As the end of 2014 is almost upon us we’ve been reflecting back on a few of our favourite bits from our family gap year together.

As we gathered our list of “best bits” it took me a bit by surprise to realise the most memorable moments aren’t the iconic sights, the epic journeys or even the breathtakingly beautiful places. Instead, they were the times where we were absolutely in the moment. The days we knew without a doubt we’d made the right decision to do this. The bits where we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we remember this forever.

It’s not always like this. Some days on the road are utter carnage, there is shouting, tantrums and tears (and that’s just me). But you know what? that is exactly as it should be. Life is meant to be a roller coaster and whilst a family gap year is never going to be easy and straightforward it is also without doubt the most incredibly rewarding thing we’ll ever do.

Here’s our best bits:

1. Perhentian islands – celebrating 200 days on the road

We fell in love with the Perhentian Islands the second we clapped eyes on the sparkling white sands and azure blue sea. A tiny tropical island paradise located just off the North East coast of Malaysia there is absolutely nothing to do but swim, snorkel, kayak or dive. Blissfully undeveloped we stepped off the boat and stepped back to simpler times. No internet, no roads, no traffic and no distractions and the best bit - no shoes. We took our flip flops off when we arrived at our chalet door, we picked them up a week later. We also celebrated our first 200 days on the road here with a memorable sunset walk on a deserted beach.

2. Koh Lipe – Sunrise Beach – the best beach we’ve ever been on

Sunrise Beach on Koh Lipe is quite possibly our favourite spot in the world so far. Known as the “Maldives of Thailand” we were blown away by the soft, powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Spending a morning splashing about at the northern end of Sunrise Beach was a highlight here. The most breathtakingly beautiful beach and the bluest, warmest, clearest water we’ve ever been lucky enough to swim in.

3. Swimming with turtles – Perhentian Islands

The snorkelling in the Perhentian Islands is absolutely world class and “Turtle Point” is famous for it’s abundance of Green and Hawksbill turtles. I spent a fascinating, thrilling morning swimming alone with one of these giant, peaceful creatures. At one point I realised the boat was quite a long way off and under normal circumstances I may have suffered a “Jaws moment” and panicked about being alone in open water. But not today, this was too special, too good to rush. I swam harder, faster and further than I have ever done in my life and all I could think about was keeping up with the turtle.

After around five minutes of swimming he eventually headed up to the surface for air. As his head broke the water I peeked up and we looked straight at each other for a second before he took his breath and dived back down. Just amazing and awe inspiring to have been privileged enough to share the ocean space with this giant, graceful creature. Reluctantly, I let him out of my sights and started the long, arduous swim back to the boat with shrivelled up fingers and a huge smile on my face. I was buzzing for the rest of the day and won’t forget this experience for a long time.

4. Waterbom – the most fun a family can have

Our day of aqua fun at Waterbom, Bali is a big family highlight of our trip so far - pure, unadulterated fun. The biggest, longest, fastest water slides in Asia had our hearts pumping and kept us grinning from ear to ear all day long. Jessica had an absolute blast exploring body slides, spraying water canons and jumping in water jets. My favourite moment was when she turned to Steve wide eyed after yet another laughter filled, slippery slide and announced "This is awesome Daddy, just awesome, lets go again!" She was unstoppable. Makes me smile just thinking about it!

5. Finns Beach Club Bali – our first day without the kids!

In September, after almost 6 months on the road, we finally managed to organise a whole day without the little ones. 8 long hours of child-free bliss, just me and Mr Toms. As our first "date day" in longer than we could remember we wanted to make it a good one.

Our criteria was somewhere relaxing, chilled, special and memorable. We opted for a day of soaking up sunshine in luxe surroundings at Finn's Beach Club. From our first glimpse of the beautiful, turquoise Indian Ocean, white sandy crescent and thatched roofs of the bamboo beach bar we knew we'd made the right choice. Lazing, strolling, snoozing, paddling, kayaking and devouring a delicious lunch. A perfect day.

6. Koh Lanta – Klong Dao Beach

Of all of Thailand's islands Koh Lanta is the most family friendly we visited and a real tranquil get-away-from-it-all vibe. We bunkered down here for 5 weeks and really fell in love with the island. Our favourite spot was Klong Dao Beach where we spent many happy mornings and evenings. The 3km long, wide stretch of golden sand is spacious and uncrowded making it perfect for sandcastles, games and letting off steam. The long crescent shape of the bay had an incredibly calm sea with gentle lapping waves and gradual slopes. By far the most family-friendly best all-round beach we’ve found on our travels so far.

