So many people have asked me what it’s like being back after the trip and I find it quite hard to explain. Maybe writing it down after a few months’ reflection will help quantify it. It might also help anyone thinking about taking a big break to make a decision on whether or not to do it. Although if that’s you, I’ll save you a five-minute read: just do it.
One of the most obvious things I feel is a sense of melancholy that we aren’t on our trip anymore – just plain missing it really. When I hear a song we listened to a lot on the trip (Graceland by Paul Simon in particular) or when I remember a moment from the trip when I’m in the loos at work (confined space is a trigger), my gut wrenches and I’d give anything to be back in the van cruising along Big Sur.
However, even though I have those moments, for the most part I have really enjoyed being back at home. I love being in our actual house and have spent a fair bit on lampshades in the past few months. The need to invest in your permanent environment is a definite result of having not had a permanent environment for a long time. And it’s nice to have friends again (remember when we didn’t have any friends?)
It’s actually been really easy to slot back in to our daily life like we never left. Humans are creatures of habit – I go about my business exactly as I always did: I cycle the same route to work, I buy the same brands in the supermarket and I cook the same weekday meals I did before we left. I still like the same people, read the same sorts of things.
Gosh it sounds like all that travel has made me very dull, which means it surely missed the point? When I think about why I feel so calm and happy to return to our life is because the best things about the whole trip are still here, only in a new and improved format – our family. All that time squashed up in the van together could have made us or broken us. And it definitely made us. There is nowhere to hide in such close quarters. In normal life, problems can remain unsolved for months or years because you are so busy with other stuff that they can become entrenched and unsolvable. Not so in a campervan. It’s also a luxury to have all that time not working and talking and thinking about other things instead. Mr. Hotford and I spent a lot of time towards the end of the trip talking about what we wanted our lives to be like and things we wanted to change when we came back. It was mostly little things like; “I’d like the house to be tidier” and “Let’s not pack out our weekends with back-to-back plans so we can have more family time” and “I’d prefer it if you didn’t steal my socks”. It sounds easy, but in day-to-day life it can be hard to get perspective or distance enough to identify the things that you want to be different, let along muster up the time and energy to talk about them.
I also worried a lot about taking M out of school, but I needn’t have. She is happier and more confident than ever in the school environment. Perhaps it would have come with being six months older anyway, but I do think spending all that time with her parents has been hugely beneficial to her. She got her report at the end of the year and although she’s a bit behind in maths (we spent six months on money and time as suggested by her teacher, who must have forgotten she said that and decided on measuring and algebra instead) but apart from that she’s exactly where she should be, even a bit ahead in some stuff.
I think that’s where the main feeling I have about the trip comes in: pride. I’m so proud that even though there were many things that seemed too hard and could have stopped us doing this trip: “What if we can’t rent the house out?” “What about the cats?” “What if work say no?” “What if the kids fall behind?” “What if we lose the childcare place?” etc, etc, we did it anyway and are so much richer for it. Well, richer inside. Less rich in the bank balance department.
There are a few things that went less well on our return (aside from having no money). We did lose the childcare place for a while and poor A. Hotford had to go to “Kool Kidz”, a new centre that had plenty of available places. A childcare centre located in the middle of pram-central with places mid-year is likely to have a few flaws but to A. Hotford, it was almost intolerable “I don’t want to go to Kool Kids!” she wailed every Monday and Friday. “Why not?” We’d ask, our stomachs twisting with guilt and worry about what could be so bad. “Because it has a silly name!” How very true. But that’s over now, and our Kool Kid will be back where she belongs in a few weeks in her old centre, for her final year before school.
I also have a few personal gains to note (apart from a couple of kilos thanks to eating all the puddings and drinking all the gin in England). One was re-connecting with friends and family – spending quality time with some of my most favourite people (you know who you are) was soul-fodder. Another gain (and it sounds wanky, so bear with) is that I am more able to notice how I’m feeling and observe it and act on it than I was before. Taking time out from normal life makes you realise the things in your normal life that are not actually that normal. I had got to the point where I couldn’t read news headlines without tears welling up. I now recognise that happens when I’m too stressed at work and it’s time to give myself a break.
It’s funny that all the things I’m talking about are things other than all the amazing things we saw and the things we did. Of course those things were brilliant and the memories are stored up top forever. And also in this book that we made for the kids for Christmas:
I know this book will become their memories of the trip like how most early childhood memories are often of photos.
The pics I like best are ones of us or the kids looking really happy and relaxed no matter where we are. So here’s my parting shot – one of me and Mr. Hotford, perfectly chillaxed on Miami beach:
We can always refer back to this one if Hotford harmony is threatened should I find myself returning to my old sock-stealing ways.