“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
I’m sure all you avid travellers reading here can relate to Miriam Beard’s words. As far back as I can remember I’ve been changed by travel and adventure. I see it in my kids now; their ideas, play, artwork, resilience and adaptability. I can’t tell you how Myers-Briggs would classify my personality but I can tell you I was born with a gypsy soul. I’m prone to wandering and seeking new experiences. I have so many chapters left to write in this book of my life and I’m always led by intuition and heart. There is a wildness and freedom that I crave and even now with a family on board, I’m not prepared to let that go.
When the kids were younger we did the more traditional style of holiday – a week or two in a sunny location with a pool and a breakfast buffet or a summer of camping. Upon returning it was never long before we felt in need of another holiday. Then one day we had a wild idea. We decided to create a life we didn’t need a holiday from. Everyday life was where we needed the change, no more grind, more adventure, more quiet, more life.
Let’s face it, when you have kids, jobs and a mortgage it’s not easy to pack it all up and backpack around the world to escape! We (mostly me) followed one mantra ‘Choose Simplicity’. Simplifying, hiking more, stepping out of the ‘busy’, redefining what was ‘enough’, letting go of possessions, commitments and relationships that were not making us glow … in time, the craziest thing happened. We worked on creating our every day, beautiful life and in the process we decided to pack it all up (actually we sold and donated it all). Our family of 6 started living our wildest travel dream (one that early on seemed so beyond our reach). We embarked on an adventure.
Our adventure would see us try the ultimate in slow travel. The experience of living in a new place and becoming part of the community. First, landing in County Cork, Ireland where the relaxed pace of life, the kindness of the people, the beauty and wild ruggedness of the landscape still continues to inspire my daydreams. After three months in Ireland, we boarded the ferry to take a 5-month trip through France, Spain, Portugal and Italy in our campervan, affectionately dubbed ‘The Travelodge’.
Taking a trip like this was the stuff of dreams. Long days, time together, expansive skies, spectacular horizons, breakfast in camp chairs, wild swimming, siestas, space – so much delicious space (gosh the world is big and beautiful), new places, awe-inspiring sites and stories each day, friendships with each other and the chance to get to know my kids on a whole new level. It was also a time to evaluate and reflect on how we wanted our life to look.
The adventure continues and we are currently calling The Netherlands home. We ride bikes instead of owning a car, we shop locally, our pace is not rushed, we know our neighbours and we have the forest and the city within our grasp. Life continues to flow from the simplified, conscious life we have chosen to embrace. It is an everyday life, more aligned with our values, one we don’t need a holiday from – so long as we make good choices about how we use our time. Of course, we still travel, but we no longer travel to escape the grind but because travel calls us. Just as it always has for curiosity.
Of course, there are challenges in moving across the world. Friends, home, and career need to be re-established. In a way, everything about my identity is in question. Lucky I have learnt to not hold on too tightly to what was and I do have that secret weapon – my gypsy soul. I like the idea of creating something new. My family would probably say that I’m driven by change and the promise of adventure.
When we first landed in The Netherlands I had a classic dose of PALS (Post Adventure Letdown Syndrome) that feeling where you’re a bit lost and a little uncomfortable with yourself. It can bite hard. Taking the time to pay attention to the feelings of being a little off-kilter and uncomfortable always points me in the direction I need to make adjustments in my behaviour.
Those deep and permanent changes in our ideas about life, that Miriam talks about happen when we travel, without expecting it. When we allow time for the journey to unfold and feelings to be felt. The great shifts or lessons won’t come because we stood on a summit and took a photo … they will come because we climb our metaphorical mountains that took us to that summit, embracing both the joyful and the gritty bits.
There is a type of wild freedom that you become accustomed to on the road and I wasn’t prepared to give that up. I found myself questioning how I was sharing travel and adventure. I wanted to write myself a new story of adventure. One that was born of being a woman, an adventurer, a hiker and a shit giver. I wanted to find a way to add humility to my travel experience in a way that made a real difference. I had once again been changed by my experience of travel and adventure and now, it was time to use my privilege to Adventure for Change, to find my voice.
On the last leg of our trip, I read Julia Immonen’s memoir Row For Freedom. Together with four other women, she rowed a physical and emotional three thousand unaided miles from the Canary Islands to Barbados. Julia was motivated by the plight of the thirty million victims of the modern-day slave trade. Before I knew it I was daydreaming myself up a new adventure. A hiking and charity project. Something challenging and meaningful.
The challenge is hiking! This April I am going to hike The Camino Frances a 769km pilgrimage from St Jean-Pied-du-Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain). A walk that has drawn millions of pilgrims since the middle ages. Traditionally, pilgrims took the route for religious reasons and now as Leslie Gilmour (pilgrim and writer) says ‘modern Pilgrimages seem to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in life, a time to think, and for some a challenge.’ Averaging 20-30kms per day I plan to complete the trek in 30 days. I’m leaving my kids in the capable hands of my husband. BIG adventures need a damn good support crew.
At the end of 2016 just prior to setting off on our adventure my (then) 10-year-old daughter Zoë and I sat in the audience of a presentation from Morgan Koegal, CEO of One Girl Australia at the Travel Play Live/She Went Wild Expo and she said,
‘when something feels wrong in your gut – do something about it’.
So we did. In a concentrated two-week school raffle with ethical and sustainable prizes, we raised enough money for One Girl to educate 8 girls for a year. This is the meaningful part of my project. I wrote to One Girl Australia and asked if they would consider me as an ambassador. I didn’t quite have a plan for how I’d create this daydream project of mine. I just knew I needed to try.
One Girl works in both Sierra Leone and Uganda, two of the most challenging places on earth to be born a girl. For these girls – Education changes everything. A girl’s income increases by 10-25% for every extra year of education. She’ll get married later and have a smaller, healthier family when she’s ready. Her health, economic status, and future family all benefit. Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to educate their children. I have a carefree, spirited daughter and these are the things I want for her too. I’ll enjoy the challenge for me and I’ll hike this trail for mothers in Africa, who, like me want their girls to have a chance in life.
Creating a project like this is new to me and often it’s a bit scary putting myself out there, ok it’s a lot scary. I’m learning as I go but the support and encouragement I have received from people have been such a wonderfully motivating force. A project like this is all about kindness and the joy of that is that it brings with it a beautiful energy to everyday life.
With just under three months until I set off I am so excited to begin sharing this project. This little daydream of mine now has some amazing sponsors on board. My training in full swing and it’s all becoming very real.
“In my perception, the world wasn’t a graph or formula or an equation. It was a story.” – Cheryl Strayed, Wild.
If you’d like to come along for the journey I would love to share it with you. You can follow my Camino journey or find out how to get involved here at Slower Family Travels or over here on Instagram @frances.antonia.
Are you a hiker? Keen to take on a trek for One Girl? You can join the Women Who Hike team here. Frances Antonia – One Girl. Women Who Hike Team.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions.
The Camino Frances Trek for One Girl is proudly sponsored by: