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- 2 Feb 15

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hand in your notice and trade it all in for simpler times and sunnier climes? To jack it all in and stop trying to do it all, be it all and have it all. To live life in flip-flops, to press pause on your normal life and to travel the world.

We did. For years, we talked about taking time out and heading off on the mother of all trips with our little ones in tow. We’d while away our evenings poking about on the internet; drooling over idyllic destinations and dreaming about how we would finally have the time and freedom to live the life we wanted.

One day, we’d give up the 9-5, the impossible mad dash to get everyone out of the house, the Northern Line commute and the grey English weather. We’d leave behind the constant juggles of work and childcare. We’d stop buying yet more crap we don’t need and we’d actually spend more time with our daughters than they did with the childminder.

One day, we would have a simpler life. We’d enjoy sunshine and time together. We’d swap shovelling spoonfuls of Weetabix for long leisurely breakfasts. Instead of being chained to our desks, we would swim, wear flip-flops and watch sunsets. We’d have freedom and choices. We would be happier, kinder parents who laughed more and shouted less.

One day, we realised that whilst we (well actually me) continued to make excuses about logistics, timings and a whole host of other imagined barriers there was a risk that life was passing us by. Before you know it we’ll be old and grey, wondering where our life has gone… wondering why we didn’t see the world and how much of our lives we wasted waiting for the freedom to do it. Holding out till retirement was simply not an option; having lost my beautiful, courageous Mum to cancer in her mid-forties, who knows what’s in store for any of us.

So that evening we put our two blissfully unaware daughters to bed; got drunk, got brave and took the leap. We did the most exciting yet terrifying thing we have ever done and booked four one-way tickets to Jakarta.

To say we “took the leap” makes it sound all sudden, spontaneous and terribly glamorous. As if we just grabbed a suitcase each and trounced off to the airport. That couldn’t be further from the truth, there was an epic amount of planning, preparation and a fair bit of huffing and puffing along the way to make it happen.

Each morning saw a steady increment in my adrenaline levels as departure date drew closer. Because I’m systematically organised (i.e insane) I had a bazillion, crossed referenced, colour-coded spreadsheets on the go. The logistics of quitting your job, packing up your life and preparing a family of four to depart needs a lot of lists.

Then there was the guilt. With “list-gate” growing daily, I wrestled bewildered Millie into her cot for “controlled napping” and my childcare of Jessica consisted of plonking her in front of CBeebies and passing her chocolate biscuits. I muttered about beaches, ice creams and monkeys and how I’d make it up to them soon.

We dreaded breaking the news to friends and family. As it turns out we had nothing to fear. Our nearest and dearest were our biggest supporters – greeting our plans with enthusiasm and positivity. Their unfaltering belief in us was a huge boost when we questioning our sanity on a daily basis.

Change is scary; there is no doubt it takes courage to venture into the unknown. There were days I nearly puked with nerves imagining all the bad things that might happen. Were we crazy to throw away our security and everything we had worked so hard for? Putting our careers on ice, renting out our lovingly renovated home, uprooting our daughters and leaving behind our precious friends and family. Was it safe/fair/wildly irresponsible (delete as appropriate) to drag two tiny girls off backpacking to the other side of the world. But we held our nerve and the support of everyone around us gave us the courage to believe in our choices.

I think a lot of people assumed we’d secretly won the lottery – how else could we afford to jack it all in and nick off travelling. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one of those big bendy cheques from the lovely people at Camelot. Instead, we made a plan, worked hard and saved even harder to make it reality. It also boiled down to some simple arithmetics – rent out house in hugely expensive London and use funds to be full-time parents in exotic (ahem cheap) locations around the world.

So here we are almost a year into our adventures – was it worth it? Absolutely, resoundingly, 100% yes. Our mother of all trips has so far seen us travel through some of the world’s most beautiful places; Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and Vietnam. This year our bucket list includes the Philippines, Seychelles, Greece and much-anticipated trip back to London in the summer – it’s true there’s no place like home. After that, who knows, but we don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

The rewards, of travelling with kids, are huge. We have freedom and are lucky enough to choose every day how we want to spend our time together. The girls are becoming proper little explorers; adventurous, curious, funny and brave. I love seeing the world through their eyes and how they enthusiastically soak up all the cultures, sounds, sights and smells around them.

We live in each other pockets and are learning together that home is not a place but a feeling. We sometimes drive each other slightly bonkers but are closer than we have ever been and are making memories to last a lifetime. There are some days I think I am the luckiest person that ever lived.

Funnily enough, the most memorable moments aren’t the iconic sights, the epic journeys or even the breathtakingly beautiful places. Instead, they’re the times where we’re absolutely in the moment. The days we know without a doubt we’d made the right decision to do this. The bits where we pinch ourselves to make sure we remember it forever. They’re always the simplest things – bucket and spade days at the beach, settling in for a frosty beer at sunset.

It’s not always like this. Some days it’s frustrating, tiring, challenging and bloomin’ hard work. There is shouting, tantrums and tears (and that’s just me). No matter how easygoing you are or think you are, there are times when spending 24/7 with your family, in confined spaces, for days on end will make you go slightly gaga.

But, for all the small sacrifices there are huge wins. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m more relaxed, more resourceful and definitely more open-minded. I worry less and enjoy more. I’ve ditched the spreadsheets and am adjusting to the unpredictability and chaos of life on the road. Most days I laugh more and shout less. I’m living my life on my terms and doing what I love. I’ve also learnt to stop buying crap I don’t need and that things don’t mean happiness.

The perfect time to travel will never magically appear. There will always be a long list of practical and utterly logical reasons why it may not be a good idea. The secret is not to overthink it. There is no doubt packing up your home, quitting your job and leaving everything behind is a gigantic decision. It’s perfectly okay and normal to feel daunted. But once we’d packed our bags and boarded the plane it felt like the most obvious decision we’d ever made.

So if you’re dreaming about sunnier climes and simpler times just go for it. You could spend your whole life waiting for the perfect time, the right age, the correct bank balance. Or you could go for it. Grab life with both hands. Do what you love. Do what makes you happy, even if sometimes it means taking risks. The only thing that really matters in life is spending time with the people you love, making brilliant memories together.

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Catherine Toms

After almost two decades (gulp) in advertising, Catherine was on her second maternity leave when she had the maddest, scariest and, as it turns out, greatest idea ever. To jack it all in and go travelling. In April 2014 the family of four packed up their lives and left London to embark on an open-ended trip of a lifetime. Mother to Jessica (4) and Millie (18 months) she blogs about their adventures and the highs and lows of this family travel malarky at Curious Plan. www.curiousplan.com

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