Left Luggage

Considering that one of the ambitions I had for the trip is to learn to live with less ‘stuff’, it’s been a challenging couple of weeks.

Having to move out of our house and into a friend’s for 2 weeks (thank you Kate) with enough luggage to ensure we could send the children to school in clean uniforms, plus clothe ourselves and remember everything we needed for ‘the wedding’ (more on this later), plus of course everything we want to take travelling, and having to manage all the overlaps (things that we need for the wedding but not for travelling, things we need for the wedding and travelling, things we need for travelling but only after trekking, things we need for travelling but can’t pack till they’ve been washed and dried, and all possible combinations of the above), has required a level of organisation that is beyond even my spreadsheet skills.

The upshot is that I write this on a train heading from London to Preston, where I will meet my long suffering parents for 20 minutes who will hand me a small box, then I’ll get back on a train to London, get the tube back across town and get a lift back to Ferg’s folks’ place by about 7pm tonight.

The reason for this rather expensive and time consuming journey less than 24 hours before we fly? The guilt that I have packed Jemima’s thumb guard brace in the wrong bag so it has ended up in Preston instead of in a rucksack, and she is beside herself about it. The dentist has warned she may need surgery to correct her bite if she can’t stop sucking her thumb, and the fact is that this thumb guard brace seems to be doing the trick.

Fergus thinks I’m crazy to be spending our last day in the UK on a train all day, perhaps he’s right. And I know we should be preparing the girls for the fact that things will sometimes get left behind on this trip and we have to say ‘never mind’ and live without them. But I just can’t quite bear to spend the day relaxing knowing that I could have gone back for it if I tried. So back I go, this time…!

The Wonderful World

by Evie

I’m not going to believe that we’re going travelling until we’re at Nepal. Or that we’re going to London until we get there. I think we’re very lucky children because we get to go travelling for a whole 10 months or maybe longer! I keep thinking about it and I can’t get it out of my head. I mostly think about swimming with tropical fish and riding on an elephant and trekking in the high mountains in Nepal. I feel contented.

When we left Megan and Susie at school they cried their eyes out but at least we’ll be able to email them and Skype them because I’ve got Megan’s Skype address. I’m going to talk to them about what time of day it is because obviously it might be very different. I’m probably going to ask them what they’ve been doing at school, and what day it is. Also, I’m going to ask them how much fun they’ve been having when it’s the weekend (for them).

I feel very nervous about the flight, also I think it’s going to be very boring. I’m probably going to look out of the window most of the time on the plane, and sometimes I’m not sure but I think we’re going to play games and read Kindles.

I cried when we said goodbye to Nanarara because I was so sad.

What I Think About Travelling

By Scarlett

I feel weird about going travelling. It will seem so strange being out of home. I am looking forward to travelling but I don’t quite believe it’s going to be real. I think I am going to feel travel sick if it’s going to be real.

I’m looking forward to Thailand most of all because mummy and daddy keep saying how good it is. I am looking forward to the views, they will be quite beautiful. I think that the countries we are going to will be a tiny bit the same as England. At the moment I can imagine a picture of 5 people, who are us 5, walking along a Thai beach with big rucksacks on and the shadows are long and the sun is setting over a blue sea, and the sunset is reflecting on the water. There is no one but us there.

I can also imagine big beautiful mountains covered in snow with the sun setting in between them, and there’s a river running up to the sun with ice floating on it. All the snow on the mountains is melting. I imagine it’s so beautiful in Nepal.

There’s a few things I will not be able to imagine until I see them. One of these is a rainbow in Thailand. I can’t imagine a rainbow in Thailand at all. Another one is a car in Thailand. And Thai voices and clothes. I can’t imagine any of the countries voices, but I can imagine all of their clothes apart from Nepal’s and Thailand’s.

I am so glad we were born before our mother and father set off travelling! It means we have more money because we’ve had longer to save up, and it means we (us 3) get to go!

The Wonderful Wedding

Here is what Scarlett wrote in her diary about the wedding.

Dear Diary,

Today is the day of the wedding.

At first we got changed into wedding dresses which looked beautiful. Then, we went to the wedding and explored. After that, us 3 went to the crèche. In the crèche, we ran around and did some colouring. After the crèche, we went outside and played a game where we lived in a bush. My sisters wouldn’t let me join in. After that we saw Auntie Lou Lou in her wedding dress, she looked absolutely beautiful. After that, there was a disco in the crèche, we danced the night away.


Today we left Leeds – a step that has proved surprisingly difficult.

Surprising, I think, because I have always thought of myself as someone who isn’t too bothered by material possessions. I generally own one pair of shoes which I wear into the ground (literally), I couldn’t care less what car I drive as long as it gets me to work and back, I use the cheapest phone money can buy, and my clothing reflects a natural scruffiness which I long since gave up trying to fight. What matters to me is my family, my wife, experiences. Not things.

