The Return

"Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home"

Paul Young

We didn't need a cheesy pop song from the 80's to tell us that after 4 years of being on the road, that we feel at home almost anywhere. But the prospect of staying in that "home" for the foreseeable future and not moving on when the mood takes us...well that is far more scary.

We have now been in England for nearly 3 months. It has been more than 20 years since Steve and I have lived here and the girls have never lived here, so although it is familiar in many ways, in some ways it is like a whole new country for us.

The main reason for returning, was so Alisha could attend Secondary School. Although homeschooling was working really well for her and she loved travelling, we had always promised her that we would give her the opportunity to put down some roots. Both girls view the UK with slightly rose tinted glasses, for them it is the land of Christmas; summer holidays; and being spoilt by family. Steve and I were under no such illusions but we were looking forward to being close to family; seeing old friends and being in a country where we understood the language and culture (not something we need but it made a nice change). We were ready for a break from travelling but joked that we would love to be back on the road straight after Christmas, when the January blues kicked in.

The first time I felt the confusion of the dichotomy of our new life and travelling was sitting beside the Caspian Sea, waiting for the ship to take us from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan. A long list came though the email, Alisha's school uniform list. It felt very weird ordering blouses, a blazer and a mouth guard for hockey in the middle of a desert surrounded by Russian speakers. It didn't get any less strange once we got back, finding the San Bushmen bows and arrows sent back before Australia, in the familiar surroundings of my Mum's spare room.

Alisha settled into her new school amazingly well and found that academically she was up to speed on everything apart from French. Changing from 2 hours of homeschooling a day to 7 hours in the classroom plus a commute and homework, was more of a challenge. As was negotiating the complex sub-culture that is the life of the preteen girls but she has made friends and is enjoying her new life. Lucy has had less of a change, happy being homeschooled and with the difficulty of finding out exactly what the local primary schools were like whilst we were on the road, we decided to keep her homeschooled for the time being. The popularity of home education in Hampshire, means that there are a whole load of interesting group activities for her take part in.

Steve and I always knew that the transition to being stationary would probably be hardest for the two of us, so we decided not to rush into decisions about out future plans. We hope that as we adjust that ideas will evolve, it doesn't come very naturally especially for Steve. We've been so driven for so long, the 18 years of planning and then the 4 years on the road, its very strange not to have a life goal or plan at the moment. It has been a busier time than we expected settling back in, we forgot how many different parts make up being settled somewhere. However, getting things done has been easier than we are used to because we speak the language and know the system. Although there have been baffling moments, like not being able to get a mobile phone contract or car finance because we "don't exist".

We thought that we had our accommodation sorted, returning to the house we bought 7 years before when we were living in Prague. Located in the New Forest, a national park which was set aside by William the Conqueror as a hunting ground, it is a beautiful part of the world and close to our families. Life on the road has taught us many things, one of the main ones is that plans often don't work out and you need to come up with alternative ideas. This turned out to be the case when our tenant, despite having had 6 months notice, decided she didn't want to move out. We had to employ lawyers in the UK, whilst we were in Uzbekistan, to start the eviction process. It was a frustrating and expensive process. We tried not to let it overshadow our last months on the road but at times it was very hard. She didn't actually move out until the last possible moment, a month after we had been home. Luckily, I have have an absolutely fabulous Mum who took us in. It turned out to be a really good adjustment time for us, a soft re-entry. My sister Clare, had returned from Australia to be with us too, so it was a full house but it was great to have that extra support both emotionally and practically. The other nice part, was that we had a couple of weekends in the truck at a local farm to give my Mum a break. We slept so well that first night back in our own beds in the truck. Eventually we got the cottage back but soon decided that if we are going to be stationary somewhere for the next 10 years, that perhaps it isn't the house for us, so we are keeping our eyes out for somewhere else nearby. We can't quite work out if we are country folk or city people, the joy of living in the truck was we didn't have to choose as we could do a mix of both. Rural England, especially the New Forest, is gorgeous and good for the soul but we hate jumping into the car to do anything. That might sound a bit peculiar from someone who has spent 4 years driving around the world but it seems like we spend far more time on the road now. There's a house in there somewhere - once we got back into our cottage there was quite a lot of work to do.

