We returned back to the UK in August 2015. I write this in December. I wasn’t going to do another post. I kind of felt that the trip was over and therefore the blog was finished too. However, lots of people asked if we were going to do a coming-home blog; we’ve also been asked lots of questions about how we’ve found the settling back in to ‘real life’ again and the good and bad bits of being home. We’ve also been asked a million times when we plan to go off on another adventure again. So I kind of thought may be we should do a final post. But I just couldn’t write it.
Almost exactly a year ago, in the gorgeous sunny city of Sydney, we met a wonderful travelling family also originating from the UK and we all enjoyed a family day out and barbecue together. Today, we were lucky enough to meet them again and enjoyed a very British wet and windy walk across Lyme Regis beach. Seeing them again and talking about all of our collective world travel experiences, it stirred something in me that made me think maybe I could write again.
Clair, Dan and family: this post is for you! Thank you for inspiring me today.
Reverse culture shock does exist.
There were SO many things we looked forward to when we returned home and we certainly weren’t disappointed! From being greeted by the most fabulous welcome party at the gate at Gatwick; to catching up with much missed family and friends; eating good cheese; driving in safe, road-worthy vehicles; wearing jeans again; buying and cooking our own food without having to barter the price of every item; reliable internet; the list goes on and on…
However: it is important to note that the initial euphoria does wear off after approximately two weeks. Then suddenly there appears to be a lot to sort out and real-life catches up with you. It’s at this point you feel a bit down in the dumps.
It’s cold, really cold. You’re skint. Everything in the UK is so expensive. The car has blown up and so you have no means of transport. You’re in-between houses, jobs, school terms. Getting up at a crazy-hour to do the the normal English morning routine is not funny. Everyone you meet asks you about the best bits of your trip, again and again.
You don’t really know whether you want to stay or go.
Renovating houses is stressful. Renovating your house when you return from travelling + settling back in to UK life after almost a year away + settling 2 kids back into school + going back to work + living with your parents = Not recommended.
Our house rental went well. Really well. The tenants were a lovely family who moved to the city to start new jobs and schools from a different part of the country. They treated our house like it was their own and even ended up buying a place around the corner. We’re still enjoying swapping mail and saying, “Hi!” on the school run.
Planning to move back in, you look at your house with fresh eyes. You suddenly notice the dodgy carpets, the bathroom that could do with an update, and all the other little things that you don’t get around to doing when you live at 90 miles an hour, in a place full of ‘stuff’. Still feeling energised and up for a challenge from the world travelling lark, we thought: “Well, why don’t we just renovate the whole place? It’s empty- we’ll never have a better opportunity to decorate and re-carpet every single room. We could even rip out and replace the bathroom!” “Yeah! Why not! Great idea! What could possibly go wrong?”
What were we thinking?
You only need to watch Grand Designs like, one time, to know that house projects never run to schedule. All we wanted was to be back living at home, with the kids in their own rooms, sleeping in their own beds by the first day of the new term. Were we were being just a tad optimistic with a timescale of three weeks? Well, thanks to bathstore.com and a multitude of other renovation delays and disasters, its suffice to say we were not living in our own home by the first day of the new term. By then, we were both already back working full-time, trying to settle the kids back into school and didn’t yet have a toilet, shower OR carpet in any of the right places. Thanks to Uncle Stu the paint had been completed on time though!
It was time for post-travelling nervous breakdown no.1….
Living in the UK is expensive, but there are lots of things that don’t have to be.
Having optimistically carried out all of the above work on our house, we finally moved back in. I cannot tell you how exciting it is unwrapping the mountains of bubble-wrap and seeing your special things again. We decided to surprise the kids and unpack their rooms completely and make up their beds all ready for their first night at ‘home’, without them knowing. On collecting them from school on the Friday we finally took them back to their old house. They were so happy and excited to see their forgotten ‘stuff’ and spent the evening (and rest of the weekend) playing with much-loved toys. It was a joy to watch.
Around this time we had decisions to make about energy suppliers, mobile phones, cars, shopping and all the other life-crap that you have to deal with when you live permanently somewhere in the Western world.
