Today, a special post as it’s Part III of Conversations with Community. A series focussed on some of the amazing women within our community doing some truly inspiring things. These are people quietly changing things up, following untraveled paths, living creative lives, and connecting in different ways that are often ignored in our culture of time racing.
Today is someone that I first met through instagram. Someone that I felt I had an instant connection to, while also muttering damn it, why didn’t we meet when we were actually living in the same city? However we didn’t, and despite the distance of a planet between us now, I still feel a connection as this woman lives like she means it and that, is something I hold very dear.
Please take a little extra time to get know Frances Antonia
Fran thank you for dropping by for chat before you embark on the next chapter of your slow travel adventures. Before we go any further though, super important question first up… tea coffee and favourite thing to eat for brunch? (What shall I bring and where would we go?)
Coffee! I’m not a tea drinker, I gave it up, hoping that fares well now that we are living in Ireland. Could we eat at yours? A garden abundant with tomatoes, your lady baker sourdough and if you added an egg any which way (I’m not fussy) my perfect brunch. I’m a one-on-one kind of brunch date. We’d need to make time to eat because there is soooo much to debrief, never confuse a few introverts on the same page as quiet types.
In December 2016 you and your family of 6, packed up a life in Sydney, Australia to embark on an adventure that many people yearn to do, but few have the courage to see through. One suitcase each, six passports, and plans that are being made on the road. How long have you been planning this trip and how did you know it was time to get it started?
I read Janice Macleod’s Paris Letters while holidaying and the crazy idea of getting down to one suitcase each really struck a chord with me, with that came the dream of travelling Europe in a camper. Deep down I’ve always had that dream. I’m not sure I believed for a minute that we’d actually get down to a suitcase each nor take an extended trip travelling in Europe (2 adults, 4 kids) but I am a dreamer. Luckily I’m also a do’er, a ‘dreamy do’er’ (love these words, found that phrase on the onegirl instagram account).
At that time we were living in Sydney having moved from Melbourne for my husband’s work. Sydney was a hard adjustment for me. I found the pace in Sydney anxiety causing and at times I felt like I was suffocating. I actually for the first time in my life had panic attacks. I’m not someone who lives well with stress or busy but I am good at changing things up that aren’t working. Inward I went with the idea of one suitcase each and a dream to create a life where we could live more freely and travel more. I delved into the stories of those who were living a more minimalist lifestyle. I devoured the words of people like Joshua Becker, Sarah Wilson, Brooke McAlary and The Minimalists.
The purging began, Europe was still a pipe dream (mostly mine), my husband couldn’t see how it could happen. The more we decluttered the more life started changing. I started blogging and connecting with a pretty awesome tribe of slow living people, a whole new world was opening up. We became more about moments over things and I continued to take time out for solitude for me personally and my children. Simplifying wasn’t only about possessions but also about food, waste, commitments, finances…slowly the calm returned as did clarity.
I found my (20 year old) hiking boots in the back of my cupboard, I put them back on and we started hiking regularly. It was life changing to disconnect from the consumerist society we lived in and back to what was real. We became road tripping campers on weekends and during school holidays, no longer just annual family summer camp trips. Fellow travellers and hikers are excellent people to surround yourself with, smiling storytellers.
I started taking the kids camping on my own during school holidays and on one particular camping trip in Byron Bay my husband flew up for the weekend. We had a straight honest conversation while walking barefoot along the beach under the moon and decided we were done with the Sydney life, he had caught up to where I was (thankfully)…there was just no way we could have the family balance and life we wanted if we stayed living and working in Sydney. It just wasn’t worth the sacrifice.
We started to plan, we’d use his long service and annual leave, keep our Melbourne home rented, we’d sell the car and all our possessions and we’d save to make an extended family trip a reality. We’d buy ourselves some time out. We liked the idea of slow travel, basing ourselves with locals and taking our time to explore areas. We also knew that if we could keep the costs low we could travel longer. I’d read a book called On The Road With Kids by John Ahern and we investigated the motorhome option he and his family used on their life changing year in Europe. Basically, you buy a camper with an agreed buy back option. If we stay in free camper spots and utilise networks like French Passion our accommodation spend would be affordable (cheaper than renting in Sydney) and we could also cook for ourselves. Although there will be meals eaten out, it’s the mediterranean.
