Jamie – 29 December 2011
We’ve tried not to count down the days. It’s impossible not to of course. This evening at 11.30pm we board QF94 bound for Melbourne and that final journey marks the end of our six month adventure. There will always be memories and a real sense of achievement, although for the children these will inevitably fade over time. Maybe also for Bec and I in our later years! That’s why this blog is important. I plan on preserving it for our future trips down memory lane along with about 5,000 photos that we’ve taken. Foster has been writing his own daily journal which has doubled as part of his homework routine. I did the same when I traveled with my family through Europe in 1981 and still enjoy pulling it off the bookshelf every few years. I’m sure he will find similar pleasure in the years to come.
Without doubt this has been a once in a lifetime event. Six months worth of accrued long service leave, a strong Australian dollar and the children all being young enough that six months out of school should not (hopefully) jeopardise their formal education were all drivers of our decision. Bec and I also yearned for some extended quality time together – something that is also hard to achieve in our modern world. It became clear in 2010, when the idea took hold, that we faced an opportunity that will almost certainly never arise again. And life is just too damned short. Few can say they have travelled non-stop for six months with their entire family around the world – careers, money and time are strong headwinds – and that is one of the reasons we felt so strongly about doing it given all our stars were perfectly aligned.
I hope that my children’s relationship with me has been permanently strengthened. If they didn’t fully know me before we left they certainly do now, having had me around 24/7 for the last 183 days. And I feel like I know them infinitely more than before we got on that first plane – it has been fun sharing so many extraordinary experiences, while at the same time watching them grow up and mature along the way. This is not to say it has been plain sailing. It doesn’t matter how close you are – travelling as a family unit, often all sleeping in the same room, and spending all your days together without the regular interaction of friends will always give rise to moments of cabin fever. However, if we have awakened in our children an awareness of the world beyond our shores, a love of travel, and an appreciation of the importance of family then in my mind we have done what we set out to achieve.
Settling back into “normal” life will not be easy. The children will have to get used to a more organized routine, particularly once school starts. It will be interesting to see how effective our home schooling has been. Both boys have loved their maths and I’m confident they are fine there. In terms of English, the nice thing about travelling is that, even as a child, you are forced to read as the world is full of words – sign’s, guidebooks, menus, and books during down time. I think both boys will be fine with their reading. Writing is another matter – Foster did his journal, often somewhat reluctantly (which at times was understandable given his brother and sister weren’t keeping one). We may have a bit of catching up to do there but we shall see. Otherwise I’d like to think falling back into their friendship groups will be easy but have heard from other travelers that this is sometimes hard. Bec and I will probably settle into our old routines a bit easier, but I’d like to think we too have leaned things about ourselves and each other that will help us deal with some of life’s ups and downs.
Keeping a blog has been lots of fun and in many ways became a surprising highlight of our trip. It is a good discipline to put your thoughts into words on a regular basis. It can provide the pleasure of reliving an exciting day, or simply allow you to collect your thoughts and learn something about yourself. Being creative by doing things like writing a blog is lots of fun. Creativity is nurtured at school but for many of us gets lost in our adult years and that’s something I’m keen to work on when I get back. I have a creative wife and three young and willing participants so there is no excuse. I just need to find the right outlet!
We always had a budget for the trip and I ran the near final numbers last week and was pleased to see we have come in well under. The flights, accommodation and car hire costs were essentially fixed and it was Bec’s insistence that we eat in whenever possible that drove the savings. Staying in houses or apartments that had kitchens (rather than hotels) was key. That way we knew we were eating quality food, the children were more inclined to eat meals they were familiar with, and our budget benefited enormously. We did of course eat out at times – that was always meant to be part of our experience – but each was a planned event which the children understood was special. Hats off to Bec as this workload fell to her.
Trips like these can’t be measured in straight numbers. But numbers are what interest me and so here are a few that I find interesting:
The cumulative number of kilometers we have flown on our 15 flights. So as a family we will have collectively flown 244,000 kms which is two-thirds of the way to the moon. I also worked out how many kilograms of CO2 that makes us responsible for but was persuaded not to print it as it made us look totally and utterly environmentally reckless. I would note however that it was neither practical nor feasible to have done our trip by bicycle, canoe or foot (though we did use those modes wherever possible).
The approximate number of words we have written across 52 posts on our blog (averaging 2 a week).
The current number of separate views our blog has received while we have been travelling. Even when you strip out family and other committed readers I find this number to be intriguingly high. It was not our intention to develop any sort of following but we seem to have tapped into a few people who enjoyed being on a vicarious journey with us, which is a nice thought.
The number of days we hired a car. Of these, 117 involved driving on the “wrong” side of the road and the driver being on the “wrong” side of the car. We had only had one accident, but it was a proper one with all airbags deployed and car written off. Importantly no one was seriously hurt!
The number of separate lodgings we stayed in as we journeyed through 8 countries during our 26 weeks away. Accordingly we became used to all manner of mattresses and room decors. It sometimes took a few moments to work out where we were when our eyes opened each morning.
The number of suitcases we set off with. We are returning with six but that doesn’t tell the real story. Along the way we shipped two tea chests from London, four decent sized boxes from continental Europe and sent back two full suitcases with family from New York a few weeks back. Then there is the hand luggage items which have got larger and more numerous. Probably all to be expected and we will no doubt enjoy all the fruits of our journey when we get home.
The amount of television I watched during the entire six months (and I didn’t miss it once). I did however have one coffee in the morning and either a beer or wine for dinner every night. The final results are not in but I appear to be exactly the same weight as when I left, which disappoints me a bit as a good friend who also travelled for six months lost a lot of weight – my daily beer/wine and lack of commitment to my running program after the second week was probably my undoing.
Our last night has been at the Sheraton Gateway which is right next to Los Angeles International Airport. We spent yesterday taking in some sun at Venice Beach which is actually a lovely long and wide beach – perfect for the family as long as you stay off the dodgy strip.
This morning Foster and I walked around to Lincoln Boulevard which sits at the end of 2 of LAX’s 4 runways. We had fun watching (feeling!) all manner of aircraft – including an A380 – thundering about 100m above of heads seconds before touchdown. There is nothing quite like avgas in your nostrils while your ear-drums are trying to tear. Real boy’s stuff.
Well, that’s about it from me. Have to help pack those suitcases one last time and then hope Bec can distract the Qantas ticketing girl as they pass across the scales in LAX for their final journey home. Fifteen and a half hours non-stop in the air with young children – I’m quietly hoping this will be the least memorable part of our trip but I somehow doubt it.