Saying yes to backpacking with kids

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Saying yes to backpacking with kids

Travelling with kids is arguably a little harder than the freedom many of us are used to as young adults, but Jen Williams decided not to let her two young’uns become a barrier, and packed their bags to go chase a far off dream.

Back in our twenties, we both (separately) did the whole backpacking thing  - no ties, no planning ahead, beers at breakfast time, tiny rucksacks, partying until the sun came up – and we had a brilliant time! Since then, we’ve lived overseas and travelled a decent amount for work but I’ve always kind of dreamt of packing it all in and going backpacking again for a while. However, living just outside London in full on suburbia and having a three year old made that seem a bit of a distant possibility!

And then I got pregnant again and maternity leave loomed in the future – a time which I did enjoy the first time but also perhaps found a tiny weeny bit mind numbingly boring. Babies really don’t do very much and, whilst they’re very cute, days can definitely drag in the feed, wind, sleep, play routine (I’m not even sure if that’s the order it’s meant to be to be honest, something like that!)  That’s when an idea started to hatch – Sam, our then two year old, was not yet in school and babies are pretty mobile – could we perhaps pack all of their stuff into a backpack and disappear across the world on an adventure? How would we afford it? Would we cope? Would the kids cope? Was it safe? Were we mad?

Well, here we are! I’m writing this from Hoi An in Vietnam with our three year old and seven month old - half way through our trip and our third country to date. We arrived in Hoi An from Mui Ne on the night train yesterday and have spent the day dodging motorbikes as we explored the old town before heading to a traditional puppet show which both kids were enthralled by. Next country will probably be Indonesia or possibly Myanmar – we aren’t planning ahead very far.

So, how have we made this happen and what tips do we have for any other parents wanting to go off on an adventure with their babies/kids? I’ve tried to think about some of the key questions that we had before setting off and that we now have some vague answers to!

Jen holds her baby next to the sea

Jen holds her baby next to the sea

1.     How are we affording it all?

We were lucky in that we both managed to get some  (at least partially) paid parental leave that we could take at the same time. We also managed to rent out our house for 5 months through Facebook to a local family who needed some short term accommodation – this was key to making the trip happen as monthly mortgage payments would have made it impossible. Renting out the house was actually super easy – we left it furnished, we found a draft contract online, we told our mortgage provider, redirected our post and that was pretty much it! Flight cost wise, we managed to get super cheap flights in the January sales to Australia via Singapore – with the stop over in Singapore being 6 weeks long! From there, short haul flights to the rest of South East Asia are super cheap (Ryanair esque) making the travel side of things much more affordable than originally envisaged. We knew Australia would be the expensive part but we’re extremely lucky to have friends and family there who could help us out and put us up, and we lived on a diet of picnics and cans of beer from the local bottle shop! As I’m still largely breastfeeding, the baby side of things didn’t cost too much either. We are excited as we move into South East Asia to realise that we can find accommodation for £20 per night and noodles from street vendors for a couple of pounds. We’ve managed to convince the three year old to like fried rice so he’s being fed if not in the healthiest of ways! We’ve also cracked the travel side of things by taking super cheap night trains up the country which also mean we save on a night of accommodation each time.

Travelling with kid involves some packing, and then carrying when the little feet get tired

Travelling with kid involves some packing, and then carrying when the little feet get tired

2.     How do you pack enough for two adults and two children in 3 backpacks?!

Well, it’s super hard! Our bags are literally bursting at the seams and trying to get everything in before a flight/train/boat feels completely impossible – especially as we acquire random toys and buckets and spades along the way! But we’re somehow doing it. We have a blow up mattress for our toddler and a LittleLife tent contraption for the baby (which has been amazing) – and they both actually sleep in them so that’s been a huge relief! We have one car seat and one travel vest, one play mat/tent thing, a portable high chair and one tiny bag of the most precious toys that couldn’t possibly be left behind. We still struggle to be very mobile though to be honest – 3 big bags, a car seat, a baby change bag , a travel cot tent and two little rucksacks don’t exactly mean we’re travelling light. BUT we can, between us, carry it all and move down the road as a unit between train stations, looking for hotels/Airbnbs etc if we absolutely have to. The biggest challenge has been getting us and all of our bags on and off the Vietnamese trains when they stop for a brief time at the station – lifting the kids up the steep steps, throwing the bags on after them and then manoeuvring down narrow train corridors whilst the train lurches from side to side!

