As I travelled around the world with Master 12 in 2019, we met lots of people who taught us lots of things and who also asked us lots of questions!!
Since we have returned we have been asked lots more questions about our family gap year … so I thought I would write them all down with my answers. Here is what we learnt that was not inside a classroom last year. Its about a 3 minute read (unless you linger longer on the photos!) 😉
Which countries did you visit?
In order we went to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece, USA, Peru (back to the USA), Canada, Hawaii (not a country, I know, but for clarity), New Zealand then home to Brisbane. We were away for 10 months or 307 days.
According to my travel app, we travelled 90, 400kms or 2.3 times around the world…. we saw just 10% of the world via 17 countries on 6 of the 7 continents.
I found Malaysia and Vietnam to be the cheapest countries and the USA to be the most expensive (although the whole of Europe is pretty pricey!)
What modes of travel did you use?
We used planes, coaches, local buses, trains (day and sleeper trains), tuk tuks, ferries, taxis (or Uber/Grab), water taxis, shuttle buses, river boats, we rented cars in the UK and NZ and we did a LOT of walking!
What accommodation did you use?
We stayed in hotels, hostels, airbnbs, tents, ‘under the stars’, friends homes and family members homes and we pet-sat (see below). I booked accommodation online via multiple websites: booking.com, Airbnb, Expedia and directly with the accommodation. I always checked all options (they can vary wildly) before I booked.
I found some bargains BUT in some cities (I am looking at you San Francisco) I was shocked by how expensive accommodation was including the youth hostels (we paid $440AUD for 2 nights in a hostel to sleep in bunk beds in a private room with no bathroom!!)
Did you book everything in advance?
Mostly no …. we winged almost the entire year.
I bought a one way ticket (on Qantas Frequent Flyer Points – see below ‘I’m thrifty’) from Brisbane to Singapore and then just bought onward journey tickets (via whatever mode of transport we decided was best) as we decided where we wanted to go and when.
The only exception to this was in Japan. We were there in April during ‘Cherry Blossom Season’ and I worried that accommodation with be horrifically expensive (or non-existent) if I left it last minute… so I booked everything in Japan in advance including rail passes.
Best airline to fly with?
We loved Etihad – but that was because we were lucky enough to win a business class upgrade. (You can find out how we did that here.) We also love the Skyscanner app to find us cheap flights. We flew with the cheapest carrier, almost always! Where possible we paid to offset our carbon footprint.
What was your biggest expense?
Without a doubt it was transport. Which makes sense!! We travelled AROUND THE WORLD!!
It was about $12k for the two of us, just for flights!! Next was accommodation, but we saved a fair bit by pet-sitting (see below) then food … we definitely bought food at grocery shops, but inevitably there was a lot of eating-out/restaurants/cafes involved too!
This was for two reasons:
- I wanted someone else to plan the detailed itinerary and book transport, accommodation and activities;
- I wanted to be with other people for some of the trip and I wanted Master 12 to have other kids to spend time with too!
These tours were definitely far more expensive ways to see these places, but the variety in our travels, to save me doing ALL the organising of logistics and, of course, the people we met on the tours were definitely worth the investment.
Me: Vietnam – the people we met were just so friendly and smiley and helpful. The food was incredible. The prices super affordable and the countryside beautiful! I just loved it and will definitely go back soon!
Master 12: Japan – he loved the food and the trains as well as the people and we went to Disneyland there. He also loved Mt Fuji and feeding the deer in Nara (which he wrote about on his website here!)
My best day was the day we went out on the Big Boat in Phuket. We went kayaking through caves and jumped off the boat into the water and relaxed on the beaches. It was so beautiful. We did this tour off the coast of Phuket.
Master 12s best day/s were the days we spent at Tropical Islands (a huge indoor water park) in Germany for his 12th birthday. Four of his previous demi pairs came to stay with us and spent four days sliding down the water slides with him!
We didn’t really have a worst day… but I did get bitten by bed bugs in NZ…. so the day after that was an itchy day… does that count?