Somewhere back in Turkey, Alisha had a bit of a preteen moment claiming that we never did anything and her life was so boring. To be fair to her, she did quickly take it back when we looked at her incredulously. But it made us realise that, for the girls travelling around the world in a truck is totally normal. So on returning back, mostly to show them what we had done was something quite exceptional, we got in touch with a few media outlets. Our local BBC news station, did a short piece on our trip which we enjoyed seeing and thought nothing much more about it. The weekend after, it was shared on their Facebook account. From there it seems to go a little crazy as the piece was commented on; shared over and over; and then went out on the main BBC main Facebook site. We couldn't believe how many people loved what we had done and were inspired by our story, it was incredibly touching. Last time we looked, the video has been watched 4.1 million times! We hope it encourages other people to realise that the world isn't a big scary place and to go out and live their dreams.

A month after arriving back, we had the opportunity to share our travels at the Adventure Overland Show in Stratford upon Avon. We did a couple of talks about the trip; Steve and I sat on various panels with the Overland Sphere group answering questions; and we had the truck open for people to have a look around. We had such a lovely response from families inspired by our trip and spoke to so many interesting people. We also got to hang out again with Will and Amy ( who we last saw in Cambodia and met lots of other great overlanders, many whom we knew of before but had not met. The talks were a true team effort, as we all took turns to speak with slides. We were very proud of the girls clearly sharing their penguin poo and South African flood stories to about 50 adults in a big hall. I know I wouldn't have been so brave when I was that age, I guess it shows how travelling has had a hugely positive affect on their development. The reality that we had actually finished travelling hit when we finally ate our emergency tin of salmon. Brought somewhere in Melbourne Australia, it was with us for 26 countries, sneaking through Singaporean customs; being passed over multiple times in favour of Thai green curry in South-East Asia ; and surviving the 52°C truck temperature in Uzbekistan. However, it was finally consumed as Thai fish cakes in Hampshire. With shops just a few miles away, there is no need for emergency food supplies anymore. No longer do we feel that we might get stranded somewhere for weeks with no supplies - it felt like the end of an era.

Even after all these weeks it still seems very peculiar to pull back the curtains every morning and see the same view. The girls have adapted very quickly to their new life but Steve and I still feel the strong pull of the open road. It is fabulous seeing family on a regular basis and catching up with old friends. But as the British winter weather moves in our thoughts turn again to new adventures, although shorter ones to fit in with the school holidays, so we've just booked the truck onto the ferry to the Faroe Islands and Iceland for next summer.

