Are We Prepared For A Year Away?

It seems to have taken a long while, but we are now officially just three months from the start of our family gap-year.

I have not been great at sharing the last few months with you, mainly because I have spent most of every night scouring the internet for cheap flights and interesting accommodation.

While not at work or planning our trip, I have also been taking an unusually keen interest in the workings of world currency markets. Not that you’d probably want to hear, but ask me about the recent trading pattern of sterling versus any of the major world currencies and I could keep you enthralled for at least a few minutes.

Progress So Far

Despite my minor obsession with exchange rates and playing with flight options on skyscanner, we have made some tangible signs of progress towards taking a family gap-year:

  • Flights – we have opted for a series of one-way flights, rather than a RTW ticket, and have booked ahead just for the first few weeks to get us out to New Zealand. I may add more onward legs over the next few months, but we are keen to keep the trip as flexible as possible.
  • Places to stayAirbnb has proven to be a great help in finding places to stay for a family of four on a budget. We have booked accommodation for our first few weeks on the road so that we can settle into our nomadic lifestyle without having to immediately find a wi-fi connection to search for rooms.
  • Vaccinations – we have all been jabbed, which was a relatively painless experience, although Kiera did take slightly longer to be convinced of the need for needles than the rest of us.
  • Work #1 – Anja’s boss has known about our travel plans for some time. Some might say this is because Anja’s idea of a secret is to only tell two or three people at once. However, this appears to have worked out well on the basis that Anja has been lucky enough to get approval for a sabbatical.
  • Work #2 – I handed in my notice today. I don’t expect to get a sabbatical. I would be very happy at this point to return to my current job, but I’m also excited about the prospect of taking a year away and not knowing what I’ll be doing when I get back. Our mortgage company may be less excited about this prospect, but I’m hoping they don’t read my blog.

Plenty Still To Do

There is still enough to do to keep us occupied before departure day:

  • House – we have spoken to a letting agent about renting out our house while we’re away, but after Christmas we need to get permission from our mortgage company, get the house on the market and find a good tenant.
  • Storage – the likelihood is that we will need to rent out our house unfurnished, so we need to move out all of the things that we are leaving behind and find somewhere suitable for them to stay.
  • Pets – unfortunately we can’t put our pets into storage, but we are very fortunate to have the support of friends to look after our dog while we’re away, and we’ve even found a potential “volunteer” to be the proud new parent of the kids’ guinea pigs.
  • Packing – we have thought through the theory of packing for a year away…I suspect the reality is going to take a few dry runs, and possibly a few interesting conversations about how we all define what is “essential”.
  • Travel Paperwork – less exciting than researching itineraries, but at some point we need to apply for travel visas and get ourselves some travel insurance.
  • Personal Finances – there is probably more to do here than I’d like to think about at the moment, e.g. research best bank cards for withdrawing money overseas, let our regular bank know what we’re doing, sort landlord insurance cover, etc.

And, of course, I still want to do more research on our travel plans and read about the places we’ll be visiting.

All of a sudden three months doesn’t feel very long.

Are we prepared for a year away? Probably not, but I’m confident we’ll get there!

Village Life

Preparing for our Family Gap Year

In preparation for taking a year away to travel round the world, we have sold our house in Bristol and downsized to a cottage in the country. We sold our house before Christmas and have now finally moved home into our new village.

We had to sell our old house to help fund our year away, but we have been lucky to find a new house to which we can return after our travels. Our new house is a bit smaller on the inside, but this was part of the plan. We didn’t need all the space that we had before, and much of that space was filled with things that we also didn’t really need.

Part of my ambition for taking a year away is to get back to basics. Reducing the volume of our possessions feels like a good step in the right direction. But there was still a moment on moving day when I literally didn’t think that we would fit everything into our new home. After some frantic unpacking of boxes, we finally managed to squeeze everything in, but this involved using every square inch of available space and leaving various items in the shed.

The kids have adapted extremely well to the house move. We have moved to a rural location, so there is more outside space than we had before. From the kids’ perspective this means they have actually gained some more freedome to roam about outdoors.

A change of location also means a change of school. We decided to wait until after the impending summer holidays to make this switch, so the kids will start at the local village school from September.

