Leaving on a Jet Plane

All packed up and ready to go.

All packed up and ready to go.

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!

Indispensible Travelling Gear for Backpacking with Kids

Rucksacks on a Longtail

In no particular order, here are some of the things that have proved their worth time and time gain in the last (nearly) six months of backpacking round Asia with our kids.

  1.  Packing cubes. Who wouldn’t pay a few quid to not have to rummage constantly through their rucksack, which, let’s face it is one of the main occupations of most backpackers. Plus, you can unpack into a wardrobe or onto shelves and back into your rucksack in minutes. We’ve got three sizes. Small (for pants, socks and small stuff like spare pens and pencils). Large are for clothes. The kids clothes are organized by temperature. Mine is by tops and bottoms. Janet’s is jumpers and everything else. Im not entirely sure why she has a whole big cube of jumpers when it’s 30 degrees unless she’s compensating for the regret of not bringing one at all last time we travelled. There’s also a large one of tech stuff (adapters, chargers, wires, card readers, etc.) Medium is a bit more random. Basically, it’s everything else: shoes, games, toiletries, mosquito repellents… Our packing cubes have also proved useful as substitute pillows on many occasions (Janet’s jumper cube is the best).
  2. Inflatable mattresses. These are amazing. They were expensive but they’ve more than paid for themselves in being able to all share a hotel room rather than booking two. And they’re just so small – they roll up to twice the size of a can of beans and weigh only the same as one can. While we rarely use all three, they’ve come in useful everywhere from airport stopovers to desert island bamboo huts.
  3. Penknives. I have a big man-size Victorinox. Janet has a dainty ladies one. The kids were so jealous that we bought them their own little ones for Christmas.  Without these we’d be at the mercy of splinters, unopenable beer bottles, impregnable tin cans, unrippable-open packets, unclipped toenails, condiments in need of spreading (I’ve carried Marmite with me the whole way, so far), sticks needing whittling and innumerable other small emergencies.
  4. Anthisan. Tropical countries: beautiful landscapes, horrible insects. We bought an entire chemist’s stock before we left but still had to ask my mum to send us more. Works better on mozzie bites than anything else we’ve ever tried. For preventing the bites in the first place, we use industrial-strength Deet.
  5. Travel Kettle. We wouldn’t have thought of this had we not met a travelling couple who had one in Nepal. We very quickly developed kettle envy. No more extortionately-priced cups of tea for us now though. Plus there’s the possibility of Pot Noodles, Milo, Ovaltine, hot chocolate… Has paid for itself many, many times over.
  6. Swoosher. Janet loves this. I mean loves. She exalts in how great it is pretty much every time we move accommodation. More commonly known in the UK (and everywhere else) as a squeegee, to be fair, it is great for getting the water out of the many poorly-drained bathrooms we’ve had. Bought in Pokhara, Nepal, for about 20p, who knows how many slips-and-falls this has saved us from.  Has also removed enough sand to fill Blackpool beach from our island-hopping bungalows. And was essential in keeping Tettie’s cast dry.
  7. Kindles. There’s no way we could have carried around the number of books our kids have read since we set off. And while you can pick up random adult paperbacks at guesthouses, there’s very rarely any aimed at kids. Even better, me and Janet have Paperlights which let us read after the girls have gone to sleep when we’re all sharing a room.
  8. Sarongs. In Nepal, we visited a tailor and get a sarong each made from nice, loose-weave cotton. All five weight less than one towel, are bigger, dry faster and can also be used as a frock (for Janet and our girls, not me – I’m far too manly).
  9. A Bum Bag. Not cool. Not flattering. But incredibly useful when you’re harried, tired, late, laden down with backpacks, frontpacks, shoulderbags and clinging children, racing for a bus and need to find your tickets. Or to always know you have loo roll and hand sanitizer in loo-rolless, unsanitary toilets. I just keep my stuff in Janet’s to maintain my cool image (because it’s cool to be harried, tired, late, laden down with backpacks and kids and racing for a bus as long as you don’t wear a bum bag, right?).
  10. Waterproof Cast Cover.  Ok, this one is rather specific to us but wow! did it ever improve our trip. Without it, we would have spent six weeks on Thailand’s beaches, coasts and resorts with swimming pools without Scarlett ever being able to enter the water. I can only imagine how jealous she would have been of her sisters, and when she was forbidden on doctor’s orders from running or jumping, it as only in the water that she had real freedom.

So there you have it. Ten things that have proved themselves useful as we travelled. There are others, of course – gaffa tape, super glue, hand sanitizer, carabiners, buffs, Crocs for the kids, our collection of portable card and board games, our incredibly-light MacBook Air laptop – but these have definitely been the stars of the show.

Also, Evie points out that rucksacks should really be on this list, which is true… but you know that already, right?