Which probably explains my surprise at finding how much stuff I actually have, and how fiddly it has been to disentangle myself from the attachments of everyday life.

On reflection, I suppose it should have been obvious that you cannot reach the age of 39, have a family and a wife and a home and a job and not gain a great number of attachments. A home needs a house, a job needs a car, kids have school (and a pet!), and there’s bills and insurance and mortgages, bank accounts and registrations, lawns and hedges and 10’ trampolines… all of which roll happily along on the assumption that their owners are not going to disappear off around the World for the best part of a year. So the fact that we are disappearing off around the World for the best part of a year has meant disentangling ourselves from all those things.

Over the last month, as we arrange all the necessary letting and selling, storing and donating, dumping and packing, painting and cleaning, and mending, painting and mowing, I have been gauging how successful I have been at disentangling myself from all our material possessions by watching my key ring.

First to go were my 3 work keys, then our house and garage keys, then one of our two car keys. Now all I have remaining is one car key. And after we drive to the airport on Tuesday, my Mum will kindly sell it (the car not the key) and my Lego Gandalf key ring will be all that remains. Then I guess I’ll also have to give that up, too, as there’s not much point to a key ring with no keys.

One of my lasting memories from last time Janet and I went travelling was how liberating it was to have everything I needed in one backpack. In a few minutes, I could be packed up and ready to move on and explore somewhere new, or arrive somewhere and be settled in in no more time than it took to string a hammock. It felt wonderful to prove how much of the stuff I normally surrounded myself with just wasn’t necessary.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to carry everything you need when you’re in a hot country where you can wear sandals every day and never need more than one layer of clothing.

And there’s a certain amount of illusion to the backpacking life. Pure luck and historical inertia gives us the exchange rates that make us relatively rich in other countries, even when just starting out in life. And this money allows us to hire the stuff we need at a moments notice: roofs over our heads, transport, prepared food. It’s just we don’t carry the stuff around.

And I guess youth also helped. Back in the UK, I rented my room in a house, I had no car, I’d just finished university, and, of course, Janet and I only had one rucksack each to carry, not three extra small ones and their attendant children.

So perhaps it’s no surprise after all that it’s proven tricky to get going. But it’s almost done. There’s just that one key left in my pocket (and Gandalf, of course), and in a few days I won’t even have that. It’ll be just us, our rucksacks and the open road (well, Heathrow Terminal One).


So that’s it. We now officially have no house. It’s taken weeks to do it but everything we want to take with us is in rucksacks, everything we want to keep is in storage and a lot of other stuff that was filling up our house has been divided between the bin, the tip and local charity shops.

Janet and I sat in our empty house for the last time this morning, listened to the echoes, marvelled at how clean it was, promised not to let it clog up with junk again, left a welcome note and a bottle of wine for our tenants and walked out of the door.

Now we just have two weeks of spare rooms and hotels then we get on our flight to Kathmandu, and the adventure that we’ve been saving up for since the year 2000 begins.

Moving out has been a lot of work – not just  packing up and throwing out, but decorating and cleaning ready for renting – so it’s not until now that I have really been able to have time to feel properly excited. But now the trip is close and we’ve uprooted out family, I can feel it the elation starting to build. It’s here, rIght before me. Nearly a whole year of no work, being able to spend all day with my family, new places, new experiences, opportunities to grow and be challenged… an adventure. And to do it all with kids, while probably more difficult at times, will also let me see everything afresh, through their eyes.

I can’t wait.

Travel preparations if you’re 7 years old

I can’t wait.  We have been practising for Nepal.  We have bought:-


Royal shoes (expensive walking shoes that must be looked after – Dad)

Royal socks (expensive walking socks that must also not be thrown down a Himalayan mountainside – Dad)

Sleeping bags


The other countries are going to be good too!

Wet Paint and Packing

Things I have said (yelled) today:


Don’t run! Walk! Slowly! No! Not there!

Now don’t touch the door! Or the door frame! Or the… oh.

Yes, it’s still wet. No, don’t tou… Hm. Right, go and wash your hands. And please don’t touch anything on the way to the… oh.

From which you can probably surmise that we have been painting and decorating.

The upstairs is largely done (only the girls’ room to go). But now we’re working on rooms that our girls need to pass through, and discovering that keeping three 7-year-olds and wet paint apart is a largely futile process.

Still, the dining room is nearly finished and will hopefully continue to look just as amazing as it does currently until we rent our house out.  See, we decided when our girls were young that there was no point trying to keep the walls clean. When you’re outnumbered by toddlers you have to be realistic about these things. So our walls have taken something of a battering over the last five years. Between the thousands of blue-tacked pictures, grubby hand tide marks, impact craters, crayonings no-one would admit to and other sundry abuses our dining room has descended to a state where we’d have trouble letting it out in Third-World warzone let alone a leafy English suburb.

