Why I am running away to South America

5 minute read

Books and Maps of Latin America

One week from today, I will be on my way to South America. I’m leaving the UK for the winter, like a bird chasing the sun across the sea to warmer lands.

It’s a huge trip. Over the next four months I’ll be travelling with my family to Peru, Ecuador, The Galapagos, Costa Rica, and Baja Mexico. I’ve dreamt of this kind of adventure my entire life. Living out of hostels and Jeeps and schooling on the beach while we learn languages and new rhythms of life as a family.

People keep telling us that we’re “So brave!” to embark on this unconventional path at this time of our lives. But the circumstances of our lives have aligned to make this the perfect time to go, so we’re going.

Not that we didn’t question our own motives. There were a thousand valid reasons to keep putting it off. In the end we had to escape on a big adventure or come to terms with the fact that we were no longer adventurers. Stubborness and FOMO made it easier to go than to stay. It was scarier to think of a life where we never took the chance.

Why go?

Family life, by necessity, falls into comfortable habits. I favour paths of least resistance and shy away from unpredictable circumstance. I tire easily and want to eliminate hassle from family life.

But years as an itinerant artist with a wanderer’s heart, means I long for new terrain, unfamiliar flavours, and the beguiling sensation of a new language in my mouth.

I want my kids to experience the same. I want them to see that family is a fluid collection of relationships and not a place. I want them to see our family and foreign families in a new environment.

And we all love adventure. And sea life. And spicy food. And sunshine.

Why now?

If you’ve followed my Twitter feed at all, you’ll have seen how much I struggled with work in 2018. I’ve been funemployed and full-time parenting for six months and I’m still exploring options of what I’ll do next professionally. Travelling and writing and new horizons may help bring clarity or, at the least, provide an awesome diversion while I put off growing up.

My kids are also at transition points at school that make it the perfect time for an extended break with the least disruption. They are still enthusiastic and curious, making them the perfect companions for sampling the delights of the world, whether that’s a rainforest wildlife encounter, or an in-flight meal.

We also want to experience the migration of sea life at the turn of the year. Following the Humboldt Current north along the Pacific coast from December to February should give us plenty of opportunities to see all manner of creatures migrating, breeding and enjoying the same beaches we are.

Furthermore, Winter is coming. After 20 years in the UK, Winter becomes harder and harder each year. I know I’ll be experiencing plenty of rain wherever I am, but at least it’ll be lighter and warmer.

Autumn Leaves

What about School?

The absence from school is long enough that we will be off-rolling the children and homeschooling them while we travel. Our school has been supportive of our travel plans and we hope to re-enroll there on our return, space permitting.

I’m preparing a syllabus that shadows the UK National Curriculum but uses the destinations and experiences of our trip as vehicles for their learning needs. Changing money, observing sea life, keeping a daily journal and speaking to local people present outstanding opportunities to apply learning from core subjects. History and Geography are obvious. I’m looking forward to the art projects. Drawing Machu Picchu while there, will be a dream come true.

At the end of the day, the kids would have to try pretty hard to NOT learn something after knocking about in the back of a truck in the rainforest for Christmas.

Isn’t it expensive?

Yes.

A trip of this kind is an enormous luxury. The costs have mounted quickly, even with hostels for accommodation and a simple lifestyle. The main expenses are flights and adding carbon offsetting raises it further.

With the house rented out, we’ll take many day-to-day expenses with us, so the net cost is less than you might expect.

We are in an enormously privileged position to take the trip at all. But this is what I earn for. I live to learn and explore and I can’t think of a better use for my savings.

How are you preparing?

Have you MET me? Honestly, there’s a spreadsheet for everything. But despite the multitude of lists and schedules, we’ve been intentional about leaving big gaps in the planning. We want to give ourselves time and space to really explore and keep the options open to stay put whenever we find a location that we love.

Preparing a home for a trip this long is basically moving house. I have Konmari-ed the shit of every cupboard, closet and wardrobe. Twice. After multiple donation runs to charities and the recycling center, the house is pared down.

Between bouts of tidying and packing, we’re all cramming in enough Spanish to politely get us around and we’ll be doing some language schooling in some of the destinations.

In the next few days, we’ll write to Santa to request an extension to Yuletide gifts. We’ll be asking to delay Christmas until Easter, when we’ll pack in a whole celebration of birth, death, and renewal. The kids are calling this Jesus Recycling Day.

What will you take?

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” Antoine de St. Exupery

As for what we take, the rule is simple:

Everyone gets one basecamp duffel and a daypack.

That’s it. Pack it for versatility and lightness. We all carry what we bring. The less we take, the more room there is for experience.

Carrying a classroom around with us could introduce all kinds of clutter and paper cruft, so I’m working hard to source digital resources that we can use on the kids’ Chromebooks. Add a Kindle and a couple of paper notebooks for composition, maths, and handwriting and it’ll all be pretty minimal.

More to come

It would be foolish to try to tell the whole story of our adventure before we even leave. I honestly hope that the trip will unfold in surprising ways as we go.

Over the next four months, I’ll be posting here a few times a week about all aspects of our trip: where we travel, how we homeschool, the gear we bring, the incredible wildlife and how it feels to live nomadically.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” Ray Bradbury