Adapting to a rural, village location, has been an interesting experience for us all. Even though we are still only 30 minutes from Bristol, the change of outlook (and broadband speed) has been noticeable:

  • It is very quiet at night…and dark
  • We wake to the sound of the nearby farm cockerel, rather than the background hum of traffic
  • Electricity supply can not be taken for granted, with the occasional mini-blackout a “feature” of the new house that we hadn’t anticipated
  • We have wildlife all around us, with a whole variety of garden birds, farmyard animals, insects and pond life on our doorstep
  • Buying a pint of milk takes more planning than before, needing to fit in with the opening times of our community-owned village store
  • The only real source of traffic jams is being stuck behind a tractor
  • Modern technology has been overtaken by the radio as our most reliable source of regular entertainment
  • Gardening is higher up on my list of weekend activities

This transition to a new life is only a temporary interlude while we wait to be able to rent out our new house. But at some point we will need to return from our gap-year and get back to normal life, so it’s nice to know that we have a family home to which we can return.

family travel blog

I am now turning my attention back to our trip. The first order of business is to re-plan our itinerary to take account of a new departure date in March 2017. My aim is to plan a route that combines spending quality time in a few locations, alongside some interesting road trips. I am not intending to plan the route down to a daily schedule, because we want the freedom to be able to changes plans as we go. But I would like to have an outline direction of travel to start booking flights.

All About Our Trip – by Kiera

What are your favourite things to do?

My favourite things to do are swimming, running and playing outside with my sister Lexi. I also like playing in the park with my friends after school. I like to sing, dance and do drawing, models and being Creative!

creative-graphic

 What are your least favourite things to do?

To go in the car for long journeys, and if I have to go on an aeroplane for a long time.

What are you most looking forward to on our trip next year?

Visiting new country’s I`ve never heard of or been to before, looking around and seeing what it is like and how different people live as different cultures.

 

Is there anything you will miss while we are travelling?

All my friends, my house, my dog Hugo, my hamster Oaty, and last but not least my two guinea pigs Rusty and William. I will also miss having a very long garden, my climbing frame and my trampoline.

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Which countries are you most looking forward to visiting?

Canada because I really want to see a bear – my favourite teddy is a bear. My Mum and Dad have been to Canada. I`m looking forward to Australia because it will be interesting to see different animals.

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 Do you want to take a year away to travel round the world?

I don`t really want to go on the trip around the world because I don’t want to have the injections.

injection

 

But I also think that it will be quite good fun because I like going on holiday and looking around different countries.

 

House Swap

Selling our house, so that we can take a year away to travel round the world, was just one item on the pre-departure checklist, alongside more mundane activities such as organising vaccinations and buying some suitable rucksacks. The house selling process, however, is still ongoing and the reality is dawning that we will not achieve our hoped for departure window of July 2016.

We have now got some buyers lined up, and all being well we should have sold our family home by some time during May. This should help us to get back to planning our year away, which will need to start with a re-working of our itinerary  based on a new departure target of Spring 2017.

It will be a relief to sell our house so that we can start making some firm travel plans, but there is also some sadness in leaving our home behind. We have to sell our current home to fund our trip, which in our minds is a good trade-off to enable us to follow our dreams.

We do still need somewhere for the kids to sleep when we get back, so we are buying a smaller house nearby that we can hopefully rent out when we go, but which does at least give us a base for when we return.

Choosing somewhere to live for the next 6-9 months, that we can then also rent out, was trickier than I expected. We started with a very logical plan to buy a more modern property than our current 1900’s house, on the basis that we wanted something low maintenance and hassle free. What we found was a lovely stone cottage, which was modern once, around about the time of the Crimean war. On the plus side the house has managed to remain standing for the last 150 odd years, so with a bit of luck it should be ok for one year while we’re away.

All we need now is for everything to run smoothly with the final stages of the home moving process so that the real fun can commence!

 

 

 

Habla Espanol?

Serious travel planning for our round the world family trip is currently on hold, while we finalise the sale of our house.

Therefore, in a minor attempt to plug some of the gaping holes in my global adventurer toolkit, I am instead trying to learn a little Spanish. I opted for Spanish on the basis that I believe it to be one of the most widely spoken languages outside of English. Also, I like Spain, so perhaps a few words will come in handy on future summer holidays when I’d really like to know what I’m ordering for dinner.

Thankfully, as for nearly everything else, there are now plentiful free apps that promise the road to fluency in practically any language you fancy. After several concentrated seconds of research, I opted for an app called “Duolingo”, which I would definitely recommend for beginners.

After around ten hours of lessons, which are helpfully broken up into easily manageable 5-10 minute stages, I am now apparently 10% fluent! I find this hard to believe, but I suspect the next 90% gets harder. At least I may now be able order some drinks at a bar without having to rely purely on pointing, providing the kids are happy with either milk (leche) or orange juice (hugo de naranja) and nobody starts asking me any awkward questions.

