Family Gap Year Blog: The 10 Things We Are Dealing With After Our Family Gap Year
We’ve been back in the UK for just over two months now, and on the outside things seem pretty much back to normal. Patrick is working in fitness management, I’m full-on with homeschooling the girls and all the odds and ends and middles that come with running a house, along with trying to fit in some work and other bits.
We’re still house sitting at our wonderful friends’ home, which happens to be one road away from our respective parents’ houses and five minutes from the centre of the town we grew up in and our church. We couldn’t be in a better place to acclimatise and get used to being back in the UK.
That said- things aren’t easy. This is one of my transparent, this-is-how-it-is posts, where I peel off the filter about long term travel and family gap years and living on gorgeous tropical islands, and get real about the effects that our choices have had on us. So here they are, the ten things we are dealing with now that our family gap year has come to a close:
1. Shock. The way that our trip ended was more than abrupt; I couldn’t have predicted it if you’d given me 100 chances. I thought that if we returned to the UK for good it might be because the kids needed to get back for social or similar reasons, or because of better business prospects. I never thought that we would ever have to deal with one of our children having a life-threatening injury, much less on an island with sub-standard medical care. Throw in those earthquakes and you’ve got one heck of a shock ending to a very much long-awaited, emotionally invested trip. This has had significant effects on our family’s mental health, some more than others. Think ‘waking up in the night drenched in sweat from nightmares’ kind of thing. Nice.
2. Loss. We are so, so, so (I could keep going) thankful and fortunate to have our beloved girl with us. We would have given anything to ensure she pulled through, and indeed I did pull out every spiritual bargaining/pleading cliche in the book and then some. It is knowing how much worse things could be that make me highlight the relativity of our loss, but I feel that it is important for families thinking about a long term trip to know how things could go. We are grieving after the separation from friends who became like family and are now on the other side of the world, and for the life that we planned to have in Bali after our family gap year ended. We’re grieving for over 6 years of thinking and planning about the trip, and for the many unique and wonderful things about Bali that captured our hearts. We’re feeling the loss of the island that was the first place we’d really wanted to settle as a family- not because it’s not there but because right now, returning feels impossible.
3. Faith. This is a huge thing for me to write about- I’ve hardly mentioned faith on this blog as it’s so very personal and individual, as well as disinteresting to many. But I feel I should clearly warn anyone with a faith: unless you are very, very ready and willing for it to be deeply challenged, don’t travel. Our year away turned our faith inside out and upside down- we saw the results of children being trafficked, we sat with refugees in their shacks on a rubbish dump, we realised that what we thought was our calling wasn’t (for now), we prayed for people as they frantically tried to get hold of loved ones stuck on a collapsing, earthquake-stricken island. We realised with cold horror that if God exists then what he, as such, will allow to happen to his children is far worse than anything most can imagine. With faith and church at the heart of both of our personal and social lives, having it shaken- not like a driving over a pothole, more like being stuffed into an industrial washing machine full of broken glass- is quite ‘something’.
4. Sadness. Follow me, if you will, down my pity-party path to number 4- sadness. This may not come as a surprise given the above, but sadness is hanging around a fair bit at the moment. This is mainly about people- this last year has seen huge changes in relationships, some of them heartbreaking. We have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the love so many people have shown us (and continue to do so), but a small handful of relationships became unmaintainable. This is one of the very sad realities of life, but travelling puts physical distance between people that is unlikely to help- that is to say, if you are going to travel long term, expect to lose a few people along the way. (For what it’s worth, having gone through the process of losing people, sadness precedes a new, lighter, better outlook and so is just the inevitable ‘meh’ bit of the process).
5. Guilt. Every. Single. Day. Guilt about Eira’s accident, guilt that we didn’t realise how difficult accessing quality medical care would be, guilt about the effects the earthquakes had on them. Guilt that we left the island and headed to relative safety when so many people will never be able to. Guilt about feeling guilty, because it’s distracting and I want to be present and connected with the girls, always. Guilt about holding myself to impossibly high standards. Guilt that within the year I didn’t manage to turn this blog into a full-time income to support our family and guilt that I’m stupid enough to dream that big. Guilt about having work that means I’m online a lot. The list goes on.
6. The weather. This is minor, but wow, having sunshine and dry weather makes a heck of a difference. Being able to stroll out of the door at a moment’s notice (Brits, can you imagine?!) instead of dragging the family through a carousel of hoodies, thick socks, coats, gloves, scarves, hats, waterproofs, spare clothes, mud, and an eternal line of laundry, really increases your enthusiasm about ‘doing stuff’. Walking out of the door with three kids in the freezing cold, in England, to spend the day outside, repeatedly, for the colder six months of the year (we have to find stuff for the kids to do 7 days a week, remember, they’re with us all the time) requires more energy than can be obtained from any volume of Diet Coke.
