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We took our kids out of school so we could travel the world for a year

Lisa Tennant, 42, runs a virtual assistant business and lives in the Peak District with her husband Peter, 54, and sons Kaiden, 13, and Theo, 11. Here she explains how her family escaped the humdrum of normal life and travelled the world for a year...

Lisa Tennant, left, in work mode in the UK and right in Langkawi, Malaysia with her family. (Supplied)
Lisa Tennant, left, in work mode in the UK and right in Langkawi, Malaysia with her family. (Supplied)

Sitting on a hidden beach in Langkawi, Malaysia, in December 2022 was one of countless pinch-me moments during our year travelling the world with our kids.

There were tropical fish at our feet in the ocean, monkeys scampering in the trees that flanked the beach, colourful butterflies everywhere and huge lizards basking in the sunshine on the white sands. We spent Christmas day on jet skis at another beach close by and let fireworks off there on New Year’s Eve, experiences we'd never have had back home in Birmingham.

During our year-long travels we ticked off 20 countries from our family bucket list and our sons learned more from being immersed in the different cultures we encountered than they ever would have done in a classroom.

The seed for our adventure was planted during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020. While other parents still recoil at the words 'home schooling' for us those days brought joy and a sense of calm, which I know wasn’t everyone’s experience.

Lisa Tennant, husband Peter and sons Kaiden and Theo in Bali. (Supplied)
Lisa Tennant, husband Peter and sons Kaiden and Theo in Bali. (Supplied)

Escaping 'normal' life

But pre-pandemic, I’d often been that mum yelling at my kids to get out of the door in the morning when we were in a frantic rush for work and school, then I’d cry on the way home, consumed with guilt for shouting at them.

At the time I managed a large community hall and Peter was in his 35th year at Land Rover, where he worked as a senior manager. With little else to do during Covid other than think and drink wine in the evenings, I finally had the headspace to realise that my big dream was to see the world as a family.

Being a practical person, my husband was completely opposed to my idea to take the kids out of school and travel.

I didn’t want us to remain shackled to the rat race but knew we’d have to make big life changes in order to up sticks and travel. The first thing I did to quietly set my plan in motion was to leave my job, reinventing myself as a freelance virtual business assistant so that I could work wherever I was in the world and still generate an income.

Looking back, perhaps it was fate when Peter was then made redundant in May 2021, although with his sudden loss of stability and earnings, and being a practical person, he was completely opposed to my desire to take the kids out of school and travel.

Unperturbed, I calculated that we could make his redundancy money last while we travelled the world and presented him with spreadsheets to prove it. With the information in front of him, he soon got on board with my idea and we shared our plans with the boys, who were excited that they wouldn’t be returning to school and loved helping us write a list of countries to visit.

I deregistered them from primary school in order to avoid being fined but nobody kicked up a fuss, and we chose to check in with a woman at the Local Education Authority now and again to let her know how we were doing.

Lisa Tennant in Koh Samui, Thailand with husband Peter and their sons. (Supplied)
Lisa Tennant in Koh Samui, Thailand with husband Peter and their sons. (Supplied)

Starting the adventure

We decided to rent out our four-bed, mid-terrace house on Airbnb to bring in extra money, then bought a static caravan as a temporary home before setting off on a three-month tour of the UK when the boys were 10 and 11. We followed that with an adventure around Europe leaving in June 2022, visiting countries including Croatia and Belgium.

Then in October 2022 we set off on our world tour. First, we headed to Dubai – somewhere Theo had always wanted to go – and from there we spent a month in Thailand, then moved on to Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Los Angeles and France before returning to England in March 2023. By then, the boys were feeling homesick and desperate to be at school.

Before we left the UK, we’d made a decision that we wouldn’t homeschool the boys while travelling because the education was the trip itself.

There were many wonderful moments along the way, the highlight for all of us being Japan where we were blown away by the country’s peaceful beauty, incredible cleanliness and spectacular landscapes.

Before we left the UK, we’d made a decision that we wouldn’t homeschool the boys while travelling because the education was the trip itself, which was full of historical, religious and cultural experiences.

Lisa Tennant and family in Bangkok. (Supplied)
Lisa Tennant and family in Bangkok. (Supplied)

Highs and lows

Time appeared to slow down and brought us closer together as a family. But I won’t lie, it was challenging at times, mostly because we were frequently sleeping in one room together to reduce costs. Date nights and alone time for Peter and I were impossible and there were times we’d bicker over daft things like admin and travel arrangements for no other reason than we didn’t have any space.

