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The Hamiltons – Abroad. For 13 months.

This is the post excerpt.

Ok, no one in this family of four has ever blogged before, and for the sake of clarity we’ve never blogged collectively either, but we thought we might start this blog to record what happens over the next 13 months, and why we decided to do it.

What are we doing? Good question-let’s start with who we are first; we are a fairly standard family of four in many ways, husband and wife, two kids, a boy and a girl. Steve, Sinead, Flynn and Edie, current ages at time of writing are 44, 40, 8 and 6 respectively. We hail from North London where we go to work and school, and take as many breaks and holidays in our VW T5 campervan, pictured above, as time allows. And that is where the trouble starts.

We bought our van a little more than three years ago after hiring one for a weeks holiday and loving it so much that we had to have one. Over the next few years of nights, weekends, weeks and then three week holidays in the van, and being just as excited every time we went out exploring, we got to talking about how good it would be to do it for a longer period. And we kept talking about it. And still more.

So to scratch the itch we costed it up. And worked out the logistics, so what we could get if we rented the house out, what the school situation was and a bunch of other stuff – we’ll save the minutiae for the self published kindle novel that will sell three copies to friends and family, but it’s not actually as much as you might think. And we worked out that we could just about do it.

So, we can do it, we want to do it – shall we do it? Are we doing it? Is this what we’re doing? These are the questions that we asked ourselves. Over and over. But not actually for that long. The eventual decision was helped by a few incontrovertible facts; you’re a long time dead. No one ever died wishing they had more money in their pockets. The kids are the right age now, this year, for us to take them out for a year and us not to feel too guilty that they can’t catch up. Or that the home schooling we will need to deliver will be too difficult for us.

What have we let ourselves in for? What will we learn on the way, about the world and ourselves? Will we like it? Will we make it the planned 13 months or crash and burn/run out of money sooner? More to follow, dear reader. The answers will either be in the blog posts that follow or, possibly, if we fail, never ever spoken about again. Ever.

Picture of us on the day we we left the UK. Will we be this happy again?

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Weeks 3 & 4: Nuts and Bolts

I have said it before, I will likely say it again, but gah – gah, gah and double gah. Three weeks I haven’t kept up with the nuts and bolts of the blog, dear reader, and I know that you are feeling the dearth of information and fun in your life as I am feeling the dreadful apathy of keeping it up, but for the sake of tradition, a sense of adventure, a commitment to seeing this bold thing through, that neither of us feel and, frankly, because I worry about your sense of well being if you can’t hear me drone on about stuff as per, let’s give this thing a whirl.

It’s got to be abridged though. The whole day by day thing isn’t working, obvs. I am thinking about a more general sort of icky wotsit summat or other ‘this is how it all felt, in a mindfulness way’ type of blog, but I am not sure I have it in me tbh. Let’s see what happens.

Week 3 (did you see what I did, abbreviating a whole week by just omitting the days? It’s this kind of savvy author trick that will get this thing viral): Ok, next week is Flynn(aka The Boy Wonder)’s birthday, nine years old, so obviously some sort of treat was required, and was wonderfully delivered this week in the shape of Legoland, the original one in Billund, where the stuff was invented. It was the normal theme park day of rollorcoasters and queuing for rollercoasters, except that we were almost the only English people there, so hardly anyone was shouting at or hitting their children. After an extremely long day we tripped half an hour down the coast to a small marina, which was  free and lovely, see pic below, in the small town of Fredericia.

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From here we travelled down to Svendborg, South Denmark, again lovely and everyone so friendly, and from there to Copenhagen. We stayed a couple of nights in a campsite close to the city to explore, although tbh most city campsites aren’t great and this one wasn’t either, so you really only use them as a base to get to the city. Copenhagen was cute, in an olde worlde European way, but it didn’t exactly touch the parts that other cities can’t reach. Maybe we’re spoilt by being from a big city and having visited many more. Maybe it was just raining. Maybe I am an old, grumpy so and so who should consider himself luckier than he does. Yep, probably the rain. More to come on that. We did really enjoy the Copenhagen street food market, which is in a warehouse on the river. All the cool kids, and us, were eating there, add it to your list if you’re visiting, and tell Claudius at the Brazilian meat stall we said hi. Tell him it was the gingers from London, who were polite and therefore got extra meat.

