How to Plan for a Long Trip

IMG_3647.jpg

On researching how to plan a long term travel itinerary I came across some advice which said to get some big white boards (I can’t remember the reference now as it was a while ago, so many apologies for the absence of a link to the advice). Being a visual person this idea really appealed to me so I’ve gone and set up a ‘travel wall’ in my kitchen. I sourced some big white boards from Rymans (about £10 each although they are probably available cheaper elsewhere to be honest). One of these is half pin board/half white board.

I’ve then attached these large maps of the places where I’m spending a good 3 months so I can visualise my route through and where the various attractions are that I want to visit. I wrote a post on the maps and where to find them previously so take a gander as they are a mega resource for anyone interested in travel or education etc and they’re available in very high resolution, meaning a large print can be done (also a fab teacher’s resource).

It’s also given Aria a great visualisation of these places I keep talking about and next week I’m going to get her her own little white board as she loves doodling on them. Since taking this picture I’ve filled up 2 of the boards with to-do lists and packing lists and no doubt the 3rd will fill up fast too. It’s really cemented in my head now as something ‘real’ that we’re actually going to do next year so a great idea that I fully recommend.

Apologies, inner peace & 2017 being the year of travel!

P1010675

I most genuinely have no idea where 2016 has scurried away to in such a hurry. I haven’t written for so long I’m starting to have that nagging guilt in some dusty corner of my mind, which seems to just make me look away even more I fear. I think after finishing my degree I had to step away from writing another single word just until I transitioned safely back to normal life after the rigors of academia.

However, there’s no need for alarm (if there was any), as all of our plans to travel remain the same and are moving forward significantly these days. What follows is a quick and haphazard catch up of all my racing thoughts and plans that have formed slowly in my head over the last year or so:

We will be getting our backpacks and babygrows (well, more likely Star Wars pyjamas these days) out in July 2017 and embarking on a long and magnificent trip around anything eastward bound from the UK. The plan at the moment is to get over to Amsterdam and then take trains through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and on to Russia where we will catch the Trans-Siberian to go to Beijing via Mongolia. With plenty of stops on the way this should be one of the most exciting and educating ways to get to China that we could possibly experience; so much more immersive than catching a plane. My 3 year old is incredibly excited to be catching a train to China, regardless of the fact she doesn’t fully understand the reality of that yet. I’m introducing her slowly but surely to the concept, process and all the places we will visit (she’ll be nearly 5 at the point we leave though). Being the wee sponge that she is she’s learning an incredible amount before we’ve even set off on our home schooling travels.

After we arrive in China we’re to spend 3 months seeing China via train (and the odd plane no doubt) before we move off to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Bali to meet friends. We’ll then head to Australia to spend Christmas and New Year with the many family and friends we have over there. We’ll be exploring Oz and New Zealand for the next 3 months and if all goes to plan we’ll be heading out to Japan for 3 months at the start of March so we can experience sakura season. Afterwards I cannot wait to visit South Korea and experience with my own eyes the rich culture I see in my much loved K-Drama.

Beyond this I’m I’m undecided. We will possibly go to Croatia or to Malta where I am musing about settling down or at least making a base in a place with a climate better suited to our needs and personalities. Croatia looks to be too unstable as they’re quite restrictive to UK migrants at the moment. In Malta however, home schooling is illegal and they start schooling at 5 years (although my monkey will 6 when we’ve finished travelling). I’m still researching the system but I may have found a very good Montessori-type school on Gozo and they appear to get 12 weeks summer holidays both of which could persuade me to try schooling to give us an opportunity to settle a bit where family and friends can visit and from where we would still be able to travel 3 months of the year. I’ll post about the relocation in more detail very soon, it’s been an interesting thought/research process for me.

So, as you can see the plans have been busily forging on despite me being woefully neglective of my blog and my followers. I promise to try and post more regularly now, especially as I’m making daily decisions for our future travel plans. I’m currently choosing a hybrid backpack (one that also rolls, if like me you had no idea what that means) and researching accommodation, visas and all that stuff. I’ve now been saving for this for about 5 years very slowly, however much I’m able. Last year I even made a couple of thousand pounds selling off some of our possessions on eBay. I do actually intend to sell most of what we own before we go, keeping only the 20% or so of belongings we truly need or desire. This is a big thing for me as I want to learn to appreciate other things in life besides the things I own. Up until now I’ve placed much emphasis on my belongings; however, I want something different for my daughter. I want her to value something other than ‘stuff’ and I promised myself I would never say ‘do as I say not as I do’ to her. I think I should show her how to behave not tell her how to. So in 18 months we will hopefully undergo some vast geographical changes alongside some moral and spiritual ones too (for want of a better cliché), as we unburden ourselves, live in the moment and appreciate everything else the world has to offer.

