Journeying The Big Trip

Home Strange Home – Reverse Culture Shock after a Family Gap Year

Ice lollies in New York City
Written by Stuart Wickes

Home Strange Home

From:      Stuart
Subject:  Home Strange Home
Place:      Cumbria, England

Do you recognise it?

The boys were on the edge of their seats, straining out the window of the bus for their first glimpse of home. I wondered if they’d recognise it after all this time, particularly Cameron who seemed so small and young when we left and is now a proper little big boy, way too big for the clothes, shoes and toys he left behind.

Are we there yet?

“Are we in England yet?” he asked, scratching away at his hair, all tousled and bleached from nine months in the sun.

“Yes, we’re in England. We’ve been in England for six days now,” I explained patiently.

Somewhere along the line Cameron got confused about England and decided it was the village he lived in. His grasp of geography was still shaky even after (or perhaps as a result of) all our travelling.

“And now we’re coming into the village we live in. Look there’s your friend Holly’s house.”

“Ohhhhhh, Holly’s house, Holly’s house” he squeaked. “Is that it Dad, that one?” It wasn’t.

The bus turned and headed out into open countryside, down the country road that led home, past cows, sheep and goats grazing in fields, old slate topped farmhouses, and quaint stone cottages. I’d forgotten what a pretty place home was.

“Yes Dad I recognise it,” shouted Matthew jumping off his seat and riding rodeo at the front of the bus. I knew he would remember. I’d tested him on the colours of the carpets in our house on the flight up from London and he’d got them all right.

“That’s Holly’s house and Megan’s and we used to play there. We’re nearly home now. And I recognise that tree and those cows and that house and that road.” he jabbered away excitedly. “That’s where we used to go to the little choo choos down there.”

View out over fields from The Square Burton in Kendal

View out over fields from The Square Burton in Kendal

Is this England?

“Is this England?” asked Cameron again, trying hard to get a fix on his home.

“Yes sweetheart, this is England and we’re very nearly home. Your house is just down here.” I replied.

I put my arms around the two of them and enjoyed their excitement at coming home after travelling thirty four thousand miles around the world together.

“Is that my house?” asked Cameron pointing wildly out the window.

“No Cameron, that’s the pub,” said Matthew, “our house is on the Square.”

“Is it a big one?”

“Yes Cammy. Look, over there. That’s it. And look there’s someone waiting outside.”

Photo Montage from The Big Trip

As one family adventure ends… another begins as we await the imminent expansion of the family

What good friends we have

“Look there’s Mummy,” said Cameron as the bus pulled up at the stop. Kirstie was over the road, standing on the doorstep, waiting for us with her friend Kate. She’d had to take the train home by herself because her bump was too big to fly but she didn’t return home alone; a welcoming party of two good friends from the village surprised her at the station and helped her home.

Friends and relatives have been so supportive throughout this trip, running us to the airport, keeping an eye on the house, turning over the car, sending messages of support, not to mention keeping us up to speed with village gossip and the latest news from Heat magazine. I don’t think we realised what good friends we had around us until we went away.

“Who are those girls with Mummy?” asked Cameron.

“That’s Holly and Megan,” explained Matthew, “Holly is your friend.”

“Is she the big one or the little one?”

Like we’ve never been away, almost

Inside the house looked in good shape, much cleaner, tidier and better decorated than I remembered it. I’d forgotten about all the work we’d done to get the place into shape before we left. And friends and relatives had been in to freshen it up before we got back, hoovering, dusting, making up beds, stocking the fridge, putting flowers on the mantelpiece, champagne and chocolates on the dining room table. I couldn’t imagine a nicer space or more thoughtful group of people to come home to.

It didn’t matter whether Cameron remembered Holly or not. Within a few minutes of arriving the shyness was gone as the four young playmates tore around the house rediscovering playrooms, bedrooms and bathrooms and unearthing long forgotten delights from creaky old toy boxes.