We actually have 11 passports Brydie! A change in the law a few years ago allowed me to claim Dutch citizenship for the kids and I (mum is Dutch) so I jumped on that. Certainly having EU citizenship has allowed us to create a year of different experiences. When Greg resigned from work he was offered the opportunity to work from home. We debated that long and hard but felt that if we took that option our European adventure had a whole new realm of possibility. We would have an opportunity to create a lifestyle that suited so we took ‘work from home’ literally and creatively.
With my EU citizenship and Greg’s ability to work from home we decided to settle for winter in Ireland and live the country life. We have a family connection here and have gratefully been able to rent a furnished cottage from them. Australians can be in Ireland for 90 days but for sure our red passports have made it smoother. The kids are attending the local school and our adrenal systems are calm as we live in this community where everyone waves, the air is fresh, there’s not a billboard in sight and the quiet is simply blissful.
At the end of the school term we have 4 months of long service and holidays up our sleeve to camper our way across the mediterranean. After that we are open, with an ability to work from home, adventurous spirits and pockets full of optimism we plan to stay longer in Europe to create a family chapter here. I think this quote from William Faukener resonates
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Was it hard getting rid of a lot of your things? How did you decide what would stay and what would go?
Tús maith, leath na hoibre A good start is half the work. Gaelic proverb I’ve learnt here.
We didn’t quite get down to a suitcase each. We have about 6 cubic metres of possessions left (2 pieces of furniture, the kids keepsakes, A LOT of lego, some artwork, our kitchenware and of course some special things). That for us is a comfortable minimalism and it has meant that we were able to shift it here to store comfortably until we decide where we will settle next (a tiny corner of a shed is all we need).
I found decluttering the easiest and least overwhelming part of embracing a more minimalist life. By nature I’m suited to a slower more minimalist life. It was a 2 year process and it took time, I had to always be mindful of the others in my house to make sure they came with me on the journey. I’ve never been particularly attached to things, well most things..I found the Pat Rafter US Open final videos hard to declutter (so I didn’t). I don’t miss anything and no one has asked for anything they used to own.
I started with things that we didn’t need, didn’t love and the those things that belonged to a part of my life that no longer existed. I started shelf by shelf, cupboard by cupboard. As a shelf or storage unit emptied I sold or donated it. All the excess plastic in the kitchen, the window sill full of tea light holders and dust collectors, the second TV, the Wii, toys the children had grown out of, bathroom cupboards, medicine cabinets, the stuff we were hanging onto just-in-case and any excess furniture, prints or ornaments that were taking up space. I sold all my (past life) high heeled boots, I never wore them and they were completely impractical as a pram pushing mum in hilly Sydney. I found those hiking boots I talked about earlier behind the boots and shoes…that’s how the magic happens, when you let go of what you don’t need.
The less toys there were to clean the less overwhelming the kids spaces were and the more creative they became. There were times when I needed to bring in the big guns, I do remember googling how to declutter books. Joshua Becker came to the rescue there, he’s written well about it. It was an ongoing process and I just continued to go with it as the momentum built.
The boundaries kept shifting. I would complete one room and then after a few weeks I could go back again and I’d be ready to move out more. We started getting down to what we needed, one back-pack each not three, slowly curating wardrobes that only took a shelf each. Did we really need cushions and rugs?? Nope. Another little trick I used was to think of Colleen from 365 things, every day declutter something. In 365 days that will be 365 things.
We moved house at one point and that was a great way to declutter a whole lot more, we moved with only the furniture we needed…it only took 1 day to unpack when we moved. I knew then that I had come a long way and was getting somewhere. We had moved to Sydney with 1.5 shipping containers a year earlier. Moving to a smaller house where all four kids shared a room (11, 9, 6 and 3 at the time) allowed us to save significantly more and give the kids some green space. I had to commute for the school run, that was hard but the sacrifice was worth it, it was a means to get to this point.
