The Whys and wherefores

When I tell people about our plans for a family gap year, the typical responses I get are: ‘wow, is this something you have always wanted to do?’, ‘have you done lots of travelling before?’ or ‘goodness you must be very brave’!  In fact I have come late to the travel bug and must confess that it is not a dream that I have harboured since my youth, and nor does it feel particularly brave!  Whilst I have always enjoyed holidays abroad, as a young adult I found that within a few weeks I yearned for home and for my family, and I was far too nervous to embark on a big trip, even with Ben for company. All the draws of travelling would have been quickly outweighed by my homesickness. How wonderful it is then, to be able to take my family with me on this particular adventure!  (Not brave at all, methinks…)

Our first proper trip abroad was in 2005 when I had the opportunity to work anywhere in the world as part of my medical degree. A firm Christian at the time, I felt strongly that I was being called to go to East Africa, something that was way out my comfort zone, but we decided to go with it and ended up in Uganda for 6 weeks. It was a truly life-changing experience and began to nurture a desire in me to explore more of the world. We were so humbled by the amazing people we met who had so little in the way of material goods, but had so much love, happiness and gratitude in their lives. We were blown away by the lush landscape and awesome wildlife we encountered and I, for one, had my mind opened to the beauty of our natural world and how fortunate we are to have so much that we take for granted in the UK. Our visit to Uganda changed our outlook completely and led to us rethinking our priorities in life- trying to put relationships with family, friends and the wider community, and nurturing of the natural world, over our material needs.

Bwindi national park, Uganda

I had never realised before then that spending time abroad could have such a profound effect, and our trip to Uganda opened the gates for more! The following year found us travelling around South America for 6 weeks experiencing the Inca trail, Iguassu falls and the Galapagos Islands (just to name a handful).  The seeds were well and truly sown for more by then, but much to our delight the next year found me pregnant with Jago and all thoughts of further travels quickly disappeared.

The outlook on life that had come about following our time in Uganda, combined with the fact that both Ben and I lost parents to cancer when they were not much older than we are now, has resulted in us making life choices along the way that have prioritised spending time together as a family and nurturing and appreciating our natural world. Within reason, we try not to put off doing the things that are important to us, as we realise that life is precious and we can’t ever know what lies around the corner. It led to me giving up work for 5 years to spend as much time as possible with my amazing children whilst they were in their formative years, to Ben stepping out of the corporate world of IT whilst the kids were small to give him more flexibility to work from home and spend time with us, and ultimately to us taking the enormous step to set up Hempsals Community Farm 6 years ago.

After the kids embarked on their school careers, I returned to work as a junior doctor and have spent the last 3 and a half years working incredibly hard first to regain my knowledge and skills, and then to complete core medical training and pass all parts of the MRCP(UK) examination. On top of all the rostered working hours, spare time has been spent revising, completing quality improvement projects, and even attending clinics and carrying out procedures in the hospital that I couldn’t fit into working hours.  It was certainly a shock to go from being a full-time Mum to feeling like an absent mother who rarely sees her children. I have persevered because I truly love my job!

In the midst of all this busyness, we had not given much thought to travelling, and it was only when we found out in April that there weren’t any specialist training posts in Palliative medicine (my chosen specialty) within commuting distance of our home this year that the thought resurfaced.  It didn’t take long to reframe the initial disappointment at not being able to pursue my career path as planned, as a new opportunity for us to spend more time together as a family again, after 3 years passing like ships in the night. Once we started to think about the possibility of spending that time travelling it really felt like it was meant to be!  At the ages of 10, 8 and 6, the children are at the perfect age to get the most out of their experience without it affecting their long-term education. Ben happened to take on a 6 month IT contract in February which has been extended and will fund our travels. Since taking on this contract we have been very fortunate that the running of the community farm has been continued by the wonderful Fiona so we can take a break from the responsibility of farm life. And it is a perfect stage career-wise for to me to take time out of training. Our plans have all come together very quickly in the last few months.

My hope for our gap year is that we will all be inspired and changed by experiencing different cultures, by challenging ourselves with new and different activities, and by appreciating more of the amazing world we live in. Most importantly I hope we will all benefit from a more relaxed pace of life away from the pressures of school and work, enjoy spending time with each other and have an awful lot of fun. Watch this space.

 

 

Preparations

We’re now at T – 20 days and the packing, sorting and purchasing is in full flow. We are leaving behind a fantastic Community Farm and home, but I’m taking along the whole family and a job. I’ll be trying out the life of a digital nomad, working two days a week for the fantastic PitPat Pack.

Most of my preparation involves doing a whole year’s worth of paperwork for the farm and buying all the gadgets needed to work remotely from a beach. So far, I’ve got my main workhorse, a Dell XPS 13 laptop (16Gb Ram, i7, SSD – Visual Studio is a resource hog!) with spare battery (also used for charging the army of tablets the family are bringing along). The other critical component is a Tep 4g mobile/wifi hub that will keep me connected with the office back home.

We’ve been testing out the plan for the kids English homework today, a bluetooth keyboard connected to their Kindle Fires and using the WordPress  app to post to this blog. Its mostly gone smoothly, other than a strange reluctance of the Kindle to post photos which I’ll have to get to the bottom of before we go. The blog itself uses a bunch of plugins, Author Avatar ListWP User Avatar and Restrict Author Posting to manage to ‘multiple child author’ problem and also Nomad World Map to provide the trip maps and links to relevant content.

As you can probably guess from this intro, my blog will mainly be about the ‘digital nomad’ side to the trip, for cute animal photos, you’re better off following the childrens’ stories!

Getting ready to leave

I’m packed and ready to go. The things I’m looking forward to most are seeing  elephants and kangaroos. I’m also looking forward to going snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef with my new snorkel and learning how to surf! My rucksack is packed . I don’t know how I’m going to find room for the last things! My bedroom is almost completely empty. First we are going to New Zealand then Australia and we will try to get to Bali by Christmas. After Christmas we don’t really know where we are going. I’m really excited about my birthday in a jungle. I will never forget this adventure, it’s going to be amazing and we will learn lots  travelling.

 Before we leave

Hello, my name is Jago. I am 9, almost 10. I’m very excited although getting read means emptying and cleaning my room. The thing I’m looking forward to most is snorkling in the Great Barrier Reef with all the fish. I have got a full face mask for snorkling (it works very well). I am also looking forward to watching the cricket in Australia on the fourth day in the Gabba stadium Australia vs England. I have got everything we need for going away. I have got a 28 litre rucksack, a grey towel, a lime green jumper and some zippy trousers. I also need to choose some t-shirts and long sleeve shirts that I will wear most days for the time we are away. The one thing I’m not looking forward to is washing my own clothes. I am going lots of places (for exmple New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand plus lots of other places). Everyone in my family is very excited especially Cara.