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We climbed this tower!

After Copenhagen we crossed the rather marvellously expensive Oresund Bridge, nearly 8km of impressive engineering suspension metal, but the £49.58 toll seemed lumpy to me. It did, however, pay the way to wonderful Malmo, so we’re now in Sweden, which had a much hipper, new and less stuffy feel to it than Copenhagen. After biking through a nudist area (gentle reader, don’t be concerned that a theme is developing here, and if it does, no pictures will ruin our time together) we hit a beach area where the good folk of Malmo have provided basketball, volleyball, tightrope walking, and all manner of sports games and brand new equipment for all to enjoy. So we did. We stayed on another marina here, again with rather marvellous facilities for not much money, and talked to lots of wonderful Swedish people. I can’t imagine approaching tourists in London and asking them if they are enjoying the country and giving them tips, but that happens in Sweden. They’re a good lot.

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We did a bunch of other stuff, we chased a sea otter, and in a surprising break with tradition caught up with it, we climbed a small mountain and, in keeping with tradition, it rained when we got to the top of it, but frankly if I told you everything I’d have nothing to talk to you about over a glass of something in the future. So there.

Week four is it?: It is starting to become difficult to remember what day it even is at this stage. Without a timetable that needs to be adhered to, other than be back in the UK to catch a flight at the end of October, the need to concentrate on mundane things like what day it is start to lose relevance. That and, obviously, keeping up with your own bloody blog. Right, where were we – ah, Malmo, lovely Malmo, we bid you farewell and head up towards Halmstad, where as The Boy Wonder actually turns nine we spend a day go-karting, once outdoor and once indoor, and eating massive burgers. Nine year olds have rarely had such good taste, we all had a ball.

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From here we jogged 50 miles up the coast to a little place just south of Varberg (still Sweden, do keep up reader) where we had an outbreak of sunny weather so decided to stay for three nights and ride bikes, visit beaches and generally have a lovely time. We also did all the washing, but the best thing about it was that it means that this weeks blog can be so easily finished. Or can it? Maybe I am hiding some secret facts away (I’m not, but a little bit of intrigue never hurts). Anyway, this leads us to another city, just up the cost, Gothenburg.

Gothenburg is lovely, feels like Malmo but with an old feel to it still, so grand, but cool. We stayed a few miles north of the city, to avoid the city campsite, and caught a very clean, pleasant, and obviously expensive bus into town. As you would expect in Sweden, everyone was ridiculously polite and friendly, even the bus drivers, so that sweetens the £5 pill of the fare. We were given a map of the city with some suggested walk times between various parts, so we went from fish market to fortress to cool side of town to food market in a few hours, and enjoyed it all. Great place for a city break if you need inspiration in that area.

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Leaving Gothenburg brought us to a lovely little marina, with the poshest toilets, see our Scandanavia on a budget post, and then onwards into Norway – the end of our fourth week bringing up our seventh country. I am tired even reading it. Our first night in Norway was spent, as tradition dictates, on a fjord – or possibly just an inlet, the tourist legislature isn’t all that and sometimes you do wonder. Anyway, the kids spent the time fishing while we generally reel (did you see what I did there?) at the majesty of it all – more of that to come in week 5, Norway does majesty in spades.

 

Living on a budget…

In Scandinavia I hear you say…. surely not possible. “Isn’t it very expensive?” “I have heard that a bottle of wine costs £20.” “A loaf of bread costs more than a weeks food bill in London.” “You definitely can’t eat out in Scandinavia.” And so on.

