So here it is. Our last day of travelling. Our last day of squashing up into a single hotel room. Our last day of eating every meal in public. Our last day of spending every waking moment in each other’s company.
Early tomorrow morning, we get a tuk-tuk or taxi to the airport and spend pretty much the whole day on planes (with an exciting 4 hour stopover in Oman to relieve the monotony), eventually piling out at Heathrow after 16 hours of travel. Then it’s just one more bus journey up to Leeds (a mere 4 hours and with a guaranteed seat each instead of plastic chairs in the aisle – luxury!) and we’ll be home.
We’re cutting it fine. School starts just four days after we get home. We have no food in the cupboards. We have no bedding. We threw out our old sofas before we left so there’s nothing except kitchen chairs to sit on. And what things we do have are all boxed and stacked ten-feet high in the garage. It’s going to be a busy few days.
But I think it will also be exciting, rediscovering all our possessions and seeing why they all seemed so important that we had to carefully store them away all year. To be honest, I imagine quite a lot of it might be going straight to the tip rather than back into our house. When we’ve lived out of two backpacks (plus the girls’ small ones) for a year, it’s hard to imagine needing a ten-foot garage stack of stuff.
Actually, when I wrote that we have no food, it wasn’t strictly true. We all sat around our laptop by the pool yesterday, salivating as we put together the most enormous online Asda delivery ever. Some of it is essentials. Some of it. But mostly it’s just cheese. The sheer amount of choice was just too much to resist, and it was just so incredibly easy. A few hundred clicks and before you know it, Asda’s shelves are empty and our fridge and cupboards are full. Wow! No need to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers to get there, dodge stray dogs on the street, jump over open sewers, struggle with indecipherable labels or mysterious vegetables nor any need to visit twenty shops to get twenty things. We’ve also bought all the girls school uniforms online, winter coats, recorders (!), a case of wine… come to think of it, maybe we have missed having stuff after all.
But possessions aside, I think our girls will be in for a culture shock when we return to the UK. Their memories of home are already fading and I really think the little differences will be a surprise to them: wearing coats or tights or shoes, everyone understanding them when they talk in public, not having to put on sun cream or mosquito repellant, having to spend time away from their Mummy and Daddy, sitting still in a classroom…
Backpacking as a family has sometimes been hard work and we’ve all felt growing pangs of homesickness over the last month or two but we’ve seen some amazing stuff, been to some awesome places, learnt things about different countries you could never pick up without going there, had a ton of fun and are closer as a family than we’ve ever been. I’m glad we spent all those years saving up but I’m also looking forward to getting back to “normal” life. Things that had started to feel mundane will be exciting. Choosing to go back to the familiar is a very different thing to being swept along by the daily grind.
And I also think the trip will anchor us. In time – such a big life change will always give us the perspective to say whether any event happened before or after we went travelling – but also in reality: it’s humbling to see with your own eyes how most of the World’s population lives. It’s a lot harder to complain about your life or feel stressed over small upsets when you’ve seen what others often have to deal with.
But going home is not until tomorrow. Today we go to the beach for the last time, and tonight we’re having a special meal to toast our trip – to celebrate our year in Asia, were going out to an Italian restaurant. Salute!