Last September, my husband, nearly two-year-old son, and I took a ‘month out’ in Kyoto, Japan. We lived in an old machiya off the Philosopher’s Walk, and Isa’s playground was on the grounds of Honen-in, a lush 17th-century temple complex. My husband cycled the mountains around the city early each morning, and I indulged in daily sanpo or ambles around the town I love most. Just thinking about that time of togetherness brings nostalgic tears to my eyes…
So, I was keen as mustard to quiz Babyccino Kids co-founder, author and mother-of-five Courtney Adamo on her ‘family gap year.’
Tune into her insights below – and get inspired to ‘drop out.’
In 2015, you packed up your life in London and embarked on a ‘family gap year.’ Time out to explore, discover and live simply is a fantasy for many – how did the reality of travelling with your husband and four children match up?
The reality was even better than we could have hoped. I remember receiving messages from friends telling me the trip looked amazing, ‘but was it really as wonderful as I made it seem?’ I think people assumed there were more downsides than I portrayed on Instagram, that I would have gotten sick of spending time with my husband and kids. The truth is it was the most wonderful year of my life.
Of course, there were grumpy moments, ugly hotels, bad meals, cranky children, and the normal low moments of family life. But we were free of routine, the work grind, school commitments, and everything else that clutters our lives. We were travelling light – on responsibilities and stuff – which was extremely liberating. And we never once felt unsafe or worried about our wellbeing; quite the opposite, we connected with so many incredible people around the world, and felt a genuine sense of belonging in the places we visited.
People often have a misconception about travelling with children; they assume you should get all your travelling out of the way before starting a family because it’s so much harder with children. We completely disagree! Of course, the logistics become a bit more challenging, but travelling with kids brings more joy and a new dimension to experiencing a place. Having children also makes it easier to meet other people when you travel; we were approached by locals, invited to join other families for meals in their homes, and were generally so well received because of our kids.
More than anything, it was just the biggest gift to be able to spend every minute of every day together. Kids grow up quickly and modern life is so busy that it’s easy to miss vast swathes of their childhoods. Having that time allowed us to get to know our kids on a deeper level, it bound us together in a way that everyday life does not allow. I think we will all look back on that year with the greatest fondness and feel it made us a closer and stronger family.
Journeying through North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, Asia and Europe, were there locales that proved particularly illuminating for your family?
We made so many wonderful connections during our travels, it’s hard to narrow them down, but there were certainly a few people who completely shaped our experience of the countries we were in.
There was Rodrigo in Trancoso, Brazil, who taught us how to weave palm leaves into hats (and various other objects), he lived in his van and had the most infectious energy. There was Aaron, the owner of Casa Zinc in Uruguay, who took us under his wing and introduced us to several friends, including Martin, who invited us to his ranch for horse riding. There was our surf coach, Ismael, in Chile who didn’t just show us all the secret spots, but drove us around the countryside introducing us to local artisans, foods, and crafts. There was Jaya, our tuk-tuk driver in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, who greeted us every day with the biggest smile, drove us on adventures through the jungle to see elephants and crocodiles, and made the children feel loved and protected. And there was Giovanni in Positano, Italy, who dropped pastries off for the kids in the mornings and came over in the evenings to teach us how to make pasta.
There are so many beautiful people in this world, and meeting more of them provided important lessons for our kids. Not just about the places we visited, but about the many different ways there are to live and be well.
How did you and Michael – and more importantly, the kids – find homeschooling?
I can’t take much of the credit for the homeschooling because Michael took on that task. Having left his job when we left London, he had more time to devote to teaching (and truthfully he is the more patient one!) Homeschooling certainly proved more challenging than we anticipated; our eldest, Easton, responded really well to being taught by his dad, but Quin and Ivy, both great students in the classroom, found it more difficult to focus. It was also tough teaching three students at different levels at the same time. But ultimately, it was rewarding to watch them learn and progress, and I’d say their progress was more noticeable than any year in traditional school! (I’ve written a post about this on our travel blog, Somewhere Slower, for those who may want more details about homeschooling resources).
Come year’s end, you made the decision to move permanently to Byron Bay – quite the change from Highgate! What was it about Byron that bewitched you – and have you managed to maintain a sense of slow?
During our travels, we spent five weeks in Bangalow, just outside Byron Bay. It was meant to be three weeks, but we loved it so much we extended our stay. Within a month of exploring beautiful Byron and the towns dotted throughout its hinterlands, we all agreed this could be our spot; we felt a connection to the natural beauty of the area, had quickly made dear friends and found a rhythm that was natural for our family. Of course, there was also the surfing, sunshine, food, and the bohemian lifestyle.
The community here is creative and collaborative, with so many wonderful brands doing such cool things. Everyone is really supportive and encouraging of each other – the energy of this little town is unlike anything we’ve seen. I’m inspired on a daily basis by all the interesting people and blossoming businesses.