3-year old Sam walks along a narrow path with mountains in the distance

3-year old Sam walks along a narrow path with mountains in the distance

 

3.     How is travelling with kids different to backpacking on your own?

 This one is kind of obvious! All the stuff is the main one – I do miss having just one small backpack and perhaps a tent flung over my shoulder, rather than resembling a packhorse as we move from place to place. We have had taxis refuse to take us because of the amount of stuff until we’ve stubbornly insisted and squeezed the car to the rafters with determination. The other key difference is you just can’t go with the flow. You can’t just eat when you stumble across somewhere; you can’t spontaneously decide to sit at a beach bar for a few beers; you can’t rock up in a new town and just wander around looking for a hostel bed. You have to PLAN. And it seems every evening, once the kids are in bed (we can’t stay out drinking as we did back in the day!), we sit in whatever room we’re in with a tiny torch so as not to wake them up, and google about train times, accommodation options, shops etc. We can’t take buses/coaches on long journeys due to safety with car seats etc so we’re booking trains ahead of time; we need to make packed lunches before we set off each day in case we can’t find any shops or cafes; we miss out places without electricity because we want to be able to sterilise dummies/bottles and plug in our baby monitor; we always know the sunset time so we don’t get stranded in the dark during a rainforest walk, halfway up a hill or in a dodgy part of town; and we pack at least three changes of clothes every time we leave the house in case of toilet accidents, vomiting, rain, food spillages etc etc!. There’s a lot of admin involved in travelling with kids! Also, crossing roads and dealing with taxis with kids is definitely more anxiety inducing – we’re having to get out of taxis without seatbelts because we can’t strap our baby car seat in and some of the driving we’ve experienced means we feel this is pretty much essential. Finally, from a health side of things, we’re being super careful about antiseptic handwash, sterilising of spoons and bottles, and insect repellent as dengue fever is big in Vietnam and is something that makes me pretty anxious.

Young Sam enjoys the raised verandah in front of shipping container accommodation.

Young Sam enjoys the raised verandah in front of shipping container accommodation.

4.     Finally, how are the kids coping?

Well, it seems backpacking with a baby is actually pretty easy! Our baby is delighted to be in his carrier on my front looking at the world around him. He loves all of the  many, many random people that come up to admire him  and take photos, smiling away with no fear whatsoever – he seems to be something of a celebrity in Vietnam! He loves the beach and the sea and, amazingly, seems to sleep MUCH better without a routine and even on a night train (we use a blow up airbed wedged next to the bed to make a sort of cot contraption and then I sit up all night to check he’s ok and not rolling off!).  In the UK,  I spent the first few months after he was born with severe post-natal anxiety and I was destroying myself trying to get nap times and feed times exactly right and using ‘controlled crying’ techniques etc – but, since we’ve been away, he’s almost entirely stopped napping because he’s so excited during the day and then seems to crash out brilliantly at night (I don’t want to speak too soon about this!).  I do think he might end up developing slightly more slowly because he doesn’t have as much time on a play mat and in a jumperoo etc to practise crawling and standing, but I figure that the sensory overload of the trip will be helping him to develop in other ways so I’m not too worried.

Sam, our three year old, was the one I was worried about. He has a lovely group of little friends at home, both in nursery and through baby classes, and he’s pretty attached to them. He’s also completely in love with our dog, his grandparents and our little house. We did a lot of work to prepare for the trip. We watched films and TV shows about travelling (GoJetters, Thomas the Tank Engine Big World Big Adventures etc) and showed him the places we were going on maps and on YouTube. We told him that people were coming to look after our house and our dog was going on an exciting holiday to my parents’ house – and we made sure we emphasised that we would definitely be coming home again.

