Itineraries & Scheduling?
Word has been invaluable. Whilst Excel has been used to provide an all-encompassing snapshot for the overall planning, Word has been used to plan individual itineraries.
I like to create an individual itinerary for each city, complete by the hour which lists the time we rise, eat, learn, sleep, and all tours in between. Why so specific? Because don’t forget we are also visual storytellers. If we want to create quality content along the way we need minimal crowds, away from tourists, we need the beauty of early morning or sunset light. This you cannot just chance it with pot-luck spontaneity. This demands deliberate and specific planning.
By utilising the sunrise and sunset forecaster online I can have a fairly accurate idea on what time the sun will rise and set 6 months from now anywhere in the world. Throw in to this equation, that we are also parents, so we need to pencil in quality learning/teaching time for our girls to ensure it happens. To put it in perspective for you, today I tried to book a private tour to Stonehenge for December 2017. Every single operator I contacted is completely booked. This is 5 months away! Now do you see why I plan when we eat, sleep, rise, learn and fart? Because it’s necessary to get the result we want. Ironically, I have also scheduled blocks for, “spontaneity”.
A practical tip is to approach each country/city as you would an individual trip. Approach it in bite sizes, by breaking up the planning, rather than looking at it like one whole trip. Plan it as though you would a single holiday, destination by destination, then piece it together.
Funding the Trip?
The affordability question has surfaced a lot. Simply put, both my husband and I will not be working. I resigned from my job, and so will he unless he is granted 12 months of leave without pay. So how will we fund this expensive project? Our house. We sold our family home 4 weeks ago, specifically to fund this trip. We believe so passionately in this dream, and that it will pay dividends which cannot be reflected on a bank statement, so much so that we were willing to take a financial step backwards to fund this. There are many ways people can fund such a trip, but this was the most practical and viable for us.
This is the first of many posts in the lead up to October 2017, when we leave. Feel free to ask me any question below if you’re curious about any aspect of such a journey.
Thank you so much for reading this long, long, long post and on that note, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite and most profound things that my husband says about life in general. I think it represents our family travel plan perfectly.
“If you put in the work, prep the earth and then plant a seed, what do you get?
Do, you just get back a seed?
No, you gain a tree. And from the tree comes, life. Shade. Fruit. Beauty.”
We need to plant seeds, all of us, albeit arduous at times.
Photo above taken at 1,578 meters above sea level at the summit, walking Rob Roy track New Zealand. It’s not the 16km walk that gets you, it’s the gruelling elevation. Thankfully the view is spectacular. (Taken Dec 2016).