Another full year of travel completed. Where did we go? What were our milestones, highlights and low points? How did we do it and how did we keep it affordable? What goes into our planning process and how do we cope as a family with full time travel around the world? A recap of 2017, with links to key posts and sections. We hope we can inspire, encourage and help you to travel further, deeper and longer by sharing our adventures with you. It may look like a millionaire lifestyle, but our brand of travel and this one year around the world ( our 4th) really costs very little and gives us, and could give you, so much.
2017, One Year of Travel, How Many Countries?
There was only 1 new country for Chef and I this year, Slovenia and we loved it. For the boys it was their first time there plus their first times in Egypt and Vietnam. All were very different experiences and each added to the kids’ world view and education in their own unique ways.
Our Travel as a Business
This year has been incredible for the websites, they’ve really taken off and we’re back on 100, 000 monthly page views again. That’s a figure we haven’t reached in the last couple of years since Pinterest stopped performing. We are now, truly one of the biggest travel sites in operation with a good depth of coverage on around 20 favourite countries, others we touch on briefly. It’s always been important to me to cover countries in depth and that’s why, in part, we go back to the same countries over and over again. We can always find somewhere or something new to share with you and I’m not the sort to write a destination guide unless I have a decent amount of experience.
A Family Travelling Around the World
We find these days that we need breaks, pauses in the full-on active travel that we prefer. We need time to catch up on work, school, life and planning so we hole up sometimes for a travel breather. We’re not keen on slow travel or renting apartments it doesn’t feel good to us. We prefer fast paced backpacking staying in hotels or guest houses with a month or two to rest from time to time. This year we’ve had 3 or 4 such rest periods, Romania, London and Vietnam. Most of our travels have been relatively fast paced. Of course, we usually pick the cheaper places to take a break, there would be no point at all in picking somewhere expensive.
Romania is cheapest for us but this year we wanted a change and chef needed somewhere he could train for his next Ironman event in tropical conditions, so we picked Vietnam. London is a high price city but to us it’s home ( there are so many places we think of as home, but we’re Londoners by birth and choice) and we have friends and family to catch up with there.
The boys are really growing up and a travelling lifestyle along with their education gets easier but more expensive. These days it’s like travelling with 2 adults as child rates totally dry up around 12 years old. We had a conference and the boys still want to travel, but we don’t know yet how much longer that will last. I love that we’re now in the ” proof of the pudding” stage of their education. Everything has worked and I wish I hadn’t spent so much energy on worry when they were younger.
They’re bright, smart, knowledgeable, strong, fit, happy and proficient in many ways and that’s all happened without ever entering a classroom. Their educational needs morph almost daily and these days they amaze me with what they’ve learned with zero maternal involvement. At the moment D is writing something for me for the website. He’s never been made to write an essay but his words flow beautifully and his vocabulary is far more creative than my own.
No lessons in English, no teaching, no schedule, just freedom to learn his way. In D’s case it’s mostly come from his reading. They both take a handful of online courses and classes led by their personal interests, be they Chemistry, Physics or History, they learn it their way. The little boy workbooks and online learning programs are largely a thing of the past now, but you can read more on the early days of education outside school here.
Chef and I are well, he’s still Ironman fit, I’m fitter than I’ve been in a while thanks to my return to running. We’ll be testing that again next year on the slopes of Everest, inshAllah. We don’t find and have never found, that being together 24-7 puts a strain on any of our relationships. Families are meant to be together.
Planning, Choosing Destinations and Minimising Costs
We always travel with cost in mind, but we never set a budget. To us budgeting saps the fun out of everything. So for the most part we find the cheapest places to stay, the lowest cost flights, the great value meals, but when the want arises we spend big.
Singapore was never going to be cheap and we wanted to experience as much of it as possible. We booked a very expensive hotel and guestimated that we would need 3 days to truly experience it, for the rest of our Singapore stay we used a budget hostel ( at $85 per night, not even close to cheap!). We saw it both ways, soaked up the experiences and learned more about the world by trying both approaches.
It’s world knowledge for the boys, travel knowledge for my website and my readers. We spent a lot of money in Singapore, a huge amount, but to us it was worth it. Those $16 beers tasted pretty fine after a day at Universal, in the same way that our $1 beers hit the spot in Romania. Neither experience is better nor worse, just different. We still don’t see our travels as holiday or vacation, we journey to find adventure, learning and knowledge.
