Rosie Millard on the joys and perils of extended family adventure travel

 

We’ve all tried to motivate recalcitrant children for an outing or even a trip to the corner shop. Just imagine getting them enthusiastic about a trek across five continents.

The journalist Rosie Millard, who blogs at Helicoptermum.com, set off with her family to a tour of the French Overseas Departments and Territories (the Dom-Toms) to make a documentary series. We keep seeing more and more of these type of big family trips – usually documented in a blog. For Rosie's family, it was an adventure, but initially the response from her children was, er, less than enthusiastic. Here she describes their reservations. Over to Rosie:

There were many reasons why my children – aged 11, 9, 6 and 4 –  didn’t want to come with my husband and I on a trip visiting all the French overseas territories around the world. Here are the top 6.

1. “Speaking French is incredibly annoying and we didn’t want to learn a new language.”

 This was one of the key reasons for doing the trip. Taking my four children out of the Anglophone bubble was very important. I wanted to show them a world released from the control of Hannah Montana or In The Night Garden. I even wanted them to take a break from The Simpsons. It would have been quite nice if they had learned how to speak French, but this proved an ambition too far, in the end.

2. “We hated the fact that Mummy was interviewing people all the time in French.”

 Yes, well, my chickadees, how on earth were we to have a trip around the world without working for it? Mr Millard and I had to shoot six documentaries as we went, which meant an awful lot of “Bonjours” and “Enchantes” on a daily basis. The plan was that the children would help us with the project. What madness that was. Our serious documentary quest became like Outnumbered Abroad.

3. “There was no English television to watch.”

Meaning we did a variety of other things. Trooping through the rainforest and being bitten by black ants in French Guiana, swimming with sharks in Polynesia, getting lost in the North Atlantic fog, spotting whales in the Indian Ocean. It was a blessing that none of them could understand French TV, since all that was on was local traffic and weather reports from the French mainland, 20,000 miles away. Crazy.

4. “We wanted to have a normal holiday like going to Disney.”

Instead my children were exposed to the slightly barmy, wholly Gallic enterprise that is the French overseas world, a world where the Tricolore flies amid palm trees,  and giant Amazonian vultures hover over branches of the DIY store M.Bricolage. We saw elderly French men playing petanque on South Pacific beaches and witnessed Parisian doctors singing La Marseilleise in the misty dawn of the Guyanese rainforest. 

5. “We got bored of French food such as croissant and stewed iguana”

A slight problem. Our miniscule budget meant bargain basement French fodder. “I now hate all things French,” announced my eldest child (12) after three months of patisserie. Well, never mind. At least we enjoyed some regional specialities, such as stewed iguana. Done in a proper French casserole dish, of course.

6. “When can we go around the world again?”

Ha! Ha ! My devious plan worked!

Bonnes Vacances: our crazy family adventure around the French territories, by Rosie Millard, published by Summersdale is out now, £8.99.

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

4 Comments

  1. 22 July 2011 / 09:49

    We did a similar trip 2 years ago. The opportunities it gave us was amazing. I’d wholeheartedly encourage you all to jump out of your comfort zones and do it!

  2. 22 July 2011 / 10:33

    I haven’t been brave enough (and husband probably couldn’t get the time off) to do a mega-trip like Rosie and her family, but have done the next best thing with lots of little trips instead. Blogging about our mini-adventures has been such a great bonus: I scibble in a notebook while we are away, type up the notes when we return and now have all those memories for posterity.

  3. 22 July 2011 / 22:58

    oh wow, this sounds amazing. I have four children too, all the same age as Rosie’s and have often thought about doing this kind of trip. The only thing is…I’m chicken. Think I will purchase the book and read some more though.

  4. 23 July 2011 / 19:52

    I saw something similar on Oprah years back where a U.S. family took their kids to Africa to live in a grass hut among an African community in the bush (I’m sorry that I don’t remember the country!). The kids were really mad about giving up their summer, and at the end, they were in tears and didn’t want to leave their new friends in Africa. They were able to live very differently and give up all the technology and things they took for granted. It really stuck with me. My kids are quite small now — 4 and 4 months, but when the baby is older, sign us up!
    I can only imagine how much your children learned from this adventure. That is fantastic. Also, I’ve been trying to teach my children French at home, so I like your adventure to the DOM-TOMs, especially!
    When is the documentary out?