by Asjad Nazir
A FAMILY of four decided one day to sell everything they owned in London and go travelling around the world.
Ten months into their remarkable journey, the married couple with two young children have visited 20 countries.
With no plans to come back home, Zyleen and Benjamin Hewins and their children Emiliana, six and Zacharia, three have gained a following online as the Flip Flop Family and are inspiring others with their sense of adventure.
Eastern Eye caught up with Zyleen in India to talk about her family adventures, the challenges of travelling with young children, how they are making it happen and the countries they have visited.
Tell us about the moment you decided to go travelling?
We had felt dissatisfied for a while, wanting more out of life and chasing constantly to get more time with our children. Benjamin and I felt like something was missing from our lives. We had a nice house, cars and belongings but what we really wanted was, more time together as a family. We wanted to feel free again and not tied down by bills, work and school, so we talked about the idea of travelling. But we couldn’t see how it would ever be possible because of our responsibilities, young children and commitments. But then, sudden bereavements in the family triggered a “get up and live” attitude we both felt strongly about.
What was the first step you took?
When we realised there were more reasons to go than to stay, we took the plunge and started telling family and friends. We spoke to Emiliana’s school to find out if we could take her out of school without receiving penalties. We also needed to know how to school her ourselves and how to get her back into a school if or when we returned.
You set about selling your belonging to finance the trip, which included full airfares for the children. What was the process like?
Every day, after work, we’d get a knock at our door from someone picking up a bargain they had seen on eBay or Gumtree. Every Sunday morning Benjamin would be off to our local car boot sale to sell our belongings; you name it, we were selling it. Things we could not sell were taken to our local charity shops. Soon our home was practically empty. We were sitting on the carpet eating our dinners, but it felt liberating, empowering and exciting.
How else did you decide to finance the trip?
We had some savings, but the bulk of our money was from selling all our belongings.
How did your families feel about the plan?
At first, they were very excited, but later they felt sad as they would miss us and then the waterworks started when we told them that we weren’t booking a return ticket. Luckily, our families like travelling and have met us in different countries over the past 10 months.
How did you plan out the route?
It is difficult to plan a year of travel as we wanted spontaneity. We planned to attend our cousin’s wedding in Canada, so it made sense to continue travelling from there. So we started in North America, then went to South America and so on. We planned one country at a time and booked most accommodation the previous night.
Tell us about the countries you have visited?
We have been to Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Easter Islands, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and now India. We feel at home here in India, it is such a colourful country with so much to offer. I think we travelled the right way around, as we have seen so much.
Tell us about some memorable moments?
We have ticked off so many places that were on our bucket list. I really wanted to go to the Salt Flats in Bolivia and see Christ The Redeemer in Brazil. Benjamin was excited to get to see Chichen Itza in Mexico and the amazing Machu Picchu in Peru. We had to learn Spanish at the start of our trip as there is limited English spoken in Central and South America. Seeing the Moai or Giant Heads on the Easter Islands was like nothing we have seen before.
Tell us more?
Sleeping in an overwater bungalow in French Polynesia, with what looked like a wild aquarium swimming right underneath us was a dream come true. Spending a month in our small camper van exploring the North and South Islands of New Zealand brought us closer as a family. There are so many more memorable moments.
Which has been the most memorable country?
As a family, it would have to be New Zealand. We had a whole month to explore and were able to immerse ourselves in the Maori culture. Zacharia still talks about it. We chilled on the 90-mile beach, stood at the very top of the North Island and physically saw where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman sea met. We explored caves, found glow-worms and bathed on a hot water beach. We trekked together to see Franz Josef Glazier, went luging and taught Emiliana how to ski. The list of experiences in New Zealand is endless.
How have the children coped?
The kids are totally in their element, with most days consisting of exploring and trying new foods. They get tired at times, as do we, but we make sure that we have some days just relaxing. Emiliana has her moments when she misses friends and family, but thanks to technology, these moments are short-lived. Luckily, we’ve had a lot of family members visiting us and have friends who live abroad. Our kids are great travellers and take everything in their stride.
How are you educating them?
They are in a world school now and have learned so much through travel that cannot be taught in the classroom. However, academically, we home school both our kids. They also have lots of educational apps and books on their tablets, which they have to do each day. Their social skills are incredible and they are also being exposed to several local languages and cultures. Their world is currently incredibly colourful with a new vibrant experience just a stone’s throw away. Their brains are absorbing world knowledge.
What has been the biggest challenge of this trip?
Travelling with kids. The kids are our top priority at all times. We take the easy route at times because, for example, busy, packed trains or a 12-hour bus can be too much for kids. We might stay at places for longer so the kids have time to rest and acclimatise. We take fewer risks than we might have done if it was just the two of us.
How are you able to sustain the financing of a long trip?
Travelling is very different from going on a holiday. We stay in budget places, home-stays and Airbnbs where we can. Also, collaborating with luxury hotels has enabled us to experience both sides of travelling. We cannot always take the cheapest mode of travel because we have young children, but we are frugal most of the time. We set out with our savings and fortunately, it has served us well together with sponsored stays.
What would you say to those who think this isn’t responsible?
We have always had a motto, ‘our family, our rules’ and we try to create a life that works for our family. Every family is on a journey and they should do what they want to. We thought long and hard about our decision, but, when you lose loved ones it really puts things into perspective and, suddenly your path becomes clear.
You have quite a following online, what has that been like?
It has been so special. Just prior to leaving we set up a website, Instagram and YouTube accounts for our travelling pictures and videos. The Flip Flop Family was born. We now use our social media platform to offer advice to families who may be thinking about or are travelling. Every day we get lovely messages, comments and words of encouragement. Our following has also enabled us to collaborate with various companies, hotels and brands along the way.
What is the plan going ahead?
We have exciting collaborations and giveaways coming up and will continue travelling until we either get tired or find somewhere we want to settle. We are currently in India and will then head to Bangkok. We have Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines and Japan still on our list, but would also like to see Borneo.
Who knows where 2019 will take us, but as long as we have time together we will be happy wherever we end up.
Tell us what advice you would give families travelling together?
You should expect humps in the road. It is never going to be plain sailing and there will be challenges on your way. Be patient with each other and embrace togetherness. Remember, having family is the most precious thing in the world. Take time to listen to your children and enjoy all the unique experiences.
You have no immediate plans to return to the UK. What inspires and drives you on this trip?
I am inspired by how different every country is and how things are done so differently. I love people and love communicating, so get inspired by what I see and hear. Each day my family drives me to continue on this journey together. I see how much we have all grown closer and how much the kids have grown mentally and physically. Seeing Benjamin be an epic father has been truly amazing. When do fathers get unlimited time with their family? Hardly ever. All that drives me as a mother and a wife.
Why do you love being on this adventure?
We are together 24/7 and have been for the past 10 months. We drive each other a bit crazy at times, but we are closer than ever now. I just love that we have had this opportunity to explore and experience the world as a family. Although some days can be challenging, this nomad lifestyle is something we would not change for the world.
You can follow our journey on social media @TheFlipFlopFamily and www.theflipflopfamily.net