A family tragedy and becoming an empty nester led to Faye Smith selling her home to travel Australia. Catherine Scott reports
When Faye Smith’s daughter was little she promised when she finished school she’d take her to visit her best friend who had emmigrated to Australia.
Tragically, Faye’s daughter Gabi died three years ago of a suspected seizure aged just 12 and never got to make the journey .
But Faye decided to keep her promise to Gabi in her memory and so when her son Zach left for University last year, she sold the family home, moved in to rented accommodation and asked her trusted associates to look after her successful marketing and PR business for the two months she would be away.
“My son Zach is 19 and I am very proud of him,” says Faye, 49, from Nether Edge, Sheffield.
“He left for Oxford University last October and I become an ‘Empty Nester’ earlier than I should be. My daughter Gabi would be 16 in September and preparing for her GCSEs, but she died after a suspected seizure in March 2013, just as my son was about to do his GCSEs. So my oldest child’s departure brings on a whole host of emotions of separation, loss and another form of bereavement all over again.”
So for Faye becoming an empty nester was doubly difficult.
“I anticipated four (expensive to maintain Edwardian) walls closing in on our family home of 20 years, so sold the house in July and moved into rented accommodation, downsizing substantially to save time and effort. The thought of rattling around alone where once we were a family of four, was too much to bear.”
Becoming an empty nester coincided with a big landmark birthday this year- when Faye will turn 50.
She’d never taken a gap year after university and for the last 14 years was a single parent running her own business. She she decided to keep her promise to Gabi and take a much needed break.
Faye set off in January and she kept a blog of her trip from sailing off the Southernmost tip of mainland Australia to camping under the stars in remote sand island eco resorts; visiting World Heritage Sites and ancient rainforests, driving abroad for the first time; taking an extended walking tour on The Great Ocean Road; staying in an Abbey on a silent retreat, attending a conference of 4000 women at one of the world’s biggest churches, touring icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. “It was a time for taking stock, re-orientating, re-envisioning my life and a chance to grieve again for my daughter away from the usual cycles of work and life business,” explains Faye. “Everyone asks what the highlight was. Even more than the places, I absolutely loved the empowering feeling of travelling alone. Each day I woke up with a deep joy and peace. I never felt lonely or frightened in the entire trip. I discovered I could do all sorts of new things: driving abroad, snorkelling for the first time in 25 years, joining and staying with six completed strangers through Air B&B. Though if you pinned me down to one experience, it would have to be the moment I caught sight of my ‘bucket list’ dream destination: Lady Elliott Island on the Barrier Reef from the air, a perfect coral cay taking only 150 guests. I just started to cry.
“Now back with the inevitable post-holiday anti-climax, I have created a list of 50 fun things I like to do, and make sure I tick them all off in my 50th year. Walking in the Peaks, visiting friends, cinema trips to the Showroom, a nice chilled prosecco… simple pleasures. And the bigger job of buying a Sheffield base for me and my son while he is at University.” Faye, who set up her PR and Marketing business Keep Your Fork seven years ago, hasn’t done with travelling yet. She plans to visit New Zealand next.
And what advice does she have to other people contemplating taking a sabbatical?
“My advice comes from a friend who says, you can do anything if you have a big enough ‘why?’ My home had become a burden instead of a pleasure. I love my business, but the long hours to build up a business as a single parent in a recession had taken its toll and I desperately needed a break from the demanding environment,” says Faye.
“I had made a promise to my daughter I wanted to honour her memory by keeping it. And I had only one destination firmly on my bucket list: The Great Barrier Reef.
“These were my ‘Whys’ and I simply took practical steps to ensure I could fund the trip and the break from work. I have come back healthier, happier, more refreshed and raring to go than I have felt in decades. As a successful US drama scriptwriter from Sydney I met on my Abbey retreat said to me- ‘this trip will be a circuit breaker for you’. It has been. Trusting my business ‘baby’ to my specialists has been brilliant. Clients have been happy with great service and fresh eyes, and I have finally learnt to take the essential step back to work ‘on’, rather than always ‘in’ the business. It is growing fast and the team are excited.
“So now I am back after four states, 11 flights, boats, ferries, trams, taxis, a helicopter and four different cars over thousands of kilometres, the healthiest and happiest I have been in decades. I can honestly say it was worth selling my house to fund this sabbatical and I feel massively more empowered for the largely solo travelling.
“Every day was a delight and an adventure beyond words. My only regret is that my daughter wasn’t there to share her dream with me.” Twitter@ypcscott