How this couple turned a redundancy into an epic adventure
18 February 2014
IT TOOK all of five minutes for this couple to decide to drop everything they knew and go on an amazing adventure after news of a redundancy.
WHAT does the average bloke do when he gets made redundant? He looks for another job. Not this guy ... he decided to do the opposite — go on an adventure of a lifetime that’s still continuing.
Alistair McGuinness was made redundant in his late thirties. As soon as he found out he called his wife, Francine, and within five minutes the pair decided that instead of focusing on the negatives, they’d look for the positives.
They decided that this hindrance was, in fact, their time to shine — their moment. And so they dropped everything they knew in the UK and headed to South America, then Africa and finally moved to Australia.
We talk to Alistair about how he and his wife have made their dream a reality.
Where are you living right now?
We live in the coastal town of Busselton, in South Western Australia.
When did you make an active decision to change your life?
We had often discussed backpacking around the world but the security of good jobs tied us down to exotic two-week holidays instead. Five minutes after the redundancy announcement I phoned my wife (Fran) and we both agreed that this was our moment!
So you got made redundant … but how did that turn into a trip of a lifetime?
That evening we opened a bottle of wine, grabbed the globe from the windowsill and by midnight we had a rough plan that would take us from South America, to Africa and finally a new life in Australia.
It sounds like a pretty big risk!
It was a big risk as my employer, General Motors, decided to expand their nearby truck factory and offered me a production improvement role. It was very tempting, but deep down I knew it was time to take the plunge and move on. We had also been looking to move the countryside and had just found a house that we liked, with a local pub, village green and duck pond all nearby. More importantly, we were also leaving behind family and close friends.
How long have you been living on the road?
We spent about three months in South America, another three months in Africa and then three more exploring Australia to see where we wanted to live.
What were your most interesting experiences?
After years of watching wildlife documentaries on TV, we were not prepared for the primal screams oscillating from the Amazonian rainforest on our first day and spent a restless night cowering under the mosquito nets. Within days I was teaching English lessons to the local community and each weekend we played football on the banks of the Rio Napo, which is a major tributary into the Amazon. There were also some scary times. Being charged by a rhino and running for safety in a Bolivian underground mine as dynamite exploded in a nearby chamber was something we will never forget. There were many memorable times, including climbing Kilimanjaro and trekking along the Inca Trail. One of the most uplifting experiences was travelling by boat across Lake Titicaca, in Peru, to stay with a family on the remote island of Amantani.
Most people are way too scared to drop everything and just go. How did you do it?
Like so many others we had talked about the subject for years and once the news of redundancy swept across the factory floor I knew it was finally time to stop dreaming and to start living.
How did you turn redundancy (what most people see as something negative) into something positive?
Rather than see it as an ending of my career, I viewed it as the beginning of an overdue adventure and grasped the opportunity to fulfil lifelong ambitions.
How did you get around?
During the trip we found ourselves on boats, trains, overnight buses and taxis. Sometimes we hitchhiked and in Peru we hired donkeys to transport our luggage over a remote mountain pass. We headed to Peru by local bus and were keen to find a place called Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats. In a windswept Bolivian village we found a man who claimed to know the whereabouts of the remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and we went in search of their graves.
What has been the most memorable highlight?
Being chased by a lioness was a scary moment and white water rafting the Zambezi is something I never plan to do again. But as for the most memorable; working as a conservation volunteer in the Amazon and teaching English lessons was something that will stay with me forever.
What about your funniest highlight?
We took a day off volunteer duties and hitchhiked along the river by long boat to the nearest jungle town and found a cafe that sold burgers. But before I could take a bite, a monkey leapt onto the table and escaped with my lunch.
How do you immerse yourself in local life?
Whenever I travel, I enjoy getting up early to watch the first stirrings of daily life. Fish markets are a hive of activity and in city centre’s you get a sense of calm before the mad rush. First light is also an amazing time to capture memorable photos. As for accommodation, I enjoy my luxuries but every additional star ranking is a step away from the realities of daily life. A good balance helps and staying in simple thatched cottage by the ocean can often be more rewarding than a five-star complex.
Do you have any hints for others wanting to take the plunge?
I guess it comes down to what keeps you awake at night. As a child, I often dreamt of travelling to the Amazon. When I was in my 30s I thought that the dream was all but gone. When the chance came, I gave up on comfort TV, Friday nights down the local pub and traditional two-week holidays abroad and feel refreshed by the experience. There will always be reasons not to travel or move to another country, but nothing is forever. We can always return to the UK and over the years most of our family have come to visit. I still wake at night, but now it’s due to kangaroos hopping past the front garden and setting the dog off.
Did the trip change yourself and Fran?
We arrived in Australia with just a rucksack each and nowhere to live. I think that travelling for all that time beforehand prepared us well for living in a new country and all the unexpected things that occur as you try and settle into your new world. The trip confirmed that my wife is a natural at learning new languages.
What inspired you to write about the journey?
My dad travelled the world with the Merchant Navy, but rarely shared his experiences and I wish I had asked him more questions. Everyone has a story to tell and after his passing I decided to write Round The Bendso that our two children could share our adventures. The book is an adventure travel story. It explores the turbulence of redundancy, the excitement of travel, the anguish of leaving home and the challenges of starting a new life in Australia.
How can people connect with you?
My blog captures everyday moments of life in Australia and across the globe, sharing photos, videos, travel and writing tips.
Alistair’s top five tips
1. Don’t try to do too much in a small amount of time. You skim over so much and end up with lots of places on your passport that you never really experienced.
2. Get up early when in strange places. You meet the locals and get terrific photo opportunities.
3. Be spontaneous and don’t follow everything that the search engines on the internet advise you to do.
4. If you’re thinking of moving countries, get a picture of all the neighbours in your street before you go. I wish I had done this.
5. If you move to another country, purchase a visitors book for when friends and family come over.