At the beginning of this passage I posted one of my favourite pictures I took on our trip to the Outer Hebrides. I chose this image as it was here that I felt the most calm and at one with myself, once I managed to become comfortable with the almost deafening silence that accompanies the night sky. I remember having a clarity of thought that I haven’t experienced very often and I want to try and chase that experience for a while and see what I discover about myself whilst doing it. I think my daughter will grow more in these moments than she ever could dumped into the unforgiving rat race of school in the UK. I want her to find an inner peace that I was never able to locate in amongst all the stress and trauma of growing up. So before I launch her into the world of State education and all that goes with that, I’d like her to know peace, silence and meditation. I believe these are skills essential to us if we are to survive in the modern world.

Please stay in touch to see what comes next in our adventures. As always any suggestions on anything in regards to our travel plans is much appreciated. Luggage choices, accommodation suggestions or even ways in which I could earn a living whilst travelling are all appreciated. I’m currently developing an international toolbox of skills that will help me to turn my hand to anything whilst travelling the world and step out from that normalcy that has up until now made me feel trapped in my day to day life…. More on that another day though!

Emotional Landscaping

heartmapquoteThe last few months have been a massive change emotionally for me. After deciding to step out on this path of travelling and working abroad I’ve really had to take stock and it’s had a big effect on my thoughts and feelings surrounding what I want for myself and my daughter. I think in a way, entering into the final year of my degree or even just coming back to university after giving birth, has been the biggest catalyst to all this emotional change.

If you’ve had kids then you may have had a similar experience to me, where during the pregnancy and straight after the birth it’s not really possible to really know what you want. I was pretty scared and a lot of things were going on that were outside of my control. I just didn’t know what I wanted pure and simple. I knew what I had wanted in the past intellectually speaking, but it was put on hold in a strange way that I’ve never experienced before. There was an unknown entity on the way and I was really conscious that the minute they came into being and ventured into the outside world things would change – I don’t mean in the obvious ways, I mean more in the sense that there would be a person who would eventually have thoughts and opinions that would change the decisions I was going to make. This mentally put me in some sort of freeze hold and I just couldn’t conceive of much beyond the birth. Even after she was born I spent the usual few weeks recovering and acting like a hormonal wreck and then I started to focus on getting back to university.

It was at this point that I really started to ask myself what I wanted, I found myself caving in to those invisible societal pressures that surround us as parents and even just as people. Those pressures that tell us to conform, take a normal path, provide for our family and not take risks. Despite having never wanted to follow a ‘normal’ path in my life I suddenly found myself looking into ‘normal’ graduate schemes and ‘normal’ jobs. I was convincing myself that having my daughter meant I needed to make the ‘responsible’ decisions and not do the outlandish things I’d always wanted to do. Whilst in the early stages of my pregnancy, Monkey’s Dad and me discussed things that we wanted and we both expressed a wish to travel. I said I wanted to finish my degree and give myself the option of further study, but I said that travel was definitely a part of my future. He seemed to need something more than this and I just couldn’t give it to him. Now, the reasons he decided to leave are way more complex than I can do justice to in a blog post. And I don’t think it would be fair to him to claim that this is all there is to it. But I think a small part of it was that I was too busy trying to control everything, whilst he was too busy trying to force me to commit to things I just wasn’t ready to commit to. We were both panicking and we didn’t know each other well enough and he didn’t give me or himself the chance to find out what we wanted, together as a family. Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant he’d gone. I often wondered what would have happened if we’d just given ourselves the time to get used to the new situation we were in; instead of trying to force each other to be the people we thought we needed the other person to be….

Since that point I have changed and developed so much as a person I’m partly unrecognisable. I’ve gone through such a lot having my daughter on my own and coming to terms with the effect that will have on both out lives. As I said, I really ended up convincing myself that I needed to do the ‘normal’ thing for the sake of my daughter. It was only as I got further down those paths, and truly started looking at things like the NHS graduate scheme or civil service as a realistic option that I knew it was never going to make me happy – and that would make Monkey unhappy. It was this realisation that made me really start thinking about what I actually wanted – and that’s to travel. I know without a doubt that if I get to the end of my life without travelling, without living in another country and possibly without learning another language then it will be my biggest regret. So to allow that to happen whilst knowing that would be a big crime against myself.

