It’s summer road trip season for many of us, which is why this week’s home tour really spoke to me. Meet Kirsty and her family in this edition of Living with Kids. They live a nomadic lifestyle, and they make it seem romantic, interesting, and possible. While I find myself dreading an upcoming 10-hour drive with my kids, Kirsty has been all over the world with her kids — in backpacks, on trains, and in an old 4×4 with a tape deck (where I assume she played awesome mix tapes from back in the day). You’re going to love getting to know her, and you’re going to adore her beautiful home in Abu Dhabi. Her stories make me want to plan an adventures. Welcome, Kirsty!
Kirsty Larmour, Living With Kids Story:
We are a family of nomads!! My husband, myself, and our two kids were born in 4 different countries. I’m British and met my Irish husband, Tommy, while working in Hong Kong. Not long after getting married we moved to China and had our oldest daughter, Saffy, whilst living there. After three years in China we moved to the Middle East where daughter number two, Indy, arrived.
Having your first child in China means you start parenting with a mentality of having to just pick up the baby and get on with it. Back then everyone loved talking to our daughter everywhere we went, but there were no baby facilities; none of the things my friends had available to them when they were starting their families back home. We had no changing tables, or feeding rooms, or car seats. The pavements where we lived weren’t even paved so I quickly realised a stroller just wasn’t going to work and that a baby carrier would be a much better option.
And so we just had to jump in the deep end and figure out ways to get things done. Our daughter took her first international flight at 3 months old, to Borneo! After that we just kept on picking her up and traveling. Her early years were filled with sleeping on trains, and hiking up mountains, and seeing lots of pandas.
We moved to the Middle East when I was 6 months pregnant with our 2nd daughter and lived in the bustling heart of downtown Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, for seven years. We used it as a wonderful base to explore the region and other nearby countries like India.
After those 7 years we headed off on a very exciting and slightly crazy one year road trip!
After that trip we returned back to Abu Dhabi and moved into this house, marking the first time we hadn’t lived in an apartment. We wanted the girls to have some independence after their time on the road. While they’d had a lot of freedom during that year, they’d lived in our pockets, and independence when we were traveling every few days was hard to give them.
We knew exactly where we wanted to live in Abu Dhabi and loved the small community of this area, so asked friends to listen out for a house coming up for rent at the right time. We were lucky enough that one became available that was actually the exact same layout as a friend’s, so I could visualise it without even being in the country.
After a year of living out of our car, a house with stairs and separate bedrooms and a kitchen felt like a mansion! And the girls loved having bikes and playing in the street and being able to ride around to their friends’ houses.
The neighbourhood is an older area in the geographical middle of the city, which meant rents were more affordable than some of the newer areas. We had houses around us who kept chickens and goats, and during Ramadan they’d get cows too, which of course would eventually be eaten! We lived within hearing of three different Mosques with prayer calls which sang out five times a day. You learn to use them as an indicator of the rhythm of the day.
It’s a friendly area of town with families from all over the world, and during Ramadan, the families on our street would give out meals for Iftar (the breaking of the fast), and gifts to workers for Eid. There would also be Christmas and Halloween parties in the neighbourhood reflecting the inclusive nature of the city and its international flavour.
The area is walking distance to a big mall, Abu Dhabi’s largest park, a whole load of lovely little cafes, plus schools and churches. Of course, that’s only when you can walk — as temperatures hit 40+ degrees C during much of the year. (That’s 104 degrees F.)
In my job as a photographer I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into peoples’ homes all over the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, so I always had an idea about the feel of the houses in different areas of town. I’d study the lighting and think about how I’d decorate a home in different places. We’ve always lived in rentals, and tried to stamp our own sense of home on them, by incorporating bits of our heritage, and the countries we’ve spent time in, into our decorating.
We love to collect treasures as we travel, which remind us of the adventures we have had together. And our home very much reflects that. Whilst I’m certainly not a minimalist, I don’t like clutter, so when I say treasures, I usually mean either useful everyday items — things such as a kettle, carpets, or a fruit bowl, or art in the form of photos, or other items we can hang on our walls. I also keep lots of simple white spaces in our home so it remains light and airy.
As we travel we try to be conscious consumers. I work capturing travel and lifestyle photography from wherever we have a home base, as well as when we’re on the road. But prior to this I worked for 12 years as an environmental consultant, so I always hope that we are treading lightly on our planet. We try not to be mindless souvenir collectors, but rather to buy things that contribute to communities and that will fit in with our home environment rather than being tossed aside when the next home furnishing trend comes along.
