“What if we just went travelling instead?” said my wife, shifting our one-year-old to her other hip.
No way, I thought. We can’t jump off the London housing ladder. We may never get back on. It was too risky. We can’t afford it. We need to get the kids into a good school.
And that was the end of that. Instead of travelling, we bought a slightly larger flat in Stoke Newington, north London, and nothing changed. The end. Roll credits.
That was four years ago. We did buy another flat. We did get the kids into a good school. And we did get locked down in a global pandemic that made us question all of our assumptions.
A career, a nice home, a good school – those were my priorities before lockdown
My priorities before lockdown were all about my career and financial security, a nice home in a nice neighbourhood in London and a good school for our two boys. In that order.
I believed if those were in the bag, everything else would follow. After all, what else did anyone ever talk about? Conversations at parties were always about one of those three things, sometimes even all three of them combined.
Then suddenly there weren’t any parties any more. For long stretches of time, there wasn’t even any work and, when there was, it was on Zoom. And being trapped in our nice London home with kids who couldn’t go to their good school….
Costa Rica is as beautiful as they say – bringing everything back to life. Including us
It turns out none of us were especially happy – and it wasn’t just the pandemic that was doing it. That’s why I am writing this from a beautiful little town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. We’ve sold our flat, given our dog to my mum to look after for six months (miss you, Paddington) and headed off over the horizon to see if there’s another way of doing things.
Costa Rica is as beautiful as they say. It’s been a week since we took the long flight via Madrid and in that time we’ve bathed in Arenal’s volcanic hot springs, explored the cloud forests of Monteverde and are now braving the humidity and mosquitoes of the Guanacaste coast in what is euphemistically called “green season” – the period from May through November when the rains fall after a long period of absence, bringing everything back to life. Including us.
I used to be the kind of guy who went wreck diving in Curaçao, bungee jumping in New Zealand
It hasn’t all been plain sailing: not with a jet-lagged 5 and 8 year old in tow who’ve just had their world turned upside down. It’s also going to take a while to leave all the stress of London and selling a property behind us. But already I can feel some joy creeping back into our lives.
I used to be the kind of guy who went wreck diving in Curaçao, bungee jumping in New Zealand or set off on my own to crew a tall ship from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands because none of my friends wanted to do anything exciting that summer.
For some reason, I’d thought getting married, having kids and buying a property meant I couldn’t do all that any more. There was never a moment when I thought “Well, glad I did all those things, because it’s over now.” It was the slow, subconscious creep of settling down and being responsible – of being a “grown up” and prioritising adult things. Of saving money for domestic improvements.
But what was I really improving? Did any of it make my kids happy? What about my wife, who gave up a career in journalism to raise our children and was now expected to just pick up where she left off like nothing had changed, like having kids hadn’t transformed absolutely everything?
It wasn’t good enough. The world is too interesting, too varied, too full of different perspectives to settle for just one way of living. Will we be poorer when we get back in six months? Yes, almost certainly. Will it be much harder to work on the road or advance my career? You betcha. Will it be possible to get back on the London housing ladder where we jumped off? I don’t think so. But those aren’t my top priorities any more. Maybe we won’t even go back to London.
It took me four years to realise my wife was right all along
I don’t know where we’re going to go after Costa Rica. We left the UK slightly later than we planned (thanks, dysfunctional British property system) so the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait for our next trip. We’re here another week and then… maybe Belize or Mexico? Maybe straight to California to drive an RV all the way up the west coast to the Pacific North West? I have a godfather in Vancouver who owes me about 20 years of birthday presents. We’ve even taken a virtual tour of the Green School in Bali, just in case we want to stay there for a term or two.
The criteria are fluid and we’re going to take it as it comes. As long as there is some kind of internet connection, I can work to pay for (some of) this trip and the kids can study. Online learning will definitely play a part, but in just the last 10 days my children have climbed over an old lava flow on the slopes of a volcano, tracked leaf-cutter ants as they carved a trail through the floor of a rainforest and vomited all over themselves in the back of a car driving over Monteverde’s unbelievably bad mountain roads. That last lesson isn’t in the British curriculum, but it doesn’t make it any less valuable. Get a 4X4 if you’re coming.
It took me four years to realise my wife was right all along. Hopefully it will take us a lot less time to figure out what’s right for our family.
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