Buenos noches.

Dan

 

Homes Under The Hammer

Selling Our House To Fund Family Gap Year

Firstly, I must say that I am disappointed in myself for having not written here for quite a long time.

Largely this is because I haven’t made any tangible progress on our travel plans, because for most of the last couple of months I have instead been absorbed in painting several rooms of our house in various shades of beige so that we can get it ready for sale.

Getting a house ready for sale may make for addictive daytime television, but I figured that you probably didn’t need a full account of colour choices and sand papering techniques within this forum.

Fortunately the decorating is over for now and our house is officially up for sale, which certainly feels like one of the first major steps towards realising our plan of taking a round the world family trip.

“Trip” doesn’t quite feel like the right word to describe a journey that will last a whole year, as I think it conjures up images of popping to the shops to buy some milk. However, I don’t really like using grandiose language (see what I did there) to describe our ‘trip’ before it has even started. Once we are back from our year away then maybe I will feel entitled to re-label this ‘trip’ as a round the world family adventure / extravaganza / odyssey, but only once we can justify such hyperbole.

Anyway, getting vaguely back to the point, I was also reminded today that this time next year we will potentially be preparing for quite a different Christmas than we are used to. Our rough travel itinerary would, at the very least, suggest that we will be spending next Christmas somewhere rather warmer than England…even though we are currently basking in almost summer-like temperatures of 15c.

While we plan for better weather next year, we will miss being able to share this time of year with the rest of our family and with our friends. We spent a lovely afternoon at the park with my sister’s family today, taking the kids for a play  / dogs for a walk. We really don’t do this often enough, partly due to the practicalities of everybody being busy, sprinkled with some laziness on my part, and then probably quite a large dose of complacency on my part that family will always be there…so why rush.

The idea of taking a year away is largely designed so that we can spend more time together as a family of four, but there is obviously a trade-off here in that we will see much less of everybody else. Maybe our next trip needs to be a whole Keating / O’Connell family road trip, but I’m not sure anybody is ready for that just yet!

The Lull Before The Storm

Life feels relatively normal at the moment. On the surface there isn’t much to show that we are slowly approaching a major change.

We are still quietly planning our family gap-year, but our departure date of July 2016 feels an incredibly long way off. I suspect, however, that we will look back in nine months time from the runway of Heathrow airport and wonder where all the time went.

Anja has started to tell her friends at work about our plans, with lots of encouraging reactions and a few  very kind offers to look after our dog while we are away. We haven’t yet finalised any plans for Hugo, but it is encouraging that we at least have some potential homes for him when we go away.

The kids are loving school at the moment, with Alexandra settling really well in her first year and Kiera enjoying the step up to Junior school. It is clearly one of our biggest worries as parents that we are disrupting the kids’ schooling by taking them away from their normal routine. We sincerely believe that the kids will learn more from travelling the world than they would from one year in school, but we also know that it is going to be hard for them to leave everything that they know behind.

I am managing to keep busy as usual, with a combination of work and decorating our house so that it is ready to go on the market before Christmas. Selling our house will feel, to me at least, like the point of no return on this journey.

Despite my insistence on saving money for our trip, we have also squeezed in a few family days out to avoid cabin fever. We had a lovely weekend in Lincoln, visiting my brother and sister in-law, and we have just returned from a day trip to Legoland, Windsor.

We had not been to Lincoln before, but my brother moved up there a few months ago and it was past time that we invaded their peace and quiet with the kids in tow. Lincoln reminded me slightly of my old university city of Exeter, with an imposing central cathedral and castle combination that meant you really could be transported back in time by several hundred years and not lose your bearings.

My brother twisted my arm to join him for a day at the races at Market Rasen, where I just about managed to escape from the bookies at break even, and Kiera particularly enjoyed putting some new found maths skills into practical application by helping me calculate odds. Vegas here we come. (Don’t worry, we only gambled with my money, so no laws were broken).

Legoland was more of a spur of the moment trip as the weather was dry and the kids have just broken up for half-term. We have been once before and the rides are just about perfectly suited for a 7 and 4 year-old duo, albeit with fewer options in the 36 year-old bracket.

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Raising Funds For Our Year Away

I think I may have previously mentioned that taking a year away from work, to travel round the world as a family, is unlikely to be a cheap option. Even quite small looking daily expenses get to some quite scary figures once you multiply them by 365 – a £2.50 cup of coffee every day comes would come in at £912 over a year.