It’s very easy to get sucked back in and end up with the newest, most fantastic, all-singing and dancing, top-of-the-range mobile phone, Sky broadband package, and Tesco finest everything that gets offered to you. However this is where we decided to try and continue with the easiest and cheapest lifestyle possible. On the back of this, we don’t have any of the above. We are now Pay-as-you-go, terrestrial channel TV, green grocer buying, non-ish-consumers. And that has been very freeing. We don’t feel tied in to anything. I realised the other day that we didn’t even have any plastic take-away containers to put our left-overs in, because we haven’t had a takeaway yet! Our outgoings have reduced by a massive amount compared to our pre-travel lifestyle. The only thing we have done is choose to put some of this saved money toward our first-ever decent car. Travelling to rural locations for work means a reliable car is pretty essential. And it makes me smile every time I drive it, which is worth every single penny, especially on a rainy day!
We will travel again, but not just yet….
People have asked when we’ll be off exploring next. The first few weeks back at work were awkward while everyone sussed out whether I really was still committed to saving lives in the NHS, or whether I was just biding my time before catching the next flight out. I think my boss held her breath every time I asked to meet with her, just in case I was going to announce new plans for 2016, to include 6 months backpacking in South America. However that time has now passed and we’ve since had out nth meeting about improving internet speed in our clinics for the e-patient record system (it’s not just SE Asia that suffers with dodgy internet speed y’know!) and my appointment lists are booked up into the new year already. So it looks like I’m staying put for a while.
Aaron too has a career that is booming- he hasn’t left work on time for over a month. He’s focussed, motivated and enjoying making decisions. I think if he ran away with the circus now, his boss would be the one having the nervous breakdown!
What do the kids think?
Rosie said to me the other day, “I love being back at school mum SO much, but they do make me do work!”
On our trip we learnt that Rosie is a little home-body. I think she’ll concede that she did enjoy the trip, especially the swimming, the exploring on the back-of-the-scooter, the gecko-holding and perhaps even the home-schooling (!); but she loves her room, her special things, her friends and her routine. She is actually THRILLED to be back home and at school again. She even won the end of term award in her class for impressing her teachers by the amount of effort she has put into settling back into school life, having been out of the education ‘system’ for almost a year. [Proud parent moment!] It’s definitely worth mentioning that an award should probably also go to her teacher, who spent the first few weeks ‘institutionalising’ Rosie back into the school routine – teaching basics again, like putting your hand up to answer questions and not talking so much during quiet times.
Ruben probably has had the most changes since coming home. He is now leaves at home at 7.30am to catch the bus across the city to his new high school, dressed in his super-smart blazer uniform, looking like he’s about to do a day’s work in the City.
He had a lot to prove in the first few weeks, as having not done his pre-high school SAT exams in the year we were away, he was placed in an academic group away from his friends. He was on was a mission to try and prove himself academically to be placed in the higher groups, and to be able to include Spanish classes in his school timetable. Having worked incredibly hard, he not only managed to do that- he also earned himself the Head of Year Award this term for making such incredible progress and for leaving a real impression on the teaching team [Second proud parent moment!].
Ruben has enjoyed the freedom we’ve allowed him to have on our return to the UK. He has been meeting friends, going swimming and living a pretty fun life – just like an 11 year old should! Ruben will definitely be a gap-year student in-between his university career aspirations; he talks frequently about what the places we have visited will be like when he returns in 7 + years time.
I hope we have demonstrated by our time away that you can take your children away from the life that they are expected to follow, and that it will be OK. There are so many expectations and pressures on families nowadays; I believe it’s good to see the bigger picture. I wanted Ruben and Rosie to meet families who survive with very little; play with the kids who have only the most basic of education, but still strive to be great; explore cities where even a pavement is a luxury; and visit places where tap-water isn’t safe to drink and where a simple bug-bite can make you very sick. I wanted us all to have the perspective to know what it is like to live a good life, to know what comparative luxury feels like, and to enjoy having choices. It doesn’t matter if my bathroom is finished or not. At least I don’t have to suffer a squat toilet. I feel grateful and lucky.
So will we be heading off into the wilderness again?
The gift this trip has given me is a ‘live in the moment’ attitude and the feeling that we can achieve anything if we really want it enough to make it happen. For now, I like feeling settled and secure. We are glad to be back in good old Blighty. Even though a coffee in the high street costs £2.50 here and we won’t be enjoying 30 degree sunshine on Christmas Day, it’s home. For now, anyway.