7. Housework. Getting on to the ‘oh you’ve got to be joking, quit whining’ part of the post but hey- it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. I actually like housework, especially cleaning, but what I don’t like is having to do such an astronomical amount (again, a quick reminder that the kids are homeschooled so imagine what your house would look like after a weekend with three kids spent inside, and then imagine that every day for all eternity) and having to choose between quality homeschooling and a tidyish environment. If we go all out on a project (junk modelling is a particular fave at the moment) it looks like the council has redirected the borough’s recycling facility to our dining room. If they play and get creative, there’s mess. I guess what I’m surmising is that I need to get used to ‘things’ and ‘stuff’, despite naturally enjoying a minimalist environment, and just suck up the fact that there is no magical algorithm for getting the housework-homeschooling balance right.
8. Family dynamics. After a year of adjusting to Patrick and Mum being with the kids and myself all the time, we are now adjusting to the opposite. Patrick and I usually get on best when we are together all the time- it’s how we met, sitting next to each other at work for 8 hours a day and then driving to and from work with each other too. That was when we were friends; once we got together we went travelling together 4 months later and then got jobs in the same gym. It’s just how we function best, so hardly seeing each other has been hard. For anyone who is under the illusion that I’m an all-round nice person, last week after we got into an argument I bought him an advent calendar while I was buying the kids’- not to make up or be nice; just to make him feel bad (to be fair it was 5% also because I knew once we’d made up he would actually like it. But 95% to make him feel bad.)
9. Direction with work and the blog. For those of you who haven’t spotted the glaring issue with our current blog situation, may I highlight the fact that I now have a travel blog and we are doing anything but travelling. To be honest this isn’t a world-shaking issue but I called this blog “10 things we’re struggling with” and I need to make up the numbers, so- here. What I’m actually FAR more passionate about than travel is parenting, helping parents connect well with their kids, and homeschooling, and it is a joy to be able to focus more on that now. We will still be posting about travel though- it’s been part of us for so long and I hope we can help other parents who wish to travel by sharing our experience and tips.
10. Tempeh. The delicious, cheap, fat-and-protein rich staple that I lived on for a year (almost literally). Every day in Bali I had at least one meal and usually two that consisted of simply tempeh, rice and vegetables. In Bali it costs around 10p per block; in the UK it is around £3. *wail*. Thank goodness for Linda McCartney.
Advice to people considering a family gap year
So, there it all is in black and white. Travel with kids and family gap years don’t always end like a Disney movie. There are so many quotes and different sources telling everyone to go for it, that they’ll never regret it and that it will be the best thing they’ve ever done. In many sense this is true; the intensity of personal growth and experience would be hard to match when I think about the last year. But honestly, most of that came through the worst experiences, some of which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
We had some mind-blowingly amazing times. The night we crouched silently on the sand, watching a turtle lay her eggs and seeing a shooting star and fireflies for the first time; the day my six year old swam with sea turtles; her seventh birthday spent blue-whale watching. The days trekking emerald green rice terraces; sunsets spent playing carefree on tropical beaches and hours perfecting somersaults in the pool. But incredible doesn’t mean stress-free, and in many ways we are paying for it now.
My advice to anyone thinking to take a family gap year or travel as we did would be this: if you are going to do it, be aware that you really are gambling, and you aren’t always aware of everything that you’ve put on the table. Don’t be careless or arrogant or assume accidents won’t happen- I can’t imagine how we would have ended up had we not had health insurance for Eira. Research everything and make contingency plans for as much as you can- even with these things covered there were still things we were unprepared for.
Apart from that, there are some things that nothing can prepare you for, and although it is very difficult, for the most part I don’t regret our trip. I think that we have all grown in character massively from it, and that decisions we make about our lives and future now will be benefit from the experiences that we had. I’ll do a post soon about the things we gained most from our trip, as well as the hardest and best bits about the actual travel experience. I know there are a lot of families considering a family gap year or trying the digital nomad lifestyle, and hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and minimise your own!
As ever, thank you for reading and if you’d some more words to munch on, here are some of our most popular posts and pages:
All about Eira’s accident and updates
An Open Letter to parents wanting adventure (this has been shared over 700 times)
The 20 best hate comments we received after being featured in the Daily Mail
I answer the 10 questions we get asked ALL the time about homeschooling
That time our kids stole a flock of chickens from a 5* hotel (I wish i was joking)