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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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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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YesTribe In Mind

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YesTribe In Mind

So it’s day 55 on my 1250 mile solo running adventure from Rome to London. Yesterday I’d just completed the biggest running day of my life – a mammoth 54 mile day to arrive in Paris in style. I wake up and (don’t judge me) wolf down the most-calorific McDonald’s breakfast I could stomach before making my way over to the Eiffel Tower.

Besides climbing out of Rome on the 25th of August, the 5 days crossing the Alps and dropping down to Montreux which took my breath away, this was to be another landmark moment on this ‘mental adventure’ I’d never forget. But for one reason I could never have written.

I take the customary selfies on ground level, I grab my ticket, I join the queue (with heightened senses hoping I didn’t pong too much given that it at been a few days since checking in at a laundrette), I grab the window spot in the lift to capture the majestic iron tapestry on the way up. We climb a level, then another, then another on foot, and there it was, the 360 view with a picture-perfect day across the whole of Paris. As if that wasn’t enough in itself to blow my mind at this stage having ran every step of the way here from the firkin Colosseum.

But get this. Most people would spend 30 minutes maybe 45 on average at the very top. This overly-enthusiastic adventure-runner however was going to soak up 120 minutes minimum, so I did, until the time came to head back down to Earth but not before recording my customary 90 seconds of film on my iPhone to capture the magic. Honestly, 90 seconds, 70 seconds of which I was free styling until 2 rock-stars roughly my age caught my eye off to the right.

I figured I should probably say “Hi” seeing as they seemed particularly interested in my monologue. So I stop filming, I make sure the footage saved before catching eyes and introducing myself. They do the same, they’re German, they’re super positive (and clearly a great match as a couple), I confirm exactly what I’m up to before they say, unbelievably, “Wow awesome! Have you heard of The YesTribe?”

#Whaaaaaaaaaat!

Image of Dan on the top of the Eiffel Tower with 2 friends

We’re talking a 90 second window where this coming together could have happened… at the top of the Eiffel Tower… a coming together of this British Yes-Triber with Maria & Raiko Müller, Tribe Leaders of The YesTribe Germany. You could not have written it and this just verified once again that I was being looked after out there, that something somewhere was looking out for me every step of the way and helping me bring this whole adventure to life with more colour & magic & warmth & love & generosity & high-spirits than I ever know possible.

But less of the reminiscing, let’s break this thing down.

In 2012 – after 6 months of my mood elevating - I lost my sanity and ended up preaching from the central lane of a major motorway in Italy. I’d gone from believing I was the next Mark Zuckerberg of the mental health world, to the next Steve Jobs, to The Chosen One who was put on the planet to show the world how to slow down and follow their hearts. This was only going to go one way. Then came the time in psychiatric wards, the diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder, then the 6 months of crippling depression where I simply wanted to take my own life. Not a great chapter.

With a humiliating turning point in a supermarket looking ahead to 2013 – with unreal love & support from friends, family and the pros – I stripped it all back, started again, nurtured a much healthier & simpler approach to life ridding myself of life’s excess to focus on what truly matters most, started sharing my story and then witnessing the magic on each occasion.

Every time I shared my story 1) I felt lighter as a result, 2) I started building an amazing Dream Team around me, many of you reading these words are very much included, and 3) the very best thing of all, every time I shared my story it gave huge permission to others to speak up about what they were going through. We’re talking 9 times out of 10. We’re talking unreal and heartfelt responses, so much so that now feeling much stronger & healthier both physically and mentally though 2014/15/16 I knew I had to do something with this.

I knew I had to create a huge platform to share my story on a national level given the reasons above. And what better way to do that than by returning to Italy but this time frikin running from the Colosseum in Rome back to the frikin London Eye. In the words of Lightning McQueen (huge fan) “Ka-Chow.”

Image of Dan standing with his back to the camera, in a very straight road looking into the distance- wearing a bunch of colourful balloons on his back pack

So where’s this going? Where this is going is (tracking back) to starting my research, planning my route, taking a look around to see if anyone had done this before, then connecting with the one and only Miss Laura Maisey who it turned out was running the almost exact-same running adventure the year ahead of me (2016), then being invited by Laura to come and witness the magic that was the end of Elise Downing’s 301-day 5000-mile running adventure around the UK in Greenwich Park where I was to meet (take a bow) Mr Dave Cornthwaite and this majestic thing called The YesTribe.

The Yes is history.