Yes, Scandinavian countries are definitely more expensive and we haven’t even hit Norway yet where we hear the Norwegians travel to Sweden to shop. But we have been actually very surprised at how much we can get on our modest budget up here with the lovely Scandis. We have been able to keep to budget and include a few beers in the food shopping to boot. This has all been made possible by the discovery of Netto, I guess it is our equivalent of Aldi. We love a budget shop on this trip and everything is definitely cheaper in Netto. The kids now cheer when we drive past one. We even found great beer for £1 a bottle in Copenhagen….. hurrah! Here, we can do our shopping and ensure we don’t overspend. We still need to check the cost of everything we buy and the kids are now comparing the prices between products for everything which takes some time but is quite a lot of fun for them. Fruit and veg is expensive but we can’t avoid that so we scrimp on other things…

We did worry though about the cost of everything up here in the North and so did a little prep before arriving. It started in France where we headed straight to a Carrefour and stocked up on boxes of wine to get us through our few months heading up towards the Arctic. We figured as the weather grew colder, we would need a little glass of the good stuff to warm our cockles and so stocked up on some nice red, a Cotes De Rhone, which is a safe drop to buy in a box we figured. Working out to about £15 for 3 litres we thought it good value. We also bought a keg of beer which we thought we could drink over a long space of time but then realised that my Level 1 French for Beginners course had failed me as we realised that this keg was actually to supply French bars and needed a machine with a fancy pump and levers and other pub type things. But please do not fret dear reader, we did not waste a keg of beer, instead Steve got to test out his new axe bought especially for the trip, the result being quite flat beer…. but who can be fussy when you are living on £20 per day. And it wasn’t just the alcohol that we were prepared for, we also stocked up in Germany in dry goods such as pasta and lots of jars and long lasting food as well as toiletries and washing powder, very practical.

These are not the only things to consider when living on a traveller’s tight budget, we have a lodging budget of £30 per night but thanks to the brilliant apps https://www.campercontact.com/en/ and http://www.park4night.com we have managed to stay under budget for most of the trip, pitching up on marinas or people’s land which has proved to be so much better than generic campsites. We have been able to meet and chat to the owners or locals who live on or pass by the sites and this has been a really lovely experience. The other brilliant thing about staying on marinas, apart from costing about a tenner a night is that they cater for yachts and general boaty people who all clearly expect luxury rain type power showers and patterened Formica in their loos. So we have been able to live like the posh boaty people on our budget too. We even managed to find a free spot on a beautiful small port in a little fishing town called Fiskebackskil on the west coast of Sweden which provided a beautiful view and this throne…. we were happy Hamiltons that night.

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And that leads me on to another part of our budget which we must consider….. our humble entertainment pot. We blew the budget for Legoland for the kids and had pre planned to blow it for Flynn’s birthday but it means that we have had to cut back since then. That is until we saw the cute little seafood restaurants dotted up the coast in small fishing villages, all serving fish just caught and luring the Hamilton clan who all love seafood. A rainy day persuaded us to blow it again and we ate some of the freshest and most delicious shellfish we have ever had. So, to counteract this extravagance, we found free camping spots on marinas for the next 2 nights to make up for the spend. Sorted! This is not something we will be able to do in all the countries we visit but it is positively encouraged by the Swedes and Norwegians so we shall be doing this lots while it is safe to do so.

It’s all a whole new experience for us, one that we happen to be enjoying, so far that is. Before we started travelling and even when we were saving for this trip, we didn’t need to be so frugal or cost conscious. We often found ourselves in the Boulevard eating curry when we had a dinner ready to be cooked in the fridge. Now, we have to make sure we strategically plan and execute every meal and eat ALL food bought…. helped greatly by having a 50 litre fridge.

We have explored all the cities finding sites and tourist attractions that are mainly free and found brilliant things to do that haven’t blown the budget. The 2 hour self walk tour around Gothenburg was surprisingly interesting for both the kids and us. We all really loved Gothenburg!

Thankfully the kids have found fishing and crabbing with homemade string and oyster shells a new hobby so are happy to stay on marinas and ports every night, or close to the water. If they do get bored, we will find a campsite with a pool to entertain them for a while but for now at least, they seem really happy to be fishing, swimming on the beaches and biking everywhere.

