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!

I Love Travel Planning

Do you love travel planning?

I get that it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Perhaps you prefer to just rock up at the airport and jump on a flight. Wander the streets of a strange town and find a great place to stay. Waltz into a ramshackle old cafe and grab a bite to eat.

Me?

I prefer to spend hours, days, weeks, agonising over the details.

I am going to spend longer planning our family year away than we are actually going to spend travelling.

Why?

Because I can, but also because I love doing it.

We are counting down the weeks now, until our departure next March, so the planning is starting to intensify. The stack of travel books on my coffee table is starting to grow. My reluctance to book anything without having first weighed up all the options…well that never goes away.

Is this healthy?

Probably not if I try to micro manage our entire year away. I am restricting myself to booking the odd week here and there, based on our loose itinerary, rather than attempting to fill 365 days.

We want freedom while we’re travelling. We want to be flexible, to stay somewhere for another week just because we’re having a good time. To run away from somewhere else because: (a) I can’t get a decent cup of coffee; (b) Anja is too cold; (c) the kids are driving us mad because they’ve run out of organic rice cakes.

But, and this is mainly me, I also don’t want to spend 24 hours on a plane to New Zealand, get there, then miss all the good bits and spend a week in wherever is the Kiwi equivalent of Swindon. No offence meant to the lovely residents of this fine Wiltshire town, which currently provides me with gainful employment, but you don’t see too many queues outside the Swindon tourist information kiosk…if indeed anybody has bothered to build one.

I need to get back to Lonely Planet, so that’s enough for now.

If you have any tips for our stay in New Zealand or Tasmania please share.

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.

17 Vaguely Useful Packing Ideas For A Round The World Trip

In preparation for our round the world trip, I have been researching what we need to take with us.

Passport

I know, but let’s start with the basics.

We still need to renew some of our passports before we go, so this is going at the top of the list.

Money

Let’s get this one out of the way too, as I’m not planning to take the family round the world for free.

We will take a credit card and a debit or prepaid card, but I am conscious that our regular UK cards will incur high currency exchange and transaction fees, so we will search the best offers before we leave by looking here.

I will also hide a small pile of emergency cash, in local currency or US dollars, if we ever get caught for money and can’t find an ATM.

Other Important Documents

Travel Insurance – perhaps not one for the risk seekers amongst you, but seems reasonable to get some insurance before embarking on a year away from the UK’s free healthcare system. Two companies that specialise in long-term travel insurance are true traveller and world nomads.

I’ve also found this useful guide to travel insurance that is very helpful if you want some more in-depth research.

International driving permit – this is a requirement in certain countries that we are planning to visit and I would like the option of being able to hire a car.

The permit is only valid for twelve months, so we need to do this just before we leave.

Vaccinations

I’m counting vaccinations on the basis that we do physically need to take them with us, even if they won’t take up any space in our luggage.

To cover us for India and South East Asia we should be ok to go with: Hep A; Hep B; Diphtheria; Tetanus; Typhoid; Polio.

Rabies – Doesn’t feel essential for us, because we are not likely to be in such remote areas that we couldn’t reach a hospital within 24 hours should the worst happen and we get an animal bite in an infected area. But if you are travelling into very remote locations then you may want to investigate further.

Yellow Fever – If you are planning to spend time in certain parts of South America or Africa, which we are not on this occasion, then you may also need to get inoculated for Yellow Fever and take certification with you as proof.

Laptop

I’m planning to keep writing while we travel, so a laptop is essential from my perspective. I will also need to book flights and accommodation while we travel.

I need something light and compact, but with reasonable ability to store documents, photos and create blog posts.

A Macbook Air seems like the obvious choices, but I am also toying with the idea of the Microsoft Surface Pro, which is a 2-in-1 laptop / tablet that seems like it could be a good option for using on the move.

Camera

Improving my photography is one hoped for side effect of taking a year away to go travelling, so I have chosen to invest in a digital camera rather than relying on my phone.

Kindle

I won’t be able to leave the country without having sufficient reading material to keep me going while the kids build sand castles, and a Kindle feels a better option than carrying multiple books.

Now I just need to decide how much money I want to spend, and whether it’s worth the extra to splash out on a new Kindle Oasis rather than the Kindle Voyage that I had planned to buy.

International Power Adaptor

It would be great if somebody could influence the world to all use the same shape power plugs, but in the meantime we need to take a power adaptor.

Flash Drive

Given that this will weigh nothing and should let me back-up photographs and files while we travel, then I can’t see any reason not to take one

Contact Lenses

I wear daily disposable lenses, so planning to take 3-6 months’ worth to begin with and then get re-supplied from home when we’re staying in one place for a couple of weeks.

Silk Sleep Sheet

For comfort and hygiene if we arrive somewhere to find that the bedding isn’t quite up to scratch.

We are not going camping, so we don’t need to carry the weight of a sleeping bag, but a silk sleeping bag liner should mean we can cosy up in our bedding whenever needed.

Travel Towel

Great for spontaneous trips to the beach as these will fold up small enough to take in a day bag, but also helpful if we arrive somewhere that doesn’t provide bath towels…just don’t tell the rest of my family that this is even a possibility

Hand Sanitiser

I like to take hand sanitiser wherever I go with the kids. Partly this is because I don’t like getting germs, but largely it’s because kids are dirty and don’t see the issue with eating an ice-cream with one hand while simultaneously petting farm animals with the other hand.

I also suspect that there will be genuine occasions when it is not possible to properly wash our hands before eating, so I would rather have my food taste slightly anti-septic than spend an evening being ill.

Sticking Plasters

I am not American, but for some reason “sticking plasters” feels slightly antiquated compared to “band aids”. But whatever you call them, taking something to stick over cuts and grazes feels sensible.

Bug Spray / Bite Repellent

I’m expecting to see some bugs…

Sunglasses

I’m expecting to see some sun…

Clothes

Ah yes, we will need something to wear, but this is where things may get interesting. We are not hardened backpackers, but I know that our usual tendency to over pack clothes needs to be seriously fixed:

The ambition is to pack as though we were only going away for one week, rather than trying to pack for every possible eventuality across 52 weeks. This means that we should only need to take:

  • 10 sets of underwear
  • 5 tops
  • 2 pairs of trousers
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 2 swimsuits / swimming shorts
  • 1 fleece pull-over / base layer
  • 1 lightweight raincoat
  • 1 pair of trainers / walking shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • …maybe a dress for the girls

Free Bonus Item

It may not be essential, but I also want to take a travel journal and pen so that I can write things down when it’s not practical to load up the laptop. This should also be useful for keeping track of important information in case we were to lose any of our modern technology.

We have also said that the kids will be able to take one cuddly toy each because they still both like to sleep with their favourite soft animal. I have suggested that we don’t take their absolute favourites, cuddled practically since birth, because we don’t want to spend a whole year panicking that we might lose one of them.

 What Are Your Essential Travel Items?

I would really appreciate your feedback on this list:

  • What would you drop from this list?
  • Are there any other essential items that you would take on a long trip?
  • Do you make room for any luxury items that you can’t be without?

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!

 

 

 

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