I’mve followed Kirstie Pelling and her inspiring Family Adventure Project for a while. I thought she would be perfect to interview for my Grand Adventures project.
What are you doing?
We’re having an ongoing family adventure. The Family Adventure Project was a pact between Stuart and me when our oldest child was born. A vow to keep adventure in our lives once kids and domesticity kicked in. As each child was old enough to keep their heads up, they joined in the fun; snug in their car seat in a bicycle trailer. Since then, as a family, we have hiked, biked and paddled more than 20 countries. We aren’t an itinerant family; we fit our adventures around work, school and home life. We have travelled and had outdoor adventures with toddlers, tweens and now teens. And – contrary to popular belief – we have found that it is possible to get a teenager out of the bedroom!
Indeed, as our children enter the teenage years we feel it’s even more important for us to find ways to connect with them, and help them keep in touch with us, the outdoors and their environment. So where we can, we plan mini adventures. Like walking across the Lake District at Christmas or biking our home county in February half term. Adventures that don’t cost a lot, but strengthen family bonds, keep us fit, and keep us communicating. Our sleepover season is a series of occasional nights in the outdoors where we leave the tent and home and sleep out under the stars.
Our latest adventure was a family multi activity marathon. Team Honk were looking for bloggers to take part in a relay from Lands End to John O’Groats challenge for Sport Relief. So we came up with a plan to do five activities over four days- taking the baton on a marathon length 26.2 mile adventure from Morecambe to Kendal by microscooting, canoeing, cross country running, swimming and cycling. Here’s a video of what we got up to.
What have been a couple of highlights from all these adventures?
One memorable highlight was the last few miles of a six month bike tour end to end of New Zealand. I was five months pregnant with our third child, (the unexpected tends to happen when you set out on an adventure) and we were carrying two toddlers in cycle trailers along Ninety Mile Beach. It felt like we were the only people in the world, and when we came to Cape Reinga, and the place where the oceans meet, I swear the Maori spirits took my breath away.
Another highlight was reaching Santiago de Compostela together after a hot summer biking The Camino. We were promised a church filled with incense from a giant botafumeiro. Instead the cathedral was filled with the more prosaic wafts of pilgrims’ feet and goat cheese. But we had done it – we had completed the pilgrim way.
Why did you do all this?
Why adventure? We did it, and still do it, because we have fun together. When the kids were younger it was all about the excitement of finding a playground in the wilderness, riding a board down sand dunes or over a wave, or stumbling across a brussel sprout farm. Now they are older, it’s the fun of negotiating border crossings in unfamiliar countries with unfamiliar languages, taking on bigger physical challenges, and learning new skills together. And yes, we’d still have fun in a sprout farm!
But it is also about something deeper than fun. Adventure in the outdoors is good for children and good for families. Family members learn what they are capable of, (and it’s often more than anyone realises) and learn how to assess risk. As personalities grow and change, and teenagers start to live separate lives, it is useful to have a common goal and shared experience.
And I have to admit that we partly do it to get away from the washing, the cooking, the homework, Minecraft and Facetime.
What impact has this adventure/lifestyle had on your life and family?
It has widened all our horizons. It has shown the kids there are many ways to live, and many ways to make a living. It has taught us many things about ourselves. It has taught us resilience and stamina. The children have learnt skills for life, and my daughter and I have become more brave. It has turned the boys into adrenaline junkies, who are perhaps a little too keen on making fire.
How did you turn your dream into reality?
We deliberately didn’t overstretch ourselves financially when it came to buying a house and a car or other things that can prove a ball and chain. We made a decision to go freelance to give ourselves time to spend with the children. We started a website to record our adventures; I often find if you voice your ambitions out loud you are more likely to achieve them.
We keep things fresh (and affordable) by having microadventures of all kinds. We do a lot of stuff in our own back yard. We rarely waste a school holiday; considering all of them an opportunity to have an adventure.
What practical steps can people take to make their adventure happen?
Planning is all. Do your research. Make a realistic budget and be prepared to stick to it. Sell things to fund it or put some money aside each week. Buy the right equipment. Do adventures that are within your capabilities or seek training and advice to skill you up.
For a family adventure, put the children first. Get them on board. Theme trips to make them more interesting for them and include things they like to do.
And before venturing anywhere, always make a giant picnic. You can never go wrong if you have a hard boiled egg in your handbag!
One of the biggest things that stop people having adventure is family – responsibility, slow kids, a a lack of time and so on. What can you say to encourage people who think like this?
An adventure is much more fun when you have kids along- in fact in our experience they are the key to getting to know the world. They’re also often better at things than you are, as we recently found out in The Pyrenees when the kids left us way behind on the mountain.
If you have a job, then adventure at the weekend. Detach yourself from ‘stuff’ -you don’t need it. If TV distracts you then don’t have one-we don’t.
Get out of the mindset that adventure always requires money. We have been known to canoe to the video shop or supermarket, turning an everyday chore into a little adventure. Go on a night’s camping in a neighbour’s garden or on the hill behind your house. It may be just as much fun as climbing Helvellyn.
Stop making excuses and start making plans – your children are only this age once. Get to know them while you still can.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known before?
That you can turn even a trip to the dentist into an adventure if you have company and the right mindset. And that childhood is short. It only seems like moments since our kids were born, and now we must prepare them for an independent life. If I’md known it would go in a flash, I’md have smiled more at the tantrums and agreed to wear more tiaras.
Fitting adventure on a daily basis into the lives of our busy and often over-committed children can be tricky. As they go up the school system they get more homework and less free time, and they just want to relax with the time that they do have. Its not impossible to create protected family time though, you just have to be organised. Assess the out of school activities they are doing. Are they stretching or fun enough for them? Could you drop some of them and introduce your own? Stuart and Hannah are currently instigating a Wednesday night adventure club after she found Brownies to be too tame.
Schedule adventure into your diaries. Every couple of months have a night where you all go camping together. You don’t have to go far; Stuart took the kids to our local fell for last year’s summer solstice in response to your microadventure challenge. Or pick a weekend and sling the tent into the car for a longer adventure. Invite their friends. Take the homework and do it in the car. Set challenges based around things they like; have an Instagram competition or find a geocache. If you make it enjoyable, they’ll want to be part of it and fit it into their lives.
You can follow the Family Adventure Project here.
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!