Evie Farrell and her daughter Emmie spent more than two years travelling the world together. (Supplied: Evie Farrel)
Evie Farrell was doing what many parents do — trying to balance out the need to keep a job that pays all the bills, and being there to ensure her daughter had a wonderful childhood.
But it was really hard. Combined with the fact that she’d been a single mother since six-year-old Emmy was very young, balancing work with a satisfying home life was a struggle.
So when the daily grind got too much, she packed up her stuff and did what many would think was near-impossible: she took her daughter on an epic backpacking adventure around the world.
“I just felt really, really disconnected from my daughter,” Farrell tells RN’s Life Matters, admitting she’d fallen into the trap of trying to prove herself to everyone around her.
“I’d saved some money and I was like, ‘right, I’m going to do a kitchen reno, or I’m going to get a swimming pool … then I’m going to be equal to everyone else around me’.
“Luckily I realised that that absolutely wasn’t the way and I spent that money on travel instead.
“The benefits to myself and to Emmie and our relationship and our growth have just been huge.”
Finding ‘total freedom’
The pair enjoy the views at Jiuzhaigou, a nature reserve and national park in the north of Sichuan Province on China. (Instagram: mumpacktravel)
Farrell, who has written about her experience in Backyard to Backpack, admits she was nervous to tell people about her travel plans.
“I had no questions in my heart at all that it was the right thing to do,” she says.
While many people were supportive, others asked a lot of questions which Farrell describes as “those negative what-ifs”.
“What if you get sick? Or what if you don’t like it? Or what if when you come back you can’t get a job, or you can’t rent your house while you’re away?” she explains.
“I knew that this was going to be fabulous for us and I focused on the positives. So, I thought to myself, ‘what if this is the best thing that we ever do?'”
Emmie riding the train in third class reserve from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. (Instagram: mumpacktravel)
When the pair left Australia for the Philippines with a one-way ticket, Farrell says her mind was “empty” of the usual lists.
“I didn’t have any deadlines. We had no plans. We were just on our way to our first stop,” she says.
“The rest of it was just up to us to wind our way through this little adventure and stop when we wanted to stop and move along when we wanted to move — and that really is the secret to just feeling that total freedom when you’re away.”
They camped on the Great Wall of China, rode trains in Sri Lanka, prayed in Buddhist temples in Taiwan and spotted wild animals in Borneo.
The first few nights of the two-and-a-half-year trip were a “treat” in a resort but lots of nights were spent in backpacker hostels.
Farrell says hostels have really stepped it up, with family rooms and connected bathrooms.
Her daughter, who was in kindergarten when they left, soaked up the company of fellow travellers she met in the hostels — learning magic tricks from young Israelis, while others taught her to make paper planes.
“She can adapt to different environments very quickly and she is very, very confident. I think that comes from travel,” she says.
Farrell also let her daughter take the lead on travel plans.
“We ended up in China a couple of times because of what she’d found [online],” she says.
“That for her was very empowering and I really loved enabling her to feel … the decisions and the things that she wanted to do really were important and recognised and acknowledged.”
Where’s Mum? She’s not in the happy snaps
Farrell says it took her a while to realise she was missing from many of the early holiday snaps, because obviously someone needs to take the picture.
“I noticed that in some countries it was like I wasn’t there,” Farrell says.
“I didn’t like seeing myself in photographs. I felt that I didn’t look good enough, like many people it was all tied into self-esteem, I suppose.”
Farrel says she realised that “it’s a thing mums do”.
“We don’t get in the photos and it might be because we’re taking them, but it’s also very much to do with what we look like,” she says.
“I decided then and there, of course it’s much more important for there to be a record of me being present with Emmie so that when she looks back and she sees that I was there and part of her life.”
Her #mumsinphotos hashtag on social media has since taken off.
Farrell says by avoiding the camera’s lens mums are making themselves “invisible” and the hashtag helps to create a record for children to look back upon in years to come.
Returning home as different people
Emmie makes a new friend at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Instagram: mumpacktravel)
The pair returned home with a much stronger bond but noticed some of their friendships with other people had changed.
Farrell says “it’s just a normal part of life”.
“I’m a different person, I really am,” she says, and believes travel allowed her to become “comfortable” in her own skin.
The duo still have the travel bug in their systems.
They have taken short trips, but Farrell is focused on working to gather more money to hit the road again next year, which will be timed before Emmie enters grade six the following year.
“She does need to get back into the system and get ready to transition into high school and just re-establish herself again,” she says.