Between now and then I shared my story at Yestival 2016 (things may have gotten a little emotional), soaked up every second of Rome To Home as if I were living in an oil painting for 65 days straight, stepped in to this next chapter in my career as a professional speaker & mental health activist and, almost in parallel, launched #AREWEOKUK (the Red Bull of the mental health world) whilst taking on the huge opportunity of becoming a SayYesMore Ambassador.

Image of Dan speaking at Yestival 2018

So there’s your context and here’s why this… tribe… matters.

I have a vision. A vision as vivid as that day at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A vision that all 66.6 million people across the UK have the courage, the support and the safe space to speak up when we’re suffering, to feel empowered to speak up when we’re suffering so that together we can show future generations how it’s done. It’s a simple vision, one that I believe in my core can be achieved in my lifetime. And as I said to Dave when talking through the Ambassadorship, if I believe in someone, some thing or some community who’s playing their part to create the world I believe in, then I’m here to promote them, to evangelise them and ensure as many people across the UK know about them, of which The YesTribe is firmly at the top of the list.

What does this tribe offer beyond the world-class supportive network of ever-growing Yes’s? It offers courage, it offers support and it offers a safe space. Not just to share our next crazy-ass adventures and new ventures but also our doubts, our concerns, our fears, our vulnerabilities, our anxieties and our lived experiences, whatever we’ve been though, together as one.

And that, to sign off with Dream team, is why every single living soul on our beautiful little island and beyond should keep The YesTribe… firmly in mind.

With love, DK x

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Accidental Iceland- Part One

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Accidental Iceland- Part One

As all great adventures do, it started with a pint in the pub. In my case, this was a pint of lime soda as I’d had a long day working at a school and any amount of alcohol would have finished me off in seconds.

This was actually my first proper meeting with the YesTribe apart from the ambassador’s training weekend back in February. Up until Christmas, I was teaching at a school in Dorset and had never been able to make it to any of the meet ups, so now that I had the freedom to be out in the big city ON A SCHOOL NIGHT and meet some like-minded folk in Covent Garden, I grasped the opportunity straight away.

I’ve been generally blown away by how welcoming everyone is in the YesTribe and everyone was soon asking about where I had been for my daily adventure.

My adventure for the day had been a bit lame to be honest and involved me walking from London Bridge to Covent Garden after the tube station was suddenly shut and I got claustrophobic surrounded by so many people who weren't wearing any outdoor kit.

A photo of the list of tube stations Eastbound from Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line

So, what happens when you ask a table full of YesTribers what adventure to do that night. The ideas started rolling in, ranging from walking down the Thames and getting a boat back to visiting one of the city parks. I was on the verge of simply finding the nearest tree and climbing it so I could have an early night when the suggestions escalated wildly with the proposal of getting to an airport and spending the night partying in Ibiza (This may have been boss-man Dave’s idea).

A new type of adventure this may have been for me had I accepted, but I genuinely can’t think of anything I would less like to do for an evening than consuming cheap vodka from the bronzed body of mankini-clad male stripper. I was so relieved when fellow ambassador Tom Napper presented the idea of simply getting to the airport and picking the next available flight that I accepted the challenge before any more party destinations were mentioned. At least two people at the table had brought me a lime soda at this point and so it would be terribly rude not to now follow through. The game was on.

I was delighted when I extended the challenge to the table and Ian, who I had met about an hour earlier, discovered that he didn’t need to be in work until 10am the next morning. Downing our drinks we took a rapid selfie and said a hasty goodbye to the Tribe. Sprinting out of the pub, we headed in separate directions- Ian to swing via home to grab a bag and myself to make it back to my car in Golder’s Green to pick up my passport and then dash to Heathrow.

A very blurry selfie of SayYesMore YesTribe members Jen, Ian, Jenny, Tom and Dave in the pub before departure

Italy, Morocco, Scotland, South Africa... potential locations were reeling through my head at top speed. Where would it be possible to get a flight to at this time of night? Could I meet up with some of the foreign SayYesMore cohort in their home city? Would I survive on just the contents of my rucksack?

A tube ride, a two mile run and a cruise down the motorway later, I dumped the car in the nearest car park and sprinted into the departure terminal. I’d had a very quick look at the flights for the evening and knew that we might make it in time for the last flight to Ireland. As soon as I arrived, it wasn’t looking hopeful- the airport was deserted. My suspicions were confirmed by the final two staff left at the check-in desks who informed me that we had missed the last flight by half an hour.