Living on a budget is working out well. Don’t get us wrong, we have a very healthy budget, we are not by any means on the breadline and I hope this blog doesn’t sound preachy. However, it is teaching us as a family to appreciate what we have and not waste. We are really proud of the way our kids have reacted to this. They know that they can’t ask for things, they know that they get a treat every food shop but it needs to be cheap and good value and they also know that they must eat what is put in front of them. Hopefully elements of this will stay with them when we return.

We are learning that we can survive Scandinavia with the amount we have set aside for this leg of our tour but we can’t just pop to Noble Off License to buy a beer when we fancy it or eat seafood everyday, as much as we would all love this.

So far, we are excited by the challenge and who knows, what we save in Scandinavia could mean a few more treats in another part of the world. We will keep you posted on how we do.

 

 

 

Week 2: Nuts and bolts

Gah! Sorry, again, it’s Tuesday of week 4, I am sitting in Sweden and only just getting to writing up week 2. You lot might think it’s all fun and games out here on the road with all the time in the world to write blogs and post on twitter, but it’s just not as easy as all that, there is all this real life to contend with.

For a start, eating – there are four hungry mouths to feed three times a day, plus snacks, on a relatively strict budget, using 2 gas burners and a Cadac safari hob/grill/oven/bbq thingy, plus associated washing up and dealing with the fact that the fridge is only 50 litres. And that includes trying to keep beer cold.

Also included in the real life agenda is washing, of our bodies and our clothes. Sometimes we’re on nice campsites with washing machines and tumble dryers, other times we have only basic facilities and need to rig up washing lines using paracord and isosceles triangles – which I am actually very proud of, I hope the photo below does them justice.

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Part of the fun we’re having is finding places that we think are good value, and we’re finding that marina’s are a good place to hole up for a night or two – people who have boats moored up want some facilities, and they own boats so they don’t want terrible facilities. This has led to some good value finds, such as:

Week two, day one and two: Musselkanaal. Yep, that’s a real place name. Pretty small, pretty provincial Netherlands, very near the German border, this was a small marina with mooring for maybe half a dozen canal boats, toilets, showers and a washing machine. We did some washing, some bird watching and some cycling/exploring. The Europeans know how to cycle, the Dutch especially. This was cheap, and really good, relaxing fun.

Day three: We made the move into Germany today, crossing the Weser River above Bremen – unfortunately we got our first taste of traffic since London when the Weser tunnel was closed for repairs and we had to catch the ferry to Bremerhaven – with everyone else. This cost us a few hours and a change of planned campsite. We used all our apps and Google maps to search close to Bremerhaven, as it was time to eat, and found a few less than perfect places first. After first alighting at a site where I am fairly sure elderly German mental patients are sent to pass away in peace, and being grunted at from the other side of a bald residents underbite (we named her Delilah) did not help the ‘18.00hrs and haven’t found somewhere to sleep yet’ mood, we happened upon a small holiday place with the most amazing showers and two swimming pools for thruppence ha’penny a night (call me a liar for 14 euros-still can’t find that Euro symbol) so all was well.

Day four: Womoland. Lovely. We travelled to the island of Nordstrand, a peninsular really, a little place full of swallows and sheep in the North Sea. A delightful campsite where the owners kept a bunch of animals as well as a recently orphaned swallow – read all about the poo of a swallow Here on Edie’s blog update.

Day five: Denmark. Another country? Yep. We crossed the border and stayed just over in a place called Krusa, at a proper holiday campsite with pools and entertainment and everything. Not all that, tbh, and way over budget. Being on holiday village type campsites doesn’t feel like what we’re about at the minute. Maybe we’ll crave them if we stay away for a while, but at the moment being rural feels right. We dropped back into Germany the next day to visit the science museum in Flensburg, great place, give it a try if you’re in the area. To give you an idea how quiet it was compared to the London science museum, see below.

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Day six and seven: Rømø. Which is a Danish island in the Wadden Sea. Which, Wikipedia reliably tells me, when I went there to copy the accents on Rømø, is also popular with nudists. It was probably a bit cold for that when we were there. Another great, simple site, with a bunch of pitches around a lake and some very clean, new, posh toilets and showers. In fact, these were probably the best showers of the trip so far. Lots more cycling and beach work here.