We are big on experiences over things, and so the things that we own have usually had a great deal of thought put into them. We typically buy very plain base furniture, and then stamp our own personality on the home in terms of furnishings like blankets or carpets.
I am calmed by nature and have always tried to encourage my children to feel contentment and connection there too, even though they’ve largely grown up in cities. It comes as no surprise to me that I’m drawn to calm blues, soft browns and cool silvers and greys. To me they create a restful environment both in nature and within a home and so I have always decorated with this mood in mind.
My kids joke that Mama won’t let anything in the house unless it fits the colour code! That’s clearly not true as they are always encouraged to decorate their own room, and indeed their own half of their room however they wish, and they tend to go for all out colour.
However, I have found that knowing what works for your mind and your mood is extremely useful when traveling, as it tends to limit impulse purchases, which leads to more mindful shopping, which in turn leads to longevity of use of the things we buy. We also try very much to buy from crafters and makers directly — almost all of our rugs and carpets have been bought from the source or from cooperatives. There’s something beautiful about meeting the person who made something that is going to sit for years in your home, and become part of the family tapestry of memories from your trip.
Just as with the fashion revolution, the connection is so much deeper when there’s a face connected to an item; a person and a livelihood and another family at the other end of a chain. It’s something you don’t see when you just buy from the store. Because of these connections we tend to buy items we know we’ll keep, and then when we move we just sell on the base furniture which has less sentimental attachment.
Our second daughter took her first overnight train at 5 months old when we backpacked through Syria, a beautiful trip that will be forever etched into our memories as we view the tragedy that is currently happening there. For this reason, the $50 painted tile we bought outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, will be always one of my greatest most sentimental treasures. Not only for the joy it brings us in being part of our decorative wall, but for the memories of the labyrinthine souqs, and the bartering and the people we met there.
After 7 years in a little inner city apartment in Abu Dhabi we decided it was time for a new adventure. We, perhaps without thinking it all through too much, bought a battered old 4×4 — so old it still had a tape player in it — threw the kids and some camping gear in the back, and set off on a year long road trip. This trip took us from the UAE across the Arabian Gulf to Iran. Talk about throwing yourself in the deep end!
Iran was beautiful and really set the tone for our trip. We made it to Ireland in time for Christmas, having passed through 15 countries by that point — with only 2 major breakdowns!
We love road trips and luckily the kids do too. We listen to a ton of podcasts and audiobooks, and if we are homeschooling, then we use this time together to do school work – especially when driving on highways. This means when we stop somewhere, for a few hours, or a few days, we can get out and about and explore and don’t need to be tied to our books. As the kids have got older, they are increasingly involved in the planning of trips, the navigation, the money, the food planning, etc., and they love the sense of responsibility that comes with that.
We have loved living and traveling in so many places. I think more than anything, it’s taught us that there is not just one way to live, and that we can be resourceful and adaptable. We definitely learnt that we can live with less; that we just don’t need all the “stuff” society tells us we need.
I love that our home and travels make us feel connected in some small way to so many people and places. The room the girls share is understandably bright and colourful and they often make their own art to decorate with. Their room is as multi-national as their childhood has been, with dolls from Cuba and decorations from Mexico, adding to Irish flags for their nationality, and of course lots of pandas for Saffy our Chinese girl! Their duvet covers are homemade from fabric I found one summer in England, which seemed just perfect with its modes of transport from around the world. Their rugs are treasures we bought directly from some ladies in a village in Uzbekistan.
The beauty of traveling independently with our own vehicle means we can get deep into the countryside, and meet and often stay with people. In this case half of the adventure was in finding the ladies. The other half was in hanging out with their family while we sorted through rugs, and the girls choose two. I love that experiences like this help to keep the children grounded; they understand more about the behind the scenes processes.
The hard parts of nomadic life are being away from friends and family and our own communities. Sometimes I feel maybe our children won’t ever have a true sense of identity, having never lived in the country of their passport. I worry they won’t put down roots. But maybe they’ll be globetrotters forever, and find a different way to live?
After Christmas, on our big road trip, we drove down to Morocco where we spent 2 months, and then travelled across Europe, up through Russia, and through the ‘Stans of Central Asia, and along the Silk Route. As we drove we created memories, both in terms of doing things, and in creating things. I often know as soon as I’ve taken a photograph if it will end up on our big memories wall, alongside art and other treasures we have collected along the way.
Our wall contains things as diverse as a canvas pinned with hands of Fatima, and evil eye charms collected from different countries in the Middle East, a framed denim skirt that was the first item of designer clothing I ever owned in Hong Kong, and a cardboard unicorn because Indy brought a unicorn hobby horse along on our road trip! Our whole home is full of photo memories which mesh together with other things we’ve collected along the way.
