Everybody dreams of traveling the globe, but it isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. Very often everyday practicalities like our jobs or other responsibilities get in the way of these plans, which is why travelers are usually single, younger, and less-encumbered people.
But that’s not always the case. When wanderlust struck a mother of two, she had no idea how to fulfill her dream of exploring the world with bills, young children, and a mortgage in the way. Then she realized those were the reasons she and her family needed to go — and fast!
In 2017, Gillian McRobbie may have seemed like an ordinary woman: she was living in Dundee, Scotland, with her fiancé, two young daughters and her job as a nanny. Only those closest to her knew that she longed for something more…
At only 18 years of age, Gillian moved to Germany where she worked as an army medic. Afterward, she completed a tour of Europe, she went on to buy a round-the-world ticket to south-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and The Pacific before backpacking across the USA, from coast to coast.
Upon her return to Scotland, Gillian met Andrew, the love of her life. They eventually settled down, bought a house together, and ended up having two daughters: Isla (6) and Maddie (2). Despite having a beautiful family, Gillian felt restless.
After several years of living day to day and taking care of children, Gillian began to grow tired of her life. Andrew, a private security contractor, was often away on business for months at a time and was missing out on his daughters’ growth. Something had to change.
That was when Gillian had an epiphany: who needs all these material, trivial things when there is a whole world out there full of adventures and opportunities to learn? Why should they live an ordinary life just because it’s expected or convenient?
She shared her feelings with her husband, and, to her relief, he agreed. So they devised a plan: they would put their house on the market, Gillian would take up nursing to make more money, they’d save every penny, and eventually, Andrew would take a break from his job so the family could travel. “There will always be jobs to do and houses to buy when we get back, so why wait?”
The family began shopping at charity stores, avoided eating out, and used cash-back apps on most of their other purchases. Their home ended up selling for £170,000 ($215,000), and Gillian became certified to homeschool the girls.
Gillian, 33, said: “Taking a big trip with my children is something I’ve always wanted to do, even before I had kids. The whole point is to prepare our kids to live in the big wide world when they become adults – but how can you do that when most of their time is spent at a desk, stuck between four walls?”
The family started their adventures off close to home, camping around Scotland to see the sights of their own country before continuing to further borders. Then, they set off to Portugal, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and Costa Rica.
Despite all their savings, the family planned to stretch their budget for over a year, so they tried to keep the travel costs to a minimum. They stayed at Airbnbs, budget hotels, or even house-sat for free for people on vacation themselves.
“We always traveled in the cheapest and safest way possible. In Costa Rica, we are using local buses, but in some places, that wasn’t recommended, so we organized private transport instead,” she added. To her and Andrew, the budget was important, but safety was too.
After all, visiting places you’ve never been before is not without risk: you need to be vaccinated, take the safest routes, stick together, avoid walking at night, and be knowledgeable of local dangers.
But being prepared for danger didn’t mean that Gillian and her family weren’t also savoring every minute. “Bad things happen everywhere in the world, every day, so you cannot live your life in fear,” Gillian said.
The other issue they faced was criticism from people back home, people they met on their travels, and people online. “What about the girls’ education?” they wondered. Surely with all their adventures, there was not enough time for Gillian to sit down with her daughters for 30+ hours per week?
In response to these questions, Gillian explained that not every lesson has to be learned sitting down with a book. She taught Isla math through groceries, P.E. through swimming and hiking, geography through maps, and languages through travel itself.
The explorers moved rather slowly for people who wanted to see a lot of the world, but for good reason: “Things can get a bit overwhelming at times – what with new places, heat, noise, smells, traffic and so on. So if you do one thing a day, it gives you plenty of opportunity to take it slowly at the kids’ pace.”
It seems the critics were not only concerned about her daughters’ education but also about their lack of stability. “I have been told in the past to come back down to reality and give the girls a routine, but I don’t agree. We’re lucky that this is our reality and the girls are thriving.”
Gillian and Andrew planned to continue their travels until October of 2019, with Mexico, Belize and the US remaining on the calendar this year. Then, they would finally move back home, pick up their jobs, and possibly begin saving for the next big adventure.
Even after returning to Scotland, Gillian hoped to keep homeschooling both of her daughters, not only to avoid difficult transitions with school but also because she believed that some ways to learn are better than others. She wanted to keep taking them on smaller trips across the U.K.
While it may not be for everyone, this family found a way in which they could love to live their lives. “Travelling also takes you out of your comfort zone,” Gillian said, “and teaches you problem-solving resilience and tolerance and kindness for the world around you and its differences.”