Come evening it’s also a splendid spot to grab a frosty beer at one of the laid-back beachside restaurants and settle in for a beautiful sunset.

7. Snorkelling bliss at Menjangan Island

Menjangan Island is a small, island just off the remote north west coast of Bali. Way off the main tourist trail this was a stunning, undeveloped side of Bali and well worth the hike to get here. Ancient temples dotted the landscape of forests and mangroves and secret white sandy bays were scattered along its coastline.

We enjoyed a memorable morning chartering our own boat for a snorkelling tour. The girls absolutely adored being out on the sea and were excited to be speeding across the surf. We headed for our own deserted white sandy bay and moored up the boat just offshore. Our little castaways happily played in the sand and we took it in turns to submerge ourselves in long, relaxing drift snorkel. Incredible visibility, colourful corals and teeming with marine life. Stunning snorkelling and a highlight of our trip so far.

8. Potato Head – Seminyak

We celebrated some of our happiest moments in Bali at the hip and happening Potato Head Beach Club. Even more importantly we were lucky enough to share many of these moments with family and friends who visited us. With a jaw-dropping, picture perfect location and huge beachside infinity pool our days here were guaranteed to be good-times.

Potato Head is also the place where we nervously launched Curious Plan for the very first time - a truly memorable (and nail biting) moment in 2014.

9. Railay Beach Sunset

As you may know Railay Beach had a lot to answer for as it was one of a handful of places that we dreamt about visiting when we were in the early stages of concocting our curious plan from our kitchen table.

When you’ve heard so many glowing, wistful recommendations for a place you really hope it’s as good as you imagined. Railay certainly was - simply stunning, breathtaking, paradise and every other cliche you can think of. It has the softest sands, the bluest water, the tallest, craggiest limestone cliffs, the longest beaches and the most dramatic sunsets.
It is also famous for magnificent sunsets. Heading down to West Railay bay at the end of the day was a perfect spot to watch the sun go down. Sitting on a mat, with our twinkling gas lantern and chilled beers as the sunset was one of our favourite moments here.

10. A rooftop pint at Ku De Ta in Singapore

The best bit about visiting different places around the world is the chance to catch up with good friends whilst we’re there. In Singapore, we were lucky enough to be looked after by friends who showed us around and treated us to some of the lesser known sights. Perched on the 57th floor right at the top of Marina Bay Sands Ku De Ta was somewhere we never would have thought to go and is certainly one of the most impressive places we’ve ever had a pint.

We bagged an outdoor table on the wooden deck and were wowed by the 360-degree views and an impressive tour of Singapore’s skyline from our lovely hosts. The bar also looks over the iconic infinity pool so we could peer over at the guests enjoying their "swim at the top of the World". This tropical oasis is elevated at 200 metres so made a great spot to grab some pictures. Voted as one of the top ten global hotspots by The New York Times this was a plush and memorable place to spend an afternoon in the city.

2 Responses

  1. Jules

    Hi I’ve just come across your blog. We are wanting to plan a future family gap year. I wondered if you have any tips or any “don’t dos” about planning it?

    • Teamtoms

      Hi Jules – Huge Congratulations on deciding to embark on your family gap year – it is the BEST thing we have ever done and you are absolutely living life the way it should be. I’m sure you are having many “what are we doing” moments but once you hop on the plane it will all be worth it and you’ll never look back!. I’m SO sorry for our delayed reply to your question – we arrived in Melbourne mid-December and have been busy setting up our new lives as stay-putters rather than on-the-movers! It’s been a busy time of transition and I’m afraid Curious Plan has taken a bit of a back seat for a while! So planning the trip depends a lot on you, the age of your kids and what you hope to get out of it – are you beachy people or city lovers? Active or more after leisurely family time together? My biggest bit of advice is move less and see more….being on the move too much gets exhausting for everyone and takes the fun out of it. We found 4-6 weeks of on-the-hop (4-5 days in places) followed by 4 weeks (sometimes longer) in one place balances things out a bit. I found these guys helpful reading for some check-lists: – hope it helps but do fire us over any questions you have. Happy planning and so excited for you! All the best, Catherine x


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