How do we keep costs down? Obviously we shop around. We pick the cheapest flights on the cheapest days, that’s pretty easy with no work or school restrictions. ( We use Skyscanner, see tips here, to find deals) We compare the cost of bus, plane and train and pick the transportation method that comes out best all round. With hotels we always check Hotels Combined ( they compare multiple hotel booking sites, but not Agoda) and Agoda . We collect Agoda points to redeem against stays so they are favourites, but if Hotels Combined gives us an amazing deal we take it.
Hotels and guest house with breakfast included always save us money and it’s rare these days for us to stay somewhere that doesn’t offer this. We also know that our boys just love a hotel buffet breakfast, so we include one of those when we can. A meal in Vietnam or Thailand can cost us as little as $1 each, but when you start adding decent coffees to that the price rises steeply, so free coffee is a bonus.
Now that the boys are bigger we’re using hostels more, shared bathrooms aren’t such a pain with grown kids and they’re usually fun socially. Hostels aren’t the cheapest option but we don’t penny pinch quite so much these days.
Also, now we sometimes take 2 twins rather than family rooms for 4. The price is usually about the same but there’s greater availability.
How do we pick destinations? A lot comes down to convenience and sometimes it comes down to need. Egypt was the big ” want” this year, a destination my ancient history obsessed kids had been begging for since they first started reading Rick Riordan (your kids must read these books, view here!) and this year we made it happen. This one had a fixed date, a birthday treat, so our month in Egypt had to happen in spring and we sat tight in Romania either side of that trip enjoying our local friends and a wonderful visit from the boys’ great grandmother. She’s really proud of how they’re turning out and for the older, more traditional, generation to feel that way is surprising and gratifying.
Next we had to get home to London with the car, so a road trip was needed. You can read about the costs of that road trip here. We wanted to see Hortobagy National Park and Venice, the rest of the trip we pieced together around those points. We knew Venice was expensive so we opted to just spend a day there, we wanted to see it and that was all.
After summer in London we headed back to Asia, we hadn’t been in a while and Vietnam was a new destination for the kids so we decided to max out the expensive Vietnam visas and stay a few months while Chef trained. It gave the kids a chance to learn about a vital piece of history, the Vietnam War, at source. We’ve also spent a lot of time looking at ancient history in this part of the world, the movement of peoples, cultures and borders over the centuries. We’re going to get content with an educational focus up on this site, written mostly by my boys, to help your families learn more from your travel.
Chef’s Ironman in Langkawi was another fixed point in the year and 2 stays with our friends at Back Home ( one of our favourite hostels, see here) Kuala Lumpur fitted with our Air Asia flights.
It turned out that we fell in love with Hoi An, so we’re finishing up the year back in Vietnam.
Why Singapore for Christmas? Well, we couldn’t be skiing in the snows of Romania this year so we had to pick somewhere special for the big day. We wanted to make the kids happy so we opted for theme parks and kid friendly attractions in Singapore. Also Singapore was missing from the website, now I can fill that hole here.
Indonesia came about because of a chance work offer, we were invited, the destination looked incredible and it fitted with our plans so we said yes. I’m pretty sure this is the only sponsored stay we’ve done this year and the experience was well worth the amount of work that goes into these promotions. You can read about Telunas Private Island Resort here.
There was another month in Thailand in the midst of all this, we needed to renew a passport, we all love Thailand, so why not? It was a great trip and we explored some areas of the north that we’ve never visited before. More depth of knowledge for our Thailand section, more varied experiences for the kids. Read about northern Thailand and our road trip here.
Luggage and what are we carrying? We don’t carry everything these days. Ski gear, books, toys and souvenirs stay at base ( London and Romania) so we’re only carrying the things we need. Unfortunately the things we need include a triathlon bike and a lot of sports equipment.
Chef and I have big backpacks that we check for flights plus carry on size backpacks. The boys just have carry on. Boo got a new Osprey this year, picked to near enough be the right size for Air Asia and Air Malaysia. If you didn’t know Asian airlines have smaller carry-on size restrictions than European airlines ( read about baggage size restrictions and picking the Osprey here). D still has a battered and cheap trecking pack. As he only owns 2 pairs of jeans, one pair of boots and a small collection of T shirts and fleeces, it’s all he needs. He has no interest in “stuff” other than his laptop and mum and dad carry the expensive electronics at all times. Boo’s pack by contrast is stuffed to the gills with bears, Nerf guns, sonic screwdrivers and Pokemon cards. What can you do? You do what makes each child happy.