So that is the nuts and bolts of week two. I really need to get on with week three.

 

 

Week 1: Nuts and bolts

So, as well as random thoughts and nonsense we thought we probably ought to do a more mundane, factual type blog to say where we have been and all that malarkey, is that what you want, dear reader? Well, it’s what you’re going to get, if you don’t like it you can always skip to the kids blog which is much more exciting and has pictures.

This updatey (that’s a word on the continent) bit of the blog is provisionally titled Nuts and bolts, or perhaps KnutzenBolten given the neighbours, if you can come up with a better name please send on a postcard to someone who cares.

Week one, day one: We left Macdonald Road, N11, our North London base for the last 6.5 years, around 11am and headed straight for the tunnel. Once in France we made for an old tunnel favourite site, Chateau De Gandspette in Eperlecques, for the sake of tradition. The kids were in the pool by 16.00hrs CET and we had a Leffe in hand by 18.00hrs. At this point the feeling is somewhere between excitement, fear and ohmygodhavewereallydonethis ness.

Day two: Bruges. After spending much of the previous day in the Blockhaus at Eperlecques, see the kids blog entry Here for the details of that WW2 V2 rocket bunker, we were lateish arriving and chose an overnight stop near the river. It wasn’t much more than a glorified car park but we weren’t there long enough to care. On the upside we bumped into another family, The Seppings, who had just set off on their own five month tour in a motorhome. Matt, Jane, Aidan and Anna were leaving for the Netherlands shortly after we arrived so we may yet bump into them, stay tuned (for readers of a nervous disposition who can’t stand the tension we did, in fact, meet them just a few days later, see below). Bruges was fine, in a ‘another European city’ type way. Dunno, some people love it, maybe we didn’t give it a chance in the 30 mins we visited.

Day three: The Netherlands. We drove over the border and wanted windmills, so looked up the best place to find em and drove like the wind. Not for long, obviously, because it’s not that big a country and so flat you can see most of it with a good pair of binos but all the same, we found em. After that a quick google maps search found us a place called De Katjeskelder, run by a firm called Roompot. This place had an outdoor pool, and indoor pool with a slide, all the staff were lovely and there was activities for the kids-and at £14 a night (I can’t find the euro button) we thought we’d stay for a few nights. Incidentally, this place had little houses, not huts or chalets but proper little houses, to rent and it’s not that far up from Bruges, so if Antoine fancies a weekend away you could do it on the train or a short drive after the tunnel. So, three nights, which takes us to..

Day 6: Schoorl. Up on the north west coast of The Netherlands we found a pretty little site with its own windmill staffed by volunteers who showed us the inner workings. Loved it.  Pretty part of the world, could have spent a couple of days here exploring. We left here and dropped in on our pal Ellie and family near Utrecht, who just happened to be having a significant birthday, thanks for the prosecco, great to see you!

Day 7: Hoge Veluwe national park. A Dutch pal, thank you Elian, recommended this place as being the best of The Netherlands, and it didn’t disappoint. Miles of parkland and forest all, as you would expect, criss crossed with cycle lanes and free bikes to ride on them. A museum and an art gallery reside within and the whole thing was super relaxing. We also met up with our new mates from day 2, the Seppings, who incidentally are blogging their trip here and we get a mention, which is nice. Nice family, although from South London so it was difficult to understand their accents. We spent a couple of days in Hoge Veluwe with them just across the way from us so the kids could play, and a nice couple of nights after the kids were in bed with a glass of wine , setting the world to rights. A shame that our paths are unlikely to cross again on this trip, we head north into Scandinavia while they trek further south.

So, that’s week one over, and it’s fair to say that we really enjoyed The Netherlands. Nice place, super nice people, Gouda and windmills, who could ask for more? I’ll try and get week two blogged a little closer to time, but I make you no promises I can’t keep.

Stay sharp.

