Fed up with the rat race, a Scottish mum-of-two told how she quit her job and sold her £170,000 ($215,000) house so she could travel the world with her fiancé and young daughters.
No stranger to making bold decisions, former Army medic Gillian McRobbie, 33, left the forces in 2010 to train as a nurse before starting her own daycare business so she could spend more time with her girls, Isla, six and Maddie, two—then selling everything and leaving work behind to hit the road.
Home-schooling their daughters as they go, she and her partner Andrew Heslop, 35, a private security contractor, have so far visited Portugal, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia.
Isla, Maddie and Gillian on a flight (PA Real Life/Collect)
Now in Costa Rica, Central America, Gillian, of Dundee, who has no plans to return to the UK until October 2019, said:
“Taking a big trip with my children is something I’ve always wanted to do, even before I had kids.”
“The whole point is to prepare our kids to live in the big wide world when they become adults—but how can you do that when most of their time is spent at a desk, stuck behind four walls?”
“The best way to learn is to get out there and experience life.”
Gillian and Isla in Iceland (PA Real Life/Collect)
Gillian caught the travel bug early on in life, embarking on a four-month tour of Europe when she was just 18.
Then, leaving the Army after four-and-half years, during which time she lived in Germany for three years, she set off again.
Buying a round-the-world ticket, she backpacked around south-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and The Cook Islands—as well as traveling across the USA, from coast-to-coast.
Gillian in Costa Rica (PA Real Life/Collect)
Once home, Gillian got together with Andrew, who she’d met in the Army but was initially just friends with, going on to have Isla, who has always been home-educated, and Maddie together.
But family life did not mean settling down for Gillian, who never lost the urge to explore.
Then, in around 2017, sick of the nine to five, she had a lightbulb moment.
Maddie (PA Real Life/Collect)
“At the time, Andrew was working away for eight months of the year and missing out on so much at home.”
“He’s always so laid back and up for anything, so when I began to get itchy feet and suggested we sell up and go, he was totally up for it.”
“There will always be jobs to do and houses to buy when we get back, so why wait?”
Selling the family home for £170,000 ($215,000), they invested some of the cash in a buy-to-let flat, to provide them with an income during their travels.
Since then, they have not looked back, traveling on and off to far-flung destinations, only returning to the UK for a couple of weeks at a time.
“The money we are using to travel with came from saving every penny that came in the door.”
Isla and Maddie outside their family home, then for sale (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Once we decided to go for it, we stopped buying anything we didn’t need. We had no Sky or cable, and SIM-only mobile contracts.”
“If we ever ate out, it’d be using Groupon vouchers and we used a lot of cash-back sites, where you can upload pictures of your receipts and get a full or partial refund.”
“We budgeted for our weekly food shop, and clothes and toys were mainly from charity shops, which is good for the wallet and the planet.”
The family in Iceland (PA Real Life/Collect)
Aside from sentimental items and some spare clothes stored at their parents’ houses, the couple sold more or less everything they owned, including their cars.
“My loved ones know what I’m like, so weren’t overly surprised when I told them what we were doing.”
“People’s only real concern was that we’d have the girls with us. But, of course, we’ll always take safety precautions and have given them all the recommended vaccinations and so on.”
To keep costs down and ensure money stretches, Gillian stays in either Airbnbs, budget hotels or, where available, for free in homes in need of a house-sitter.
Isla in Montenegro (PA Real Life/Collect)
“We always travel in the cheapest and safest way possible, too. Right now, in Costa Rica, we are using local buses, but in some places, that isn’t recommended, so we’ll organize private transport instead.”
A free spirit, Gillian has no fixed plans for 2019, but hopes to visit Mexico, Belize and the USA.
And, she said the best advice to other parents planning to travel with little ones is simply to take things slowly.
Isla in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Things can get a bit overwhelming at times—what with new places, heat, humidity, noise, smells, traffic and so on. So, if you choose one thing to do a day, that gives you plenty of opportunity to take it slowly at the kids’ pace.”
“We also always take safety precautions, like being aware of our surroundings, not flaunting any valuable belongings, not walking around at night and making sure family back home know where we are.”
“However, bad things happen everywhere in the world, every day, so you cannot live your life in fear.”
While the family are likely to live a more settled life when they return to the UK late next year, with Andrew returning to work, Gillian is still keen to instill an adventurous spirit in her girls, so will carry on home-educating them and taking them on shorter trips.
“Despite all the moving around, the girls still have roots and a strong sense of belonging. And while Isla has never been to school, everything we do is learning.”
“Something as simple as a trip to the supermarket means adding, subtracting, budgeting and learning about healthy food and where it comes from.”
Maddie and Isla camping by Loch Earn, Scotland, before the family left the UK (PA Real Life/Collect)
“A hike or a swim is P.E. As a family, we’ve learned history, geography, geology, social studies, languages—the list is endless.”
“Traveling also takes you out of your comfort zone and teaches you problem solving, resilience and tolerance and kindness for the world around you and its differences.”
“I have been told in the past to come back down to reality and give the girls a routine, but I don’t agree—we’re lucky that this is our reality, and the girls are thriving.”