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May 2016 Issue
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Learning that can’t be done in school

Sarah Climenhega and Paul Meier have taken their kids out of school for a year to hike around the world. Photo: Supplied

What does it take to remove your kids from school for a year and tramp the world? Ricky French meets a couple who have done just that

For those who value taking their kids into the outdoors, organising a day out can be exhausting. The more kids you have, the more effort it takes. Where is everyone’s raincoat? Is that cough going to be a problem? Will everyone eat the food? Best solution: stick to a place you know, remove all variables, have a good escape plan. Keep it short, and keep your wits.

So take a moment to imagine what it might be like to organise and execute a year-long tramping trip around the world, with three kids. Sarah Climenhega and Paul Meier, from Toronto, Canada, have been doing exactly that, and the family has recently completed their New Zealand leg.

I met up with Sarah, Paul and their three kids, Jacob, 13, Kyra, 10, and Tom, 6, in Tasmania, to walk the famous Walls of Jerusalem. You could excuse them for maybe being a bit over tramping, having just done the Heaphy, the Routeburn, Abel Tasman, the Copland Track and two private walks – Banks Peninsula Track and the Kaikoura Coast Track. But no, they were re-stocked and ready to go. There was only ten weeks left in their world trip, and many more tracks to be tackled.

Sarah says her parents took her and her younger sisters out of school for a year when she was 17 to travel the world, and it was such a worthwhile experience that she and Paul decided to repeat it with their kids. After saving for four years, they hit Europe, where tramping through Turkey and various cycling paths were highlights.

“When we were in the initial planning period, we decided that the best type of travel for our family was one that involved a lot of physical activity and exposure to nature,” Sarah says. “So we chose Australia and New Zealand for the amazing hiking opportunities we’d heard about.’

Sarah says New Zealand didn’t let them down. “We knew New Zealand was a wonderful place to hike, but we were still amazed by the quality of the paths, campgrounds and huts. It was the best country to hike in all of the places we’ve been.”

But how on earth do you manage the daily organising of this type of self-reliant existence? Sarah says mostly through trial and error. “We’ve developed a general staple of meals and snacks that are tasty, nutritious, easy to prepare and not too perishable. We prepare everything we need a day or so in advance, usually at a rental apartment or a well-equipped campground kitchen.”

The three kids are all taking a year off school, but none has to repeat the year when they return home. The education gained while travelling is invaluable and something that can’t be taught at school.

Jacob and Kyra are wise to wildlife way beyond their years, and they spent a lot of walking time educating me about the birds in my own backyard, so to speak. They could identify species that to me looked like beaky squiggles pecking at the dirt.

The sheer number of different people the family has met during their travels immersed them in a myriad of different cultures. During our tramping trip at the Walls of Jerusalem, our own cultural differences were starkly highlighted. The Canadians refused to tramp. They hiked. For breakfast, we enjoyed porridge and scroggin while they tucked into oatmeal and trail-mix.

Okay, so these may have been linguistic differences. Culturally we were well-aligned. Our eight-year-old son bonded with Tom, who was very much the baby of the group, but whose hilarious turns of phrase (not to mention the most well-developed calf muscles on a six-year-old you’ve ever seen) lightened countless moments. Tom was particularly perturbed by the brazen raids by Tasmania’s brush-tailed possums. Fearless and habituated to human food at popular campsites, the possums would enter your tent, undo your pack (or rucksack) and get their grubby claws into anything going, including toothpaste. Tom speculated their desires might extend beyond sustenance, on one occasion announcing hysterically and memorably, “The possums are gonna eat our boots, and in the morning nothing will be left but a trail of boot dust!”

To get inspired about what a keen outdoors family can achieve in a year, Sarah’s blog is essential reading. If you have a young family and have ever harboured plans of long-term travelling, this may be just the kick you need. Follow them as they leave a trail of boot dust all round the world at