A while ago I did a post about how big my safety net should be: http://www.backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/07/03/how-big-should-a-safety-net-be/ . In this post I discussed giving myself a back up plan that involved completing a Masters at the same time as saving to do a RTW trip, so that if travel didn’t happen I would have other options to fall back on. Options that I actually wanted to take, such as postgrad study. Since writing that post though, I’ve realised that actually, I just want to go. I don’t want any other distraction; I just want to save up as much as I can and head off into the unknown with my wee Monkey. This trip and travelling has somehow evolved into so much more than ‘just’ a trip. I know that thought is probably echoed in the minds of countless other travellers or wannabe travellers. So much so, it’s become clichéd – but it’s clichéd because it rings so true for so many people. For me this trip is about finally starting my life. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a late starter in life – my own potential and personal development has been delayed and diverted time and time again. Mostly due to circumstances out of my control, particularly as a child and teenager. My 20s were spent coming to terms with this, and it’s only been since starting college and going back to university that I’ve become the person I always knew I could be. Having my daughter has finalised that in a way nothing else could. Making these steps to travel and jump out into the deep end, as a single parent is really the first step in what I feel is my ‘true’ life, the life I’m meant to have. So there’s a lot riding on it. It’s not that I don’t want the postgrad stuff anymore, it’s that I’m acutely aware they will be there when I get back, I can do those at any time, anywhere in the world. But it’s travelling that will help me to be who I need to be emotionally; it’s travelling that will let my daughter be the person she can be….

Another thing I’ve slowly admitted to myself is that I don’t want to put monkey into the daily grind that is the school system. I know there are some amazing teachers out there; my sister is one of them. But there’s also some terrible teachers out there and the school system is there to cater for the middle ground; it’s there to create an obedient workforce who behave themselves, turn up on time, don’t question authority and basically live life with a set of blinkers on. The world does not need any more of those people, that I do know – if it’s to survive, if we’re to survive as a species we need the mad, creative, wild and inappropriate types. I know too many people who had every last bit of creativity and individualism drained or pummelled out of them at school, to be OK with signing my child up for that. I really want to do something that probably lies in between home schooling and unschooling – (although as with most of the other unschoolers I’m not that keen on the name, as it implies no learning whatsoever which couldn’t be further from the truth). Admitting this to myself has made me realise that those are my 2 core beliefs and aspirations in my life: travel and home schooling, so the rest just needs to somehow fit around them. Or I need to make it fit around them because in the end it’s me that’s in charge of my life. No one else can do these for me. I would love to start working for myself, writing and making a living by piecing together all my skills in a way that makes me happy. Whether that’s teaching English, writing, doing photography, or a bit of all these things and maybe some other things too, I don’t know. But I’m definitely not a Monday to Friday kind of a woman. I would also love to meet someone who shares my dreams, I’d like to let go enough to fall in love again and maybe (just maybe) expand my little family, as having monkey has been the best decision I ever made. Finally realising that these are the things I truly know has given me emotional freedom that I’ve never felt before. It’s given me a purpose and something to aim at. I don’t need riches (not that I ever wanted them), I do want to have the finances to travel (obviously) and to provide my daughter and myself with a half decent standard of living but beyond that I really don’t care. I don’t want her to grow up in the consumerist mess we have in the UK, where how we view our own worth and the worth of others is somehow inextricably linked to what we own and how much money we have in the bank. I want her to know that there is so much more to life than money and possessions. Poverty is horrific but so is having all the materialistic things you ever wanted, only to realise that you’re still looking for something that can’t be bought and now you’ve not got the time to find it.

So this is where I am today, embarking on this adventure is a strange thing for me at this point in time. I’ve still got a year of my degree to complete. This will undoubtedly be one of the most intense years I ever experience but it’ll be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears that I shed and have shed over the last 7 years. The RTW trip still feels completely imaginary – because it is. It probably won’t feel in the slightest bit real until I actually book us those tickets, and maybe it won’t feel real until we step off the plane and head into our first country on the list (hopefully China). To keep myself focused on the long-term future I keep looking at this big map online and planning where we’ll go and when, I’m reading all these travel blogs and talking to my closest friends about my plans. But on the flip side, I also have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the here and now. I HAVE to get this degree; I’ve worked too hard to fall at the last hurdle. Not only that, I know I’m capable of getting a 1st. It’s where my grade point average is lying at the moment and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say a 1st is what I want. Although saying that, I do now know that it’s not the be all and end all, any degree will be a massive achievement for anyone let alone someone in my position.

So this is my bit of emotional landscaping – making that decision to travel has just brought on an avalanche of life choices and realisations that I could never have expected. I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience in the comments section! I suspect that travel and making those massive decisions takes on this huge role in nearly everyone’s life – especially if it’s something you end up turning into a lifestyle choice rather than just a holiday. I’m so excited already at the thought of the adventures to come and the experiences me and my daughter will have together – I’ll have to increase my vocabulary and powers of articulation just to put into words how I feel when we actually go!!