Have kid, will travel! Evie Farrell of Mumpack Travel tells us about travelling the world with her daughter for years at a time!
Australian Evie Farrell and her 9-year-old daughter Emily (Emmie) lead an extraordinary life. They’ve been travelling off and on since 2015, with one trip lasting over two years! Evie started her own blog, Mumpack Travel, and has an IG account with stunning pics of her travels (and over 100k followers!). Here we catch up with the intrepid mum to hear about her fascinating adventures, how the trip has impacted her daughter and what they have gained from their travels.
Click here to read Evie’s debut article for us from right before they began their amazing journey!
We first spoke to you in 2015 when you decided to use your savings to go on a year-long adventure with your daughter Emily when she was 5 years old. How did your trial trip go?
Yes! I wrote about our adventures at Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo for Sassy Mama four years ago – that trip was so special because I had just decided that we should travel for a year. We’d only had resort holidays together up until then – although I’m a backpacker from back in the day – so it was a test of sorts, to see if we could manage budget travel together. Our travels in Borneo were a huge success so we started planning our big trip.
Tell us about your two and half year-long trip. Do you have a timeline of all the countries you visited?
We left Australia in February 2016 and planned to stay away for a year, but it ended up being around 2.5 years. We spent most of our time in Asia, and it’s hard to timeline it because we are so scattered – we hop around to wherever we feel like going, whenever we feel like moving. Our travels are a big lazy zigzag. We spent lots of time in China, in Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives…we went to Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines. We visited Paris and London and spent a little time with friends in Cologne in Germany. We lived in Hoi An, Vietnam for a while and Emmie went to international school there, and we’re thinking of heading back for a bit next year, too.
We’ve been back in Australia since August 2018, and are travelling as much as we can – we’ve been to Dubai, and America (still not had enough of Disneyland), back to Borneo (leading a family trip), and exploring Australia. We had to stay put while I wrote a book – which is out soon, Backyard to Backpack: A Solo Mum, a Six Year Old and a Life Changing Adventure – and now I’m working and saving for another big trip in 2020. In the meantime we have trips to Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam and Hawaii coming up.
How do you budget for your trips and what are your top tips for travelling on a budget with kids?
For me, the best way to travel cheaply, support the local economy and learn about where we are is to eat local – street food, hawker markets, small family run restaurants; travel local – use tuk-tuks and local buses; and stay local – in family-owned guesthouses and homestays. We stay in hostels, which are such good value and really well set up for families these days; they’re great for meeting other travellers too. By staying budget most of the time we save enough for occasional five-star stays where I get to relax with wine while Emmie spends a bit of time in kids’ clubs!
We don’t really budget for our trips. I save as much money as I can and try to make it last by doing things cheaply but also enjoying ourselves. We rarely say no to adventures or experiences, and when I start to worry about money we will stay in hostels and have quiet days at the beach, eating street food and living on as little as we can. I really don’t want to be saying no to anything because of funds, although I do try to teach Emmie to respect the money we have and not be excessive. She doesn’t get to buy things anyway as nothing else fits into our backpacks, so for her it’s more about ziplines and jungle safaris and waterslides.
Now that Emmie is getting older are you still planning on taking long trips and schooling online? Does she go to regular school between trips?
Yes we are – I am not sure if the school is happy with me taking so much time off. Next week we set off again…but we only have a short time left that we can do this. Emmie is in year 4 this year, and I feel that she needs stability for the six months before she moves into high school, leaving us with about 18 months to travel as much as we can. I enjoy the lack of structure and responsibility while travelling but there will be a time for both of us to settle down very soon. I haven’t decided where that will be, though or how it will work. I guess, like most things, I’ll figure it out when it happens.
Are there any downsides of travelling for long periods of time? Does Emmie crave waking up in the same bed or is she happy to keep moving?
I’m being perfectly honest when I say that for us there are no downsides. In fact, it’s the routine and responsibility and sameness at home that gets to both of us. When we are at home we see less of each other and it’s tough. We much prefer the freedom of being on the road, of being together every day and being out in the world. Emmie does like to know that our house is still there for us, having an anchor to home is important to her.
What have been your favourite countries and experiences?
I love Cambodia with all my heart, the people there are so positive and hardworking despite such heartbreak and hardships of the recent past. Emmie loves China – she loves the people, the food and the incredible nature. Malaysia is very special to us, and so is Sri Lanka – we’ve made friends everywhere. We adore all of Asia, we’ve had very precious times there and have always felt safe, welcomed, and cared for.
Which countries are on your bucket list?
Emmie desperately wants to go to Antarctica (it’s so expensive though, but she is saving!) and to Moscow to see the architecture – she is really into the coloured turrets like Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I really want to get to Belize and Costa Rica for the jungles and the snorkelling. I would love to return to Egypt and Turkey, and explore more of China, and we have a whole lot more of the world to see. The more we travel the more we realise how many adventures are out there for us.
How do you manage being active on social media and writing your blog with spending time with your daughter and enjoying the moment travelling?
