My preferred travel experience is the exotic, the mind-altering and the adventurous – where I am immersed into a different culture and see the world through a different lens. Backpacking through India was that to me, as was travelling overland through Africa with my husband.
Naturally, I also adore travel where I get to pursue one of my greatest passions – skiing. That too transports me into an almost floating state of being, thanks to the pure adrenalin pumping through my body. It is one of the few times I truly let go, thinking of nothing, smiling ear to ear and totally being in the moment. Not a worry in the world – unless I am racing down to a crying baby in the base café, waiting to be breastfed.
But for the last year or so, we have been somewhat restricted in the trips we can take as a family, having just been pregnant and added a young baby to the mix.
So we use what we’ve got and try to extract the most adventure out of a holiday that we can, hoping that we’ll all get our wanderlust fix. Our recent summer holiday was probably spent doing something not many people would have chosen for that time of year – we didn’t head to the pristine beaches of the Coromandel in New Zealand, we didn’t escape the Sydney heat and head to the Canadian ski fields, nor did we paddle-board around the waterways of Noosa.
Sunrise on the farm. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
Instead we headed to our close friends’ dairy farm on the West Coast of New Zealand, in Taranaki. For me coming from a rural background, it was the perfect antidote to a sultry, urban Sydney summer and gave me my necessary country fix. I may not look like I have a rural background, but the country calms and centres me. It’s true for me that while you can take the girl out of the country, you can’t take the country out of the girl.
For the boys, it was the easiest and most enjoyable course in resilience and risk-taking I’ve ever seen. Daily adventures took them eeling, playing hide and seek in cornfields, bouncing on old school trampolines (without nets, shock horror), tree climbing and my 5 year old learned how to ride a motorbike. He did not master the motorbike, but I was told each time he fell off, he got straight back on, fell off, and got straight back on again. I didn’t watch, but he showed real grit and determination.
Farm life. Photos - Jessica Podzebenko
The tree climbing also went unobserved by his mother, and he came back proud of the fact he climbed right to the top of a very high tree. Unfortunately my son misjudged small twigs for being stronger than they were…. and so there he fell, down through the tree grazing his face along the way. But like the motorbike, this didn’t deter him – he embraced these challenges, especially when he was being lead by his 8 year old host.
What did I get out of it? While the adventures might seem to just appeal to the kids, I loved trying my hand at eeling, showing the boys where the cows were milked and trekking around the farm. It was an invigorating break – relaxing, but it also took me by surprise in that it forced me to let go, and unwind properly. While I think I’m a pretty relaxed Mum and don’t identify as a ‘helicopter parent’ (there isn’t much choice in our chaotic household), I admit I do observe my children closely at times.
Watching where the milk comes from. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
But on the farm, a weight was lifted – I let go of worrying about my children falling off play equipment (or motorbikes in this case), I let go of observing them closely as they interact with other people’s kids – instead letting them manage themselves, and I let go of whether they wore their swimmers in the pool or not… Sure, they came back with a few scraps and scratches, and maybe they didn’t wear sunscreen a few times in the pool, but their freedom and my absence empowered them. And it relaxed me, almost taking me back to that pre-kid time where I was more footloose and fancy-free. For me, that is the ideal travel experience.
I also let go of obsessing over the amount of sugar that went into their mouths, instead going with the flow on the farm and letting them devour bowls of Goody Goody Gumdrop ice cream (if you don’t know what this is, click here). I was again reminded that we live in a little kale-driven bubble in Sydney’s east where the fanatical prevalence of health food and clean, anti-sugar, gluten-free, raw this, super-food that way of eating is not reflective of how the majority of the world lives, nor is it particularly good for our mental health and anxiety levels. Sure, I agree with the health benefits of minimising our intake of certain foods, particularly for behavioural reasons in kids, and eating nutritious, whole foods, but we lose sight of how we grew up and our childhood diets - simple country fare, most things in moderation, and a whole lot of clean air and outdoors time on top of that. It hasn't served me too badly.
Being on the farm reminded me also of the key fact that so many small towns and rural areas just don’t have affordable access to kombucha and a whole raft of other health food products you need a dictionary to pronounce. So on the farm, I watched on with nostalgic glee as my kids enjoyed real, home made chocolate slice (in moderation of course) and to my delight, our hosts’ exceptionally well stocked pantry included jars of white sugar, brown sugar and raw sugar.
Early rising sheep. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
For us it was as much of a physical re-set and adventure, as a mental re-set. Exploring the farm and immersing ourselves in the rural way of life was a great way to re-focus the mind to what is important and leave us feeling invigorated. We left lighter, and I came away worrying less.
The farm didn’t take us to a new and exotic culture, rather it simplified things, and took me back to a culture I grew up with. I had the chance to get back to my rural roots and dust off a somewhat dormant approach to living. While the kids were oblivious to this different way of exploring, they lapped up farm life – they are adventure seekers at heart. To my dear friends, our farm hosts, I would pay good money to take my family on a farm stay any day!
Our home for the holiday. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko