Life after Worldschool

A year ago we were coming to the end of the South East Asia part of our trip. I wrote an article about worldschooling. Our decision to sell our house and take a year out to travel, and how we decided on worldschooling as our method of education for the year.

Backpacks and Sunhats last night in Hong Kong

The article seemed to strike a chord with people and we woke up one morning in England to find we’d become an overnight sensation on the New Zealand news website Stuff. You can read the original article here. Many of our followers came from seeing this article and we received lots of lovely emails and comments from supporters. We also received some rather nasty comments but resisted the temptation to correct people’s outrageous and untrue assumptions about us. A year later, it has been on my mind to post a ‘follow up’. To address all those questions about what would happen when we came home.

What happens when you come home after travelling?

The various negative opinions can mostly be summed up with this comment we received:

All very good but what happens when you return to New Zealand with no money, no house, no job, hope your family that has stayed in NZ is accommodating to you on your return, the kids will enjoy a year away from school though so long as they haven’t fallen too far behind in maths and English and out of favour with school friends.

I feel that is a rather risk averse and dismal view of things. But amongst the meanness there are some very real points that many people worry about when deciding whether to take time out from normal life to fulfil their dreams. Whatever those dreams might look like.

A google search of gap years, family travel blogs, worldschooling etc will return many thousands of results. But very few tell you about what it is like to come home again. From my experience, I think that might be because as soon as we arrive home life takes over, the busy creeps back in and travel feels like a lifetime ago. It has taken me months to finish the blog posts of our Europe trip and I still have more about our time in England (so much history). I’ve been taking some notes since we got back, thinking about our feelings as we’ve readjusted to life in New Zealand and talked to the kids about what it has been like to be back at school.

The main concerns people raised with us were: What happens after you spend all your money? You won’t be able to afford to get back into the rising New Zealand property market. You’ll have to find another job. Your kids will get behind in their schooling. Worldschool is not a substitute for learning in the classroom. Your kids need socialisation. Your children need security, it is your job to provide that for them…

Gondola Ride in Venice
Do these kids look unhappy?

Here is our experience with how those things worked out for us when we got home to New Zealand. As an aside, we didn’t actually plan to return so soon. We had planned to spend some time living in the UK, but for various reasons that idea became less appealing during our time there. We also still needed to get a visa for me and at the same time an opportunity came up to return home, more about that below. So here we are.

What happens after you spend all your money?

We didn’t spend all the money! I feel like that would be a pretty irresponsible thing to do. Did we overspend vs budget? Yes! Do we know exactly how much we spent? Sort of! We have records and have possibly been a bit too nervous to add it up! Do we regret a single cent of it? No. Not one bit.

Before we left we put aside an amount for a house deposit, we didn’t touch that. We had expected moving costs for settling in the UK and in the end didn’t need that, or the visa cost. We had expected a longer time off work as we looked to settle in the UK but went back sooner as we had offers in NZ. So although we overspent the budget for travel, we were back at work sooner than planned and it was fine. Regret: that we were back at work sooner than planned!

You’ll have to find another job

Yes, this is an unfortunate fact of life. Although I’ve loved writing this blog and pondered the book idea, this is a hobby and doesn’t pay any bills. While we were exploring England, spending time with family and planning a trip back to NZ to apply for my UK visa, Paul heard through a colleague that his previous job was vacant again. They would happily have him back. Was he interested?

And that was the huge question that we had just a few days to answer. Have a try at settling the family into the UK, new schools, jobs, friends etc. Or go back home? Calling time on the adventure of a lifetime. You know by now what we chose, but with a twist. We decided not to move back to Upper Hutt where Paul’s commute was well over an hour each way. Instead we’ve moved to Palmerston North. From here the commute is around 45 minutes and not subject to Wellington traffic nightmares. We are now closer to family too.

We had a long talk about maintaining a new work-life balance and time with our kids that had been missing before. The craziness and stress had been our big drivers for change. 6 months later we still try to check in and apply what we learnt last year to our new life. Part of that was me deciding to go self employed and stick to part-time hours while the kids are still in school. In another twist, when my previous employer heard I was returning they also asked if I was interested in coming back. I now work from home for them and other clients, resisting the inclination to take on more work, so I can be at the kid’s sports days, assemblies etc. And these days I’m at school pick up, no au pair required.