The main bedroom wherever we live, including on our road trips when we lived from our vehicle and camped on many nights, has a beautiful blue and white block printed quilt that Tommy and I bought on our honeymoon in Rajasthan, India. Wherever it is, it symbolises home, and for that reason it features in many of my photos.
I love having useful, every day items that the children will remember as constants throughout their lives, despite us moving and traveling so much. I believe in the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Because we travel so much, and often put our life possessions in storage, I try to make sure that the things we have frequently fit both criteria, otherwise we are paying to store useless items!
I hope our children have grown up with an attitude of adaptability. They both have a sense of justice and fight naturally against some of the inequalities they see in the world. I asked them if they think travel has changed them but they both said they couldn’t define that, as they’ve grown up with much of their life on the road. Even when we lived in one place, we always travelled every opportunity we had.
They miss friends, but that is part and parcel of expat life, and they are lucky to have close bonds to family thanks to the wonders of technology. For me, connectability is important. As humans, we need to feel connected, and so both socially and work wise I like to have decent wifi. But we all also love to be connected to nature and the big world out there too.
I hope the girls will remember that this home gave them a sense of security. They were able to walk to the corner shop by themselves, and ride bikes and hang out in the street and do so many things that are part of childhood and growing up. I hope they’ll remember our home was a little tranquil place of calm in the middle of a busy capital city.
I hope they forget that their Mama got stressed by the busyness of city life from time to time, and yearned for countryside escapes! I hope they’ll remember how much we loved those escapes when we headed out on the weekends to the desert or the mountains or the coast which were easily accessible sanity savers.
I love that having kids has made me a better person. I always hope that I pattern kindness, openness and acceptance for them to follow. Their hilarious little personalities have made me see the world in different ways both literally, by spending so much time down on their level, and figuratively by listening to their views and interpretations of things.
I will miss the way their little hands slip into mine as we wind through souqs, and listening to their breathing as we fall asleep on mountains. It was hard for me to re-adapt to sleeping in a different room to them when we first moved into our house.
My husband and I worked so hard for this lifestyle to happen. There were hard years along the way where we juggled the kids between us, and one came in the door as the other went out. But the sacrifices and the going without have been worth it, because now we get to live on our terms. And if I help just one person to find a way to make that possible for whatever their dreams are, then I will be forever grateful.
I wish that before we went on our big road trip we’d met someone else who’d done something similar; someone who could have advised us, reassured us and enabled us to manage the self doubt, the worry about the kids and money, the anxiety about careers and education, and apprehension about just generally screwing everyone’s lives up. I wish we’d known that after we’d done it once we’d want to do it again and though we’d crave periods of stability, we’d also see the world through whole new eyes.
I love that (through Instagram and Facebook) I now connect with so many people who ask ME all those questions I wanted to ask someone else. I wish I’d known that there would be times I’d feel miserable and just want to go home, wherever home might be. And times that other family members would feel like that. And that we’d have to dig deep and rely on each other to get through those times. And that they would build resilience and give us funny stories to tell when we looked back.
I wish I’d known at those times where I doubted everything, that they would be outweighed a multitude of times by the incredible spirit of humanity we’d encounter, and the breathtaking scenery we would get to live in.
In my small home office, I had a series of notebooks and older heirlooms, including a camera from one Grandfather and a box made of walnut that was given to my other Grandfather after he served in India. We have come full circle as we have now moved on from this home, and just moved to India, which is where my mother was born. I grew up with stories of the country.
So, after 2 ½ years living back in Abu Dhabi it was time for us to move on again. We set off on another road trip, this time in our 25 year old van, Dorothy, across Arabia. Another set of memories and treasures to be woven further into that tapestry of our shared family history. And now, we’ve just settled in India, for the next set of adventures to begin…..
Thank you for sharing your life and home with us, Kirsty. What a unique and wonderful way to live.
I can only imagine the way that her kids are going to view the world as they get older — they have had so much exposure to different types of people and ways to live. It is so easy to be afraid of something you don’t know or don’t understand — but what better way to know and understand the cultures and peoples of the world than living among them? What a gift that Kirsty and her husband have given their kids: the ability to recognize we are all part of one big family.
Do you live a high adventure life? Are you always up for a road trip? Or do you prefer the daily routines of home life? What are your best tips for traveling with kids?
Block Printed Quilt
You can see more of Kirsty’s photos here or follow her travel blog here. Or check her out on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.