The things we kept had to be things we used, things we found beautiful and LOVED, nothing is doubled up and of course there are some sentimental keepsakes. I have a box of baby things but not their entire babyhood. We don’t keep old school books, just some writing and art work. Our entire CD collection is now digitised and also our paperwork. I have a couple of display folders with the important documents otherwise it’s all on a hard drive (and backed up).
I understand this is far less than most people would consider living without but without paring back this much this trip would not have been possible for us. We knew we needed to let go of everything to free ourselves to move our family without ties and honestly just to feel like we weren’t locked in. The stories I could tell you about the people who bought our stuff are a whole other conversation, so many interesting people. One day when we are settling down again, I’ll be one of those people buying from someone who is off on an adventure.
While travelling, what do you think will be a priority for you and your family?
There are so many awesome things about travelling as a family, I guess briefly in no particular order:
Time: Uninterrupted family time. Time to really get to know each of our children, to indulge their learning passions, to teach and learn from them while creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Slow travel: A very loose and flexible plan of where we will go. Meeting locals, enjoying customs, creativity and language. We don’t want to be bound by an itinerary, if we love it we’ll stay.
Adventure: We want to climb mountains, explore forests, swim in rivers, watch the sun rise and set, and wonder at a skies full of stars.
Food: We love food and the stories behind the food we eat. We want to experience local seasonal food, shop in markets, meet the farmers and be adventurous with our palettes. We are excited about sharing this with our children.
Growth: As our children grow we want to be there to help develop the life skills they need to ‘adult’ and as adults we are all still growing.
Values: Living with our values, voluntary simplicity, having a crack, kindness and a growing responsibility for our footprint.
It is not too different from how we try to approach our everyday life, we don’t always get it right but we keep at it.
Have you travelled a lot previously?
I do blame thank my parents somewhat for my gypsy soul. They were migrants who loved the Australian landscape so my childhood memories are filled with adventure, exploration and camping trips. Every holiday the station wagon was packed to the rafters and we were road tripping.
If there was a mountain to climb we climbed it, a wave to take we were on it, a pier to jump off we jumped!…I’m sure you get the picture. I also attend a Girl Guide World Jamboree in Indonesia when I was 12, there were people from all over the world and it was an awesome experience in my young life. My eyes were wide open and probably the seeds of wanderlust were firmly planted there. I glad my mum said yes when I saw the flyer and asked if I could go, I worked hard to fundraise for that trip and it was a door I’ll always be grateful I stept into.
My gap year was spent working in the Whitsundays which I know you know is an amazing adventure. A place of great natural beauty and of course many other young people from all over the world only to happy to explore and (drink) in the experience, I also enjoyed the solitude of hiking the Islands. I enjoyed travelling in my 20’s mostly Europe and Asia and my husband (then boyfriend) and I lived in Perth for a bit and also spent 3 years living in Amsterdam in our early 30’s. I think we’ve actually been plotting how to get back to Europe ever since, we feel at home in European culture.
You’ve just spent three months in rural Ireland and are now getting ready for the next chapter of your travels in a motor home in Europe. What are some of the things you are looking forward to when travelling on the road?
I feel like I have talked a lot!
So in a nutshell…sharing this adventure with my family, having my eyes and mind blown with wonder, conversations over food, meeting community on the road, home being where we park it, waking up with wild rivers and mountains at our doorstep, basically every single moment of this delicious chapter that we are so fortunate to have been able to create.
I never take a day for granted.
Fran, I truly can not wait to hear more about your wonderful trip as it slowly unfolds. To you and your dear family, travel well.
Conversations with Community– a series focussed on some of the amazing women within our community doing truly inspiring things. These are some of the people quietly changing things up, following untravelled paths, creative living, and connecting in different ways too often ignored in our culture of time racing.
Go on, take a few extra minutes to meet some of these inspiring, wonderful women here.