A picture of Jen and Ian at the door of the departure terminal at Heathrow Airport

Catching my breath, Ian arrived from the train and I broke the news to him. We made the decision that despite the disappointment, we would still make the most of the evening and so picked the nearest green patch on Google Earth that wasn’t in the middle of a run-way to go and investigate.

Realising that neither of us had eaten dinner, the plan quickly changed to finding the nearest MacDonald’s to refuel and use the wifi. After a cheeseburger and getting kicked out at 11pm, we made our way to a local nature reserve behind a supermarket depot to bivvy out for the night (luckily I carry lots of spare kit in the car for work and so had plenty to lend to Ian!).

A photo of Jen and Ian in their sleeping bags bivvying in the woods

The plan for the morning was for me to drop Ian back at Heathrow so that he could make it back to work in time. It suddenly occurred to me, as I lay warm in my sleeping bag in the woods, that just because the plan had failed for the evening, it didn’t mean that an overseas adventure was completely lost. If I was going back to the airport to drop Ian off anyway, then surely I couldn’t waste the opportunity to still make it to foreign lands and back again before work in two days’ time?

Grabbing my phone, I got straight on Sky-Scanner. I had to make a decision as to where would be the furthest away, most interesting place to visit that wouldn’t jeopardise my career in the outdoor industry if my flight was delayed and failed to turn up to work on Saturday morning.

After a few thumb-scrolls, the perfect location appeared.

‘Book Flights Now’. I hovered over the button.

What did I have to lose?

I released the breath I hadn’t even realised I had been holding and pressed.

I was going to Iceland.

A screenshot of the Iceland Air booking conformation website page


Follow Jen’s trips on Instagram (@365daysofadventure2019)  or Facebook (@365DaysOfAdventure2019) and come and join me for a day!)

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Success through Failure

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Success through Failure

The only way to succeed is through failing


The fear of failure holds many of us back from working towards our dreams. A lot of people get too scared to start anything because we are subliminally thinking about what can go wrong. Jago Hartland explores why the fear of failing is a much bigger deal than it sounds: it is the biggest dream killer. 

As a teenager far from the model student, I feared failing more than most people. The idea of failing and being laughed at held me back from trying harder in my studies and all activities: heck! Don’t get me wrong, I still continued with some of my biggest passions in art and sports but I always held back believing that it was better to be average at something and not try than it was to try hard and fail. Popularity meant more to me than progressing on me. At fifteen years old I was presented with a life changing situation which was always going to leave an impact from then on. It took a bit of time, but after my diagnosis with cystic fibrosis, the weight of failure was lifted from my shoulders and it was simple- the things that should no longer matter to me, didn’t. 

An image of Jago in a hospital bed, holding his thumbs up, wearing an oxygen mask

An image of Jago in a hospital bed, holding his thumbs up, wearing an oxygen mask

It wasn’t as if I woke up one morning and wasn’t scared of failure - on the contrary, I have naturally always been alarmed by the idea of failing like all of us. The only difference after my diagnosis was that I realized how precious our time is and that doing what we love and reaching for our goals is one of the most central things in life that we can pursue. In the space of a year, I went from being a student destined for bad exam results and being expended for setting off fire alarms, fighting and getting in trouble, to getting full A’s and B’s and being commended in my efforts all over. What changed? My idea of failure changed.

That year of my life may seem insignificant compared to recent accomplishments however I learnt my most valuable lesson. In that year of exams and cultivating myself, I failed more times than I had in any other year of my life. But wait, how did I fail more if I succeeded and bettered myself? The path to success is through failure. Once I failed an exam, it meant that I’d then revise, learn and succeed at passing the exam, and so on and so on. After realising that failure was fundamental to progression I challenged myself in as many ways as possible. Sure enough, I failed and succeeded and failed and succeeded. 

An image of Jago sitting on a sofa at Yestival 2017 with 2 fellow YesTribers

An image of Jago sitting on a sofa at Yestival 2017 with 2 fellow YesTribers

An image of Jago and a group of friends in a beautiful mountain region (with lakes in the background)

An image of Jago and a group of friends in a beautiful mountain region (with lakes in the background)

An image of Jago at Yestival 2018 standing in front of the Say Yes More sign in the field of dreams

An image of Jago at Yestival 2018 standing in front of the Say Yes More sign in the field of dreams

After realizing that failing is a step forward, the last five years have been hugely rewarding due to hard work and facing challenges. Fronting my own health scares has prepared me to be resilient in the face of failure. After being given the title of one the ‘Independent’s Inspiring Individuals’ in the National Happy List 2018 I was asked repeatedly by people how I managed to avoid failure and succeed. I explained that my most proud accomplishment has been fundraising just under £10,000 towards different projects and charities. This has included over thirty seven different events with numbers of the public ranging from one to ninety.