The same is true at home off course, but you don’t often think about how much you spend each year, and it helps when you get a monthly source of fresh funds into your bank account from work.

As an accountant by day, the possible figures for what we might spend on this trip are rarely far from my mind.

The sensible side of me knows that taking a year off work is a ludicrous thing to do from a financial perspective. It is not the case we are sat on a tonne of savings, unless you count the jam jar of spare change that I slowly accumulate each year.

I sometimes wonder whether my 65 year-old self will look back in astonishment at my lack of foresight in pension provision.

My more adventurous side, however, knows that there is more to life than saving coins in a jam jar. It also hopes that my 65 year-old self won’t be too worried about the relative lack of pension, and will instead be grateful that we chose to take a different fork in the road.

In the meantime, we need to raise every penny we can find to help pay for this trip. We also need to shrink the volume of our possessions to avoid needing to hire a warehouse for storage. Fortunately, these two objectives can be harmoniously achieved by one invention – the car boot sale.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a car boot sale, think eBay, but instead of a computer screen and mouse you have a muddy field and the back of your car.

For some unknown reason, car boot sales always begin at 6am on a Sunday morning. I am not sure why they start so early, but the excitement of setting an alarm on the weekend is enough to get the pulse racing…must be a memory of catching early morning flights, or perhaps it’s the memory of going to work with my Dad when I was small enough not to argue about the use of child labour on building sites.

Talking of child labour, I have managed to convince Kiera that she enjoys waking up early on a Sunday to help daddy set-up shop. The only challenge is to make sure that she doesn’t siphon off too many coins from    our sales to top-up her own piggy bank. While we are saving for the trip, Kiera has a more short-termist approach to cash management, mainly involving the purchase of new shoes or soft toys whenever she can.

We have so far managed to clear quite a few old books and kids clothes from the loft, which has saved some space and raised a few quid, albeit still not nearly enough to pay for a cup of coffee each day.

Car boot sales won’t pay for this trip on their own, so I’ve also made the more radical decision to sell my car boot. As a working man I was driving a suitably modern car that fitted in quite nicely in the company car park and had all the available mod-cons. The downside of this is that every time I drove the car recently, all I could think of was the value that I was taking off it with each additional mile.

So the nice car has now been sold and replaced with something cheaper. The new model doesn’t look as nice and sat-nav has been replaced with a map, but it’s good to get back to basics and finally raise enough funds to buy my necessary injection of daily coffee. I might even have enough now to get the kids a babycino and possibly a cup of tea for Anja.

That’s breakfast nearly sorted for a year, so now just need to cover lunch, dinner, somewhere to sleep and a few flights. Unfortunately I don’t have any more cars to sell, so we’re onto the house next.

Useful Skills For A Round The World Trip

It has occurred to me that, while I may be well enough equipped with professional qualifications for a life in the UK, I am woefully prepared in terms of any real practical skills that might come in useful for a life on the road.

Just to be clear how poorly equipped I am for real travelling, here are a few examples:

  • I am entirely unable to fix anything mechanical – not a huge problem in Bristol, as I can simply take my car to the garage at the end of our road if anything stops working. But what do I do if we breakdown in the Canadian Rockies with only grizzly bears for company (added exaggeration for effect)?
  • My foreign language skills extend about as far as ordering croissants in French and a few beers in Spanish – we are planning to spend a lot of time in English-speaking countries, but even so it would be nice to have some competence with another language.
  • My response to any medical incidents is simple, which is to call Anja if it looks serious and then rely on her nursing skills to absolve me of all responsibility. This works fine at home with the support of our fine national health service, but it might be helpful to learn some basic first aid before we go.
  • It would be great to return from our trip with some amazing photos, whereas my enthusiastic amateur status is more likely to lead to lots of “family holiday” snaps
  • Not so essential, but I am also hoping to develop this blog while we travel, armed with all the technical skills of your average 6-year old.
  • Finally, to top it all off, my eldest daughter is quickly over taking me in terms of swimming ability. I don’t really like getting my face wet while swimming, which I understand limits my potential, but isn’t really a problem at home because the sea is normally too cold to go beyond knee depth. But I do wonder if I should improve my ability before we reach some warmer waters that deserve exploring.

I could go on, but let’s stop here for now.

You might say that I should focus on my strengths, but I’m not sure there is going to be much demand for Excel modelling while we’re away (anybody?).

So, one of my many aims before we leave next year is to work on improving some of these skills that might be useful on our trip.

Do you have any advice about skills you have found particularly useful while travelling?

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