A Family Gap Year:
Before Christmas last year we realised that our eldest son would be nearing his final year of Primary school and that our window for doing a Big Trip was closing. In our circle of friends - alongside regular and inevitable chats about home education, house renovations, divorces, mortgages, book clubs, why we never get round to having people over for dinner, twitter, famous people we have bumped into recently - having a gap year is the most eagerly discussed topic.
My research for our trip is a stack of books that now live on the bathroom floor. Make the Most of Your Time on Earth, a colourful brick of a book from WH Smith appeals to my desire to capture beautiful images, whilst the Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal attempts to validate me as a traveller and not as a tourist. A long term favourite, Mother Tongues by Helena Drysdale, about her family travelling around Europe in a converted Mercedes high-top should stand us in good stead for the road trips we plan to do in Oz, New Zealand and the States. Karl Pilkington’s An Idiot Abroad constantly reminds me to be a cup half full-er.
An early thought was to travel around Europe in a campervan, particularly as I had always wanted to visit the Carpathian Mountains. This had something to do with those Cartier Bresson style photos of the bearded sculptor Brancusi in his natural habitat. However, my sister in law in San Francisco gave us some sound advice. If we could get somewhere in a half-term holiday, then it should be ruled off our list of destinations. This was our opportunity to spend time away. Far, far away.
We will be leaving behind the autumn term of harvest festivals and parents evenings, Halloween and Bonfire Night for the Thar dessert and the saturated colour of Rajasthan. A friend has promised children with faces painted as elephants and to introduce us to the Head of Police in Rajasthan.
We’ll trek to an amphitheatre of Himalayan peaks on the 10 day Annapurna Sanctuary trek in Nepal. We will learn to love dhal. The district education officer of Kaski is keen to meet my husband and forge links with his school in Plymouth. Having been into American, French, Finnish and Australian schools I’m really keen to witness the Nepalese education system and to do a bit of cross-cultural “show and telling”.
In Australia, we’ll start with a bit of campervan shopping in Cairns. We’ll follow the giant plastic food that litters the Pacific highway; past the giant pineapple on the Gold Coast, the original big banana in Coffs Harbour and the big prawn in Ballina until we fly out of Sydney and on to New Zealand. We’ll spend a day in King’s Cross car market in Sydney selling our camper. I will be found having an all day breakfast at one of (lowercase) bills renowned cafes, enjoying his perfect scrambled eggs and laid back vibe.
We have fixed-up a couple of house swaps in New Zealand. Our travel insurance may cover us for bungee jumps, but I’ll be using the “you never know what it might do to your back” excuse, being only a sniff away from my forties. The kids will spend a couple of weeks at school in Nelson – we’ll break that to them gently – and then we’ll head for Fiji and Hawaii. A road trip through Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and up to Vancouver for the last 2 weeks in August will bring us back to Heathrow in time for the August bank holiday weekend and the new academic year.
How will the school of mum and dad work? Going by what little work with do with our children in the normal school holidays we’re going to have to step it up a notch. Numeracy has been delegated to Diggory.
What do we seek? Golden, transient and serendipitous moments, like....
- ...the time when we were on the train in Italy and got “talking” to an elderly couple returning home to Naples. We all ended up singing A Spoonfull of sugar (Un poco di zucchero) and Chim Chim in Ney (Cam Cam in Ney) in Italian; learnt from our only children’s Italian CD.
- ...when we were waiting on the deck of the Newcastle to Gothenburg ferry and saw a nuclear sub pop up in the wake of the boat against the Nordic skerries.
- ...feeling my heart pump right out of my chest cavity when stalking elk in the cloudberry bogs of Finland.
Maybe we all crave different things from this trip. After 10 years of having children and being force fed the school routine, I want to make time slow down; maybe take it back to the pace of the mid seventies. My middle child, Bear would be happy to eat a bucket load of fresh hairy rambutans, and since we all like cake, we plan to eat a lot of it in a truly global way!