I was still a bit worried though about the break in routine and the instability he might feel moving from place to place every couple of days. But he has coped marvellously. I mean, he clearly hugely misses his friends and basically chases random kids around playgrounds to try to chat and play with them – which is generally cute but a little bit heartbreaking if he gets ignored – and, every now and again, he  has a little moan and says ‘I just really want to stroke Boda’. But, other than that, he really has loved almost every second. He’s coped incredibly well with only about 5 toys because he’s out every day exploring, studying maps, climbing up to look out points, spotting wildlife, riding on long boats, exploring crazy motorbike filled streets, taking night trains, eating ice cream, watching sunsets and going to bed far later than he really should be. He is wonder at the world around him every single day. He has hugely enriched the experience for us by noticing things that we would simply overlook – birds singing, tiny flowers along our paths, funny shaped clouds in the sky, footprints on the sand. Seeing these amazing countries through a toddler’s eyes just makes it all the more magical and this quality time spent with him is something I’m so grateful to have and will treasure forever.

So, if you are lucky to have the opportunity to go off backpacking with your kids, for one week or a few months,  we very much recommend saying yes! It has  been such an enriching experience both for our children and us and has given a very different, yet welcome, perspective of the incredible planet we get to call home.

Jen Blog 1.jpg

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Founder's Blog: #bethebird

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Founder's Blog: #bethebird

A seagull sits atop a sign, a sign showing a red line through a silhouette of a seagull, which happens to be facing exactly the same way as the real-life bird sitting on it.

A seagull sits atop a sign, a sign showing a red line through a silhouette of a seagull, which happens to be facing exactly the same way as the real-life bird sitting on it.

If there's a photo that sums up the idea behind the YesTribe it's this!

Originally it was shared by Avani, one of the team at Facebook looking after this year's Community Leadership Fellows. She said,

"This bird is really inspiring me today. I've been reflecting a lot on the journey with you all - watching you lead, deal with the craziness of the world, your communities and sometimes your lives.

Then I watched a talk by Seth Godin about building tribes and I realized a large part of your work is sitting like this bird, pretty much openly flaunting some "rules" made by some authority - to not do exactly what you are doing to make the world better by connecting people.

I won't be over philosophical here. I love you all for being this bird. This bird is cool."

--

For me, SayYesMore has always been an idea that helps me ignore the self-set or ingrained rules in my head, a reminder that it's ok to do something that other people might think is wrong, it's ok not to look for guidance and safety before we land, it's thoroughly encouraged to ignore (or even poo on) the silly, restrictive rules that are there for the plonkerish of reasons (ie. I can put a sign there, so I will).

I'd like to think you're all here because you recognise that life isn't transactional and that every single day you bosh down some barrier that someone else thoughtlessly put in your way, led by a sense that the other side has a lesson, or a new friend, or maybe just a cool place to camp for the night.

It's mental health week this week, but let's keep up the conversation all the time. Remember that if your mind can be the bird that doesn't care and the bird that isn't influenced by rules or thrown stones or even the sharp edge of the surface it happens to arrive at, then your mental health will be in a pretty good place.

You're awesome, regardless of what they say and even what you think sometimes. You're the cool bird living life your way.

#bethebird

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Advocating for Adventure in the Everyday

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Advocating for Adventure in the Everyday

I need to make a confession: until yesterday I do not think I really understood the word ‘adventure’. It’s quite embarrassing really. I call myself an Adventure Advocate. I produce a podcast called Seize Your Adventure. I ask all of my guests what ‘adventure’ means to them. And yet, when people ask me what adventure is, and more importantly how to have one, I could not quite get the explanation right.


You see, the word ‘adventure’ is like the word ‘love’. It is a poor signifier of a feeling that is difficult to explain. I have heard it described by multiple people in similar but differing ways. “Adventure is a mindset… it makes you feel all the emotions… it feeds your soul…it’s uncomfortable but worth it”. None of these description are wrong. If you know adventure, you know exactly what they mean. But how do you describe adventure to those who do not have it? How do you advocate for something so intangible?

