Emmie making a new friend
Year of Adventure
Evie and Emmie Farrell of @Mumpacktravel are living life on the road and share why
long-term travel could be the trip of a lifetime for your family too.
As the sun rises over the Wang
Quan Valley, my daughter Emmie
and I creep from our tent,
perched high on top of an ancient
watchtower. Climbing over
chunks of bricks and shrubs, we reach the
parapet, where we sit holding hands and
gazing at the Great Wall of China as it weaves
a golden trail over mountains, valleys and a
blanket of green forest in the morning light.
Up to one million soldiers once lived on this
wall, guarding the Chinese empire from
invasion. After a challenging four-hour hike we
slept here too, laying under the stars in
haunting silence and sticky humidity.
Moments like these are why I packed up our life
in Sydney to travel with six-year-old Emmie.
The plan was simple: to spend every day
together and reestablish the bond I feared we’d
been losing while I was working and she was at
school or with babysitters.
Emmie’s dad (we separated just after she
was born), friends and family were supportive.
“Nothing changes in the suburbs,” they said.
“It will still be the same when you get back.”
Plans to renovate the kitchen went out the
window; we would be using our savings for
travel instead. While $20,000 wouldn’t last long
in Sydney, it would support us in Asia for at
least a year, with the rent from our home
topping up our balance each month.
A fabulous life on the road
We left Sydney on 1 February 2016 and have
travelled to 13 countries in the 10 months since.
Some of our most precious moments have
been in the quiet everyday, like Emmie’s head
resting on my shoulder as we shared
headphones on an early-morning bus trip in
Taiwan, epic Uno challenges with a masterful
child-cheater on island ferries in the Philippines
and playing hangman on overnight trains
through the Chinese countryside.
Then there are the dazzling once-in-alifetime
experiences, like spotting pygmy
elephants bathing in the Kinabatangan River,
spending time with the Bajau Laut sea gypsies
in Borneo, jumping from milky-blue waterfalls in
the Philippines, sharing sunsets over rice
paddies in Vietnam, caring for rescued
elephants in Thailand and attending the Anzac
Day Dawn Service in Singapore.
“We’re travelling for one year!” is Emmie’s
introduction to people we meet on the road
and they will often look to find a third person in
our little gang. “Just us,” I tell them, usually to a
surprised smile. It’s not difficult to travel as a
single parent; the hardest part was making the
decision to leave and preparing for the trip. The
fun began once we were on the road.
We carry one shared pack that holds limited
clothes, electronics, medical supplies, toiletries
and essentials like rain jackets and sleeping
sheets. Emmie is responsible for the toys and
games in her daypack and mine holds our
money, passports, camera and as much junk
as a six-year-old can sneak into it.
Going for a snorkel!
Having time allows us to be flexible so we
don’t plan very far ahead. When my eardrum
burst in the Philippines we extended our stay
at a guesthouse until I was able to move and
rearrange our plans. Unexpected change has
often led to us stumbling across little pockets
of magic, like discovering our spirit town,
Vietnam’s ancient Hoi An, where we came on a
whim and stayed for five weeks with Emmie
joining the international school for a month.
Our new normal
Of course there have been parenting fails
along the way. When wild monkeys attacked us
on Penang Hill I instinctively ran, leaving
Emmie behind to fend for herself, surrounded
by the mischievous primates; an argument with
a taxi driver in Beijing that escalated into a bit
of pushing – and Emmie defending me by
hitting him with her teddy bear – taught me to
pick my battles. Sometimes you just have to
accept you’re being conned and get on with it.
If you’re planning to travel
long-term, connect with other
travelling families on Facebook
and Instagram before you go to
find a world of friends.
I mostly face the same parenting challenges
I had at home, for example, schoolwork is
difficult and meal times remain a battle of wills,
but there is nothing out of the ordinary that has
raised its head simply because we are not at
home. The wins, however, are immeasurable.
Like a baby onion, Emmie reveals layers of her
developing personality with every new
experience. She helps solve day-to-day
challenges, is unflappable and sees the fun in
spending 17 hours on a mistakenly booked
third-class sleeper carriage on a Chinese train
(hot, smelly and confined to coffin-like bunks)
or spending the night at an airport. Her
curiosity and openness has connected us with
many local families throughout our travels.
Life on the road is our new, wonderful
normal. Our only challenge now is coming
home – returning will be much, much harder
This article appeared in volume 50 of Holidays with Kids magazine.
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