We are nearing the end of the first stage of our travels. Once we have completed the legals and bought the land in Brasov, we will move on down to southern turkey as quickly as we can to join up with a few families from St Albans that will be there for Oct half term. Its getting very cold at night here and we don’t have any coats!
As I have a bit of time due to not moving around every day, I thought I’d try and put down what it’s been like instead of focusing on where we have actually been and what we have been up to.
It’s a bit long but here goes…
Conscience – ‘Duncan, this is your conscience speaking here… So…do you feel you made the right decision?’
Duncan- ‘Yes, definitely… not 99% sure but 100%. From the minute we left… to now, what we are doing feels right and in a weird way more normal than living in St Albans. We now do what ever we want to. Excuse the pun but whatever road or track we have wanted to go down over the last two months we have. The only thing that we have been limited by is the size of the truck and our feeling of ‘we shouldn’t really do this, we’ve got the kids with us’. Some people move to the country and hate it, some move there and can’t understand why they stayed in town all those years. For me and Penny we have talked about doing this since literally the day we met each other and have always known we would take off one day, we just weren’t sure where, how or when. I don’t have that feeling ‘we should have done this years ago’ for the simple reason as we could not have afforded to do it 10 years ago, we were too busy with our careers and the kids would have been too young. What’s the point in going to the torture room in Dracula’s home town with a one year old? I am however glad I have not left it until I’m 50 or 60 like most people do as I would probably then think ‘shit should have done this years ago’. This is not a ‘I’ve worked all my life, I now want to go see some of the world before I go’ this is a ‘ I enjoyed the rat race in my 20’s and 30’s and now I want to live my life in a different way. I want to live it exactly how I am doing, hence why it feels so normal.
Conscience – ‘A yes or no would have done. Its sounds like you are happy with your decision, but what about yours kids? They had no choice in making the decision.’
Duncan – ‘Well conscience, actually they did have a say in the decision making process. I know you could say that it would be easy to persuade the kids as they would have no idea what to expect, but I’m sorry, my kids don’t do anything they really don’t want to. We spent two years discussing it and working out how it would all work for all of us. Every time I talked about permanently living somewhere else I got the big ‘no way dad’. As far as they are concerned they get all the benefits of living abroad and in two years time, they will slot back into school and within six months it will be like they have never been away. That is the deal, back in the UK for the autumn term of 2006 no matter what happens. I wanted to go for good but as I said the kids did have an input into the planning.
I think they are relying on what I have said about the slotting back in to school bit, but I have been there and done that…OK the New York suburbs of the mid ‘70’s is not exactly Arugam Bay (they were more dangerous but that’s another story). I lived in loads of different places in the states before finally settling down at the age of ten in Welywn Garden City and yes… six months in, I had lost my accent and was just like any other snotty noised English schoolboy.
I have just asked the following question to my kids ‘ If someone could walk in through the Bus door now with 5 air tickets back to the UK and you could all be back at school tomorrow and I could go back to work and we would all go back to our old way of life… would you want to go back?’ They all answered straight away. ‘ No’ and smiled.
Conscience – ‘ OK Duncan, no need to go on the defense… but what about their education?’
Duncan – ‘ This is the question I get asked the most from other parents we have met on the way and well… every parent we know at home, including grand parents. ‘But what about their education?’ Firstly… what is ‘education’ or more to the point what is a ‘good education’? For me it is providing your children with information and experiences that will enable them to be as happy as they can be and live their lives in a way that is best suited for them.
As far as I can see I am very alone on this view. 99% of people I know feel a ‘good education’ is 8 GCE’s, 3 A levels and an honors degree…
Having qualifications can help you create a life that suits you, they can make you feel good about yourself, but they will not teach you how to be happy, what you should do with your life, how to deal with problems, make decision and (sorry couldn’t resist it) how to deal with a tyre blow on a remote mountain pass in the middle of no where.
Qualifications are at the end of the day only pieces of paper you are given after sacrificing years of your life for… only to be put in a box and never used again. What you learnt along the way is something totally different and is not actually the focus of every ones energy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be just like all the other Dad’s in years to come, ‘Come on Angus, Claudia, Sasha, I think you should stay in tonight and revise and not go out and party… its only a few more weeks to your exams and then you can party every night.’ Qualifications did nothing for me, but I know that’s just me and I should not and will not deny my kids the opportunity at getting their GCE’s A levels and so on and I will support them all the way…. honest.
My point is, in my book a ‘good education’ is not just about getting qualifications. It’s about learning about life and how to enjoy it and how to deal with what it brings you as well as passing your exams. Not instead of.
I often admire how my younger sister Johanna has managed her life. She never seemed to make all the mistakes I made. I asked her once ‘ Why are you so sorted in your life and have not made loads of stupid mistakes?’ ‘ It’s easy Duncan’ she said, ‘I just watched you screw up first and thought sod that!’
