Camping overnight in a watchtower at the Great Wall of China, sitting in the doorway of a train in Sri Lanka, riding a bamboo raft down the Li River in Yangshuo, getting robbed in Spain, and more—Australia-based single mom Evie Ferrell and daughter Emmie’s life is filled with stories to tell. Ferrell shares with us some of their best experiences and the memories they made as they travelled full time for four years. By Bayar Jain
T+L India: When did you start travelling with Emmie?
Evie Farrell: Emmie and I have been travelling together since she was little, but our big trip began in February 2016 when she had just turned six. We set off from Australia with a backpack, one-way tickets to the Philippines and no return date. It was completely freeing to begin such an incredible adventure where everything ahead of us was open. We could go wherever we wanted and stay as long as we liked. Our plans were our own and the world was in front of us. This adventure was the opposite to how we’d been living. I worked long hours in a corporate job, Emmie was at school, and there was never enough time to be together. I was rushing around trying to be successful in my job, and be a dedicated, hands-on mum and it just wasn’t possible! It worried me that I didn’t have enough time with Emmie and I was missing important parts of her life. I know that if I wanted to spend these valuable years with my daughter, I had to change. Travelling together using my savings (and renting our house out to keep an income coming in) was the solution. We created a joyful, interesting, and meaningful life that I found so much more satisfying than just following the expected path of corporate work, mortgage, and suburban commitments. And we developed such a close bond from all our time together.
T+L India: What was your first trip together?
Evie Farrell: Our first trip was to Fiji when Emmie was four months old. She just laid around (laughs) and I swam and had time to myself. The trip was restorative and gave me a sense of accomplishment when I’d been feeling so much failure with the breakdown of my relationship. Travel allows me to step away from everything that is surrounding me, and the freedom it allows me to reset and gain clarity. And I think that’s important for everyone. It’s like stepping out of one world and into another, and it can give you a whole new perspective on your life and what’s important.
When Emmie was three, we’d gone to Disneyland in California, and visited friends in Barbados and Singapore. We set off on our first backpacking adventure to Malaysian Borneo when she was five, and a few months later we left Australia on our big trip.
T+L India: Where have the two of you travelled together so far?
Evie Farrell: We have explored most of Asia, a little of Europe, and some of America. We have been to almost every Disneyland! While we love to get off the beaten track, there is nothing better than a shack on a quiet beach. We also love theme parks and all-inclusive luxury stays too. I don’t prescribe to a certain way of travel or think anyone should. Getting out there is important, whether you’re staying at a resort or camping in the middle of nowhere. Travel helps us heal or celebrate, take time out or soak up the energy of a vibrant marketplace or celebration. I think it’s truly helpful for mental health; getting out there and exploring can rid anyone of apathy and dissatisfaction.
T+L India: Tell us about your book, Backyard to Backpack, and how it came into being?
Evie Farrell: Our book is all about our travels, why we went, what we learnt, all the fabulous experiences and challenges, and the mistakes too. It’s a very honest account of our story. I think for a lot of us travel is a very emotional adventure because when you are away from all the noise, you really get to know yourself better and find out more about each other. It was the best time of my life and I’m so lucky I got to share it with this book! You can find it in bookstores still or online: Backyard to Backpack: A solo mum, a six year old and a life-changing adventure.
T+L India: How do you cope with Emmie’s education while travelling?
Evie Farrell: I enrolled Emmie in Distance Education, so most of the work was done on paper, and later online. She had a face-to-face session each week with a teacher. It was a challenge. Teaching her was not as easy as I expected, and I think most parents had the same experience during schooling at home in the pandemic. We struggled with it so we didn’t always complete the classes. But kids learn so much while travelling every day — about history, nature, culture and religion. After missing around four years of formal schooling, she has now returned, and is in some advanced classes! I know a lot of parents worry about their children missing school. I think our experience shows it can be done.
T+L India: How do you think travelling impacts her upbringing?
Evie Farrell: We definitely have a much closer bond than when we hadn’t travelled. Travelling exposed Emmie to different cultures and religions, and nurtured an open and curious mind. She is very confident and self assured. It comes from being quite independent and knowing that she has a place in the world. She has seen how big it is, but also feels connected. She has friends everywhere and she will never find it daunting.
T+L India: What are some challenges you face as a solo mum travelling with your daughter? How do you overcome them?