Sooooo many…. hard to choose the best one…. Mt Fuji? Mountains in Greece? Beaches in Thailand? Probably my favourite photo of our best day to day view was the beach at Surin in Thailand where we stayed in the Novotel (and wrote a review – here)…. the sunset was ah-mazing, every single day!
This one of Train Street in Hanoi! It shows life on the street in a quirky way… and Master 12 helped me take it, so its my absolute favourite!
Did you ever get bored?
Nope…. not any more than I would at home on days where I was just relaxing… (LOL, I don’t actually know how to relax!).
In Hoi An, Vietnam we rode our bikes (that our accommodation gave us to use during our stay with them) to a local street stall and got Cao Lau soup for 80 cents each. It was delicious and I highly recommend ALL the food in Vietnam.
Most expensive meal?
A buffet in a hotel in Japan…. don’t make the same mistake…. hotel buffets in Japan are AWESOME, but holy moly expensive…. nearly $200AUS for the two of us!!
Did you feel safe?
Every moment of every day!!! AND I worried (subconsciously) about our safety pretty much every moment of every day… tsunamis in Malaysia and Thailand, earthquakes in San Francisco and New Zealand, terrorists in London, car accidents everywhere, food poisoning, malaria… the list goes on. But I took all the correct precautions, made safety first decisions and was ‘situationally aware’ at all times.
Because, if you live your life in fear of ‘what if’, then you are unlikely to get the best out of your life… and I want my son to grow up knowing that the world is a huge, happening place with a lot to offer and we have a lot to offer the world too!
We rode camels in the Sahara Desert – the weather app on my phone said it was 48 degrees celsius.
In Calgary, the day before Halloween it was -15 celsius – yes that is MINUS 15 degrees!!
Things you lost?
Me: 3 hats, 2 hairbrushes, 2 toothbrushes, my swimsuit (left in a hotel room), 2 teaspoons I bought as gifts for family…
Master 12: travel towel, tupperware water bottle, phone battery charger, charging cables, multiple socks and pieces of clothing…
Did you get sick?
First time in Siem Reap in Cambodia. We both got diarrhea (I think dodgy food at the hotel!) – we had to lie in bed for a day and missed our Angkor Wat tour. We took medicine (that we brought with us!). We called down to the hotel reception to bring us some watermelon and dry toast. They sent up a watermelon ‘slushie’ and bread…
Luckily the tour agent was able to swap our tour of Angkor Wat to the following day and we were well enough to go – albeit not fantastically well. It was 42 degrees so we struggled and drank lots of electrolyte drinks that we managed to get from the chemist locally! (See ‘how did you communicate’ question!) 😉
Second time I had altitude sickness in Cusco, Peru. The town is over 11, 000 feet in altitude and I struggled to breath soon after we arrived. I took oxygen on and off for 3 days as well as altitude sickness tablets, and then acclimatised. I was fine in Macchu Picchu which was great as I loved it there… the altitude sickness was NOT fun though!
How did you communicate with language barriers?
We were entertained on occasions trying to communicate… mostly we used photos on my phone of places we wanted to go (for trains and taxis drivers), or food we wanted to eat… we pointed a lot to signs and names on maps, we learned some words to help us in each country.
We ate a few mystery meals.
Mostly we found people were so lovely trying to understand us or us them… so we never had any major problems getting around or getting the things that we needed! The places we stayed spoke enough English to help us too! Master 12 and I speak a little bit of Spanish that helped in a few countries!
Best public transport?
Everything in Japan!!
What travel insurance did you get?
I posted in Facebook travel groups (I particularly like Our Tribe Travels) and asked what people in that group used and recommended. They suggested World Nomads so I bought a policy with them. It was $777 for both of us for the whole trip.
What about school for Master 12?
