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Why this family is packing up life in Ipswich for a gap year in south east Asia

PUBLISHED: 19:00 08 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:29 10 March 2020

Amy and John Clarke looking at the map with their kids Finley, Caitlin and William    Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Amy and John Clarke looking at the map with their kids Finley, Caitlin and William Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A family of five are packing up the bare essentials and setting off on the adventure of a lifetime - a gap year in south east Asia.

The Clarke family are going on a year long  adventure through South East Asia in September.  John and Amy with their  three children, William, Caitlin and Finley   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe Clarke family are going on a year long adventure through South East Asia in September. John and Amy with their three children, William, Caitlin and Finley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Amy and John Clarke, of Ipswich, want to put a traumatic year behind them and give their three children - William, 13, Finley, 10, and eight-year-old Caitlin - an experience they will never forget.

And they are taking nothing more than a few changes of clothes, a laptop each so the children can keep up with their studies, and a pair of flip flops.

'If we don't do this now, we never will,' said John, 39, who is medically retired from Suffolk police. 'I am still out of work, and the children are still young enough to come with us.'

The family set off in September, leaving their beloved dog Willow with the grandparents. Their home will be rented out, their cars sold and any possessions they haven't sold will be locked up in storage.

The Clarke's will be travelling light - taking nothing more than small backpacks   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe Clarke's will be travelling light - taking nothing more than small backpacks Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

First stop will be a hostel in Bangkok where they will share a room and sleep on pallet beds.

An education in itself

'It will really broaden our horizons,' said Amy, 35. 'I have lived a really sheltered life. I hope it changes me as a person, and I think it will really help the kids.

'They are all very able kids but they are never going to be academics.

Amy and John have only planned their first stage of their trip and will be fluid as they journey through different cultures and countries   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNAmy and John have only planned their first stage of their trip and will be fluid as they journey through different cultures and countries Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

'This will give them a good experience of the world around them, a good grounding. There is more to being successful than what you do at school.'

Instead of learning equations and studying literature, the children will explore different cultures and learn real-life maths as they help their parents budget, and Amy is relishing the opportunity to relax their learning.

'There is so much pressure on them but at school there are 30 of them in a class, they get so little one-on-one time,' said the police control room operator.

'A lot of their learning will be hands on, but we have an online school so they will still have work to do.'

And the learning has already started.

'The kids are selling their old games and putting the money away for the trip,' said the couple. 'They know that if they want to do something and it isn't within our budget then they will have to pay for it.'

The family have a meagre budget for their trip and want to make their cash last as long as possible so they are taking nothing more than hand luggage to reduce costs and will be staying predominantly in hostels.

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'We want to meet other backpackers and pick up tips from them,' said John. Although he confessed most would be much younger - and wouldn't have three children in tow.

Road to recovery

Last year John was admitted to Woodlands mental health unit at Ipswich Hospital after his PTSD reached crisis level and he tried to take his own life.

His condition had spiralled after attending a murder scene, an experience that would eventually bring an end to his 17-year police career.

More: Police officer shares his recovery from PTSD on Instagram

But months of therapy, counselling, and running have helped him on his road to recovery. He now has six months to complete his therapy and ensure he can self-manage his condition while travelling.

'The problem here is there are lots of memories,' said John. 'In a different city, a different country, it will be different. And chasing after the children will be a distraction.'

He continued: 'We went to Mexico and I felt completely different. I did have a lanyard on at the airport which made people aware I had a mental health issue, and things like that I will be able to use on our trip.'

Amy added: 'I think it will be really for you, here you trip over things.'

The family hope to travel to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as potentially parts of India and the Philippines, provided the current coronavirus threat dies down before they set off.

What are they most looking forward to about their adventure?

'Freedom. We couldn't afford to have that freedom here,' Amy said. 'I couldn't afford to stop working.'

And John agreed: 'After 17 years of being told you need to be here at this time, having leave cancelled, getting a court warning at the last minute, I am looking forward to having some freedom.

Digital detox

The trip will also be a chance for a major digital detox - the children will have laptops but they won't be able to stay connected 24/7 like they are at home.

'It is addictive, I find myself picking up my phone all the time too,' said John.
Back to normality

When the pair return, John plans to launch a PT business while Amy hopes to return to work at Suffolk Constabulary. And the children? If they are lucky enough to still have places at their schools they will return, and if not, their parents are willing to try home schooling on a longer-term basis.

Follow the Clarke family's adventure on Instagram @familyof5takeagapyear

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