As we pass through the decades of life we can be surprised at how many hard times there are. In hard times the best thing to do is surround ourselves with friends and press through. Hard times do force us to become stronger people and they refine our character. They have an important purpose as they make us grow while they teach us a million things we can’t learn when our life is going smoothly.
However, there are also times when we are in a hard situation and it is not good for us to stay in it. It may be a situation we have inadvertently ended up in that could crush us eventually if we stay. Maybe we will even get to the point where we can’t function anymore, like in a total burnout. In some situations the best and healthiest thing to do, is to do something brave and radical! To step out totally.
Stepping out may mean a big lifestyle change, or a geographical move or quitting a job and getting a different one, or it might mean heading overseas for a break. Being radical and taking a risk is sometimes the answer.
Taking a bold step at the exact time that you are worn down is so not easy though. It’s like having to jump across a gorge, just when we feel least brave and least energetic! However – the relief waiting on the other side is worth it. Not just relief but a fresh start and new joy.
I am very excited to have interviewed a friend who, together with husband and son took a bold brave step a year ago and left everything they had and all the pressure they were under, to go to New Zealand for a break. They went to spend time with extended family and live at a slower pace and do some adventuring! It was a very big step for them as not only did they let go of possessions and home and jobs, but they had to leave four family members behind. Another challenge was that they did not have much time to save up. However they knew they needed it. And fast!
Stephanie is wife to Noel and they have 5 children, most of whom are grown up. Anyone who knows Noel and Steph absolutely loves them! They are warm and funny and very hospitable. They have also done some amazing stuff in their life, including running a church in the South West of Australia for 15 years. During that time they poured out Gods love and Pastored and helped hundreds (maybe thousands) of people in all kinds of life circumstances. Then an accident sent them on a different life course. In this interview Steph shares about the years and trials leading up to their decision for a break – the why and the how of their ‘getaway year’. If you are considering making a big change in your life or taking a year out for a slower pace, you will get inspired by this interview!
Hi Stephanie, thanks for being interviewed!
Can you please tell us what led you and Noel to your decision to take the big step and take a year off?
Steph: Some years before our ‘great escape’, we’d been thrown a big curve ball. My husband had a serious motorbike accident while we were on a holiday overseas. While he was recovering from that the stress triggered a dormant heart issue which then needed surgery. Then he was also diagnosed with cancer. Life as we knew it totally changed, and we were left trying to pick up the pieces and start over. It is a miracle he lives to tell the story, but after it all, we were left reeling and financially undone.
After my husband recovered as best as he could, we hoped new business ventures would help us to climb out of the financial hole the health journey had left us in. For almost two years we worked extremely hard. However, we came to realise we were absolutely exhausted and not getting ahead at all. We needed to do something. Burnout loomed large while we ran aimlessly on this treadmill. Realising this led us to our big decision to go.
How long was it between deciding to take a year out, and actually leaving?
Steph: Only 6 months!! Well actually, it was probably less than that. In July last year we went on a holiday to New Zealand. That’s when the idea took flight but it wasn’t until we returned home and saw some cheap tickets online in September that we knew there was no turning back!
Where did you go and where are you living?
Steph: We set flight for Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud in January. We’d decided to spend our gap year with my husband’s family in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. This place, where we now live, is called “Paharakeke”, commonly known as “Flaxmere”. It is a very interesting place indeed. Funnily enough, it was one place I said I would never live but when the opportunity arose for us to stay there with family for a time it seemed the best option.
How did you finance it?
Like I said, we worked very hard in the few months before we left and sold any thing and almost everything we didn’t want to keep. This gave us some extra cash but nowhere near enough to sustain us for the year. We knew we’d need to get some source of income reasonably quickly to last the distance. Things were getting pretty tight but since we lived with family our expenses were significantly low. This afforded us a little rest time before we both eventually gained employment.
Fortunately for us, we were both able to work in New Zealand because of the reciprocal arrangement between Australia and New Zealand.
What were the main challenges to going and what did you do with your stuff.
Steph: All I can say is ‘Thank goodness for Marie Kondo’, for Gumtree and for Saint Vincents. (Saint Vincent’s is a charity shop, Gumtree is a buy and sell app in Australia.)
As soon as I knew we were going, the packing began. One of the biggest challenges was trying to fit a whole house into a storage shed approximately 3 x 6 metres. Well, it just couldn’t.
We’d decided that this was going to be an amazing opportunity to ‘cull’ the things we didn’t need and to down size. We had actually been talking about it for some time, even toying with the idea of one day having a Tiny House.
We had some lovely furniture we wanted to hold onto which we shared between our big kids, but we sold all the rest. Slowly the house began to empty as I systematically went through everything room by room, selling or giving things away. It felt good and the more we dispensed of, the lighter we felt!
I must add here that for me, the challenge of not being able to see my adult children and grandchildren for so long did weigh heavy on my decision to leave, but I think they understood we needed to do something to release the pressure that we were under.
Is there something you would do differently if you could go back to the preparation stage?
