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 (www.roamingcaesar.wordpress.com) 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.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eBIgG6h2x5g https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L8LW6mMxbQ 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.