Sitting in a café in the Plaza Mayor, in the old heart of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, I couldn’t quite believe that this was real. It has been many months in the planning but my family and I have finally left London for good and embarked on a round the world adventure, before we settle in Scotland in a year’s time.
It has been exhausting getting this far. Every evening for weeks, Michael and I have had lists of things to do to make this happen, from the obvious flight bookings to setting up new bank accounts, buying a year’s set of clothes for all five of us, and trying to sell the house. It has been like a second job and about as far away as possible from the relaxed, unstructured idea of a year out. It’s a good job we both like to be organised.
Today is the first day I can remember where we have not been planning or travelling. I am not looking for sympathy. I feel like the luckiest person alive. Somehow or other, I am able to take almost a year out of working to visit Latin America and China – places which have fascinated me for years – and share all of this with my partner and children: Ishbel (9), Neamh (7) and Ruaridh (5).
As we left London, my hopes only went as far as arriving in Buenos Aires with all the children and bags intact. But now that we’ve done that, I’m starting to think again about the reasons we decided to do this.
I remember reading an article many years ago about a family who had done something similar. I wasn’t even 20, hadn’t met Michael and didn’t have children. But it seemed like a great adventure to have as a family. I can’t even remember the first time Michael and I discussed it, but he had had the same idea. It was in the mix of things we’d like to do but never really thought would be possible. But little by little, the pieces fell into place. The children were all going to be old enough to remember the year away but not so old that we would disrupt secondary school. We were both ready to move on from the jobs that had held us in London. The old ladies in our lives (Mary, Marjie and Jane) were well enough that we could escape without leaving them without any care they needed. And we could pay for the trip by selling our home in London.
I’ve spent all my working life involved in international issues and campaigns, most recently the campaign to stop trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). I want to share some of the wonder and humility I’ve felt in Swaziland, South Africa and Cuba with my children. I’d like to enjoy time with my family with less of the pressure of the last few years. It’s a slog juggling young children and demanding jobs – albeit one I have been lucky to experience. It will be a bonus if we all come back speaking Spanish, which is why we are sticking to Spanish speaking countries for most of the year.
My neighbours surprised me, as they fed us the night before the house was packed up. Pete pointed out that at any point in the two years this plan took to develop, we could have walked away from the idea because it was too much work. I don’t think it ever occurred to either of us to do that. As we got further into the preparations, the plans seemed even more exciting and actually possible. I couldn’t get away from the feeling that if we walked away from it, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I think it’s true that what you regret most are the things that you didn’t do, rather than the things you did.
Not that my children seem to have any sense of regret, or otherwise. They keep surprising me with how much they are taking it all in their stride and trusting that Michael and I know what we are doing. Well, Michael has a beautifully colour coded spreadsheet and I have a guidebook and some rusty Spanish.