She’s a mum-of-four (soon to be five) and co-owns the lifestyle website Babyccino but Courtney Adamo had major gap year dreams. So she and her husband sold their north London house and packed (lightly) for a year abroad, en famille…
For Courtney Adamo’s top travel (with kids) tips, as well as tales of wonder and details about their exciting new chapter (they won’t be returning to London to live), read on…
Courtney Adamo on her family gap year
“I keep receiving emails from good friends telling me the trip looked amazing… but asking if it was really as wonderful as I made it seem. Like they want the inside scoop I’m not sharing publicly! I think people assume there were more downsides than I portrayed or that I would have gotten sick of spending so much time with my husband and kids. The truth is that it was the most wonderful year of my life.
Of course there were grumpy moments, arguments, ugly hotels, bad meals, cranky children, and normal low moments of family life. But we were also extremely lucky during our travels – there was no lost luggage, stolen items, or cancelled flights. In the year we were on the road, we never once felt unsafe or worried about our safety. We have never once regretted our decision to take the year off, explore the world and spend this year with our children.
Our happiest memories have most certainly been from moments spent with new friends in each of the countries we visited. While we will forever remember this year together and the special family time we’ve had, the highlights will be experiences with new friends.
We will certainly remember spending a day on Martin’s ranch in Uruguay, riding horses and eating a big meal at his big wooden farmhouse table. We’ll remember surfing and exploring with Ismael in Chile. We’ll remember our days with Rebecca and Ollie and their two girls in New Zealand – parking our campervan in their driveway for a few days and enjoying long meals together.
We’ll remember all the fun we had with many new friends in Byron Bay, Australia. And of course all of our adventures this past summer – with friends in Italy, France and Portugal. Looking back on it all, we are reminded of what a magical, memorable year it’s been with countless ‘best’ moments.
It’s funny – someone told me before our travels began to embrace the low moments because they will be the ones we’ll talk and laugh about later. And it’s so true! We spent our first night in South America in a shoddy hotel in Lima, Peru with a room that looked a bit like a jail cell. It was such an uncomfortable arrival and terrible night’s sleep, but it remains a funny memory to share.
We also booked a house rental in Uruguay for our last week in the country and when we arrived (with a car full of groceries from the previous place, a case of frozen fish from a fishing trip earlier in the week, all of our suitcases and four cranky, restless kids), there were no sheets on the beds or towels in the bathrooms.
The house hadn’t been cleaned, and the man who welcomed us spoke absolutely no English. It was a very awkward moment, but again we are able to laugh about it now. (We ended up loading everything back into the car, staying in a nearby hotel that night — that thankfully had a fridge and freezer for all of our groceries – and then we moved to a new house rental the following day. Things almost always have a way of working themselves out.
Working on the road
It wasn’t always as easy as I had hoped, but somehow I managed to work remotely nearly as effectively as before. I suppose this the enormous benefit of running an online business – that you can do it from anywhere in the world, as long as there is a decent wifi connection (which, admittedly, wasn’t always easy to find.)
I tried to wake up a couple hours earlier than the rest of the family every day so I could get a head start on work. It helped that we got on a schedule where the kids were sleeping in quite late every day, so I had a few hours in the morning to power through emails and work. Michael did the majority of the homeschooling, so sometimes I was able to squeeze in a couple hours of work while he taught the kids. It was a bit of a juggle, but somehow we made it work.
It also helps that we have a very devoted team of women working for us who have helped to take on additional tasks this year. Babyccino has actually thrived this year despite me being so far away.
On homeschooling the four kids
I can’t take much of the credit for the homeschooling because Michael took on this task this year. Having left his job when we left London last year, he had more time to devote to the teaching (and truthfully he is the more patient one!).
Homeschooling has certainly proven more challenging than either Michael or I anticipated. Our eldest, Easton, responded really well to being taught by his dad, but Quin and Ivy, both great students in the classroom, have been difficult to get to focus and teach at home. It’s also challenging to teach three students at the same time when their levels are so different and they each have different areas of need.
We slowly got the hang of it though and it has been extremely rewarding to watch them learn and progress. I would even dare to say that their progress was more noticeable than any other year in traditional school! (I’ve written a long and detailed post about this on our travel blog, Somewhere Slower, for those who may want more details about lesson plans and resources.)
