Headfirst into the unknown
by Katie Tucker, 23rd October 2019
Katie Tucker and her family left their London life in September 2018 to travel the world for ten months. Here she explains why she decided to leave her comfortable life behind and throw her and her family headfirst into the unknown.
I would describe packing in my job to go travelling the world with my family as an out of body experience. One sunny day in early 2018, I watched this brave, badass woman telling her boss that she was leaving the company to take her family on a gap year. But that badass women… it was me. I literally felt on top of the world. The feeling of empowerment and freedom was drug-like and I continued to get a fix every time I told someone new.
You don’t get many chances in your working life to deliver such a bombshell to your boss and I relished every opportunity to witness the scattered shrapnel my big news created. The genuine excitement and encouragement from friends, family and colleagues lifted us through the clouds of doubts that inevitably started to accumulate in the run up to our trip.
Anyone who tells you they are totally relaxed about quitting the comfort of their sedentary life to go travelling with their kids is lying. Even the most positive and determined people you know and admire will have doubts. For us, it wasn’t about ignoring risks or niggling fears, it was about naming all the things holding us back and tackling them head on. That included unpicking the perceived risks to our careers, thinking big picture in terms of our kids’ education, as well as ensuring we had a financial, back-to-reality plan.
I am an overthinker but this decision, however, was easier than I had anticipated. Looking back, it was because we were in complete control. Nobody could stop us. We didn’t need to ask anyone for permission or approval. We were doing it and it was a simple three step plan. Find money (thank you London property market), book tickets, quit job.
The seed of change had been planted in me long ago. My mum and stepdad upped sticks and moved to France in 1989 when I was just ten. I lived there for over ten years before settling back in the UK to study and eventually work. It was extremely brave of my mum at the time. She had three kids and was expecting her fourth, as we waved goodbye to the White Cliffs of Dover. We didn’t speak any French. Talk about throwing yourself into the unknown. I have done big changes. You cry. You laugh. You survive. You change. You grow.
Before my family left the UK, our London lives were busy and hectic. With two kids and demanding full-time jobs, time was flying by at a stressful pace and family time was squeezed. I am a trained journalist but had been working in Product Management for a FTSE 100 company for over six years. Whilst I enjoyed my role, the sector in which I was working was dangerously drifting away from my core values. You could say it was quite a drastic move for a family looking for a change. We could have found a new job, moved out of London or emigrated to sunny Spain, but travelling the world sounded way more exciting.
By the time my son started school, my partner and I had been loosely debating the idea of taking a family gap year for a while. We loved travel and didn’t want to stop when kids came along. But we also wanted another child and that was taking longer than expected. So, we parked the idea for a few years. We finally welcomed our daughter into our family in 2015. After making it through her first hazy and crazy year of sleepless nights, food allergies and eczema, we started to seriously consider timings and the best time to go.
We aimed for September 2018, as my son would be in Year 5 (no exams) and my daughter would be three - her last year before starting school. In January 2018, we crossed off one of the biggest things we had ever put on our New Year’s resolution list. Book round the world flights. Tick.
We certainly didn’t have enough money saved up to fund our family gap year, but we were sitting on a three-bedroom house in North London, up for re-mortgage, with the option to take out some equity thanks to rising property prices. We did ponder, albeit briefly, whether we should spend the money on a back extension. But it just felt all a bit too safe. Time testing an idea is always a good way of prioritising what really matters in life. What would we remember in twenty years’ time, the back extension on a house we may no longer be living in or a family trip around the world? The answer couldn’t have been clearer.
Our daughter was still too young to grasp the concept and implications of being ten months on the road. Our son however was nine with a solid circle of friends. We were honest with him very early into the planning stage and he took an active part in picking the countries and counting down the months, weeks and days before our D-day. We hung a map of the world above his bed and drew our planned route with our fingers every night before bed, testing our knowledge of the countries and capitals we would visit. Thinking about where we would be for Christmas, for birthdays and other special occasions. He was understandably nervous the closer our departure date got as he tried to come to terms with what it meant being so far away from home for all that time. But he was excited. We all were.
As I write this, we have been back three months. We survived to tell the tale because boy did it feel like survival sometimes. This trip was a rollercoaster. The highs were thrilling, life-changing, loud and proud. Like the time we descended The Great Wall of China on a toboggan, shrieking with pure delight as we whizzed down 1,580 meters to the bottom. In Mexico, where we were close to tears as we saw a whale and her calf so close to our boat, we could nearly touch her. And the many times, we soaked up the last rays of sun in the warm waters of Costa Rica.
The lows, however, were sometimes dark and mentally exhausting as we negotiated planes, trains and automobiles with a spirited toddler, screaming and shouting for the world to see. The tiredness that comes from 24/7 parenting is an easy prey to guilt. The guilt of not living up to the Instagramesque expectations of family gap years and the guilt of not always enjoying every single moment with my family.
This trip was life-changing in so many ways. I have learnt so much about the world, ourselves as a family and each other. From homeschooling my eldest (never again!) to navigating the complexities of food allergies on the global scale for my youngest and all the laughter and tears in between, this trip has taught us resilience, grit and appreciation on a level I hadn’t imagined possible.
We did not take the easy path. But I have never felt so alive.
Katie Tucker and her family travelled to USA (including Hawaii), Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, China and Vietnam.
Katie is now teaching and supporting families with planning their dream family trip. Expect honest and pragmatic advice on confidence, money, destinations, kids and mental health. Lessons you will only learn from those who have walked the path before you.
Follow Katie and her family as they settle back into London life @world_family_trip