Many years back, we had a dream of a family gap year. We hope you share such a dream and that our experiences may help you bring that dream into reality. You can read more about the reasons in our first post – Here.
You must first have a dream and believe in your dream – otherwise nothing else is possible.
If you desire to be a true ambassador for your country, a global citizen and foster a positive force for such a trip, we believe it begins firstly with mind-set.
Being open to others is as much a philosophy for life as it is for travelling.
If you want a real adventure, are travelling with children and on a tight budget, (as we were) – it pays to be flexible. We tried to be open to other cultures, food and religions. Be open to opportunity and change. We endeavoured to be open to other points of view opposing to our own and ways of life alien to us. This willingness is the first step to crossing the boundary between being a tourist (which you inevitably are at times) and being a true traveller.
We are fortunate to love our own country, it’s multiculturalism, democracy and the equality it embraces. We have strong convictions of our own and a deep sense of family. We were happy in ourselves, our marriage and our relationship with those around us. We were financially stable. Nothing is ever perfect but we believe that any life changing trip needs to start from a happy place. You should not be running away from situations but towards self-discovery.
Beware the Dream Squashers
We wanted to be travellers and role model for our children, a healthy curiosity about the world. To explore the unknown with cautious responsibility but a lack of unfounded fear. To do this we had to overcome our own fears and the prejudices of others. The vast majority of people around us, even some of those closest to us, did not at first support or applaud our idea – although they were later to come on board. So don’t expect encouragement. You need to steel yourself that many people will try to deter you from what they see as a dangerous, irresponsible and down-right crazy idea.
A few of the comments and opinions we remember before we left:
“Don’t you love your children. They will die”.
“How can you be so irresponsible”.
“It’s far too dangerous”.
“You will be robbed and killed in your beds, when you’re sleeping”.
“You’ll financially ruin your lives”.
“Strangers can’t be trusted”.
“It’s impossible that nothing bad will happen”.
Be aware that such dream squashing doesn’t just occur at home and you will meet people shocked and opposed to your plans as you travel. People will feel threatened by you or see you as a lost child – many will not understand and sometimes you will just have to accept that. After all it is your dream, not theirs…
Despite this dream squashing, tell people. You are going to be away from home for a long time and you need the people you love. Try to get people to understand and get them used to the fact that it will happen regardless of their fears. When you are lonely or homesick, you will need their love, support or their video call to cheer you up. Telling all your friends and relatives overseas may also mean a reunion, a meeting, a new contact or even a loving place to stay. Being embraced by friends and family whilst overseas, refuelled our batteries and gave us the energy to continue. We all need love and friendship for any large endeavour. Make sure to foster it and value it.
You never know, maybe they need you too. Maybe they need you to show them it can be done or to enjoy your adventure from the comfort of their homes. Maybe your journey can help them to take a step away from fear and towards embracing change.
On a practical front, this means getting up to date contact details together on your phone, address book or spreadsheet. Make sure you have more than one source for this or even leave a copy with someone reliable at home.
Be inspired by other families who have lived such a dream. We read some great stories on the internet. Learn from them. Keep things positive and look for constructive advice. Don’t only read horror stories but be aware of the possible dangers.
Keep abreast of global issues. Educate yourself on recent history, political situations and read the official travel warnings associated with the countries you plan to visit. Educate yourself on visa requirements, country issues, places of interest, etc. Join organisations such as hospitality clubs, travel forums, blogs, etc that foster your dream.
In the end, to carry out any life goal you need to have a degree of personal conviction and a dash of courage. You have to believe in what you are doing and make it happen, despite any obstacles that may come your way.
A Rough Route
Although details don’t need to be sketched out, we believe it pays to have a rough plan.
Our idea before we left was to aim for about 3-4 months in Asia and 3-4 months in Europe, with the rest travelling between. We listed some key places we wanted to see such as Taipei, Samarkand, Brugge, Paris, London, Krakow, Japanese countryside, Legoland Malaysia, Chiang Mai… We wanted to have a longer period in which we lived and volunteered in both Asia and Europe.
We initially chose Taiwan and Poland for our longer stays. We arranged an accepting Couchsurfing host in Taiwan and a house-sit in Poland, from which to establish a base and foster local contacts. We were keen to do some WWOOFing, so we researched this and hoped to do it mainly in rural Japan. We made some contacts in WWOOF Japan to make this possible. We made friends via the internet across the globe with who we discussed possible plans and kept in touch.
So that is where we were about a year before our departure. The practical stuff really occurred in the last year, with the bulk of the work taking place in the six months before the go. Read about it next, in Part 2.