So… that’s a long way of saying, I feel having the kids out of school for five months and taking them through 17 countries is all part of a ‘good education’. The biggest supporters of what we are doing in terms of the kids education, are their teachers at Abyone Lodge school. They all told us as long as they keep doing the three r’s they will be fine.
We have a library of about 50 books on board the bus. When we are traveling… which is quite often, most of their time is spent reading one of these books.
Sasha has read; Enchanted Wood, Cool, Artemis Fowl, 4 Caroline Lawrence books, Frankenstein The pearl, Dracula, Airoprt, The back cat, Brothers in Eygpt, Jonny English, The Hulk, Charles Darwin, The house of stairs, Macbeth 3xSherock Holmes, Shakespeare, Oliver Twist and about twenty more.
Angus has read; Enchanted wood, Five go off in a Caravan, Frankenstein, Macbeth, Dracula, My friend Harry, Hound of the Baskervilles, My big book of facts, My book of Geography.
Claudia has read; Frankenstein, The pearl, The black cat
We actually budget for post cards now, between writing them, talking to their friends on instant messenger in internet cafes, writing their travel logs and personal diaries they are probably spending between an hour and two hours a day writing.
Show me a kid of 7 who knows what £1.50 is in 5 different countries 😉 This is where we are probably letting then down a bit, but most days include a calculation of some sort for the cost of a chocolate bar, loaf of bread or Dracula fangs.
They are all producing several projects. This includes the gathering of information, writing it all up and then putting it into Power Point with the photographs and video they have produced to present their findings.
They have seen the new Europe (or the old Europe depending on how you look at it), met hundreds of people who live their lives in different ways. Had a guided tour of a stone quarry, a tunnel used in the war in Sarajevo, an underground church, several churches, monasteries, caves, capital cities and so on. They have sampled several different cuisines and now know that sheep’s brains really do not taste nice. They have been on more ‘school’ trips than they will do in the entire time they will spend in school… show me a 12 year old that has been in a Romanian orphanage and given the children there her unwanted toys and clothes and seen their reaction.
They have learnt to communicate with adults and children who do not speak English. They have been mountain climbing, rafting, swimming, snorkeling, and rolly poyling like you have never seen.
They have learnt how to get on with each other.
They have learnt how to get on with their parents. Learnt the words, hello, thank you, how much and ‘where is the toilet’ in 5 languages.
They have learnt about Tito, Chichessque, communism, Islam, Orthodox Catholics, orphans, beggars, war and what it leaves behind, horses, trees, flowers, bears, wolves, snakes, birds, cows, sheep, grasshoppers, how to entertain a praying mantis, fix a blow out, top up the oil and water in an engine and how to fill up two 50 liter petrol tanks and a 40 liter water tank.
They have learnt that Coke is just full of sugar and the only reason why they drank it was because of the advertising. OK only Sasha actually has learnt this, but Claudia has soon followed. Angus is still convinced it’s the ‘real thing’.
They know what food they like, how to ask for and read a menu, the cost of ice creams in every capital in the Balkans and they really do understand what winds me up now.
On January 5th 2005 they start school with their new teacher from England who will be joining us in Arugam Bay. They will have a school house with four desks in it. One for Jenny their teacher and one for each of them, plus 4 computers connected to the Internet.
Jenny’s main focus is to make sure they will be able to slot back into the English curriculum when they get back to the UK. Jenny’s biggest concern is that they will become too advanced and get used to having access to their teacher and IT whenever they need it.
I honestly feel I am giving my kids a ‘good education’.
Conscience – ‘Wow, easy tiger, why so defensive about their education?’
Duncan – ‘I do not know anyone who has taken their kids out of the education system. I know I get things wrong and I know an awful lot of people, including my parents, who think what I am doing is wrong…every body only wants the best for their kids so yeah, I am on the defense’.
Conscience – ‘OK, you’ve covered their education. Are they having fun?’
Duncan – ‘ I asked all the guys if they are having fun. They said yes’
Conscience – ‘ Is that it?’
Duncan – ‘Yes, they are busy playing chess, I can’t really answer that question for them, they said yes, that’s good enough for me.’ We have had ‘ I don’t want to do this trip any more’ about the same amount of times as we used to get ‘ I want to leave this family and be adopted’. After visiting the orphanage yesterday however I don’t think Sasha will use that phrase again now some how.’
Conscience – ‘Are you having fun’
Duncan – ‘oh yeah… I’m having the time of my life. Traveling with a purpose is the life for me’.
Conscience – ‘and Penny?
Duncan- ‘I don’t know about having the time of her life as she is more hygienic than me… OK so she is hygienic… she is having fun and apart from the lack of shower/washing facilities and the cabin fever, she’s having a good time. Don’t forget Penny is like the kids, if she doesn’t want to do something… she doesn’t do it. We have discussed the next trip and she is definitely on board. Sasha has made it clear she is not and the other two are keen to know if they would get more ice cream if they cam along or stayed at home…’
Conscience – ‘What’s cabin fever?’