The first time I remember feeling adventure, I was seven years old. My family went on the first of many holidays to Snowdonia. We drove across the country from our home in the South. My mum and dad would share the long drive and my older sister and me would sit in the back with our rescue dog between us. The day of travelling was filled with cassette tapes and car games, and the landscapes outside the car windows became increasingly unknown. It was a holiday in Britain - my own country - and yet we crossed over a border that bought a new language into my life for the first time.  I remember us giggling at the Welsh word ARAF, teasing the dog with the bark-like word for SLOW.  We walked into slate mines and rode trains along the coast. The day we walked up Snowdon, we stepped into the cloud and I never reached the top because I was too scared of the wind and rain. It was the epitome of a family adventure holiday. 

Red dragon mascot sits on wet, mossy rocks in a foggy mountain landscape in Snowdonia.

Red dragon mascot sits on wet, mossy rocks in a foggy mountain landscape in Snowdonia.

Since then, I have felt adventure many times: when I’ve stood on glaciers; when I’ve navigated Spanish streets; when I’ve pushed my body to keep walking in the hope of a bed. Yesterday, I felt adventure again. It might not have looked like much from the outside. It was a simple walk through the parks and commons near my house. There was no terrifying weather. I was not walking across a foreign country. I came home for lunch. So what made it adventurous?

It was the fact that I put myself into a situation that invited the unexpected. I did not plan my path (I rarely do) but instead took tangents where I felt like it (the confines of the common kept me safe!). I stopped to watch a robin trilling his song on top of a post. I was surprised by the spider that had taken a seat on my water bottle. I giggled at the charcoal burner that had the name ‘Norman’ embossed on the side and wondered if all charcoal burners have names. And best of all, I found myself far enough away from the bank holiday crowds that I surprised a doe on my path and had a frozen moment of mutual acknowledgement before she bounded off into the bushes. 

A black SayYesMore water bottle slants across half the photo, the other half is a blurry white and green spring landscape

A black SayYesMore water bottle slants across half the photo, the other half is a blurry white and green spring landscape

As I enjoyed this feeling of adventure just miles from my own home, I thought about how to capture the feeling and explain to others how they can find it themselves. And the easiest suggestion I have to is take yourself away from human-made comfort and out into uncontrollable nature. When you do that, you put yourself in situations where the unexpected will occur. You open yourself up to adventure.

And like love, you’ll know it when you find it.   

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How to Host a Wild Camp for Wake Up Wild

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How to Host a Wild Camp for Wake Up Wild

This blog is primarily for anyone who would like to lead a wild camp for the YesTribe. In 2019 the YesTribe has committed to hosting 100 free (or nearly free, in the case of a site charging for places) wild camps around the UK, as part of a campaign called Wake Up Wild. We’re also raising funds for a charity called Tree Aid, because we really like trees.

This is a simple step-by-step guide to hosting a campout. These steps are written assuming you’re a comfortable wild camper already, and are happy to lead and welcome a crew of people - many of whom you won’t know. If you’d like a little training before hosting your camp, then be sure to drop us a line and then attend an existing wild camp. Shadowing someone else is the best way to learn.

Ok, so assuming you’re ready to go, here’s what to do:

1) Decide on the location of your camp. If you’re not sure where to host a camp, or if you’d like some suggestions, drop Team Yes a line.

Setting up an event on Facebook

Setting up an event on Facebook

2) Set up an event on the Wake Up Wild Facebook page. Events > + Create Event > then fill in the details, ideally copying and pasting the main body of text from a previous Wake Up Wild camp and substituting your specific location and meet-up details.

The rule of thumb for organising these campouts is to make the camp as simple and easy to attend for everyone, experienced and beginner campouts alike. It’s ensure more people come along, and will also keep your admin workload down because folks ask fewer questions when they’re given all details up front.

3) Ensure the Event Name begins with ‘YesTribe Wild Camp at"‘ and then add the location or region afterwards.