I caught Covid in Phuket, had a bout of sickness in Bangkok and we stayed in some revolting accommodation, the worst being what can only be described as a concrete 'cell' in Bali with beds, a stove and a disgusting fridge. But we stuck it out for three weeks because of our dwindling budget.

We always chose places with cooking and laundry facilities so that we could eat in to save cash, and rotate our clothes having only brought two weeks’ worth with us. On the two occasions we stayed in cheap hotels, I made packed lunches from the breakfast buffet so we didn’t have to buy food later in the day.

Although nobody called us irresponsible when we announced our travel plans, I’m sure a few of the more traditional family members thought we were.

Running an Airbnb while travelling wasn’t easy either. We relied heavily on an amazing cleaner and a great friend to help us sort problems such as the burst water pipes that I received a call about at 4am while we were in Vietnam.

But the benefits of our trip outshone the testing times. Our main aim when we left the UK was to see some of the wonders of Europe and the world and we absolutely achieved that.

Another bonus was the eight-hour time difference in the Far East, which meant I could spend my days doing family things while clients in the UK were sleeping, then work in the evenings – whenever the dodgy WIFI allowed.

Although nobody called us irresponsible when we announced our travel plans, I’m sure a few of the more traditional family members thought we were. Some worried that the kids should be in school and would miss out on learning and friendships, while others admitted wishing they could have an adventure like ours.

Lisa Tennant and family in Phuket, Thailand, where she later caught Covid. (Supplied)
Lisa Tennant and family in Phuket, Thailand, where she later caught Covid. (Supplied)

Heading home

Ultimately, we returned home because Kaiden and Theo were homesick and eager to forge permanent friendships at school, something Peter and I hadn’t anticipated because they’d been so happy in our pandemic bubble before we left England.

The boys had also had their fill of paradise beaches and tropical islands. Peter missed his older children and grandkids and the stability of the four walls of home. I missed them all too, of course, but I’d still be travelling now if I had my way.

Our path home was made easier by our second to last stop in Los Angeles, which was a real comedown after the beauty of Japan immediately before it. The boys had imagined it would ooze Hollywood glitz and glamour, but somehow the reality was homeless people and drug addicts’ needles strewn on dirty streets, poverty and wealth colliding. I appreciate that's not everyone's experience of LA though.

Our first surprise visit was to Peter’s daughter, who immediately burst into tears at being reunited with her dad.

When we flew home in March 2023, we didn’t tell anyone, we went and knocked on doors instead! Our first surprise visit was to Peter’s daughter, who immediately burst into tears at being reunited with her dad.

We moved back into the static caravan so that we could keep renting out our house to recoup some money, but the boys loathed it so last June we moved to a rented house in the Peak District where we’re enjoying a better quality of life in the countryside. We’re selling our house in Birmingham so that we can eventually buy here.

Lisa's son pictured in the Philippines. By the end of the trip, her two boys were keen to get back to school. (Supplied)
Lisa's son pictured in the Philippines. By the end of the trip, her two boys were keen to get back to school. (Supplied)

Building a new life

Kaiden settled quickly into his new senior school, made friends and is thriving. Sadly, Theo, is struggling. He’s creative and very much his own person, but this makes him a target for bullying. But he’s still happy to no longer be travelling. Peter now works as a caretaker at their secondary school and my virtual assistant business ltvaservices.com is thriving.

No longer counting the hours or dashing from one thing to the next, we felt as though we were truly living while we were away.

We might be back on home soil, but we recently went on a cruise around northern Europe and have booked another to the Caribbean later this year. We’ll continue to travel as much as we can, even if it’s camping in the UK. Mostly, I miss the sense of freedom that it brings and the slowing down of time. No longer counting the hours or dashing from one thing to the next, we felt as though we were truly living while we were away.

When the boys are old enough, Peter and I will plot new adventures and my sights will be trained on getting to Hawaii next time – we'd love it if Kaiden and Theo want to come with us but know they may well be doing their own thing by then.

Travelling taught us that we don't have to do what society tells us to. We all have the choice to be brave, step outside of our comfort zone, and do what sometimes feels like the impossible. Life is too short to be spent worrying about having the nicest house, or the newest car. When you free yourself from those material things you can experience the wonder of long-term travel and the magic it brings.