“Oh look, lego, we’ve got lego and a train set, with trains and a Thomas train.”

“Hey mum, I’ve got a dressing gown and pyjamas.”

“And we’ve got bath toys and a bath and bubble bath, lots of bubble bath and story books for bedtime. Can we have stories at bedtime Mummy?”

“And there’s a cot in Cameron’s bedroom Mum. Is that for baby Snooko?”

Now this place needs to be lived in again

The excitement was palpable, like Christmas, birthdays and Easter all come at once. I felt it myself as I wandered around, but something about the place wasn’t right. I remembered something my sister said about the house in one of her emails,

“Your place looks terribly clean but what it really needs is some toys spreading about, and a layer of biscuit crumbs on the sofa, and toys in the bath and clothes on the stairs and an overflowing laundry basket………it is crying out to be lived in again, to come alive with a family.”

Now I understood what she meant. Still it looked like it wouldn’t take the boys long to put that right.

“Daddy, Daddy. I’ve got a bike and a scooter, an action man scooter, a big one,” squealed Cameron as he ran in from a recce in the garden.

“No that’s my action man scooter Cameron,” screamed Matthew tailing in behind him, “You can have the small one. Dad, tell Cameron the big scooter is my one.”

Kids on kids bikes

Since we got home the boys have really enjoyed catching up with friends and relatives

Home, strange home

It’s a strange sensation coming home after so long on the road. There’s a fleeting sense of unfamiliarity in a very familiar place, a short time in which you see your house, home and possessions from a distance, like they are not your own, at least not yet.

I guess it takes a little time to mentally arrive home, to slip back into a more settled and homely way of living, accepting and enjoying the material comforts I’d forgotten we had. It feels for a while like a game of ‘Through the Keyhole’, taking a voyeuristic, up close glimpse at the fixtures and fittings of our life before the Big Trip.

And after so long on the road, living a simple life with just a couple of changes of clothes and very little else, it’s a good time to question the need for some of the trappings of modern life before we stop noticing them again in the flow of everyday living.

And in those first few hours home, I wandered around and surveyed our castle, peeking in cupboards, browsing shelves and wondering why we needed a breadmaker; why we had so many clothes, dishes, mugs, pots, pans, toiletries; what was the point of a telephone in every room; what need we really had for a dishwasher, tumble dryer and two toasted sandwich makers.

But for everything I questioned there were things I felt pleased to be reunited with too: like the cafetiere; washing machine; that nice big family dinner table; the comfy sofa; my desk and computer; my piano; our bed, clean sheets and soft duvet; the bikes and kayaks in the gear loft. And beyond the niceties noticed too the pressing realities of things deferred that now needed to be faced: the roof that leaks, a falling down chimney, the rot in the cellar. But there’s plenty of time for all of that once we’ve settled back in.

I reckon it will take quite a few weeks to get things back to a kind of normal; to unpack stored clothes and possessions, sort through the mail, get the phone working, settle bills and get the car back on the road. And when we’ve done all that I guess we’ll have to create a new normal, with Matthew starting school, Cameron off to playgroup, the baby due before the end of September and questions of work and money to address too.

Luggage arriving home after a round the world trip

There’s plenty of unpacking today as the expedition gear returns home

Are we pleased to be home?

But for now, to all those who ask, “Are you pleased to be home?” we all say a resounding:


Travelling was great and home is too. But for those of you who we meet in the coming weeks and months, as we catch up with friends and renew old acquaintances, a word of warning: there’s only one thing we really dread about being home and that’s the questions we will never be able to answer about our experiences over the last year.

But please don’t ask

So if you want to know:

“What was the best bit then?”

“What are you going to do now?” and

“How did you find the time and energy to get pregnant while doing all that cycling and living in a tent with two toddlers?”

…please don’t ask because I’m not sure we know.

Matthew, Cameron and Puppy the Wuppy at Home after their big tri

Matthew, Cameron and Puppy the Wuppy at Home after their big trip

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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