The first rule of Hamilton Homeschooling…

Is not to worry too much about the actual ‘schooling’…

We have always been parents that haven’t spent much time on homework with the belief that school get a whole six hours teaching our kids, leaving their time at home to be spent doing the other important things that they don’t get to do in a classroom, including time just being Family Hamilton. Don’t get us wrong, we completely respect all aspects of education and our kids have been really lucky to have had brilliant teachers. We also realise that the hard work has already been done, both our kids are strong readers and can write well too so the gruelling groundwork is firmly in place. But we have also always felt that there should be more to what our children are learning about and so, with that in mind, we decided to embark on a whole different kind of education and write our own type of curriculum, without actually writing anything at all; so here is the Hamilton guide to unschooling our kids….. for a while at least.

So we bought it all, the practise books with endless worksheets guiding them through comprehension, spelling, punctuation and grammar. We have all of the maths work ready for them to practise fractions, decimals, statistics and geometry; as well as many more in the long list of targets on the current Primary Curriculum. And we will get to them, especially on those long plane, train or bus journeys. We know that it is important to try to meet those targets so that they return to their education next year, still in the game and not feeling like they are behind their peers. However, this will not be the important part of the Hamilton Curriculum or indeed why we chose to home school. Our ‘learning journey’ will be more improvised with a whole new topic in every country or at a new campsite when something interesting arises. Their education will be based on what we see or experience at the time or when they find something that interests or inspires them as individuals.

So lets look at the Hamilton curriculum so far. We are now nearly two weeks in and we can honestly say that the kids have probably only had ‘sit down’ sessions for a total of about five hours, yet they have learnt so much in this short time.

We started our trip in France and happened to stay next door to a WW2 bunker which was built by Hitler to make V2 rockets targeted at the UK. Cue a mini project about WW2 where Flynn wrote a poem and created a timeline. He learnt about Anne Frank and enjoyed reading extracts from her diary. Edie wasn’t as interested in this and we can save such horrors for when she is older so instead she learnt how to use tally charts by counting up our mosquito bites each day. The chart is still going, and based on the tally so far, the information she can deduce from her chart is that mossies prefer biting Flynn who has a record 10 bites so far. As well as this, Flynn has created a spreadsheet giving both himself and Edie a budget using the monetary gifts they were given. Usually, they want to blow all of their pocket money as soon as they see the holiday tat but they are starting to understand that the £77.50 that they both have needs to last about 120 days and so they are weighing up what treats or activities are good value. They are doing the same in supermarkets, where they search for the best value product based on price and weight. Our aim is to feed all of us for £20 a day which we are so far achieving, even with the odd snack bar that blows the budget wide open,  and the kids have both really enjoyed the shopping trips trying to keep to this budget….. this is definitely a first.

So much of their learning happens spontaneously or by chance. We talked about why The Netherlands has so many windmills and a how they work and then by chance we arrived at a site with a working windmill. The kids were treated to a demonstration and got to see the brilliant engineering in practise. We also found a wonderful parking spot for motor homes on a small island on a canal in Holland with an array of water birds to watch. And so Edie became a young ‘twitcher’ who sat on the bank of the water with her binoculars and bird book. She then wrote down what she found and drew the birds. Cute bit of bird watching for school that morning. Every day, the kids can sit and talk about everything they have learnt without really thinking about it. They will write it all down in their blog as their own way of recording it and through this, we will help teach spelling, grammar, punctuation and comprehension. They will also read so many books on their new kindles (we have had to adjust the budget for this as Flynn is on his fourth novel so far) and they will explore all of the texts that we remember inspiring us as kids.

On top of this, they are learning basic language skills in a multiple of countries (we all are) and gradually getting to grips with the difficulty of trying to socialise with other kids in alien countries. This is in the very early stages…. watch this space.

So the Hamilton Curriculum continues to be written as we journey from town to town or country to country and the kids get to write it with us. Who knows whether it will continue to be a success, maybe when the holiday feeling or excitement at being away wears off, the kids will want a more structured day. But at the moment it is exciting and new and we hope it ensures they remember the things they learn on their year of unschooling for the rest of their lives.