We row hard in the bowels of the slave ship, doing lots of stuff we don’t want to, dreaming of the day we can afford to do what we really want. And when that day comes, we wonder why we didn’t wake up to the fact that life is short and that we should have chased our real dreams earlier.
John Ahern, Extract from On the Road…with Kids
John was born in Queensland, Australia and grew up in Redcliffe where he roamed the beaches and played backyard cricket with his mates. His working career spanned from mowing lawns and packing groceries to get through University, to being the global head of Corporate Real Estate, Branding and Acquisitions for a public listed company.
In between serious bouts of work, he has travelled through over 80 countries and been shot at, poisoned, tear-gassed, robbed at gunpoint and locked up in an African jail. He has also stowed away in a Colombian cargo plane, ridden across countries on the back of trucks and the roofs of buses, flown in an ultralight over the Zambezi, and been a passenger in two train derailments.
He now lives with his wife and two children in the comparative safety of the Currumbin Valley on Australia’s Gold Coast. He considers it their base camp for new adventures.
John’s travel memoir ‘On The Road With Kids’ has received widespread media attention and won the prestigious Queensland People’s Choice Book of the Year 2015 at the Queensland Literary Awards.
Q. What are your main hobbies and any other interests?
A. This sounds like one of those date-matching questions on reality TV. I am obviously obsessed with independent travelling, except roaming with kids means it’s more of a blended ‘independent’ experience. And there is no better place for me to get lost in my head writing.
Q. How did you come to write the book?
A. I never intended to write a book. In the two years after we returned from this journey, I found myself waking at night and scribbling down stories and thoughts that had happened, and linking them to how the trip had such an impact on our family life, my working career and my connection with my wife and kids. I got lost in this activity. At the same time, wherever we went, people started asking us about our trip, how we did it and how they would love to escape the rat race as well. I decided I wanted to share that ‘wake up’ call with others, and with the continual insistence from wife Mandy that I could tell a good yarn, my disjointed stories became a book.
Q. Did you keep a diary for this book while travelling?
A. No, but my long handwritten letters home to my mother, known on this trip as ‘ letters to Nana’, were the best ‘in the moment’ stream of thoughts I could have ever hoped for.
Q. No blogging?
A. Nope. To truly connect, I disconnected. I wanted to smell the flowers, not tell everyone what they looked like.
Q. Why should anyone buy this book?
A. They shouldn’t. It’s crap … No I’m kidding. Delete that. Can I be serious?
Q. You can be whatever you want to be.
A. That’s just what I keep telling my kids! And myself. Anyway, my one hope for this book it is that it acts as a ‘call to action’ for people to tap into their dreams and aspirations…and then chase them. But it doesn’t have to involve running around the world in an old camper wondering how the toilet canister thing works. It might be anything. Just so long as it excites you…and is ahead of you.
Q. So are you a better father and husband for it?
A. You’d have to ask my family that. I’d like to think so. I’m trying; not always getting it right. One thing though. We met so many people on our travels and in later readings, retired couples, who consistently said their greatest regret was that they worked so hard through their children’s’ young lives, that when they finally had the time to be with them, they were gone. I won’t have that regret.
Q. What did the kids get out of the trip?
A. My grand hope is that a year with their parents has established a family foundation for us all that will last the ages. Time will tell. I am however, on first name basis with all their teddies.
Q. Was it all smooth sailing?
A. Not even close. I recall the first month as the hell reality of camping. Try sticking a family of four into a shoebox on wheels, then take away their income , phones, email, internet, TV and all semblance of personal space. It was like some weird kind of intensive family interaction course, Big Brother on wheels.
Q. Do you have any big tips for writing?
A. It’s the same as travelling. Be still in the moment. Persevere through the hard times. And don’t buy bucket-bin discount wine.
Q. So should everyone chuck their careers, run out and buy a motorhome and take off.
A. Oh yes, I thoroughly recommend it. A gap year for parents isn’t a bad concept. Just taking time out to assess what we are going to do next week that makes us gasp with excitement is the key. After all, we’re not here for a practice run.