Amri from HeyMama recently asked me if there was anything surprising we learned after travelling for the year with our children. I enjoyed the exercise of thinking back on this year and reflecting on some of the surprising things we have learned. I thought it might be helpful to share them below for those of you thinking of doing a similar gap year with your family. And you can read the full article on HeyMama here.
1. How little we need to be happy
We have each spent a year living out of a small suitcase, wearing the same few outfits on rotation, sleeping in rented beds (not always nice ones) and keeping only the essential personal possessions. Still, not one of us has missed the things we left behind. The kids have not asked for their toys, their bikes or anything more than the few things they fit into their little backpacks. Instead, they’ve had a year full of imaginative games, new friends and time spent enjoying the company of their siblings. It wasn’t easy to part with all the things we thought we needed, but it was very liberating once we did.
2. Too much of a good thing
Family time was a huge motivating factor in taking this journey. What could be better than 24/7 with your loved ones? We were all really looking forward to spending so much time together and getting to know each other on a deeper level. I didn’t anticipate that there could possibly be too much time.
Apart from 20 minutes of yoga on rare mornings (or on the beach while the kids were playing), I have hardly had any time to myself. We have done everything together as a family — from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed – without the breaks that school, work or babysitters normally provide. The kids would probably say they found it difficult at times too. It’s not easy, even for a three year-old, to spend every waking second with five other people. But we’re all so happy we did it.
3. Homeschooling is hard work, but very rewarding!
Michael and I both thought teaching our children would be relatively straightforward and easy — enjoyable even! We equipped ourselves with the right curriculum books and the necessary supplies, and looked forward to teaching concepts one by one. How little we knew! The first month was turbulent as we learned to teach and the kids warmed to the idea of learning from their parents. Our eldest, Easton, responded well to being taught by his dad, but Quin and Ivy, both great students in the classroom, had a much more difficult time. We underestimated the challenge of teaching three students in three different year groups and different abilities at the same time. I think we did everything wrong before we got it right, but we got there eventually and it has been extremely rewarding to watch them learn and progress. I would even say that their progress has been more noticeable than any other year in traditional school!
4. Social media is a wonderful tool for travellers
I could just as easily write a paragraph about the things I don’t like about Instagram, but when it came to our travels this year, I was so grateful for that little app. We made wonderful friends and met so many interesting people thanks to it. Instagram connected my family to a world of like-minded families and individuals – people who reached out to us to offer tips, to invite us for dinner at their house or to meet for a picnic in the park. It changed the way we connected to each country and the things we did there. Easton remarked last week, ‘I have so many friends now, all over the world.’ We think that’s pretty cool.
5. It’s easy to land back on your feet
When we made the decision to take the year off and travel the world, we had to make some immediate compromises. We sold our newly renovated home, our car and lots of our stuff. We took our children out of a school we loved, and Michael left his job with no promise of return. Naturally, we worried about what would be here when we returned. City life moves quickly — would we be forgotten or passed by? The truth is, not much changes in one year. Most friends remarked, ‘gosh, has a year gone already?!’ Indeed everything we left behind was available upon our return. Michael was approached for wonderful work opportunities and the kids could have easily slotted back into school. Though we’ve made a decision to settle somewhere new, re-entry was reassuringly smooth. Other travellers hoping to do a trip like this needn’t worry.