Unfortunately this isn’t my work view

So to the negative Nelly that said we’d return home with no job… I would say, don’t be so sure. I would encourage others thinking of a year off to talk to their employer, they may be open to having you back. Otherwise just don’t burn the bridges! They might be a future client!

Regrets? If we’d known how easy it would be and how quickly we’d slot back in, we would have travelled a bit longer!

No house but not homeless

Home is where your family is. Our little family of four is a tight unit. During the time we travelled we stayed in countless hotels, B&Bs, farmstays and there were all those nights in a tent. We didn’t miss having a house or all the possessions that we fill our houses with. Although our daughter did expand her collection of soft toy dogs significantly. At first we were frustrated with her desire to accumulate, but now I can see these toys provided her a lot of comfort and security. They provided the constant in her ever changing world.

Drawing my teddy collection

When we returned to New Zealand we stayed with family for a short time, (2-3 weeks) although much of the time was spent dashing around looking for a place to live and a new school for L &S. Once Paul was back at work we all moved into a motel. The kids started school and I worked from the motel rooms while searching for a rental house and working on our new project – building a new house!

We spent a few weeks house hunting before finding a section of land with a beautiful view, twice the size we’d had in Wellington. Building meant we needed to rent somewhere, being a tenant in NZ isn’t fun that’s for sure. Finding a decent rental was hard and that was with a generous budget. Strict no pet rules mean our cat is staying with Mum for another year and the kids will keep waiting for that promised dog.

But as I write this, the roof is going on and we’ll be tucked up in our new house before the end of winter. We will have a bigger mortgage than before but we will also have significantly more house and land for our money in Palmerston North, so that was a choice. Would it have been harder to get back into the market in Wellington? Yes, but not impossible.

Regrets? None. If we’d moved back to the Wellington area we might have wished we’d kept our house as it kept rising in value. But I think if we’d kept our house it would have been too easy to go back to our old life and we love living in Palmerston North.

School – Have the kids fallen behind?

Many families that take their kids out of school to travel are at least in part motivated by their unhappiness with their child’s school or the school system in general. This wasn’t the case at all for us. We were very happy with their Montessori school and still believe it gave them a fantastic grounding that we were able to build on.

We did a speedy tour of 3 schools when we got back to NZ. I was lucky to have a friend that lives locally to help with a shortlist. Strict zoning rules made it challenging since we didn’t yet have a house and therefore had no address. All 3 schools were incredibly welcoming, supportive and interested to hear from the children about their year away.

We ended up choosing a small, semi-rural school, that as it turns out will be 5 minutes drive from our new house. Two terms in and we have two happy, well-adjusted children with lots of friends, participating in sports and activities both in school and in the community. L was made a House Captain this year after just one term at the school. We love that they have a school pool, swim often twice a day in summer, run barefoot on the field and build huts in the trees.

But what about their maths and English I hear you ask… Both have been assessed as being at, and in many cases ahead of, their year group across the curriculum. S learned to read fluently while we were away. L has made leaps and bounds in maths. They both breeze through their homework each night and do well in school. Far from being behind, instead L’s teacher tells me L has the ability to grasp concepts and apply context from his travels to a lot of in class learning. Studying sustainability? Let’s talk about how that relates to our learnings in Borneo. Art? Religion? Geography? History? We covered it all, in a thousand different ways.

School work while Mum and Dad are wine tasting!

Friendships and socialisation

As for ‘falling out of favour with school friends’? It was sad that they couldn’t return to the same school. They kept in touch with some friends via social media and many classmates followed their adventures on the blog. Seeing everyone again is hard, with busy family lives and living 2 hours away. But L has been back for a birthday party and we recently caught up with some of his school friends at a football match in Wellington. I think they would have slotted back in just fine. True friendships don’t get lost over a few terms of absence.

Making new friends has been great for their confidence. They weren’t very nervous on that first day at a new school. They’d already had practice joining new groups of kids around the world during our travels. Making a friend on the beach, at the pool, at football or gym is the same the world over. S told me in France:

‘This is how you make friends Mum. You play together at the playground, you say “Hello, what’s your name? Where are you from?” and then you have a new friend.’

S, 6 years old

Regrets? All the days we argued with the kids about workbooks. All the time we worried about whether they were doing enough school work, instead of just being in the moment. To anyone considering a trip like this, take the workbooks, do some online stuff, but don’t worry about it. And never turn down the chance for an experience or interaction because you think they need to catch up on school work.