I have a 65L Travel Pack ( see post on travel pack v backpack here) which I still love. It contains 2 pairs of jeans, one pair of baggy hippy pants, running tights and some tops along with a few work books, pens and pencils and my pack it flat washbag ( See the Pack it Flat here, it’s fantastic). The running tights are super useful for all sports, activities and water. I’m still carrying my old yoga pants but haven’t worn them in months, I’ll wear them in the Himalayas so I can’t throw them out just yet. I have one light jumper, no fleece at the moment, I’ll just have to buy a new one in Kathmandu.
Likewise, hiking boots will have to be bought in Nepal. I currently have trail running shoes, plastic flip flops and a pair of Birkenstock type shoes for “best”. The Birkenstock come from Hoi An where a shoemaker will sell you a pair for under $10. I have no idea what Chef has in his bag, he seems to live in sports clothes and jeans, but he does have a very nice shirt that was hand made for him in Vietnam by our friend Dao.
We carry a lot of electrical equipment, a huge amount and we need it. I’m still carrying the DSLR but these days 100% of the photography is done using my phone ( It’s a twin lense Moto and I love it, see here) Our big backpacks come in at around 40Kg total, mine can be as low as 15Kg. Our carry on bags are way over weight ( 7Kg is the AirAsia limit) but nobody ever checks them. We carry them fairly easily and I make a point of always climbing stairs rather than taking escalators when I’m fully loaded up, it’s good for my thighs.
It’s been a good year. One of the best. So now a recap on the places we’ve been in 2017.
We saw in the New Year around a blazing fire in our village. It was around -17 C that night and we were bundled up against the elements as the local band played and our champagne turned to slush. Great memories, great people and a wonderful place. We skied into February and spent peaceful days in our little kitchen cooking and heating with a tiny wood stove. For days or weeks our water froze solid and we had to use the outside toilet as snow fell on garden pine trees. It’s magical, we all love the winters and miss Breb and the people there badly.
In January I started investing in my site, buying premium hosting and tools. From that point things really started taking off online.
Almost a month in Egypt exploring history and culture, an educational trip for the boys. You can access our Egypt travel guide section here or maybe see this post, written by the kids, on what they learned in Egypt. I think it will demonstrate for you nicely how some of the education happens around here. Above they are writing in hieroglyphs while waiting for the nightly sound and light show at Giza. We loved this guest house and its incredible view across history. There were some tough times in Egypt, having to flee as a runaway tanker hurtled towards us wasn’t good and it shook me up for quite a while afterwards.
Back to Romania for early summer haymaking. The boys were thrilled to be out helping Mihai with the haystacks and to be back in our special place. The boys took turns at climbing the haystacks, scything and raking grass. Learning how ancient skills like this work and how important they are still to our village’s survival is priceless. Also priceless, great grandma came out to stay with us, she’s a bit of a diamond. We decided to leave and sell the 4 x 4. We almost got back what we paid for her but we plan to return to Romania soon, we just needed something different for a while and a big slice of Asia.
By chance we heard about the horsemen of Hortobagy and knew we had to go. We took a special diversion to learn about the history of the Hungarian planes, European trade routes and heritage livestock. You can see our post on Hortobagy here.
Slovenia was a real treat ! We spent roughly a week here staying on farms and vineyards and visiting lakes and Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. It’s a wonderful country, very affordable and incredibly beautiful. Try to visit Slovenia if you possibly can, read our Slovenia post here.
We’ve been to Italy multiple times but never Rome or Venice. We drove through the north of Italy between Slovenia and France putting us within striking distance of Venice so we popped down for a look. We weren’t interested in staying, we simply wanted to eye-ball those gondolas. It was very crowded, absolutely packed with tourists and off the scale expensive, but certainly worth the detour. The boys were sold on the idea of Venice by Doctor Who, we sought out the spookiest, most Vampires of Venice type places we could find.