Duncan – ‘When your stuck in the same room with… well your kids (or parents depending on how you look at it) for days on end. The living space in the bus is about 7ft by 15ft and it can at times get a bit close. But its getting better, we are all learning to live with each other and respect each other more. The days when we are on top of each other are made up for when we arrive somewhere amazing and have a great time.
Conscience – ‘Is being in that bus for three months too long?’
Duncan – ‘ No, I recon it will be about right. It’s a bit boring at the moment, as we have been in Brasov, Romania for over three weeks now going to the same places over and over. When we get back on the road and start adventuring again, I think we will all get right into it again, but be glad it has finished when we get to Oludines in Turkey. I know I would like to carry on to Asabyshan , but I think the others will have had enough and I am looking forward to the new day job of building a house on the beach and doing safaris in the Jungle hopefully one or two days a month. Traveling in Egypt on trains and buses will be very different and a month of that I think will be enough as well.
Conscience – ‘Is it very different from being at home?’
Duncan – ‘ No, apart from being somewhere different nearly every day and experiencing everything you do with your family, and well… being on holiday every day… it’s like being at home. We live in a house, we have dinner every night we sleep, crap, yell, and laugh in it. It just moves around the world a bit every day.’
Conscience – ‘ Would you recommend it to your friends’
Duncan – ‘ um, dunno really. I think you need to be a certain type of person to get into it. You need to be a bit of a dreamer, traveler and very confident in your ability to deal with… anything.’ So yeah I would recommend it to some of them and not to others’.
(If you have read this far, you are probably one of the people I would recommend it to;)
Conscience – ‘do you feel unsafe?’
Duncan – ‘No. Some times we do a bit when we enter a country and are on our guard for the first few days whilst we get a feel for the place.’ Communism had NO CRIME! So you talk to people here and they are horrified that people actually get robbed now. Their expectation is to have a totally safe life and to be robbed or threatened is something they should not have to put up with. There is a large police presence in all the countries we have traveled in and everyone is convinced we are being watched by their secret police. They are probably unaware their secret police do not exit any more and have been replaced by EU police 😉 As a tourist and foreigner you get the feeling if anyone is going to pick on a punter they will stick with a local as up setting a tourist could get them into real bad trouble. Also being 20 stone and… well looking pretty scary any way, I feel any one taking a pop at us will be pretty rare. And remember, they have to make their attack plan and carry it out all within 10 minutes as most of the time we are movin on!
The safety is more about the roads and traveling. We have had the brakes go on us, a tire blow out, like I me blow up, one minute everything OK, and one second later the wheel has no tyre on it and I am driving along with just a steel rim and fresh air! We took a chunck out of the bus the other day when we hit a traffic cone in the road. It was the first one I have seen since leaving England. I nearly ripped a shop sign off its hinges in Bosnia, but a local’s face said it all and I managed to stop in time. We thought we were going to blow up all of our tyres in Albania when we drove on to a road that had just been laid with hot tar. It took about 3 days for it to wear off. On the whole, we drive at around 35 miles an hour, only in day light on OK roads and take it real easy. The other worry is obviously if any one got sick or hurt in the middle of now where and… well that hasn’t happened and we are confident it won’t. No one has had so much as a cold, tummy bug or anything… Sasha had to have her tooth pulled out in Sarjevo, but that would have been the same at home. Remember you all live in a country where more people die of road accidents, terrorism, muggings, nutters etc than here in the Balkans. We feel shit happens and it can happen any where, we feel just as safe as we did in the UK.’
Consciene – ‘How much is it costing you’
Duncan – ‘um… more than we planned… a lot more. We budgeted £1000 a month and we are running at … £2000 a month. Ouch. The petrol is not as cheap as we thought and… OK I’ll admit it, we eat out a lot as its £15 a go and the kids get a real kick out of it. We are actually spending less than we would be if we where at home… the only problem is we do not have a monthly salary yet… any future somewheredifferent customers that are reading this we assure you ‘ all proceeds of the company will go to a good cause’. Once we can sustain this lifestyle on an ongoing basis, I’ll be in heaven! To be able to travel when ever you want to for how ever long you want, yet all you need to do is secure an income of 24k a year… the fact that we will be back in the UK and the kids back at school in 2006 kind of kills this ideal but hey… as I said, you’ve got to be a bit of dreamer to do this;)
Conscience – ‘So is it all going according to plan?’
Duncan – ‘I sent two years planning this trip, and I am glad to say we have done exactly what we planned to, apart from it has cost us a few k more than we budgeted. If the hole two years go according to plan I’ll be well chuffed. Watch this space’