Evie Farrell: I don’t think there were challenges purely associated with being a solo mum. In fact, I found that local people were even more helpful when they knew it was the two of us. Schooling was a challenge and there were times when I needed a break. Not having someone to tag team with is difficult, but that’s normal life for me anyway. When it got too much, I booked us into a resort for a few days, put Emmie into kids club, had wine and a bit of time to myself!
T+L India: How do you choose your next destination and plan for it?
Evie Farrell: Often there’s very little planning. We just decide to go. We visited Okinawa in Japan because Emmie was obsessed with sea glass and in her research, she learned about a beach there that is covered in bonfire glass.
Sometimes it’s an unexpected sidestep. We explored Taiwan after my eardrum burst in the Philippines and I needed to be somewhere cool and dry.
Sometimes it’s because of cheap flights, a book we’ve read, or a photo we’ve seen. We usually plan our flights and the first nights’ accommodation, and we go from there. Now that Emmie is in school and we have limited time, there is a little more organisation. Of course, I preferred it when we didn’t have a deadline or a set time to travel and could drift or set a pace at our whim. I’ve already started doing solo trips this year, as I need travel for my mental health and my soul.
T+L India: Tell us about your 18-months-long backpacking trip to Asia and the places you visited.
Evie Farrell: We set off together without a deadline and the trip ended up being three parts with a few months at home in Australia in between. The first to earn money and the second to write our book. We spent years exploring Asia, and lived in Hoi An in Vietnam for around six months. Emmie went to school there. We spent time in China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives—almost everywhere except Laos and South Korea. We were travelling from February 2016 until the pandemic. Then we came back to Australia on the last flight out of Tokyo in March 2020.
We learnt a lot on this trip about how we like to travel. For us, staying in family-run guesthouses, eating in small restaurants and using local transport is the best way to give back to families and communities, as well as make connections with locals — something that is such an important part of the travel experience. We do what we can, like donating blood and supporting local businesses. But we do not engage in voluntourism activities as these do more damage than good, especially school visits that take children away from much-needed education, and orphanage visits as many only exist to make money from tourists. We also don’t take photos of children as I believe this is exploitative, especially if photos are shared on social media or used for commercial purposes without consent. We also try to avoid any activities that exploit or hurt animals like elephant riding or zoos.
T+L India: You’ve mentioned that you were robbed of everything in Spain. What happened and how did you return?
Evie Farrell: We’ve only had one big challenge while we travelled full time and that was being robbed in Spain. We were on a road trip and left the car for 30 minutes to grab lunch. On returning, we found that robbers had broken in and wheeled off with all our luggage, including our passports and all my electronics—cameras, computer, drone, everything. It must have felt like Christmas for them! We returned to Australia with a plastic bag with undies and a book each, and a piece of paper instead of a passport. I worked really hard to manage that experience well because I want Emmie to be able to stay calm in a crisis and be able to solve problems rather than react to them. We were safe and that was all that mattered, even though we lost everything.
T+L India: Your most memorable trip yet?
Evie Farrell: There are moments from all our adventures that we will never forget like camping overnight on top of a watchtower on the Great Wall of China, sitting in the doorway of the blue train in Sri Lanka as we sped past tea plantations and waterfalls, riding a bamboo raft down the Li River in Yangshuo, lazing on the roof of a small boat as it slowly made its way past villages and fishermen along the Sanker River in Cambodia, and riding a moped together around the pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar. The special shared memories are part of the tapestry of our life and influence us every day.
T+L India: Any advice for parents who wish to travel with their children?
Evie Farrell: 100 per cent please do it if you can! The opportunity to travel with kids doesn’t last long, and the gifts that travel will give you—a family bond, experiences shared together for the very first time, overcoming challenges and celebrating together, as well as learning about the world but just as importantly about each other—are invaluable. It will be a very special time for your family.
T+L India: What’s next on your bucket list?
Evie Farrell: Just being able to leave Australia again feels like such a huge step after being unable to for the past two years. Since the Australian border opened in December 2021, we’ve been to Fiji and Malaysia together. I’ve travelled to Dubai for the World Expo and to Hawaii to lay on the beach and drink cocktails. We are so excited to return to Vietnam and Hoi An in a few months, and catch up with the many friends we have there. Emmie would love to cruise to Antarctica, I’m quite fascinated with Greenland… But for the next few years, we will be filling our souls returning to the countries and cultures of Asia.