October 25 2014 Latest news:
By Juliet Redding
Saturday, April 19, 2014
“We’re taking the children out of school and going travelling,” we announced to the surprise – and in some cases horror – of our friends and family.
Some were enthusiastic, others madly jealous.
Some liked the idea of showing their kids other parts of the world, but not at the expense of comfort and mod cons which an extended period of travelling on a budget usually entails.
A few clearly thought we were wildly irresponsible and selfish - and perhaps they had a point.
But the most common reaction was “you’re brave!” which could usually be interpreted as “are you mad?”
Now, I imagine that part of this latter reaction was due to the make-up of our family.
We have four children – Beatrice, Emilia, Ines and Maia, all girls and all aged 10 and under at the time of departure. The youngest was only five.
Now just getting four kids that age to school on time can be a real challenge - and one that I often fail at - so perhaps it is understandable that some of our friends thought the idea that we could safely shepherd them around the more remote parts of Asia was somewhat far fetched.
But we wanted to break out of our carefully constructed, cosseted environment and we knew that once our eldest daughter entered senior school, and more importantly, embarked on her GCSE years, we would no longer be able to remove her from school with a clear conscience.
Our plans were helped by the fact that my husband was able to arrange a sabbatical from work and that the headteachers at the children’s schools were supportive.
We are also fortunate enough to live in a beautiful area of the Suffolk coast and were therefore able to rent out our home for holidays – something which helped significantly towards financing the trip.
Is it easy to arrange a round-the-world trip?
When deciding where to go, I made a wish list of all the sights and experiences I wanted to share with my children, the geographical features I wanted them to see for themselves, the cultural interactions I hoped they would have, the world heritage sites they ought to visit.
Our trip was to be over the northern hemisphere’s summer months, so I looked at the climate around the world at this time of year to see where it would be appropriate to travel during these months, aiming to avoid monsoons and cyclones.
But planning a trip of this magnitude is more complicated than simply deciding on your dream destinations.
In addition to flights, we had to source travel insurance and arrange visas for some of the countries we planned to visit, a significant cost in itself when each visa fee is multiplied by six.
On top of that we all had to have a course of vaccinations over a period of six months, which ran to an additional, rather unanticipated, four figure sum.
Packing for six was a further complication.
We told the children they weren’t to take anything with them that they would mind losing and managed to squeeze our necessities into just two backpacks.
Our children have seen poverty at first hand
Our journey provided the most wonderful, intense family experience we could ever have hoped for.
In fact, it surpassed all our expectations.
Our children now have first hand experience of rainforests, deltas and deserts.
They have ridden elephants and camels, seen orangutans and turtles.
They have learned how rice grows in sodden paddies and seen the mountain terracing cut for growing crops in the steep hillsides of northern Vietnam.
On top of that they have visited the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, the Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka and South East Asia and the magnificent Taj Mahal.
They have also been challenged by the poverty they have witnessed along the way as well as the lasting scars of war evident in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and, particularly, Cambodia with its many land-mine victims.
Our journey took us on planes, trains and automobiles and many different types of tuktuks and rickshaw.
Our kid’s eyes have been opened to foreign culinary delights, although not everything was exactly to their tastes!
And the trip has given them a far greater understanding of ethnic diversity than can ever be achieved in rural Suffolk.
Every one of them can now say “thank you” in seven different Asian languages.
In short, it was an education that simply couldn’t be matched in the classroom, no matter how inspiring the teacher.
But was it sensible? Was it safe? Were we mad?
Well, inevitably we came across difficulties.
Seatbelts were the exception rather than the rule in all the countries we visited, and vehicles are certainly not maintained to the standard expected in the UK.
Traffic behaves very differently in Asia to Europe and it took a while to understand the new norms.
We implemented strict rules for crossing roads after one near miss.
We also had a rather too close encounter with a highly venomous viper and another with a herd of elephants on their way to the river to bathe.
Food posed problems too.
I brought my babies up on fresh, home cooked meals but I spent the trip extolling them to drink Coca Cola to avoid the chance of drinking contaminated water and to avoid fruit and vegetables that hadn’t been peeled, washed in purified water or boiled.
There were some minor stomach ailments and one more major one which kept recurring despite antibiotic medication.
We also needed courses of antibiotics for an ear infection and an infected boil.
But just in this last week at home we have had one sore throat, one crampy stomach, two grazed hands and a large bump on the head so injury and illness doesn’t just beset those who travel abroad.
In short the trip was everything we hoped for and more and, without the risks, I believe the rewards would have been more meagre. This was an adventure which taught our children so much and the memories of it will last us all a lifetime.