"You're brave". I think this must be the phrase we've heard most frequently from friends, family members and strangers since announcing our plans to leave in January to travel round New Zealand, Australia, and all through Asia with our young baby boy, Otis. (Closely followed by 'Or stupid' by a few).
I don't think it's brave actually. I've never felt more comfortable about a decision we've made, because it's wholly centred on our family, and what we want our life to be like. It sounds corny, but I actually feel like I can breathe for a bit, freed (maybe temporarily, maybe not), from the many imminent decisions that having children involves. What childcare to choose, how to manage the commute, how to make money and time balance in what has become an pretty untenable city (London) when it comes to having balance as a family.
Our current set up is living in Worthing, on the south coast, full time, and commuting into London, having previously lived in London mid week and Worthing at weekends. Ultimately when we looked at staying in our current scenario, we both felt we would be working our socks off, not seeing Otis enough, and we weren't sure what exactly we were working towards anymore. Everything started to seem like a compromise.
It's easy therefore to look at our plans to travel as merely escape. Putting off decisions that will ultimately have to be addressed. We all need to have jobs. We've all got to pay the mortgage. And if you're both working to that end, childcare (mostly extortionate and inflexible) has to be found.
But for us, our plans are more than that. We've tried many times (mostly over drinks, and therefore, potentially lacking in clarity and reasoning) to explain our decision to friends and family, met with excitement from some, respect from others who'd love to do it but can't quite make the leap, and derision from others who feel that we're naive to think it's feasible with such a young baby in tow.
Getting it down on paper not only clarifies our thinking in times of doubt (and doubts do come, especially when visiting family who are clearly so excited about the new addition of Otis to the world), but I also hope it helps anyone else thinking about taking the leap to work through things in their own mind, and maybe book that ticket....so here goes:
(1) For us, travelling isn't running away from things, it's running towards something....
We're not oblivious to the fact that travelling sounds like one big jolly. And to some degree that's the point, to have time where we purely enjoy each other as a family, at a time that's so important in Otis's development.
But, we also have this feeling that somewhere else might better mesh with our values as a family. More time outdoors. A working culture that respects family life, and doesn't hold up 10pm finishes at the office as something to aspire to. Where men and women are seen as joint partners in parenting, and women aren't somehow being overlooked in the workplace because they deigned to take maternity leave (the horror!).
We know there isn't a magic land that comprises all of these things, but we do think that laying our hats somewhere else for a while might just help us to find the combination that best works for us. And in the meantime Otis gets two parents, 24/7, that couldn't be more excited to see what's changing in his day-to-day world.
(2) There's a 'London' version of us, and there's a simpler version of us. We'd like to embrace simple for a while.
Now don't get me wrong, I love London. I love the restaurants, the bars, the galleries, the fashion, and the pace, all of it. But lately, we've felt like it's a bit like being on a big hamster wheel, and we fancy leaping off for a while and taking the hamster on holiday. When we're here, we spend money living a lifestyle that London makes you want to embrace. We buy more clothes, we have Uber accounts that make you wonder if you walked anywhere in the last month, and sushi has somehow become our 5 a day.
It's got a little better since we moved to the coast, but when we're in town we live London how it should be lived, sucking up every part of it. It's bloody expensive, and ultimately it's not what makes us happy. We love walking. We love being by the sea. We're both into nature. It's not complicated stuff, and we want more of it.
And there's something about having to live out of a bag for a while to make you realise how much of the stuff you're working to acquire you don't actually need. One of my favourite books released in the last couple of years was 'Stuffocation', by James Wallman (who I happen to know). It focuses on the fact that experiences make us happier than belongings do (caveat: unless the belongings help you achieve an experience - think paddle boards vs. buying a new bag). We want to embrace that way of thinking.
For the next year, we'll have one large rucksack between the 3 of us, a small daypack, and Otis in a sling. We're going to have to carry the bare basics for us, and really think about what Otis needs as essentials (he'll undoubtedly get more of the space - we are parents after all!), rather than carry every bit of baby paraphernalia you convince yourself your little cherub must have in order to breathe / sleep / poo (basically most of what they do..).
(3) We've got good at what we do, but actually we don't love what we do
Both Ben and I have (or had) good jobs. Ben was working at a luxury concierge as their global head of data strategy. I've been (and will continue to do so as we travel) running my own marketing consultancy focusing on fashion and luxury clients. My job has afforded me flexibility, and allowed me to build out my own interests, such as this blog (@mastersofmany), and there are many projects that I genuinely enjoy. Ben's role has had him work with some of the biggest brands in the world, and he enjoys the mental challenge. We've both been lucky enough to be well paid.
But we don't love what we do. I know the generation before us think that this is a fanciful pursuit. That not everyone gets to love their jobs. But we both have this nagging feeling that we'd be very good at running something ourselves that better captures our personal interests. We've got ideas, and some long term goals, but having the time out to just free up our brains for a while will inevitably open up new channels that we haven't even thought of yet.
(4) Wouldn't it be nice to not have an exact plan for a while?
I'm a natural planner. There's a formidable excel spread sheet lurking behind the screen I'm looking at as I write this piece, planning out the time up till Christmas and everything we need to get sorted before we head off. Getting the house rented out as a holiday home, getting freelance whilst looking after a young baby, blogging and approaching brands to be part of our journey. It all takes time and organisation.
And that's what our lives have been like since I can remember. There's always an admin pile, a to do list, a nagging feeling of working towards the next step, of ticking off achievements.
But as of January 9th next year, aside from some pre booked flights (because we have a wedding to come back for), all plans are up for grabs. If we like somewhere, we'll stay longer. If we want to change the next country we visit, we can. If we get offered an interesting project in a city, we're happy to park ourselves for a month, and live like locals for a while.
Maybe it's cavalier, but we have this feeling that it will just all work out somehow. God it feels good.
(5) We want Otis to have an open minded, flexible view of the world
Now of course we recognise that Otis is going to be six months old when we leave for this trip. His daily focus at the moment is his hands and feet, drooling (whilst teething), and where the next boob session or bottle is coming from. But god, he's getting aware. He's learning every second from sights and smells around him. He might not remember his year in the sun, but he'll take in so many new things on the way, that it can only be good.
And I hate to say it, because I love the UK, but we're just not that convinced of how the education system is changing for little ones. We were lucky enough to have an experience that encouraged play and experience. However rigid testing, and a failure to celebrate the individuality of children are rapidly replacing that approach. And to a large degree, the system doesn't seem to want them to be kids at all. We're in such a hurry to get them to standardised testing formats that we're in danger of ruining their imagination and creativity before they've even got going.
In our minds we've got until Otis is about seven before he needs to be in a structured learning environment, and until then learning from the world around him on his travels, and via his hugely enthused parents will put him in pretty good stead for his future.
So, that's it. Maybe you still think we're crazy. Or brave. Or stupid. Who knows? All we know is that our best decisions as a family so far have been those that we have made by gut instinct. And this one is gut all the way.
Follow our journey @mastersofmany on Instagram if you want to see how our journey continues..