On a personal level, I feel I’ve found a tribe of women I can rely on for friendship and support. It’s the closest thing to the Red Tent I’ve experienced, and it makes me feel so thankful to be raising kids here, backed up by a sisterhood of women who have my back. It may sound cheesy, but I honestly feel this is our place.
You founded Babyccino Kids in 2007 as a blog with two friends who had also just become mothers for the first time; one year later, you were all living in different cities, and in 2011 the Babyccino shopping portal was born. Can you tell us a bit about running an ever-growing business across continents? What’s next for the brand?
We’ve been running Babyccino Kids for over 10 years now, so in many ways it’s quite straightforward. Admittedly, it’s become more difficult to stay ahead of the game now I’m so far away. I used to speak to my business partners on a daily basis; we’d have Skype open on our computers and just pretend we were in the same office, asking each other questions whenever something came up. We’d also meet up often – in Paris, Antwerp, Amsterdam, and London – for brainstorm meetings (which were as much fun as they were business!)
Now that we’re on opposite sides of the world, and the time difference is about as wide as it gets, it’s trickier to stay in touch, and I haven’t seen my business partners in a year! Thankfully we have a great team in Amsterdam that keeps things ticking along. Next up, we have an event taking place in Paris that will bring together a host of the coolest independent European brands, then we have our annual Christmas ShopUp event in London. Esther and I would love to write a follow-up book to 9 Months, something aimed at tweens as they start to navigate their way through puberty and sex education. I’m excited about that idea!
With nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram, you’re an influencer in the eyes of many. Yet, what we glimpse of your family’s life via Instagram feels authentic. How do you decide what to share – personally, and for brands? How has this changed with the evolution of your family, following and the platform itself?
Admittedly, I find the term ‘influencer’ a bit cringe-y, but I don’t mind the role and feel really lucky to have landed in it. Having a lot of followers brings a degree of seriousness to what started out as fun and sharing with family, but it also brings opportunity and connection. I’m so honoured that people care about what I have to say, and seek inspiration from my feed, that I really strive to keep it authentic and honest. I think, more than ever, people can see right through you when you’re not being genuine, and while some come only for the pretty pictures, most crave more of a connection through the words and captions I share.
I almost always have my sister in mind when I think to share something on Instagram; I think of her when I’m choosing the image as well as when I’m writing the caption. I know that my sister, along with my parents and brothers, are going to see my posts, and I couldn’t imagine writing something that wouldn’t sit well with them. Having my sister in mind helps keep my writing personal and conversational, which I think appeals to a larger audience. It also helps me be as genuine as possible.
In terms of the brands I work with, I’ve only ever promoted those I genuinely use in ‘real’ life. If a brand approaches me that we’re not familiar with, we always ask to trial the product before agreeing to profile it. The majority of the brands we work with are small, independent ones and it’s honestly a pleasure to help them grow their audience.
Can you give us a glimpse into how your days start and end with Easton, Quin, Ivy, Marlow and Wilkie?
I’m a morning person; I love the snuggliness of kids making their way to our bed. I also love waking up to a tidy house before it becomes cluttered with stuff! I’m the first one to the kitchen, and I enjoy watching each of the kids as they make their way in, claiming their stool at the counter and sitting across from me with their sleepy little faces. I dish up breakfast while Michael makes the coffee. We’re a well-oiled machine in the mornings, with our tasks set for getting the four big kids fed, dressed, and ready for school.
Michael and I both work from home, so we’re usually on our laptops at the kitchen table for a good few hours while Wilkie naps. I generally pick the kids up from school and spend the afternoons with them. Two days of the week they have after-school activities, which keeps them busy; on the other days, we go to the beach to squeeze in a surf and meet up with friends.
Evenings are again quite busy in our home. Michael cooks dinner, and Quin is almost always his little helper. Sometimes I ask Easton to play with Wilkie so I can do whatever other chores need to happen, and Ivy sets the table for dinner. I almost always get Wilkie ready for bed and put him to sleep, and Michael reads a couple books to the girls. Everyone has their roles and it’s important we share the load.
Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like your party of five to grow into? How would you like them to remember you to their own families?
On days when things are particularly stressful or busy, when it feels like our kids are getting the better of us, I remind myself how fun our family dinners are going to be some day when we have five adults sitting around the table. Our crazy, demanding little people will one day be grown up and have their own opinions and interests.
Michael and I have always said we don’t care what our kids decide to do professionally, we just hope they find something that makes them happy. Together we’ve met people all over the world, many living the most simple, humble lives – and yet they were often the most happy, generous, and uncomplicated. Of course, we also hope our kids are kind and selfless, environmentally conscious, interesting and interested, generous, thoughtful and engaging. And that no matter how far they travel, they’ll always come home for a big family dinner.
Activity or outing
Definitely surfing! I’m so thankful we share this passion as a family; it keeps us all together most days.
There are loads of different pop-up woodfired pizza nights throughout the week, hosted in different locations around Byron. For a special night, our favourite dinner spot is probably at Three Blue Ducks at The Farm.
Place to travel
Italy. We love the people, the food, the sunshine… everything!