I don’t think any of us really ever felt homesick. I think the kids were so happy to be spending every day with both of their parents and always felt a sense of home because we were all together. We got very used to using the word ‘home’ loosely to refer to wherever we were staying – whether it was a three-day stay or a month-long rental.
Of all the kids, our eldest, Easton, missed his friends the most, but even still he didn’t ever wish to be back in London. (The kids wrote a lot of postcards to their friends this year and that was a really fun way for them to stay connected.)
I think the boys occasionally missed having their own space away from their parents where they could play and read and not have their parents within earshot all the time, but again this wasn’t a major problem (in fact, we all craved personal time at some point or other).
A new perspective
We have all seen and learned so much from our experiences this year. We’ve gained a new perspective on our world and the different cultures, people and places in it. We have made so many friends all over the world that we feel a deep connection to every continent. It is so liberating to have this connection to other places and people – to not feel anchored to one specific place. The nomadic lifestyle is a very addictive and inspiring one!
We’ve also learned how little we actually need to be happy. We have each spent a year living out of a small suitcase, wearing the same few outfits on rotation, sleeping in rented beds with just a few personal possessions to hand, yet none of us have missed the things we left behind. The kids have not had any toys, apart from the few items they could fit in their backpacks, but they’ve managed to play all sorts of imaginative games, staying entertained and happy all year long.
It wasn’t easy to part with all the things we thought we needed, but it was very liberating once we did. I hope we can always be reminded of these simple, happy days. I don’t want to go back to needing and wanting ‘stuff’ in my life.
Collectively, I think we will all look back on this year and feel it has made us an even closer and stronger family. We have happy memories that will last a lifetime and a renewed outlook on life that will hopefully shape the way we will live and the values we will hold most dear.
I would do this gap year again a thousand times over. There was a point this year where the six of us were in a campervan on the South Island of New Zealand. It was pouring rain for the 12th day in a row, we were in a campsite that was so flooded we had to practically wade to the toilets, and our children were suffering a bad case of cabin fever.
Even then, at that low moment, I remember thinking that it was the most wonderful feeling in the world to be with my family on this adventure. There was nowhere else I would have rather been than right there in that campervan with my favourite people.
My advice to other families considering a gap year…
Do it! Don’t over-think it. Don’t dwell on all the what-ifs or potential problems that could arise. I remember speaking to a mum at the children’s school before we left on our travels and she had all sorts of questions for me: What if one of you gets sick while you’re away? What if you get somewhere and you don’t love it? What if you can’t get the kids back into school when you return or your husband can’t get another job? I think she must have thought I was so ill prepared for our journey because I stared blankly back at her without perfectly thought-out answers for her.
I just didn’t worry about all of those things. I knew it would be wonderful, I knew there would be challenges, but I also knew we would land on our feet wherever we went and would deal with problems as they arose.
Top tips for travelling with kids
While there is a level of organization and efficiency required to travel with kids, I think it’s almost more important to be relaxed and to go with the flow. Our kids are thankfully really flexible – they’ll eat almost anything (even spicy curries in Sri Lanka!), they’ll sleep anywhere (often sharing one bed), and they adapt quickly to new places.
Michael and I were really relaxed about our schedule this year; we tried to take things slowly and to be flexible about decisions and reasonable in our expectations.
Another big tip is to pack lightly! Before we left on our travels someone gave me the following tip: Pack your suitcases with what you think you’ll need. Come back the next day and remove half of what you originally packed. You won’t need or miss the other half. This is such wonderful advice. We packed super lightly, and even still we had more than we needed.
As much as we love London, we are all eager for new adventures, new challenges, and more importantly a slower pace of life moving forward. We couldn’t bring ourselves to re-enter the busy working world in London or to take back on the high expenses and demands that come with life in this big city. Most importantly though, the kids and Michael have fallen in love with surfing and have decided we need to live near the waves – a decision I very happily support, of course.
Earlier this year we spent a month in Byron Bay, Australia and this magical little town captured all of our hearts. Not just the beauty and the sunshine and the beaches, but the community and inspiring people who live there. We made so many friends in that quick month in Byron that we’re all so keen to get back there.
We’ve decided to move our family to Australia and settle in this beautiful spot. We can’t wait to finally unpack our suitcases, settle down and make roots. The kids are excited to start back up at schools and Michael and I are eager to return to normal working life as well. We’ll also welcome a new addition to our family in March, which I’m sure will anchor our family even more and bring a slow and steadiness to life that we’ll all welcome.”