Chances are, you will have seen the Barefoot Five on social media, espousing the benefits of ‘World Schooling’, or the family of four who sold their Internet startup, put it all in the bank and are now travelling the world funded almost entirely on sponsorship whilst doing altruistic deeds as they go.
We are the Fogorellis; and that’s not even our real name! It’s an old punk alias of my partner Roger who enjoyed some notoriety back in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Our family of five (we have three kids aged 10, 12 and 14) from Grey Lynn are travelling the world but are not driven solely by altruism. We are not barefoot, we are not beautiful and often we are not even speaking to each other. In fact, our main drive has become, to get through the year without imploding as a family and perhaps grow a bit along the way.
You see, we had a theory that the cost of living in Grey Lynn was so high, that we could take a year out, buy tickets around the world and spend time in multiple countries for less than it cost us to maintain our lives at home, where because of intermittent work and high overheads, we increase our mortgage each year to meet our daily expenses.
And where did the money come from?
After my mother moved into fully subsidised rest-home care, we were able to pay back a $70,000 loan that we had borrowed on her behalf, against the equity of our house, so that she could move into a semi independent situation at Selwyn Village. But here’s the catch, we didn’t pay it back. We squirreled it into another account and now we pay the interest on her loan, out of the loan itself and have used this money as our travel budget. Is this sensible? No. Has it enabled us to be adventurous. Yes!
We have never been a normal family and if anything, the inner city suburban life of priveledge that we had fallen into, was not giving our kids the start that we wanted for them.
We live in a big red house on Richmond Road which Roger bought 20 years ago in a mortgagee sale from a Samoan family who had lost their money in a failed business deal. Roger had been playing in bands on the unemployment benefit for a number of years before lucking into a job in the film industry and I was completing my teacher training when we first met. I would never have been able to purchase a house in the central city. If I was lucky, I might have got a mortgage for a house in my hometown of Kaitaia on my modest teaching income but a bad credit rating meant that I would not be eligible for a mortgage until much later.
The fact that our house is now worth more than seven times what we paid for it, is a source of great security but also one of discomfort. It is a fortunate position that we all but, fell into, in the same way that the family who lived there before us, found themselves without a house. We try not to lose sight of this fact.
The house provides us with a base for our work, a home for our family and a kind of social centre for our friends and community.
Over the last fifteen years of raising a family on two self employed incomes, there have been periods where neither of us have had much work. We have revalued and borrowed against the house countless times and despite this, have been able to exceed what we could realistically pay back.
Of course, living in Grey Lynn, we know of more and more people with serious money, but the majority are just like us, lucky enough to own a house but feeling the pressures of maintaining a lifestyle in a place that is becoming a bit out of step with who we are.
We’re a pakeha family who put our children through the rich experience of a bilingual Maori education at Richmond Road School, where they had friends who came from outside ‘the zone’ who’s families were struggling to put petrol in the car to get them to school, let alone, pay a mortgage on a house in Grey Lynn or the rent in Mangere for that matter.
The closeness of this community, made up of like-minded people, not all lucky enough to live around the corner from school, gave us a different perspective on our privilege.
Over the years I have tried not to talk endlessly about property prices or rabbit on about how we were struggling financially and couldn’t buy too many lattes. Often my friends couldn’t afford coffee so it was my shout. Not because I was rich, but because I had access to borrowing that others don’t have, and believe in spreading it around a bit.
And here lies my point.
Not everyone’s lives are about choices. I know many people who are struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, or to keep their car on the road so they can get to work. It is not lost on me that the homelessness crisis in Aotearoa has gained major media traction while we’ve been gone.
“You guys must be doing pretty well to take a year off and travel”. We get this all the time.
What, did you win the lotto?
Well, no, but we own a house, and in turn, we have access to money. Sure, we have to pay it back at some stage and we may do this, by selling our house and moving somewhere cheaper but that is a great choice to have.
And that is how we have ended up here, currently in Portugal, squabbling over who gets the last biscuit in the packet, fighting about who gets to have a room of their own while the rest of us share, or who gets a bed in some cases.
We fight endlessly and we are occasionally in trouble with the NZ Correspondence school for not returning enough work. And while our borrowed money is dwindling very quickly, the cost of food and accommodation is half that of our expensive neighborhood back home. People we meet on the way seem to find us fascinating and amazing for doing what we’re doing, but to be honest, we are just doing what everyone with the opportunity, might like to do if they were a little more risqué.
I take beautiful pictures and keep a blog which I hope comes half way to chronicalling with some honesty, the trials of endlessly travelling on borrowed money, with unappreciative children, when you know you should really be at home working.
We thought we might relocate somewhere else in the world, but we realised quite quickly that our quirky family needs a familiar community around us. And damn it, we miss Grey Lynn.
By the end of the year, our travels will have taken us through Singapore, Bali, Thailand, India, Nepal, Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Paris, UK and Costa Rica. We have dodged terrorist attacks, forest fires, political coups and earthquakes.
As we pass the half way point in our trip, we are all talking more and more about home but trying to make the most of being away, together clinging to this precrious dream that being away for a year may bring about transformation for our family but knowing really, that we are the same people with the same quirks having the same arguments but hopefully feeling a little more appreciative of where we live and what we have and wanting to share a bit of that good fortune.
This is Jude, the Mum and main contributor to the blog. She is a musician and teacher and is carrying around a guitar and ukulele. She takes photos all day.
Roger is the Dad. He’s just finished an acupuncture degree and after working as a Greensman in the film industry for 20 years, will start an acupuncture clinic on our return. He is carrying around a huge container of needles but has not yet found anyone to stick them into.
This is Stella. She is 14. If she were attending school, she’d be in year ten. She is carrying an entire bag of art supplies. She plays guitar and sings and writes her own songs.
This is Jasper. He is 12 years old and in year eight. He’s carrying a trumpet and a monkey. He’s also awesome at the drums and loves to read. He doesn’t often smile for photos.
This is Louie. He is 10 and in year six. He loves to play with pens and he talks a lot about inventing things. He loves animals.