Archive for the ‘preparation’ Category

The night before

Here we are, rucksacks packed and ready for an early start tomorrow morning – 5.30 am? We have been working flat out all this week getting the house cleared and clean, our kit finalised and all the paperwork sorted, and as of 9 o’clock this evening we think we’re done. Cutting it fine or what?

A lovely Victoria sponge to see us off this afternoon –
well, you can’t get much more ‘Global Prices’ than that! And clearly this trip is going to be a piece of cake…

Now a sneak peek at what we are taking in our six bags:

Ellen’s rucksack

Hannah’s rucksack

Kirsten’s rucksack

Tim’s rucksack

Flight bag

Electronics bag

As you can see, we love Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes! (The colourful zippy mesh bags for keeping clothes, tablets, electronics and miscellaneous little bits under control.)

Astonishingly, the two big rucksacks weigh in at under 10kg each (and the bag itself is over 2kg), while the girls’ rucksacks are around 4kg. The electronics day sack is heavier at 5kg, but that’s mainly for the flight; most of the kit could fit in Tim’s rucksack if necessary. Maybe 35kg in total? That’s less than the girls combined…

See you in New England (fingers crossed). Now for a bit of rest; it’s a long day tomorrow.

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Into the final week

Seven days from now should see us checking in for our first night of over 300 away from the UK; Manomet, near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Today is the centenary of Blériot’s first cross-channel flight, and it’s astonishing how within living memory aviation has progressed to the point where we can go and do this sort of thing.

Watching a repeat of the wonderful Outnumbered (TV sitcom) tonight and Dad has returned from the funeral of a teacher colleague, Jonty. The line went something like “Turns out he was about to take a year off and go round the world”. Just got to survive the next week, then.

Our girls have been drawing and writing farewell/miss you cards to their friends, quite unprompted, along with lots of swapping of email addresses. They have been most understanding of their two pressured parents running around stuffing things into boxes, painting anything that doesn’t move and steadily removing their toys. It didn’t even rain today – quite a bonus.

The main challenge now is to stay healthy until we have set off, with news stories of airports screening and turning away passengers who have a high temperature (whether or not they might have Swine Flu). We have a few minor coughs and sniffles between us, but these are probably a result of working flat out, getting insufficient sleep and feeling run down. An unexpected side-effect of all this frantic preparation is that we (adults) have each lost a couple of kilograms, but the jury’s out on whether we’ll return next year fitter or fatter.

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A void?

Taking a gap year, having a break, disappearing off somewhere, leave of absence, les vacances; always the implication that such an experience equates to a cavity in one’s life, more hollow days than holidays. Why such lacunary language? On the contrary, I entirely expect this year to root us intensely in the present moment (isness is the business), to recharge us and fill us with new possibilities; whole not hole.

Having said that, there will be one big void and that’s in our bank balance…

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We’re entering our last two weeks of preparation and everything is starting to come together; our final injections this afternoon, nearly the end of term for the girls, everything we’re taking laid out in the spare room (and it does seem to fit in the rucksacks), the house freshly painted and carpeted and increasingly empty of our possessions.

After years of uphill plodding we are nearing the summit and we can start to glimpse the reality of our forthcoming adventure through the clearing mists… Scary and exciting, butterflies in the tummy, a barely suppressed hysteria that yes, we are making that giant leap – no house, no job, no ties for a year and a whole world awaiting us.

Something like this is a major landmark in one’s life. We’ve seen it coming for miles. It has taken so much time, effort and money to put together. And it’ll be a reference point for the rest of our days. It brings a triple reward: in the planning, in the execution and in the recollection. (Or so we hope…)

This is something akin to the excitement of Christmas when you’re a child; something special and so far beyond everyday experience, the drawn-out eager anticipation. It’s rare to feel this as an adult, once we have ‘been there, done that’ with regard to most aspects of our lives. Years flash past too rapidly with the daily routine of métro, boulot, dodo (which translates only clumsily to ‘commute, work, sleep’) and this trip should slow down time for us, relentlessly assaulting us with novelty and immersing us in otherness.

Calm down, dear, it’s only a holiday…

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One month from now we should have arrived in Boston. Good thing that July has 31 days because we still need all the days we can get. It’s Parkinson’s Law in action; we’ve been planning and preparing for 2½ years now and yet there is enough left to fill the coming month exactly.

Such as? Lots of boring but important things like:

  • Do tax return
  • Final doctor’s appointments for jabs/pills
  • Get eVisitor for Australia
  • Get esta US visa waiver
  • Inventory for letting the house
  • Landlord insurance
  • Latin-American Spanish practice – not enough time to do this properly!
  • SORN (Statutory Off-Road Notification) for the car
  • Boiler service
  • Cancel magazine subscriptions
  • Redirect mail
  • Contact primary school about work we need to cover with the girls
  • Notify banks we are going abroad (suspicious activity, etc.)
  • Sort out cheapest mobile phone option
  • Cancel electricity and water billing
  • Get Skype working on grandparents’ computers
  • Scan in important documents (passports, etc.)
  • Pay balance of NZ accommodation
  • Buy Lonely Planet pdf guides
  • Order final bits for the house from IKEA (storage cupboards, mattresses, etc.)
  • Clear all our possessions from the house (except for furniture)
  • Carpet remaining rooms
  • Final improvements to electrics and plumbing
  • Clear out office at school
  • Do trial packing of our rucksacks (does it all fit? can we lift them?)

And two rather more pleasurable ones:

  • Farewell party for all our local friends (help us get through our food and drink…)
  • An evening’s pampering at Thermae Bath Spa (on our wedding anniversary) – and we’ll certainly need it by then!

