Could COVID-19 spell the end of full-time family travel? For our family of five, the answer is yes. After 18 months on the road, volunteering our way around Europe with our three teenage children, two cats and caravan in tow we have decided, reluctantly, that now is the time to head home.

Our travels

Our journey began in early 2019, when we left England to begin volunteering our way around the world. We made our way through Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, arriving at the homes of complete strangers, setting to work on a variety of tasks, exploring unknown places, sampling traditional food and learning as much as we could from the people who lived there, before packing up and repeating the process every two weeks. These short but intense stops rewarded us with life-changing experiences, a multitude of new skills and friendships, and memories that will last a lifetime. It was a dream come true and our way of life up until the beginning of March when we went into lockdown on a farm in a remote area of Portugal

A woman stands facing a city view or red-roofed buildings. She's turning back towards the camera and is wearing a face mask
The family went into lockdown in a remote part of Portugal © Karen Binedell

Almost immediately, everything that had made our journey memorable, exciting and worthwhile was no longer possible. By continuing our travels, we would be going against the advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, our insurance would become void and at that point in time the last thing we felt comfortable doing was asking people we didn’t know to invite a family of five into their homes. We had to question what would happen if one or more of us fell ill, we had to weigh up the effect extended lockdown in a foreign country was having on our children, and eventually we had to admit defeat and start putting in place measures that would see us return home. 

The children have been homeschooled since they left the UK in 2019 © Karen Binedell

What's next?

So, how does a family who has become accustomed to a nomadic way of life – free of stress, routine and rushing – return to the treadmill that is London life? Quite simply, we don’t. While our plan was originally to continue volunteering through eastern Europe and then to do the same in Australia and New Zealand, we’ve had to pull the (caravan) brakes on our best-laid plans. We have decided to return to the UK in the second week of September and will continue to live in our caravan for another year. While there we hope to undertake eleven mini, outdoor adventures that will help prepare us for a 21-day charity trek to Everest Base Camp in October 2021. We are still in the planning stages but intend to use the time to explore as much of the UK as possible. On the current shortlist are: hiking Mt Snowdon, a cycling adventure, a trip on the Jacobite steam train and Nessie spotting in Scotland; white-water rafting in Hertfordshire and ticking off as many national trails as we possibly can! As far as long-term goals go, after returning from Base Camp, I hope to publish a book about our journey, the places visited, lessons learnt and all the kind, colorful characters we have had the pleasure of meeting along the way. We hope to purchase a piece of land, set up the most incredible caravan and motorhome site and continue following our dreams and encouraging others to do the same.

Although this particular chapter is nearing an end, our volunteer tour is still very far from over. There are countless places left to explore and many more interesting, insightful individuals to meet.

A family of two adults and three children pose for a selfie on a cobbled street
Traveling as a family has brought them closer together © Karen Binedell

What we learned from travel

This journey has given us confidence in our own abilities, faith in the goodness of strangers and a realization that if you truly want change, you have to take chances and risks, despite what others may think. It’s given us an appreciation and understanding of different people, countries and cultures, brought us closer together as a family and made us stronger as individuals.

Over the next few weeks, months or maybe even years we will continue dreaming, planning and hoping for the day when we once again hit the road. Until then, we will carry on doing what we do best – making every day count.

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You can find out more about the Binedell’s European adventure and follow their UK exploits by following @ourtravellingfamily on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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