Faraway File #3: Karen - Queensland, Australia
This series aims to give a snapshot in to the lives of parents living faraway from home – the good, the bad and the ugly! If you'd like to be featured, I'd love to hear from you – please get in touch!
The latest in our Faraway Files series sees us travelling all the way to Queensland, Australia, home to Brit Karen Bleakley and her family. Since making the move down under in 2014, Karen has published her first book, Don’t Panic! A Practical Guide to Twins, Triplets and More, maintained her family, travel and lifestyle blog Tales of a Twin Mum, written regular travel features for UK-based Australia and New Zealand magazine, and launched new website Smart Steps to Australia to support other UK families considering the move to Australia – all whilst raising three kids! Interestingly, Karen credits her family’s move abroad with giving her the confidence to take on so many projects: “The experience really changed me and my perception of what was achievable. I feel like I can tackle anything if I take it step by step….being a Faraway Mum is empowering.” I couldn’t agree more!
Give us the basics: where are you from, where do you live now, and what took you there?
My family (my husband, and three kids who were aged four, four and two at the time) and I moved from Hampshire in the UK to Queensland, Australia in 2014. Before having kids, my hubby and I had travelled the world and fell in love with Australia. We debated about whether to move over for years and finally realised if we didn’t give it a try we’d never know.
Tell us about the pre-baby / kid you.
Before having kids, my husband and I loved to travel – we’re beach-obsessed. After backpacking and then returning to the UK, I decided to stop doing project management work (which was long hours and stressful) to focus on freelance writing. Working from home was great and when we had kids it meant I had a flexible career too.
And how about now?
I still do freelance writing – mostly travel features for Australia and New Zealand magazine in the UK. I published my first book earlier this year on Amazon – Don’t Panic! A Practical Guide to Twins, Triplets and More. I also have a family, travel and lifestyle blog called Tales of a Twin Mum and recently launched a migration website called Smart Steps to Australia to help support UK families who want to make the move to Australia.
We’re still travel-obsessed and are now joined on our travel adventures by our twin boys, who are seven, and our four-year-old daughter.
How does where you live now compare to your home turf?
I feel so much happier in the sunshine – the weather here really makes a difference to how positive you feel. In the UK, I hated mornings – now I’m usually up before 6am and I feel so much better for it. There are so many incredible locations to visit for holidays, and we’re managing to fit in a lot more trips away than we ever did in the UK. We live in a house that is more than twice the size of our UK home, and we have a pool where we spend the entire summer! We cook outside all the time too – I love a good barbecue! Life here is good.
And what does that mean for your family?
It means the kids all learnt to swim early – our daughter went from being afraid of the water to swimming like a fish from just turned three. The bigger house gives us room to breathe and we aren’t on top of each other all the time. The beautiful locations and more disposable income means we can go away on trips more often which is giving our kids some amazing childhood experiences like snorkelling ship wrecks, hand-feeding wild dolphins and sandboarding down giant dunes. And the weather means we spend a lot more time outdoors together either in the parks, at the beach or in the pool.
What does a typical day with the kids look like for you?
On a typical Sunday, I take the kids to the local surf club for the Nippers session. The boys play games on the beach, run races and practise saving people on boards. My daughter (who is too young to join until next year) and I play in the water and build sand castles with the other young siblings. After, we head to the club for a sausage sizzle with another family and our kids go hunting for crabs on the beach while I enjoy a coffee and catch up with the other mum.
Once home, it’s time to hit the pool while we fire up the barbecue for dinner. Then everyone usually falls into bed early after all the running around outside in the salty air. I can’t think of many ways to spend a better Sunday.
If a family was visiting the town / city where you currently live for a day, what must they see and do?
We’d take them on a tour of the Redcliffe Peninsula, which is the beach area where we live (it’s about 45mins north of Brisbane). We would drive around to show off the beaches and parks, stopping for coffee as we go. Then we’d enjoy lunch with views over the water to Moreton Island. In the afternoon we’d take a dip in the Settlement Cover Lagoon to cool off and then have a beach barbecue. If they had two days here we’d also spend a day at Bribie Island to enjoy the surf and fish and chips on the beach. With three days to spare, we’d do a city tour of Brisbane to take in Streets Beach and South Bank. There’s so much to cram in – one day wouldn’t be long enough!
