It has taken me a long time to sit down and write this. Whenever Lynsey used to ‘remind’ me that I hadn’t written a blog post yet, my excuse would often be (without trying to sound too much like a spoilt author) that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. And this is exactly what has stopped me writing this piece sooner.
Reverse culture shock, re-acclimatisation, holiday blues, whatever you want to call it – it turned out that coming home was actually a bit harder than we expected. Which is surprising considering that only a week earlier, chatting over a steaming bowl of Rhode Island clam chowder, we had unanimously agreed that we were ready to come home, we were looking forward to coming home and we were happy to call ‘time’ on our travels. But within minutes of arriving home, throwing our backpacks on the floor and putting the kettle on, it all seemed very strange. It instantly felt like we had never been away. Our house was exactly as we had left it (thankfully), the kids were playing with their old toys and we were sat back in the same kitchen where we had planned and plotted this amazing trip a year or so ago. Over the coming few days it became apparent that not just had nothing changed at home, but nothing had really changed at all. OK, we do live in a village in the New Forest, and from memory nothing exciting had really happened in the nine months before we left, so I’m not sure exactly what we were hoping for in the nine months we were away, but we certainly felt somewhat underwhelmed upon our return. Of course we had just had the time of our lives freewheeling from one incredible experience to the next, mostly in the glorious sunshine and always with another mind-blowing adventure just around the corner. Then, all of a sudden, we were waking up in the same place every day, in the dark, in the cold, with no jobs, no money and no mind-blowing adventure just round the corner. We had been on the metaphorical roller-coaster ride and, despite knowing exactly where the end was, it still arrived a bit quicker and with more of a bang than we expected.
Remarkably, the kids didn’t bat an eyelid. We arrived home at lunchtime, and by 3pm the same day they were outside the school waiting for their friends and playing football like they had never been away.
“Oh hey, Max is back! Did you have a good time Max?”
“Yeah, it was amazing”
“Do you want to play football?”
And just like that they were back. Both boys have started at a new school and are absolutely flying, and the time away has only been a benefit to their education. Yes Ben’s handwriting needs a bit of work and Max’s timetables are a bit ropy round the edges but it’s nothing that they won’t soon pick up, and it pales into insignificance compared to the things they’ve learnt around the world. Our main concerns before embarking on this trip (apart from dysentery and kidnappers) were “will the kids fall too far behind at school” and “will it be difficult for them to get back in with their friends”. Both these fears (well, all four if you include the dysentery and the kidnappers) were, thankfully, totally unfounded. Kids are under a lot more pressure a lot younger nowadays – tests, homework, exams – and the more we can give them the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, to visit new places and to experience new cultures, will surely give them a much more holistic education.
We were fortunate enough to meet some of the most incredible people on this trip. From Maju the barefooted Hindu to Soto the Galapagan environmentalist and – without exception – every tuk-tuk driver, boat captain, market vendor and chai wallah in between, we had a totally positive experience with everyone we met. Of course travelling with young children changes the dynamics somewhat, and if Lynsey and I had been travelling alone I’m sure we would have been subject to a hefty wedge of ‘gringo tax’ and some more than dubious sales techniques. Above all though, it reinforced our belief that actually 99.9% of people in the world are good, friendly people; curious, fun and happy to help. Just like we all are. There is a lot of negative rhetoric in the press at the moment, often seeking to highlight to differences between cultures. Our experience was the total opposite. The majority of people in this world are nice, and we have a lot more in common than not.
Was it a blessing to spend that much time together as family? Yes undoubtedly, and we are only too aware of how lucky we were, but it certainly had its downsides as well (including Ben now playing Twisted Sister songs on repeat!). We were on top of each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for nine months – it was pretty intense. If you can imagine how you feel at the end of a long school holiday when you just can’t wait to get the kids back to school, then multiply that by about a thousand and you’re nearly there. There were some days when I would have sold both kids for a magic bean! It was a little easier with Max as he was old enough to read a book or look after himself for a while, but travelling with a four year-old is full on. They need entertaining. All day. Every day. And while both boys became much more confident and outgoing, happy to talk to and play with anyone, there was a lot of the time when there just weren’t other kids to play with. And guess what, playing four year-old games every day for nine months really starts to grate after a while. Good job we all like cricket!
But all things considered, given the total lack of routine, minimal sleep, extreme heat and borderline appalling diet, everyone did unbelievably well. Apart from a brief visit to an Ecuadorian hospital to sort out Lynsey’s back, no-one got ill on the whole trip – a convincing illustration of the benefits of being outdoors, active and in the sunshine. We carried everything we needed in a bag on our backs and didn’t want for a thing (well, maybe a decent pillow and some curtains that actually kept the 4am sun out!). It was absolutely exhausting, but it wasn’t stressful in the slightest – once we had somewhere to sleep and something to eat what else was there to worry about?
The whole trip was wonderfully liberating. It gave us a new-found appreciation for everything we have at home, while at the same time refreshing our wanderlust and reinforcing our desire to really balance our lives, to work in a way that suits us and that we enjoy, allowing for plenty more adventures for the whole family.
Would we do it all again tomorrow?
No. We need to seriously recharge the batteries and the bank balance first.
Would we have done anything differently?
Not a thing. It is what it is, the good and the bad. It all happens for a reason and that’s what makes the adventure.
And if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a nifty little video on YouTube – if you can handle 196 consecutive images of my face 🙃😊🤠😎