It was Friday evening when my husband said those magical words:
“Shall we just fuck it all off and take the boys round the world?”
I was floored and totally thought he was messing with me. After about ten minutes of dancing around each other…
“Really? no… REALLY?” (repeat x 20)
We realised it was a brilliant idea and once we had the idea we couldn’t not do it, could we? It would be one of those things we would always wonder about – and wonderful things come from stepping outside your comfort zone, right?
The building work we had just finished on the house had made it saleable and the thought of starting again and downsizing seemed like a fair price to pay for this adventure. We loved where we lived, but there would be other jobs, other houses, other schools.
We wanted to spend time with our children whilst they still wanted us around and before we blinked and missed their childhoods in a flurry of school runs and childcare.
My parents didn’t believe we’d do it – neither did the children, but within three months the house was sold and we had moved in with them. We boarded the train from Bristol to London on a sunny day in October 2016, and the children told us that they thought we were joking.
“But that’s fine, Mummy. Are we really going to somewhere we can swim with turtles?” I forced a smile and a nod but in reality my stomach was in knots; I could hardly speak.
Ten months on, we are in Mexico which is our twelfth country. We have trekked in the Himalayas and swum with those turtles. We have gone walkabout in the Bush and met Hill tribes in Northern Vietnam untouched by modern life. We have all seen and done things we never thought we were capable of and effortlessly met people from all walks of life.
It is not all sunshine and roses though, our Instagram account lies to you.
It doesn’t matter what view you are looking at, or how beautiful the scenery is, spending 24 hours a day with just three other people is intense. Imagine a 15 month school holiday with no other playmates apart from those you find along the way. No time together as a couple, we all sleep in the same room to save money, so I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t tough from time to time.
It’s worth it though. Once we accidentally took a 26 hour bus journey in Cambodia and rode a bus which bounced up the side of a Himalayan mountain. I almost vomited with fear. The children, though? They were patient and positive whilst the adults were screaming (inside) and I couldn’t have been prouder when I realised how resilient and patient they had become.
“What about their education?” I hear you ask.
Their education is fully immersive but in terms of ‘formal’ education, we dispensed with this some time ago seeing as they were taking so much in all the time. We do ‘World-schooling’ which sounds hippyish, right?
Well, it means we go to see the Dalai Lama teach in Northern India and take part in Indonesian weddings. We trawl temples and ancient ruins, we learn about whatever inspires us along the way. This could be the sedimentary rock at Grand Canyon, Aboriginal culture in Australia, eco systems in Coral Reef, with a few times tables thrown in for good measure (which we recite loudly, to scare away snakes when we are walking through jungle or dunes)
As a result, we have children who are inquisitive, confident and can tell you all about the Vietnam War and the rise of the Khmer Rouge because they have chosen to pursue these subjects, amongst others.
“But is it allowed?”
Well, in the UK you can write a letter to your child’s school stating that you are ‘Educating Other Than At School’ The Local Authority may give you a home visit to check there are no Safeguarding concerns. If there are none, you are good to go! The child will be removed from the school roll, so you will need to reapply for the child’s school place on your return – if you return.
The journey hasn’t been easy, but sometimes the best things aren’t. You just need to look at parenthood to realise that.
It also isn’t for everyone. We are lucky that our children are flexible, in good health, that we had equity in our house and that we have passports that take us anywhere.
We are lucky indeed, but it has not been without its sacrifices. We miss our family and friends but are making memories and connections with our children that we hope will last a lifetime. If the cost of this is a smaller house and children that don’t know their eight times tables, then so be it.
Sara Wheeler is 39, from the UK and used to love her home in Bristol, as well as her work on homelessness. She left all this to take her six and eight year old boys on a 15 month round the world trip with her husband. Sara is a pro at hide and seek, writes a blog, crochets taxidermy and aims to live off grid on her return to the UK.