Leaving Italy and entering France through the Mont Blanc tunnel was a pretty spectacular ( and expensive) journey. It ticked a few educational boxes as well as giving us a big old “wow”. Boo had put in a request for ” the big pointy thing”, frogs’ legs and snails. We got him to the Eiffel Tower and bought him his lunch in Paris. That’s one ticked off his kid bucket list. Chef and I aren’t Paris fans so we chose to stay outside Paris and visit Park Asterix rather than spend much time in the city. After Paris we headed on to the ferry ports and got the chance to visit the Somme Battlefields on the way, a big highlight of our road trip and a major educational opportunity.
I don’t think I produced any content at all during our summer in the city. We were home, off duty for once and being very normal. Instead we caught up with friends, I started running again and Boo did the kids 5 Km race above. He and Chef also joined me on Sunday park runs. We have an enthusiastic young runner on our hands who recently joined in on an 8 Km Hash House Harriers event. He was the only child to finish. D did some swim training with his dad, that boy is part fish and turns astonished heads when he hits the lap pool. I was mean and had them doing all sorts of educational school-type things over that summer.
After being typical tourists in Saigon and hitting all the educational hot spots ( See Cu Chi Tunnels & Cao Dai Temple here) we headed up to sleepy Hoi An so that Chef could train. We rented a little house after our AirBnb booking fell through and I immediately hated being a slow traveller. I need to be busy and seeing new things, domesticity drove me insane until I mellowed into a gentler lifestyle. Once we found our feet we loved Hoi An and still do. Our house rental was beautiful, as nice as, probably better than, our house in Australia. We had a couple of power cuts in pre-monsoon heat and I fell off my bike under a car, but otherwise life was wonderful.We considered ourselves very lucky to be here for the almost annual Hoi An floods more on Hoi An flooding here. We took Vietnamese classes, pottery classes and cooking courses, I think we’ve done just about everything Hoi An can offer and eaten every incredible local dish in this foodie center.
Off to Langkawi for Ironman. We joke about our Malaysia-Curse and it hit us again hard. A bad ( expensive) hotel, bad food and Chef’s body just gave out in the race through lack of proper nutrition. We found it incredibly hard to get good food and the hotel breakfast we’d assumed would be good was inedible. That and a ferry that broke down half way to Penang. But I really enjoyed our 1 day in Penang this time, Langkawi, well, we won’t be going again. He finished his 3rd full distance Ironman but in his worst time ever, around 13 hours. His friend who joined us from Australia had similar problems and the two of them hobbled in together. So much for this year’s Kona dreams.
Everybody loves Thailand and it’s always easy to spend another month there. This time we headed to the far north east to see some places we’ve never been and show the kids some old favourites. We kept bumping into friends old and new in Thailand. It was a fun month. D’s project on Thai history will be published soon, an interest that was sparked by the 3 Kings in Chiang Mai. Read more about our road trip to Northern Thailand here.
Kuala Lumpur and Back Home Hostel again. I like Kuala Lumpur, I love Indian food and it’s always good to be back in familiar places. We had a movie fest, the new Star Wars and Jumanji movies at KL’s swanky cinemas were a real treat. The kids did a cooking class with our friend Fadly, otherwise we chilled.
You wouldn’t believe how expensive Singapore is! A full post on Singapore and Christmas day at Universal Studios is here. .
An amazing experience, twin resorts on deserted Indonesian islands just a short hop from Singapore. Extreme luxury and really good fun. A full post on Telunas resorts is here.
Another quick visit to Back Home KL. Rest, a breather. We all had bad colds and needed to just do nothing much while we waited for our next flight.
Home. Right now Chef is making the kids pancakes, I’m putting this round-up together, the boys are playing a new Star Wars game and life is good. It’s New Year’s Eve tonight so we shall venture out. A quiet , peaceful family time for now, plenty more adventures to come next year.
One year around the world, our 4th and another good one. Every year is different and we wouldn’t give up this current travel lifestyle unless we really had to. I hope you can see from the brief outline above that the kids’ education ( and enjoyment) is still a big focus, it’s always been a major driving force in our adventures. These days my professional interest in writing travel guides is a big player too and of course a lot resolves around Chef’s training and competitions. Another Ironman, maybe 2, will happen next year and D is muttering about Vikings. I want to see Tibet and Everest Base Camp must happen soon ( maybe the boys’ great grandmother will be joining us in the Himalayas). For now we rest, where would you like to see us go in 2018? Happy New Year!