There was nothing for it but to hit the DIY supercentre and start decorating.

Only it turns out that decorating is rather time consuming. And expensive. And tiring. Not to mention dangerous (when paired with wandering children). We started at Christmas and still have tons to do.

Nor is it the only thing we need to before renting our house out. We need to prove we comply with safety standards for gas and electricity, find an estate agent, make the gardens presentable, tackle all those little DIY jobs you learn to live with but renters might not be so laid back about, pack up (or chuck out) years of accumulated stuff, clear out the garage of things we really should have thrown away years ago to make room for the stuff from our house that we really should be throwing away now, and, of course, find tenants.

All of which makes our departure date seem worryingly soon. WIll we manage it all in time? I have to say, when I daydreamed about going travelling, my thoughts never dwelled on all the hard work we’d have to do before we stepped onto the plane. And it seems a shame to be spending so much time thinking about home improvements not our trip of a lifetime.

I guess there’s nothing for it than to just crack on.

I just hope all this hard work means we can find the tenants we need. And that they don’t mind a few finger marks in the paintwork.

What Does a Lessin Look Like? Sounds Small and Slimy.

[Note: I wrote this post back in February and at the time I felt rather deflated. However, our girls’ school has proved to actually be very helpful and supportive. They have been encouraging towards our girls, flexible in supporting our ever-changing travel plans and have promised to help keep our girls in touch with the curriculum the rest of their class will be working on. Fergus, September, 2013)]

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from my girls’ school regarding our imminent World trip, but it wasn’t “nothing at all”.

Perhaps I was unrealistic to expect the teacher to share my enthusiasm for the adventure we’re all about to embark upon – and, to be fair, she was… just not in regards to my girls’ education.

Her advice amounted to:

“What will the girls be missing”
“You’ll have to look up Key Stage 2 online.”

“Are there any resources the school could provide to help us?”
“No. We can’t give resources to non-attending pupils.”

“Any other advice?”
“With all due respect you aren’t trained teachers. Next year will cover a lot of ground and I think you’ll struggle to prepare them for returning to school.”

I don’t know; maybe I have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. It was all honestly given advice… but without any appreciation of the broader learning I imagine taking place.

I can recall returning home from living in Malaysia when I was 9 and finding to my bewilderment that my best friend had never left Lancashire, let alone the UK. He’d never seen legless beggars on wheeled carts, monkeys stealing tourists’ ice creams from overhanging branches, cobras dropping from trees in rubber plantations; he’d never looked down from a train window to see bullet-holes scattered across the side of the carriage, never kept geckos in his pocket or hunted bull-frogs under his stilted house; never been immersed in a thousand strange languages, eaten strange foods, smelled strange odours, been forced to not take a single day for granted; never known what it is to carry everything you need in a backpack. Never, in short, seen how wide and astonishing the World is.

And how brilliant it is to travel when you are too young to shoulder the responsibility for arrangements, too innocent to worry about risks, naive enough to be constantly and wonderfully surprised, and to greet strangeness with interest not fear. An adult traveller can never capture the wonder a child traveller experiences.

Which is not to say that experience is a replacement for learning. We won’t be abandoning formal education altogether. it’s just that there’s more for a child to learn than is contained in the National Curriculum – and many things that can’t be taught in a classroom, or with 30 kids to one teacher.

And every parent knows how much harder it can be to motivate and control your own kids. We don’t have the distance that lets a teacher bring down the weight of authority onto a child. Our kids feel freer to answer back, dig in heels and push boundaries.

So, I shan’t pretend that I’m not daunted by taking on the responsibility of becoming a teacher as well as a parent. And I don’t kid myself that it’ll be easy. I’m not unaware that there are some things that are better taught in a classroom.

But I still feel confident that, with or without support from outside, my girls will come back from a year in Asia having learned lessons that will set them up well for the rest of their lives. They will have a broader perspective on the World and will hopefully have been through enough surprises and experiences that they can approach life in the relaxed and easy manner of people who have seen the bigger picture (or at least seen legless beggars on trolleys and can be glad for what they have).

(The title, by the way, is from First Day at School by Roger McGough; a wonderful poem about the fear brought by starting school.)

Mew Mow Marmalade!

From Evie:

I’m looking forward to going travelling for one whole year. I will miss Marmalade a lot though! I love Marmalade and will never forget what she looks like. I hope she never forgets me. I will have to get strength to be able to go. Marmalade’s mewing will make me feel sick on the way to drop her off at Cornwall though.