Worldschool at Roman Museum Pont du Gard

Worldschool at home

We miss all the opportunities that worldschool gave us to explore and learn as a family. However worldschool is as much a mindset as anything else. It doesn’t require constant travel. It requires a desire to learn more about the world around us. In our backyard and further afield.

Families from abroad come to New Zealand as part of their own worldschooling journey. We have our own history, culture, art, cuisine, geography, language and religions to discover. So we’ve been exploring our new home town and further afield with that in mind. We’ve been to exhibitions, cultural festivals and sports events. We spend lots of time at the library looking for new books to keep up with our busy readers. Our language learning was progressing well in Europe so we are trying to keep it up, using Duolingo, a great language learning app. The kids are doing French, Paul is doing French and Spanish. I seem to learn by listening to the kids lessons but they’ll overtake me soon, I need to download the app.

We don’t want our children to lose the spark of interest they had, the developing passions. Art for S and history for L. As life takes over, more after school activities get signed up for, and the months pass since we came home, it gets harder to find the time to keep up those interests.

Post worldschool are we ‘settled?’

A couple of months ago we were at a family party, with many of the same people that we’d seen at our farewell. We were asked the question “Are you settled now? Have you got it out of your system?” As if the desire to show our children the world is an affliction to be overcome. No we’re not settled, we don’t want to be! When you are in a relationship where you and your partner come from opposite sides of the world being settled is relative, complicated, challenging.

We are doing the responsible parent thing and providing our children with the stability and routine they were asking for. We are giving them the childhood we want them to have, barefoot summers, playing with cousins.

Far from loving their year off school they both missed it and their friends a lot. There was lots of home sickness but there were so many happy days and the memories will last a lifetime. They grew, in every way; stronger, braver, smarter, taller, closer to each other and to us. One day, we tell ourselves, they’ll appreciate the opportunity!

Everyone’s journey will be different, coming home will not be the same for every family. But for us it worked out just fine. So if fears of how it will work out when you get home are holding you back from your own adventure, I hope this helps.


  1. Kellie Bowkowy

    100 % agree with you. Our return “home” after a year and a half has been much the same. Kids are both exceeding at school and have such a great outlook on learning. We are the parents are “settled” but our eyes are open to what might happen next.

    1. backpacksandsunhats

      Hi, we didn’t in Asia nor much in Europe. We would have liked to in Europe but couldn’t really fit bikes along with everything else! We cycle a bit in NZ and yes the kids keep up. The 7 year old recently did 12km was a bit tired at the end but back on the bike the next day.

  2. Nicola

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights on your travels and world schooling. We are planning a trip in 2021 when our children will be 8 and 11. We aim to spend 3 months in NZ (my in laws are in Christchurch and New Plymouth) and then 4 – 6 months in Europe but need to manage the 90 day rule by spending time in non Schengen countries. I am a high school teacher and I know what goes on in many classrooms. A classroom could never compare with the richness of learning that travel and real life experiences in context will give children. I am super impressed with your camping efforts too! I am trying to work out if we should buy a motorhome or do tent camping combined with airbnb’s/ hostels. After reading your blog a motorhome with aircon sounds more appealing! Did you meet many people traveling with kids in motorhomes? What were the pros and cons of the different types of travel? Thanks again! Nicola

    1. backpacksandsunhats

      Hi Nicola, how exciting to be in the planning phase of your trip. Tent vs. motorhome: Mostly the people we met were retired people in motorhomes as I guess they have the freedom to travel for longer periods. As the school holidays started there were more families in tents and some in caravan / cabins that are fixed at a campground and rented per week. These tend to be quite expensive, more suitable for a holiday as it would be too much to stay for weeks on end. We did stay in some of these in Portugal when it was still low season. Not staying in a motorhome it is harder to comment but yes one disadvantage of the tent is the heat in the afternoons, really you just need to plan your day and live more like the Europeans but it is impossible to siesta in a hot tent so better to go to the pool or beach! But one big advantage of the tent is once you are set up, you are just driving a regular car around to explore. Not trying to drive a huge motorhome everywhere you go! Fuel is more in motorhomes too. Of course we had times that it wasn’t that convenient to be in a tent – in the middle of a thunderstorm for example – but looking back those moments make for some of the best memories and add to the feeling of adventure. Those moments build your children’s resilience too I think. There are also some really cool agriturismo and unique accommodation experiences in Europe – sleeping in caves for example. So the mix of tent and accommodation allows for that. I hope this helps!

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