Website / app: Brisbane Kids – it tells you everything that’s going on in the area for families. They also have an app that lists all of parks, events and activities for kids.
Magazine: Out and About With Kids and Holidays With Kids – they both cover international travel but include lots of Aussie recommendations so it really helps our trip planning.
Favourite family activity: My favourite family activity here is the beach park at Scarborough (north of Brisbane) – it’s huge and there are trees to climb, swings and a big wooden train, and it’s all fenced in. There’s a great fish and chip shop and a burger place across the road, plus plenty of barbecue points, so you can either bring your own food or grab a take away to make a day of it.
Children's book: My favourite kid’s book is one we bought before moving called An Ouch in my Pouch by Jeanne Willis, which really helped us start conversations with the kids about moving abroad. They also love Aussie Christmas books – a big favourite is the Aussie 12 Days of Christmas, which came with a CD that gets played way too much in our house. There is nothing funnier than seeing Santa dressed in board shorts in the pictures – but for the kids, this is their reality as they don’t remember much about Christmas back in the UK now. Other than the fact it was freezing cold!
One thing you can get faraway that you can't at home: The one thing we missed when we moved was Calpol. They don’t sell it here – they have something similar called Panadol instead. It took the kids a bit of getting used to – luckily it comes in different flavours so we quickly found some they liked, but it was weird at first not having our go-to medicine to make them feel better.
What do you love about being a Faraway Mum?
I love the support you get from friends, especially those who are also living far away from family. You become family to each other and learn to rely on and support one another. It also forces you to be very independent as you don’t have parents down the road to help out all the time.
I also love the example we’ve set for our kids. They understand that we followed our dream to move here, even though it was hard work and not everybody agreed with it.
The thing that I love the most is that making this move gave me so much confidence to try other new things. The experience really changed me and my perception of what was achievable. I feel like I can tackle anything if I take it step by step. This year that attitude has helped me finish and launch a book that had been in development for years, and also set up my new business from scratch which involved learning lots of new skills. Being a Faraway Mum is empowering.
And what do you struggle with?
During holidays like Christmas, it’s hard Skyping with family in the UK who are having parties together. It’s hard knowing nieces and nephews are growing up without knowing us, and that our kids won’t really get to know their cousins except during holidays when we visit.
Are you forever faraway, or is this just a temporary thing?
It’s a forever move for us. The move was so expensive that it was always going to be a one-way journey – also we knew if we went into it expecting that we might come back to the UK the chances are that we wouldn’t give it 100%. Thankfully we instantly felt at home when we landed – we just love it here. Our lifestyle, the kid’s school, our home, the weather – everything is better for us here apart from missing family, which is the only downside.
What advice would you give to parents new to living far from home?
Make the effort to get out and meet people. Join clubs, toddler groups, chat to parents outside the classroom and try out some new activities. Although meeting locals is really important, try to find some expat groups too as these people know exactly what you’re going through and will be a great support for you. Building a network takes time, but it’s an important part of feeling settled.
Also, take a few moments to stop and look back at everything you’ve achieved. You closed down your old life and took such a risk. Most people don’t have the confidence or the organisational skills to go through with that. Pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for being awesome and setting a great example for your kids.
Thanks so much, Karen, for sharing your experiences – the new life you’ve created for your family sounds completely idyllic and it is all credit to you for working so hard to achieve it. I couldn’t agree more about feeling empowered as a Faraway Mum, and it’s important to take time and appreciate that every once in a while – in dealing with all the challenges as a parent a long way from home you’ve done a really brave thing, you should be proud of yourself for that, and take courage from your experiences for whatever else life holds!
Karen's family and lifestlye blog, Tales of a Twin Mum, also contains loads of lovely posts about parenting and family travel as well as all things twins, and you’ll find her on social media with this too: Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.