Expat Tales: OE with four children 'one of the greatest adventures of our lives'

Travel News from Stuff - 18-12-2023 stuff.co.nz
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In March, Daniel and Anya Williams packed up their Auckland home, rented it out and went on a 10-month overseas adventure with their four kids, aged one to 12.

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My father worked for Air New Zealand, so my family travelled a lot when I was growing up and trips overseas are some of my fondest memories from childhood. I wanted my children to see something of the world outside our New Zealand bubble, and to experience what I did when I was younger.

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We started planning this trip for 2020, but then Covid hit and the plans went on hold. Time ticks by so fast and before you know it a few more years have passed and we're all getting older. The idea popped into my head again last year and I figured it had to be now or never. Life is so short, so why not?!

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There were so many reasons not to go, especially with four young children who should normally be in school, plus having to pack up and rent our house, and concern for ageing parents. It was a major push out of our comfort zones, but once we booked the first flight out of New Zealand it all became real and things quickly fell into place.

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Looking back, it's been one of the greatest adventures of our lives, and I'm really proud of what we've accomplished as a family.

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Within the first few days we were asking ourselves if we'd made a huge mistake because our children just wanted to watch TV and play on their iPads and whinged about going out – which is no different than being at home. Eventually we banned their iPads, but we let them have them on longer flights.

It took us a few weeks to get into a good rhythm and routine with all the day-to-day activities and also regular road trips and flights. Our life on the road all feels quite normal now, but as we are due to head home next month, we're definitely looking forward to slowing down our daily pace.

We own an online Lego store at home () and we have a fulfilment partner that prepares and ships our orders. So we just manage the business while we travel, answering customer emails and dealing with our suppliers. Overall, it runs very smoothly and only requires about an hour's work per day.

We also have rental property at home which we acquired after selling our website hosting business, Web Drive, in 2014. We worked really hard to get our businesses in the best shape possible before we left and it's worked really well, giving us the freedom to be away from New Zealand.

We're getting to tick off so many places on our bucket list, and our children are experiencing so many different cultures, languages, and ways of living. They're seeing the good and the bad – for example, the opulence of Beverly Hills contrasted to the homeless on Hollywood Boulevard, just a few blocks away. I really think that what they're experiencing dwarfs what they would be learning in a classroom.

Looking after ourselves has been hard, and sometimes your plans go entirely out the window. When we arrived in Hong Kong, I was not feeling well, and I spent the six days that we were there in bed. Eventually, I went to see a doctor, which was horrendously expensive (over NZ$500), and I was diagnosed with a chest infection. We basically never left the hotel room for the whole time in the country.

Several months later, when we arrived in the USA, we all got Covid within a few days, so that was another week written off. But you just work to prioritise what is top of your to-do list in the time you have left.

Even with the best intentions of packing daily lunches and cooking dinner most nights, it can be extremely hard to look after our diet. We are constantly on the move and sometimes it's easier to just get fast food, which does get expensive, and makes you feel yuck. Buying food every day is expensive and unsustainable, so we do go through phases of ordering or cooking regularly.

As parents, we feel like we've really aged on this trip, and we have a lot of work to do to get back to better health when we return.

We've definitely found it is more expensive almost everywhere we've been. Some places more than others. Spending in euros and US dollars is painful as it's typically 1:1 for spending, and the exchange rate hurts.

McDonald's has become a yardstick for comparing prices around the world. For example, a meal at McDonald's that we'd pay about $70 for at home cost us the equivalent of NZ$195 in Switzerland.

There's really not much spare time. Any downtime is usually spent catching up on emails and planning activities and accommodation. In a perfect world, we'd spend evenings playing board games with the kids and that sort of thing, but the reality is that by the end of the day we're pretty tired and just want to switch off.

Covid taught us that trying to keep kids on a schooling schedule is really, really hard. We had plans for them to write in a journal daily, and they were going to do daily exercises on maths and reading apps, but this didn't last long as it became exhausting trying to keep them on-task.

Eventually, we gave up and figured that they are getting enough of an education with all the things they're seeing and doing around the world. We know that when they return to school back home they'll catch up soon enough.

Our top destinations would be:

We miss the stability of our own home. We're on the move typically every four to seven days and have stayed in over 50 different places. It does become tiring living out of a suitcase, constantly packing and unpacking.

Accommodation is also ridiculously expensive in some cities and we're looking forward to being in one place, all the time. In New York, for example, the cost per night is the equivalent of a week's rent on our Auckland home.

For anyone thinking of doing something like this, my advice is to just go for it and make it happen. Like for us, there were so many reasons not to go, but I felt like this was something truly worth doing for our family.

It's been a great change of scenery for us and made us appreciate what we have in New Zealand all the more. We made daily videos of our travels – just three to five minutes each day – to share with our friends and family back home, and it will be great for our children to watch these in the future to remind them of how lucky they were to see so much of the world all in one go.

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