The key details to enter into a Facebook event

The key details to enter into a Facebook event

4) Add ‘Wake Up Wild’ as a co-host

5) Ensure your event timings match the meet-up time you’ve scheduled for the start. Home-time the next morning is up to you, it might be a school morning so everyone will disappear fast, or a more loungy weekend. People are free to leave when they like, but put the End time as the time that YOU want to head out.

6) Feel free to leave the ‘details’ field clear.

7) Add this Justgiving link to the Tickets field: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wakeupwild2019

Enter the justgiving link for Wake Up Wild and Tree Aid into the Tickets field

Enter the justgiving link for Wake Up Wild and Tree Aid into the Tickets field

8) Finally, ensure that this text is towards the top of the description (in case you wrote your own or copied from an event that didn’t already have it:

We don’t ask for any payment for these wild camps, it’s essentially a group of folks who like camping meeting up with other people who like camping! You just need to organise your own kit (feel free to ask for help/spares on the event page) and get yourself to the camp. Please remember you come along at your own risk, nature is wonderful but there are trip hazards sometimes.

If you’d like to say thanks we’ve got a couple of options - donate to Tree Aid, the Wake Up Wild charity partner @ www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wakeupwild2019 and/or give a pound or two to your camp leader to cover their expenses and admin time. They’re very nice people who host campouts out of the goodness of their heart :)

9) Once your event is live let the team know by posting it here. This way they can ensure it’s shared on the SayYesMore calendar, newsletter and Facebook pages/groups.

10) The Build-Up: Keep an eye on your event in case people ask questions. Remember that people sometimes click ‘interested’ or ‘going’ and then won’t turn up, so keep an open mind on attendance.

11) The day before a camp out it’s always nice to post an update, encouraging folks to sign up and remind them that it’s still happening. (When you create the event try to make it habit to set a reminder in your personal calendar to write this pre-camp post). Be friendly and open and kind and you’ll set the culture for the event in real life. It’s also a good time to remind them about social media posts. Social media is a great way to get other people interested in wild camps, and this is a really nice use of social media as well.

Here’s a bit of text to copy/paste the day before a camp. Feel free to add your own flavour :)

Hello everyone! The campout tomorrow is still on! The weather is looking (FILL IN THE BLANK HERE!) and I’m excited to spend a night outside with you. Please do post on social media about your experience before and after the event and remember to tag @theyestribe and #wakeupwild and #sayyesmore if there’s space. If you’d like to film your experience of preparing for, travelling to and enjoying the campout, we would love to add your footage to a film we’re making as we go. Send for free to events@wakeupwild.co.uk on wetransfer.com.

[Image: A screenshot of the weather app is a nice image to share here, especially if it’s sunny! If it’s rainy, maybe just a picture of a smiley person outside! The Upsplash website is a good place to get copyright-free photos]

11) Depending on the meet-up and location (ie. if the camp is a hard place to find unless you guide people) you might want to share your phone number on the event. You do not have to do this, it’s totally up to you.

12) Event time: It’s over to you now. Have a great time, look after people, perhaps start the camp by getting everyone in a circle and doing a painless introduction (ask each person to spend no more than 20 seconds sharing their name, why they came along to the camp, and something different, like the best thing that happened to them that week, or a cool fact that nobody else would know!).

13) Make sure you take a group photo before it gets too dark (or if it’s dark already, do a headlight campfire photo!). Remember to pack a little tripod for this, they’re very handy and to take a few nice photos showing the group, the approach to the camp and the site itself. Then send for free to events@sayyesmore.com (use wetransfer.com if files are big). We love archiving photos of YesTribe wild camps!

A group of people on a wild camp surrounding a pile of headtorches on the ground, which look a bit like a campfire!

A group of people on a wild camp surrounding a pile of headtorches on the ground, which look a bit like a campfire!

Finally, thank you. We think it’s important to get outside with good people, and the more wild camps you put on the more opportunity folks will have. You’re brilliant, and we’re here to support you so please, if you ever have a question or ten, say hi.

