When the daily grind gets too much, many of us dream of packing up our belongings and heading off on a wild adventure. But journalist Rachel Mostyn actually went for it, and is on a six-month sabbatical in Ecuador with her young family…
Journalist and content strategist for Digital Mums Rachel Mostyn, 40, is currently on a six-month sabbatical with her family. She and her partner Toby – a computer programmer – left Bristol last month with their three children: Amelia, nine, Leila, seven and Joseph, five. They will be living in Ecuador until January 2017.
You recently left the UK for a six-month sabbatical in Ecuador. What’s your home like?
We are currently living up in the mountains in a town called Cuenca – we have a flat with two bedrooms (kids are loving sharing all together) and we’re just by the river. Weirdly the place we chose to start our adventure is a little bit like where we live at home in Bristol. Quite a relaxed atmosphere with lots of coffee shops and a bit of a bohemian vibe.
This first month we have also spent time in a cabin in the woods near Vilcabamba which was just incredible – hammock life definitely suits us (although the spiders not so much!). Cuenca is only home for a few more days though as then we’re off to the coast for a month in a beach house. Then it’s a stint of volunteering where the children will also go to school before our final trip to the Galapagos Islands.
You’ve only been there a month, so far: better, worse or just as you imagined?
The first week definitely took some getting used to, not least because we are currently at 2500m so we had to grapple with the altitude as well as the time difference (we’re seven hours behind the UK). But overwhelmingly it had been hugely positive.
Every single day brings masses of new experiences – from people we meet to the kids learning Spanish. Life has completely slowed down compared to home life and that has meant that even though it’s only been a month it feels like we have been here far far longer.
How are the kids adjusting to life on the road?
On the whole pretty well. The fact that we are all together pretty much all the time is a big plus for them. Each day there are new things to see and do; from bathing in hot springs to climbing to hidden waterfalls. Equally I really don’t want to paint a picture of this ‘perfect’ family just swanning around the world.
Thing about kids is it really doesn’t matter if they are in Bristol or Ecuador they can still whinge in the same way. They’ll still have a monumental meltdown if they don’t want to get dressed. Plus three siblings together all the time means you get some really good bust ups over whose turn it is play My Boo. So from that perspective, happy to report it’s parenting as usual, just in South America!
Is it too early to be missing home comforts?
For Toby and I – no – but the kids certainly do. We discovered pretty early on that while they love experiences they also want ‘normality’. So trips to the local park happen as well as things like finding an alternative to our bakery at home that we go to for our usual Saturday donut run.
I’ve even tried to convince them the local market, complete with a lot of pigs heads and counters full of cows brains, is actually the new Aldi. They’re not massively convinced on that one. Mostly though they miss their friends and actually school (they’ll never complain at going again when we get back!). Oh and they all miss our cat Chicken but he is in safe hands with my lovely cousin in Buckinghamshire.
You were an early riser back in the UK, what time do your mornings begin now?
My day always begins at 5.50am here when my phone alarm goes off. I’ve always been a morning person so generally speaking after a few glugs of coffee I’m all set.
What do you do first thing?
I work. While I’m here I am still working for Digital Mums in the UK in content and social media strategy. They are a fantastic organisation that trains mums to be social media managers so they can find flexible work around family life (you can find out more about their courses here www.digitalmums.com/mums).
As I am six hours behind the UK I always make sure I am logged on and available between 6-8am my time. Digital Mums have been brilliantly supportive about me being able to work remotely and part time. For my part, I try to ensure that I am at least available at some specific times during the week so there is always that continuity.
My husband Toby is also working for a UK company while he is here so he is also up early and working. Thankfully we have trained the kids that the day does not start here until at least 8.30am (I realise this is incredibly lucky but the pay-off is they don’t go to bed particularly early!) so every day we know we always have this focussed time. Then the rest of our hours can be scheduled in flexibly depending on what we are doing.
How might the rest of your day pan out?
Well the last month the kids have been in language school in the mornings so one of us will drop them at that and depending on the day it’s either more working or perhaps a run or swim. Then the afternoon might be a trip to the hot springs or a walk in the mountains (kids’ moods dependent!). Every day things like going to the market are also a real activity here as life is just so different.
Both you and your partner are working freelance jobs while away, how are you dividing childcare/cooking/cleaning?
Well we both work in the mornings and then we take it in turns to either do the language school run or be the one who stays back and works. Generally speaking whoever is back will sort out the lunch (actually we eat out a lot as it’s only about £2 for a really good healthy meal). The rest just kind of happens.
It’s much much more equal than in the UK because Toby is only working part time too. In England he is full time in an office so more of the ‘home’ responsibility naturally falls to me. One really lovely outcome is both of us are are rushing far less.
In Bristol we’d generally take it in turns to ‘do’ kids’ bed time as the other was either working/running/drinking etc. Now we always do it together and are working our way through children’s classics as a family. Doctor Dolittle and Black Beauty so far, Stig of the Dump next…
Why did you decide to up sticks and go on an adventure?
Toby and I have been together since we were 19 and we have both done our fair share of travelling in our time. We always said back in our twenties that we do cool stuff like travel with the kids. But jobs, mortgages, toddlers, tantrums and nappies made for a very full life.
Then suddenly Joseph our youngest was five and the three of them had become vaguely civilised human beings and we realised that actually now was maybe our chance to go an adventure. It was a ‘life is too short’ moment. Then of course you tell a few people and before you know it is a reality!
What were you concerned about?
I have always been rather a laid back person and Toby is similar so our approach generally speaking has been to not really think about things that worry us too much. Rather a naive attitude probably. Of course news like the big earthquake in Ecuador earlier this year was worrying but the practical side of my brain still told me that this sort of thing happens and that sadly you just can’t control that kind of thing. My thoughts have always been that so long as we are all together then there really that is the only important thing. Anything else and we’d sort it when it happened.
Could this be the start of many more half years abroad?
Never say never! I love the idea of that but equally we realise that the kids schools might get a bit tired of that! What it really has proved to us so far though is that it is really possible. We rented our home in the UK out so most of our costs are covered and then what we are earning from our UK jobs pays for life here so from a practical perspective it would work. Digital Mums is an amazing employer and have been incredibly supportive – it obviously hugely helps to have a company that believes so strongly in flexible working.
To another family, considering a ‘gap year’ abroad – what would your advice be?
I realise that because of the jobs that Toby and I do it has meant it is so much more possible than for others but if it is something that you are able to do, then you won’t regret it for a moment. Our kids school were brilliant about it and as we have got them into a school while they are here then it means they will slot back in no problem in January.
Perhaps I have the wrong approach but we didn’t spend months mulling it over – we just decided right now is our time and then once you set the wheels in motion it’s a bit of a runaway train that you have to get on board! Before you know it you’re into visas and injections and you’re on your way.
Of course we’re only a month in but over and above everything else what it has given us is time. There are also days when actually you just want a break from the kids but that doesn’t change wherever you are in the world!
You can follow Rachel Mostyn on Instagram: @rachelmostyn
To find out more about Digital Mums and the courses that they offer mums in social media marketing visit www.digitalmums.com/mums