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A family trip to Swindon last Sunday to buy some final items of travel clothing from the Outlet Centre, and one scoop of ice cream in a cone for each of us came to £1.60 a head. Okay perhaps as a one-off treat, but then I did the maths…

Let’s say an ice cream costs an average of 80p as we tour the world; sometimes more, sometimes less. Sounds reasonably insignificant on the grand scale of things. But now multiply this by four for the duration of our trip, and a daily ice cream for each of us would add up to a cool £1000. Yes, that’s one thousand pounds. Scary.

Of course we’re not intending to scoff fattening frozen treats day in, day out, but the principle is still valid. Just an 80 pence per person per day overspend will cost us £1K, a significant chunk of our safety-net finances. Perhaps my obsession with budget and packing spreadsheets is not so risible – although recording each item of kit down to the nearest gram may be taking things a bit far…

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TV or not TV?

A UK television production company, Twenty Twenty Television, is still looking for ‘families planning a gap year with a difference’. They are making a series of five one-hour-long programmes (each following one family’s journey) to be broadcast in 2010. The idea is that they will provide each family with a camera to do their own filming during the trip, as well as meeting up with families beforehand and at several key points throughout their travels.

Anyway, they got in touch with us to see if we would be interested in taking part. There was the initial reaction of ‘wouldn’t it be fun?’ and the girls liking the idea of getting to appear on television.

However, the Fleming family (one of the first RTW families) wrote of their disappointment with the BBC Holiday Programme‘s distortion of their trip:

But if you want to know what its like to take a family around the world, then read this website through and through. You’ll find a very different story to that presented by 8 minutes of edited Bangkok highlights.

And so we have declined to take part for the following two reasons:

  1. The unavoidable conflict between what is a fair and balanced account of the trip and what makes good TV, however sympathetic the intentions of the production company. I remember this from documentary filming at the school where I work, and this is of paramount importance when one’s own children are involved. By using our own blog, photographs and video footage to share our story, we retain full editorial control.
  2. Involvement in the series would inevitably increase pressure on the family, at odds with our wish to enjoy our time away together and to immerse ourselves in our travels. We don’t want to be constantly assessing whether our footage and chosen activities will look good on / be appropriate for TV – or indeed whether it could be used out of context in a detrimental way. We’ll have enough to think about already with the day-to-day necessities of living a long way from family and friends in an unfamiliar culture and perhaps a foreign language to contend with.

Some have facetiously replied to Twenty Twenty’s posts on Thorn Tree and BootsNAll that ‘we’ll do it if you pay us’. Except that in such a situation, you’d probably face a hefty financial penalty if you didn’t like the way things were going and wanted to pull out of filming.

But if anyone would like to fill the one remaining slot in the series, then do get in touch with Twenty Twenty through the above website (UK-based families only). And we’ll probably be watching the programmes with keen interest upon our return next summer…

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Are we still on track to get everything done in time? Well, quite simply, it has to get done…

At least we now have the tenancy agreement signed for letting our house, so that’s a great relief. This half term we have been sprucing up the interior and exterior, with Bryan’s indispensable help; laying a brick path and one and a half tonnes of pea shingle, clambering up onto the roof to fix a new aerial, capping a well which we uncovered inside our 400-year-old property. This RTW business is hard work.

Then Kirsten did her 5km Race for Life yesterday (in aid of Cancer Research UK), finishing in the top 50 out of 1200 runners, joggers and walkers – the girls and I are so proud of her.

Oh, and our fourth set of injections – just three more sessions left (Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, Meningococcal ACWY and Yellow Fever). The girls cope with them calmly and stoically (and Ellen’s still only five years old).

Back to school now, so not much will get done before July. I have just started constructing the school timetable for next year (51 lessons multiplied by 100 staff), and it’ll take around 100 hours to finish; light relief compared to planning this trip.

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Sorting it out

On the school run there are always people asking me when we are leaving and when I mention our departure date of 1st of August it still seems like ages away. Until yesterday when Tim pointed out that it is only 10 weeks away – slight panic!!! While Tim took on most of the planning and technical stuff, I prefer to keep myself busy sorting out the house. With two small girls there is loads of stuff to go through before we leave. What’s worth storing? What have they already outgrown (clothes and toys)? What will they have outgrown by the time we return and therefore must be passed on to friends, taken to charity shops or recycled? From now on the house will start to look emptier and emptier by the day and I’m not quite sure what sort of effect that will have on us. Will the girls be upset/sad because their toys have disappeared? Will we all be getting really excited as our departure date is approaching fast and it is all finally (after planning for over two years) becoming real? I bet it will be a mixture of both…

With all this going on in the background, I’m also trying to plan a short trip with the girls to Belgium to visit my family.  This visit has to fit in between chemo sessions (mum & dad), sports day & the 10 year anniversary of school (Ellen & Hannah) and a 2-day school trip (Hannah). I have made this Eurostar train journey twice before with the girls, but never from St Pancras – and that is exactly my worry – I have to cross London on the underground with them. If I am going to travel around the world surely I should be able to get across London…?

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Mamma Mia!

It’s remarkable how the girls have taken the idea of our RTW trip in their stride – it’s simply part of normal life for them that your whole family goes off travelling for a year, and they don’t know any different. Consequently, they are not as preoccupied with it as we adults are, and happily immerse themselves in their latest interests while we slave over blogs, packing lists and house improvements…

At the moment, the girls are into all things Abba; we get song recitals every evening as well as pictures and dialogue from Mamma Mia! written out from memory. (But why do I keep thinking that it’s ‘Don’t go wasting your emulsion’ ?)

More seriously, there is one set of lines from ‘Slipping through my fingers’ that really hits home and reinforces why we are doing this. The song is one of regret for the passage of time and how quickly your children grow up, and includes:

What happened to those wonderful adventures,
The places I had planned for us to go?
Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t
And why I just don’t know.

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