This is such an important question because social media is impacting everyone’s lives so much, and changing the way people travel. I’m very aware that my priority is Emmie and spending time together and social media is secondary to that. When we first left Australia Instagram was not the juggernaut it is now, and it’s interesting to see how it has really changed the landscape of family travel and has become a key element of a trip. It’s like, if it’s not on Instagram did it really happen? But if it’s taking me away from Emmie and our intention to spend time together then it’s just not worth it to me, and that’s why we don’t have a lot of channels or do videos or anything that creates a barrier between us and our experiences.
I love photography – I was that person carrying a backpack in the 90s with 50 canisters of film shoved inside pockets – and I love sharing our adventures, but it will never be the focus for us. I should spend more time on my blog, it would probably be successful if I did, but I’d prefer to be with Emmie.
What I love the most about social media is the friendships I’ve made on Instagram and Facebook and the support we get from people all over the world. When we are travelling I’ll often ask for advice or share when something has gone wrong or mistakes I’ve made, and I always get such positive messages and it’s so uplifting to have people looking out for us and wishing us well.
Your life is most people’s dream. How do you avoid getting blasé about all the amazing experiences you are both having?
I have to work hard for us to be able to have these experiences and we both make sacrifices to make it happen. I used all my savings for us to travel for two and a half years and it was worth every single cent to spend that time with Emmie. So now I have to work and save again. I am working a contract in Sydney to earn money for our next adventure which means Emmie is in before- and after-school care. That’s a long 11 hours each day for her. But, we keep our eyes on the prize, and we leave next week for three weeks in Asia where we will be together every day. Having to work for our travels makes us appreciate them so much more, and we also value our time together so, so much. The hard work is worth it.
I hear your daughter journals every day? Does her writing feature in your new book?
I wish she did. She does sometimes but schoolwork is always a real struggle with Emmie. She loves making presentations though, so that is a way we are working together on her journaling and documenting our adventures through her eyes. She has some drawings in the book, and she has written a short story, too. It was important to me to have her contribute, and I love that she is such a big part of it, not only through our story but through her drawings and her own story.
How has your travel enriched Emmie – have you noticed any changes in her and can you attribute any developments to any key travel experiences?
I think there were two fabulous outcomes for Emmie (and for me) from traveling. The first was that we got to spend time together – we didn’t get that at home I was always working and we rushed around on weekends. So we got to really know each other, spend valuable time together and form a beautiful relationship. You just can’t put a price on that and it was incredibly important for her, especially coming from a solo parent home.
Traveling has just given Emmie so, so much. She is resilient because she is accustomed to change, she is outgoing because she is used to meeting and talking to people from all over the world, she is strategic – because she has had to make plans and sometimes lead the way. She is very aware of different religions and cultures and she knows about landmarks and national parks and wildlife from all the countries we’ve visited. She is secure in herself because she knows she is the sum of her experiences and her values and the kind of person she is, and that is what is important. She is a silly, chatty, fun little kid that challenges me and makes me see the world from a different perspective and I know travel and experiences outside the norm have made her who she is.
Staying safe as a single woman when travelling is one thing – how do you make sure your daughter is safe at all times? Do you have a family emergency plan or safety protocol if she gets lost?
I get asked this a lot and it was definitely my biggest concern before we left. But we are just sensible, without being overprotective or anxious. I look out for Emmie just the same overseas as I do at home. We don’t go out late or if a place is too crowded, and we always stick together although I let her run around, especially in Hoi An where it’s very safe – she needs to have freedom and responsibility – but never where I can’t see her. We have meeting places and she knows how to contact me on social media, as I have a new SIM in each country. We also carry a hotel card with the address should we get separated and need to get back. We feel so safe in Asia, I don’t think it’s less safe than home and so we use the same sensible safety approach we do in Sydney.
How have you found the food on your trips? Does Emmie eat everything including spicy food?
We love the food! Well, me more than Emmie. My favourite is Vietnamese pho, banh mi and rice paper rolls, Khmer curries and anything in Thailand. Emmie loves xiao long bao, satay sticks, and most food in China, especially the green bean dishes and pork dumplings. Getting used to spice took her a while, which was upsetting to me because I love chilli! But she is getting there.
Tell us about your new book…
It’s called Backyard to Backpack: A solo mum, a six year old and a life changing adventure and I can hardly believe it. It’s being printed right now and it’s being published by Murdoch Books. It’s available for pre-order on Book Depository for Singapore and all over the world, you can get it in Australia on Booktopia or in store from 5 August 2019.
It’s all about our travels — why we left Australia and what we learnt along the way, how travel gave us such meaningful experiences and learnings, plus the funny things that happened, the mistakes and how it changed us. It was so tough to write because I had to make myself very vulnerable and share my true heart and feelings, and I really hope that people like it and find inspiration to start their own adventures too.
Thanks so much for chatting with us Evie. We will be following your upcoming adventures with a little envy no doubt! Have the best time with Emmie and send us a postcard!