It’s a Wrap

Driving along Copacabana Beach; watching a jaguar swim, hunt and kill a crocodile just like on Planet Earth; crawling through ancient cave cities in Turkey; having a tiger mock charge us; joining the pilgrims circuiting Barkhor Temple in Lhasa; and eating Argentinian lomo fillet cooked over a fire washed down with a fantastic malbec.......this trip has been far beyond our wildest expectations. How can you sum up a round the world trip of nearly 180,000km that has taken over 4 years into one short blog? We've travelled to 58 countries in all 7 continents. It's almost an impossible task. So we've rounded them up into a few highlight lists: . Our top places visited:
  • Antarctica
  • Patagonia
  • Okavango Delta
  • Australian Outback
  • Tibetan Plateau
Of course, overlanding is a lot about amazing drives and camping out in the wild, enjoying amazing sunsets (sometimes even sunrises too) and watching the stars. The "best" roads we have driven:
  • Carretera Austral, Chile
  • Canon del Pato, Peru
  • Plenty Highway, Australia
  • Karakoram Highway, Pakistan
  • Pamir Highway, Tajikistan
Some of the most memorable places we have slept: 
  • On the ice with no tent in Antartica (sadly without the truck)
  • Outside the highest monastery in the world, Mount Everest Basecamp in Tibet
  • On our own beside a waterhole with 200 elephants and a pride of lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
  • On an active volcano in Chile, we had to come down in the middle of the night due to high winds
  • Salar de Unyi salt pans, Bolivia
  • Fire station, Nicaragua
  • Drive-in cinema, outback Australia
  • Police station compound in Guatamala
  • On a yacht crossing the Panama Canal
  • Too many petrol stations during long drives in India and Brazil.
Escaping by the skin of our teeth from a flood in South Africa, only to fall in a hole metres from safety; shredding a tyre and breaking 3 disc break covers on the remote Gibb River Road, Australia; being hit hard by a truck from behind in Cambodia and the police deciding it must have been the foreigner's fault; and more. We've been incredibility lucky but on a trip like this there are always problems and difficulties. Here is a list of our top 5 frustrations:
  • Being a useless mechanic
  • Shipping
  • Bureaucracy and regulations for driving your own vehicle in countries like Thailand, China and Myanmar.
  • Dealing with the Chinese police and military, Xinjiang Province
  • Driving in India
Did we think we could drive the whole way around the world when we started? Probably not! But we thought we would give it a go. What was the harm in that? Trying would definitely be an adventure and that is what we were after. So here is what we have learnt:
  • 99.9% of people are nice, friendly and willing to help
  • The world is not as scary as it is sometimes made out
  • There are some amazing wild natural places but they are increasingly under threat
  • You can manage with less
  • It is possible. It might take a lot of hard work, perseverance and luck but it is possible.
All over the world we have met amazing people who have welcomed us to their country. Of course doing it with two young children, it felt like a huge responsibility to not only keep them safe but for them to learn, grown and most importantly to love the world they live in. It's been wonderful to see their response to the world around them. They usually have a different take on something than us and travelling with them has opened so many doors to us. At times, especially in Asia, it felt like we were travelling with minor celebrities as people were delighted to meet foreign children. Homeschooling or more accurately "world schooling" them has been such a privilege. As well as the usual subjects, we have always learnt about the culture, natural history, history, politics, religion or environment we have been travelling through. Aztecs in Mexico; the exploration and wildlife of Antarctica; apartheid in South Africa; the southern constellations in outback Australia; Islam in Malaysia; the Romans in Turkey the list goes on and on. How better to learn about the world than experiencing it. It's added so much to the journey. Talking, books and ideas have grasped the girl's imaginations and intrigued them before we get to a place, then it's hands on learning from there on in and we've been learning alongside them. They will often blow us away by pointing something out in a museum or an animal doing something and explain it to us. "How an earth do you know that?" I'll ask. . The girls are only just starting to become aware how unique their childhood has been, for them travelling is just normal life. Lucy has been on the road for half of her life. Their formative years have been spent exploring some of the planet's furthest corners and we hope that will develop them into truly global citizens. . Of course they have their own opinions, here are some of their most memorable moments:
  • Hoola-hooping to get warm before sleeping out on the ice, without a tent, in Antarctica
  • Seeing lots of leopards, cheetahs, lions and wild dog puppies in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • Lucy eating spicy fried grasshoppers in Mexico and fat-bottomed ants in Columbia
  • Catching Piranas for tea in the Amazon, Bolivia
  • Daddy following the Middlesbrough football game in the dark in outback Australia and screaming when a wallaby licked his elbow
  • Pay-by-weight exotic Amazon fruit flavour ice cream in Brazil
  • Making straws that can make the water clean to drink out of lotus stalks, in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • Crazy Indian driving
  • Going on game drives every morning in nighties and wrapped in duvets, Africa
  • Kayaking with playful sea lions on the Skeleton Coast Namibia, they kept on trying to chew the paddles.
Thank you to all the wonderful people we met along the way that made the journey so special. And thank you to all our readers for joining us on our journey Gilly, Steve, Alisha and Lucy