I am not going to lie… traditional, classroom schooling was not a priority for me or for Master 12 in 2019. He has learnt SO MUCH from these travels that I believe that this year has given him a wonderful foundation to step back into mainstream schooling (he will go into Grade 8 in January 2020) with a wealth of knowledge about his planet, the people who live on it and the variety of things that are important to them.
That said, we did enrol in Brisbane School of Distance Education for terms 2 and 3 where he completed some QLD based curriculum and gained grades on his Grade 7 report card. That’s him working on a project in the photo above from our hostel in Berlin, Germany.
Was it hard to travel for that long?
No! Not at all. I am lucky that I seem to enjoy where ever I am… and I don’t seem to ever get homesick! 🙂 Master 12 and I genuinely like each other too… so there were no problems hanging out together. That said, we also met up with friends wherever we could to ensure we didn’t drive each other crazy!
How did you afford it?
Most people don’t actually ASK me this question as I think they are too polite… but I think most people want to know, so I will tell you!
I am 47 years old and I was lucky enough to have been able to get on the property ladder and buy a house in Brisbane a long time ago, when I was younger and it was easier. Ever since, I have put any spare cent I have had into my mortgage. So I have a very reasonable ‘buffer’ of money in there should I have needed it. My home was rented out while we travelled and this gave us an additional $1, 000 a month towards our travels. I appreciate the privilege of having been able to get on the property ladder before the boom. I know that getting a foot on the property ladder is worryingly difficult now!
Rightly or wrongly, I continued to work on Families Magazine while I was away. Although I have a fantastic co-editor (thanks Joanne!) who stepped into the role while I was away, I still worked as I travelled. I was 100% contactable (I bought SIM cards in every country I visited) and I did remain across the running of the business while I was travelling. I drew a small payment from the business every 3 months.
I am known for being thrifty (some might say tight!) I always look for the bargain deal, I use frequent flyer points and coupons and find out what there is to do for free in each place we visit. I also check for where kids eat free. We walk a lot to see natural sights that cost nothing. We love ‘self-guided free walking tours’ and I try to plan ahead to save money in expensive towns. We mixed free activities with paid for activities.
For example, in Las Vegas I planned ahead, and we spent 2 days doing 15 different activities that were all the entirely free and suitable for kids, including things like the Atlantis Show and aquarium, Bellagio Fountains, feeding time for the flamingos at the Flamingo hotel etc. We walked the entire Strip and into all the free attractions – (we walked over 17kms on our second day!) We also did a couple of paid for activities – we rode the New York New York roller coaster ($15USD) and went to a 4D kids Lego show (I got a Groupon for $5USD). All the other attractions we visited were completely free.
To save money on accommodation we joined a pet sitting website called Trusted Housesitters. It works by us offering ourselves as pet-sitters for free and then the owners of the homes (with pets) offering us their house to take care of while they are on holidays for free.
We have a profile so they can see what we are like and read our reviews from previous sits. They have a profile too, so we can see what they are like as ‘hosts’ and what their animals are like as well as what previous pet-sitters have experienced at their pet-sit.
We pet-sat in Bangkok, Berlin, multiple homes around London, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York and San Francisco. We LOVED it!! We were always sad to leave the pets when their owners returned!
How much did you spend for the whole trip?
Whilst I have not kept track of every single cent, I have estimated that we spent around $78kAUS over the year. This figure includes the costs of some things back in Brisbane too (car rego for the year, home insurances, rates, etc).
Anything you wanted to do but didn’t?
Me: I really wanted to go to Niagara Falls in Canada, but our timing didn’t work out. I also would have liked to go to Orlando in Florida (think Disneyland) but didn’t get there either.
Master 12: Really wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil… but we didn’t make it there either.
Would you do it again?
IN. A. HEARTBEAT!!
Where are you going next?
We are limited to school holidays for 2020, but we managed to get a long weekend in Sydney early in the year.
We had planned a trip to Singapore, the Perhentian Islands and Penang in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand over Easter but we had to cancel. I guess our travel and our learning for now will be about how we handle this huge curve ball, how we learn online and what we can do to support our family and friends during this time.