Photographer Kirsty Larmour grew up in Yorkshire in the north of England. After living in Hong Kong Kong and China, she is now is now officially based in Abu Dhabi with her Irish husband and two daughters, Saffy aged 9 and Indy, 7. However , she and her girls spend much of their time travelling the world – from Borneo to Iran; Uzbekistan to Cuba – and capturing awesome images of the lives they encounter along the way. From homeschooling her kids to having her car break down in the mountains of Iran, she shares her incredible story… 

We’ve travelled as a family pretty much from day one. Indy, our youngest was born in Abu Dhabi, and Saffy our eldest was born in China. I think if you have children in a developing country where the first world resources like changing tables and feeding rooms aren’t available, and where the pavements aren’t suitable for a buggy so you have no choice but to wear your baby in a sling, and absolutely nowhere is baby-proofed, then the fear of going to unusual places is immediately taken away from you. You just have to get on with it – and in the process, you realise that you can! Saffy’s first flight out of China was to Borneo at three months old, and we took the girls backpacking round Syria and Jordan when Indy was just five months old – all she needed at that age was me and a change of nappies…

Kirsty's eldest daughter Saffy walking through a mosque in Shiraz, Iran

My husband and I had always planned to take a year out and travel with the children before they reached high school. We girls usually travel around three months of the year anyway and my husband joins us when he can – we’ve previously spent a summer in China, lots of time in India, including going to the Holi festival which was a favourite trip for the kids, and we’ve travelled by train across Europe, but we wanted to do a longer trip all together. That dream finally came together last year when we were able to do a trip to the USA and Cuba for a month before setting off on a huge road-trip which saw us drive our old beaten up car, Nellie, from Abu Dhabi to Ireland.

 Once we got to Ireland we then headed down to Morocco. After that we somehow had to get the car back to the UAE so we decided to keep going and head to Central Asia, figuring we’d possibly never get the chance to spend a month in countries like Iran and Uzbekistan again. We covered 60,000km and visited three continents and travelled for a year by the time was over.

The Ani ruins in Turkey

Travelling long distances with the kids in the back can definitely be challenging. But we tried to keep driving to under four hours per day, and to stay in places as long as possible so the travel days weren’t consecutive. The great thing about being stuck in such a confined space is you really have to work out how to make things work! You learn a lot about compromise and team work and what works for your family. I think we are much closer now and understand that we all tick differently. The girls have become much more resourceful and self-motivated as a result.

 Our car broke down in Iran, outside a church, up a mountain, in a closed border area, guarded by the military, and 20km from the nearest town. It was late one afternoon as we were on our way to the border on the day our visas expired… It makes my stomach lurch to think of it now – but people stopped to help us, they called friends, they fed us, they drove us back to the town, they found us a mechanic who then drove us an hour to another town, and back, to get a car part, then fed us again, and then – six hours later – fixed our car in the dark on what was by then a freezing cold mountain side… We made it out of the Iranian border with 15 minutes to go before our visas expired, and all because of the truly amazing generosity and help of so many wonderful people. The other high point for me was driving along the Silk Route – it really was a lifelong dream to visit the incredible cities of this ancient trading route and to experience their history and culture and incredible architecture and hospitality.

The Elista Buddhist monastery in Russia

We home-schooled our kids while we were on the road. The girls were previously in an English curriculum international school in Abu Dhabi and they were wonderful at supporting us. We also worked our way through some curriculum books, blogged and listened to lots and lots of podcasts as we drove. The BBC in particular has some fabulous free resources that tie in with the UK Key Stages and we utilised those as much as possible to support the children’s learning. This meant much of their school work could be done in the car, which freed us up to enjoy our time together and focus on other learning or activities when we we stopped somewhere for longer.

The girls would love to do the Trans-Siberian trip by train one year, although I think I’ll miss the freedom that having your own vehicle brings. Saffy wants to go back to China and see the places she doesn’t remember visiting like the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors. We would also love to drive the Pan-American one day from Alaska to Argentina, and to visit more of Africa as we’ve only been to Morocco and Tanzania so far.

The Sahara Desert, Morroco

My advice to other parents planning to travel with kids is to be prepared to go with the flow. Rigid planning and expectations can just lead to disappointment when things don’t go as you hope, or the kids don’t cooperate, or you get a puncture! Be prepared to deviate for good experiences too like when you find unexpected beauty, or a delightful little town where you want to linger a little longer. Going with the flow will give you the time and space to soak up the experiences instead of finding yourself on another treadmill of making it to the next place or ticking off the sights.

You don’t need as much stuff as you think. We lived out of our car for a year – we had a tent and camp chairs and a stove and pans and mattresses and duvets and a cool box in there, plus clothes for four seasons all of which enabled us to live a full and exciting life and yet we still had space spare. Your kids don’t need all the toys they think they need; they have imaginations and suddenly you’ll realise they have spent an hour drawing pictures in the sand with a stick and you’ve just had an amazing art lesson, or they’ve made up a story about the children that live in yurts, or they’ve created a hanging mobile out of seed pods and long pieces of grass.

Shiraz, Iran

I love photos that show off my kids personalities and interests. I take lots of photos of their backs as I like to document the way they see the world – I take a step back and try to capture the whole scene to give a sense of place as well as a feeling of how they feel about it. This set of pictures are all from our recent road trip. Indy my youngest is very tactile so she’s often holding things or running her hands along things, like in the carpet souk in Morocco. The photo at the yurt is really special as we were so well looked after and the girls adored staying there. Whilst I I love to capture the stunning beauty of a place, like the mosque with the amazing rainbow stained glass windows in Shiraz, Iran, I also want to document the every day moments too, like the girls at the juice stall which was just half an hour after we’d visited the mosque. I hope that I capture a little bit of everything that will serve as a reminder of these times for the girls as they grow up.

Follow Kirsty’s journey online on her blog: kirstylarmourblog.com, and Facebook and Instagram 

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