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This is very ambitious, but here goes

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This is very ambitious, but here goes

This is an account of social media fulfilling its potential to do good in the world, at a time when that message is especially important. By Chris Lee.

Early in March I left my prized Alpkit sleeping bag - the one that kept me warm while cycling across Canada - on a train bound for Newcastle.

alpkit bag.jpeg

I'd thought it was a train bound for York until we'd been sitting in York station for about thirty seconds. The next three seconds involved me realising the train was about to move; that if it did I'd miss my important and imminent meeting; and that I had to get myself and my stuff out of the train sharpish.

The sleeping bag was mistakenly abandoned in the frantic fluster that followed.

"Bugger", I thought, when I noticed its absence after the train departed. Bound, irretrievably, for Newcastle.

I asked the platform attendant where to report lost luggage. "Try the ticket office", she offered.

I asked the ticket office if I could report lost luggage. "Try the kiosk", they countered. "We're LNER, you need TransPennine". The first allusion to the multi-company rigmarole I was about to encounter.

I asked the kiosk if I could report lost luggage. "Sure. What was it? What did it look like? Which train? Where did you get on? Which coach? Which seat?" They noted everything down in a book, and told me to wait for a call.

Which I did, all morning. The prescribed time came and went, while images of my suspicious sleeping bag package being detonated by The British Transport Police filled my mind. "See it. Say it. Sorted."

I took to Twitter in an attempt to expedite things. LNER put me in touch with TransPennine, because they operated the train I'd been on. TransPennine put me back in touch with LNER, because they manage the station at Newcastle. LNER put me in touch with Northern, because they manage Manchester Victoria where I'd joined the service.

By the end of this I had the call sign of the train when I'd been on board, it's new call sign, it's current location, and various other bits of information. But no further information on the location of my sleeping bag.

Then, later in the afternoon as I was beginning to abandon hope: "Chris, great news! We've got it! I've just spoken to the conductor and he's now back in Newcastle so it must have been on a trip today!"

chris-yang-746390-unsplash.jpg

I was elated. Getting it home from Newcastle was the next logistical challenge, preferably without me having to go and collect it in person: A return ticket to Newcastle from home costs about the same as the sleeping bag did new.

So this time I took to Facebook, and more specifically to The Yes Tribe: An excellent bunch of people with the tagline "where strangers are just friends waiting to happen".

"This is very ambitious", I typed. "But here goes."

I wrote a post recounting the spiel above, then asked if anyone living near the station could pick it up and send it down to me. "I will of course pay for the postage and add the price of two pints (or equivalent treat) for your troubles."

The silence I expected was short-lived. "I have a friend who will be passing through Newcastle late tomorrow evening so could potentially pick it up?" "I can pick it up on Wednesday / Thursday if you’ve not found anyone yet." "I'm going to Newcastle next weekend so can if no one has got it by Saturday!"

The offers poured in. Seven people, formerly strangers, all willing to go out of their way to help. A few days later the postman handed me my sleeping bag, safe and sound.

The YesTribe was founded in 2015 by Dave Cornthwaite, who by then had spent a decade being led by a personal motto, ‘say yes more’. Dave dropped me a line after seeing the sleeping bag post and was delighted to hear it had been returned safely. Dave said, “If there was ever a vision for the YesTribe, it would be that its members were mirrors of those trail or river angels who once helped me, a stranger, when I momentarily passed through their lives in the midst of a personal adventure. My belief in humanity was refreshed at each encounter, and now The YesTribe has blossomed into a community that puts kindness and decency first, whether in the midst of an exciting adventure, or the hardest times in life, or like this, a little moment where making someone’s day depends entirely on you willingly offering a few minutes of your day to help someone you’ve never met before.

“It should be noted that Graham, the YesTriber who helped return the sleeping bag to you, got in touch and said he’d like to donate the postage fee you’re sending him to the YesTribe. We’ll gladly put it towards a fund to buy a sleeping bag for someone who wants to go camping, but can’t afford the gear”

If you want to find out more, follow the YesTribe on Facebook and Instagram and visit the SayYesMore website.

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