Suveera Sharma sits down with a DB family of five as they prepare to take a year’s sabbatical and travel the world.
What would it feel like to escape from where you are, cut off the shackles of work, society, education and more, and embrace true freedom by travelling the world? How wonderful would it be to flirt with a new destination for a while, and then move on to the next once the affair ends?
Doug Tahirali and Mary Christine Merkley, with their three children, Kaia, 13, Skye, 10, and Willow, 8, are doing just that. They are taking a break from school and jobs and heading off for a year to travel the world.
The travel bug
Between them, Doug and Mary Christine, or MC as her friends call her, have already lived in nine countries, arguably more. And they both caught the travel bug early on.
Born in Canada, MC grew up in Geneva before heading back to Canada for university. She’s lived in Singapore and Australia, as well as Hong Kong. Doug, who comes from a military family, was also born in Canada, and while he too went to university there, he grew up in Belgium and Germany. Before settling in Hong Kong, he lived in Africa for a year in a one-man tent, spent a year exploring the US in an old Volkswagen camper van, and a year backpacking in Asia.
The couple first met in Canada and got serious 11 years later when they reconnected on a dive trip in Thailand. MC recalls, “When we decided to be together, we made a promise that even when we had kids, we would not give up on travel. We’ve been in Hong Kong for 15 years – 10 of those in DB, which is probably the longest we’ve spent in any place – but we have always travelled and taken the kids with us. We’ve been to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.”
“We’ve given our kids 10 years of stability in DB,” Doug says. “For the younger two kids, DB is their first home. Now is the right time for them to embark on this adventure.”
The grand tour
It’s clear that travelling is the family’s first love. They left DB on July 5 to honour a promise made years ago, and will be travelling for 12 to 13 months. They plan to cover at least three continents, taking in as many countries as possible in order to make the most of their time away.
MC explains, “We kickstart our trip by travelling to Mongolia for the Nadaam Festival, which [rather aptly] celebrates the nomadic culture of Mongolia. We’ll move on to Beijing to see the Great Wall, then on to Chengdu and Tibet.”
Doug says, “The first part of the trip is very organised, and we know exactly what we’re doing. It’s better to introduce the children to the experience slowly. Later, we might be more flexible and play it by ear.
“We will spend roughly three-and-a-half months in Asia, two-and-a-half months in Africa and six months in Latin America,” Doug adds. “We will be going to Nepal, followed by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and India. After this, we’ll move on to South Africa, covering Namibia and Botswana, and Zambia to see Victoria Falls. We will then go to South America, visiting Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.”
MC and Doug have both given up their jobs, (she’s in sales, he’s a physiotherapist), and put their belongings into storage. The girls will be home schooled while they’re travelling – “a combination of formal National Center for Distance Education and Khan Academy online courses… and school of life,” says MC.
“Their teachers at the French International School have been hugely supportive,” she adds. “The school has given us one year leave of absence without needing to reapply. The girls will have their spots as long as we return by September 2019.”
In order to keep up the connection with home, the family has set up a blog, which they will update regularly with their travel experiences. “We have made it interactive so our friends and the kids’ friends can add their comments,” MC says.
And what of finances? How are the couple funding a trip of this magnitude? “We have been saving for this trip for five years now,” says MC. “We are using air miles wherever possible. The budget is geared for backpacking and eating local.”
Doug adds, “In our effort to make it even more memorable for the children, we are inviting local friends to join us for parts of the trip. It would be nice to see familiar faces. We don’t want the trip to be completely insular.”
What the kids have to say
So, what are the children looking forward to the most? Skye chips in excitedly, “My friends went on an African safari and it sounded like good fun. I also want to see the Isle of Skye because it has the same name as me.”
It looks like Europe will be added to the family’s itinerary because not only does Skye want to visit Scotland, Kaia has a thing about France. “In history class, we have learnt about France, which I haven’t seen yet. I would love to go there,” she says. “I’m also excited about visiting Machu Picchu and want to see the cool rainbow mountains.”
For both girls, the only fly in the ointment is having to leave their friends behind. Kaia, already in secondary school, says, “I have mixed feelings as it will be tough to say goodbye to my friends not being sure whether I will ever see them again.” Skye knows she will miss her friends but is confident they will be able to stay in touch via the family’s blog.
Willow, the baby of the family, also has a few reservations. “I am excited but also a bit sad because I will have to leave some of my favourite things behind,” she says. “I won’t be able to take my stuffed toys along.”
Seizing the moment
What motivates this wonderful family to take this bold step and live the life they believe in?
“My father passed away when he was just 60, leaving behind lots of dreams and aspirations,” explains Doug. “Too many people wait for too long to actually have fun. We only have this one life to live and we have to live it in a way that sets an example for our kids and shows them the great life. That window is narrow. Time is running out and the kids will grow up.”
“With kids, time is a constraint. We want to provide stability for them in their older years, so the time to do it is right now,” agrees MC. “The blog will document our travels and will act as a memory for the children when they are older. It will be forever.”
I leave the family’s home inspired. There’s never really a perfect time to take the plunge and do what we want to do. But we need to seize the moment. And the only way to get started is to take the first step.
For updates on the family’s adventures, head to their travel blog theglobetrottingfive.com.
Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.comTags: doug, explore, family, mary christine, travel