Steph: This is a hard question. In some ways we left so quickly which meant we weren’t really prepared financially. However had we stayed put for another six to twelve months we would continue to stay on the tread mill of this crazy life we’d created. I’d worked out that in order for us to continue on in the manner we’d been going we would need to bring in at the least $1700 each week. Leaving early meant that, immediately, our weekly expenses would be more than significantly reduced and for us that meant less pressure and some much needed breathing space.
What felt good when preparing and letting go?
Steph: The clearing out process was awesome! After my husband’s health journey we realised how fortunate we were for him to be alive and that building memories far outweighed building bricks and mortar or wealth. We suddenly saw how much ‘stuff’ we didn’t really need or want. It had become burdensome. Coming to this realisation was life changing for us and starting the process of acting it out was invigorating, albeit a little scary.
Most people who go on gap year adventures are singles or couples whose kids have left home. You took your youngest son with you and I think this is especially inspiring for readers. To go with kids. Can you tell me how heading off into an adventure, and leaving school and friends, has been for your son.
At first I was a little worried about how our Joe would go. We’d already had such a big move when he was around 10, shortly after my husband’s accident. We had to move to the city to be closer to the hospital. There was also another move two years after that which we had not foreseen, which had meant yet another school move for him. Those few years were huge, and the moves were daunting for all of us.
However, we’re the kind of people who like an adventure, and I think we’ve instilled that in our children too, so Joe handled it so well. He’s quite a social fellow but also quite independent and resilient.
Then came this big overseas move. Perhaps all those other moves prepared him and us for that. When we first approached him about the idea of going to New Zealand he met us with “Yep, why not! A year isn’t long. But keep my school uniform for when we come back.”
Fortunately for Joe we’d just been here for the visit (in New Zealand). He’d spent time with his cousins and so he was looking forward to being with them and also to the adventure! Now we’re here he’s found his Kiwi Mojo and is happy to stay as long as we want! In fact, being from another country has its advantages when making new friends. Kids love a foreign accent and a new kid on the block. Joe fits in beautifully in this country and one could almost think he is made for this land.
I know that you and your husband used to run and Pastor a church and I know that your faith in Jesus is a huge part of your life. Can you tell me how this year away has been part of your faith journey, and how your faith has shaped this journey?
This has been a rather stretching journey for both Noel and myself. To tell you the truth, it was a huge step of faith to come here, but we felt it was the right move for us. Extracting ourself from our life in Perth wasn’t easy. Financially it has been a huge stretch and we still send money back to maintain a few things back home which means we live quite frugally here. Perhaps we were even a little childlike in our stepping out and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We’ve had to trust God to provide for us and he has, but there have been a few shaky moments! We’ve been tested regularly on our resolve to trust in God’s provision. This alone has stretched us and I think we’ve grown deeper in relationship with God and each other because of this.
As far as doing ministry goes, God is opening doors as he sees fit. We’ve even ventured into a creative arena, encouraging and igniting hearts to see creative destinies that have been laying dormant or unrealised. This is so good for us too, opening our eyes to new things. We also have friends in ministry around NZ who have asked us to come and share now and then. We are used in our local church too and we are enjoying just being a part of the family there. We’re available for whatever comes along but at the same time we’re not chaffing at the bit to be up front. For us it’s a good balance.
How has your Gap year impacted you positively? How has it changed you?
Steph: I’ve realised I don’t really need much to make me happy. Our possessions are only what we can fit into our bedroom, where we still happily reside with extended family.
I never thought I’d be able to not have my own home for this long. I’ve grown to love my little space here. However in order to have a break every now and then, we joined a local house sitting group. This has been just amazing, giving us long and short lengths of time in a bigger space, either locally or in another part of this beautiful country. It means we can holiday for free as generally all that’s required is that we care for a wee pet or in one case, two sheep and a Donkey!
Is there some way that you see life differently after this?
Steph: Yes definitely.
For one, you don’t need copious amounts of money to do this, especially if you can work a little. There are many ways to go and do a getaway time, a gap year and many cheap places to stay. Plenty of people want borders and rent out rooms, granny flats and there’s the housesitting option too.
Secondly, we’re not sure we ever want to live in a large house again. We do know that we definitely DO NOT want to accumulate that much ‘stuff’ again, in fact we’re planning to extend our gap year to two years and perhaps go home for a holiday soon and ‘cull’ some more!
And lastly, I’d like to think we’d be brave enough to take a gap year in Europe next time. Whatever the case, we’d be happy to live a more transient lifestyle, looking for new adventures. Life is too short and too frail not to take an adventure now and then!
I am so grateful to Stephanie for this interview. I hope you feel inspired by her story. Are there any changes you might want to make so you can live at a slower pace or include some adventure in your life?
Do check out Steph’s beautiful blog here https://stephkaracottagedreams.com/
And to read more on this topic check out my earlier article An Adult Gap Year could be just what you need. Part 1.
Have a beautiful weekend. Siobhan 🌿