Some of the most demoralising failures I have encountered came from those events, 6 of those events made me break even with costs and only a few people turned up and another 3 of those events put me at a loss of over £30 per event. It doesn’t sound like a huge financial failure however when you consider the large amount of hours in organising, publicity and administration with charities: it was surely demoralising trying to work towards helping others and going wide of the mark. By this point, most people are shocked that charity events can fail after putting time and money into a just cause. Without those failed events and learning from them for future events and persevering, I wouldn’t have fund-raised my targets and I most likely wouldn’t have continued on to make the Independent Happy List: one of my proudest achievements. Learning from these events is one of the simplest of ways to describe how failing has helped me grow - other than explaining to get up every time you get knocked down.

An image of Jago at the start of the Thames Path, holding a banner saying “Cystic Fibrosis- a fight we must win”

An image of Jago at the start of the Thames Path, holding a banner saying “Cystic Fibrosis- a fight we must win”

The reason I am writing about my experience of failure is for a more recent motive. In the past five years I have taken on a number of charity and personal challenges that has pushed me further physically and mentally than I could have imagined. My most recent challenge was to run the River Thames of 186 miles in 6 days whilst sleeping homeless.

The 1st of March 2019 rolled around to start the challenge and I was well trained and well rested after a recurring knee injury. The plan was to cover 30-35 miles per day, eat lots and sleep rough until reaching the Greenwich barrier in London. As the first day approached, I covered 34 miles in dry weather and had eaten plenty and found shelter under a boat nearby until starting again in the morning. The second day felt sore on my legs and the drizzle made the path incredibly wet and slippery. I had covered 27 miles before having to stop due to the toll it was taking on my body, and after eating I slept the night in the closest church nearby. It was at 11pm, when I was struggling to sleep because of my legs screaming at me in pain, that I realised this challenge may be more difficult than anything I had planned for. An agonising third morning followed reaching 75 miles in two and half days down the River Thames and limping the previous 6 miles for two hours. Whilst sipping a coffee in a waterside café in Benson I realised that this would be the first event in five years that I won’t complete. 

Failing the Thames Path- an image of Jago sat on bench with face in his hands

The main thoughts that raced through my mind which I couldn’t shut off from was thinking about cycling to Paris, climbing in the Himalayas, running mountains and marathons and believing that the River Thames was going to be easier in comparison. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear whilst taking an hour to massage my legs and make the decision to end the challenge. The worse part was that my mind was 100% there but I couldn’t physically cover more miles, later discovering I had done much more damage to my knee's than I initially believed.

Making the contact with my sister to come pick me up and then let the public know that I couldn’t continue the challenge felt like my most colossal failure. My sister Poppy said to me in the car ‘You are the only one who will be feeling this way, even the people who support you won’t care this much and would prefer you to be smart and look after yourself.’ I understood that any supporters would want me to look after myself and be smart but the thing that stood out to me was how much I cared about failing. The same person that started these challenges five years ago would have been angry at the fact I was beating myself up for not finishing. 

Somewhere along the line I forgot why I started. Remembering that you should do something because you love that thing rather than to only focus on the completion is imperative to your pleasure in that area. The Thames was beautiful and the experience was amazing but my set purpose was more interested in completing the challenge – I failed to remember I was doing what I loved. There are many things I could have prepared better including: the planned distance, the weight of my rucksack, the terrain covering and how sleeping homeless will affect my recovery. I failed to take these factors into serious consideration and got carried away with challenging myself. Looking back already, I am proud to say that I have succeeded in learning from my mistakes and succeeded in reminding myself to do it for me as that is most important. The plan is to continue to face my challenges with a new relaxed approach I have re-adopted towards failure, which is succeeding. 

There is no path in life that can keep you away from failing at something. J K Rowling, the famous children’s author once said: ‘“Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.’ I hope we all take away the stigma around failure and that it is in the only way to succeed. 

Jago Hartland

Image of Jago standing in mountains wearing orange jacket and smiling

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