How a Norfolk family travels the world, pet-sitting, house-sitting and home-schooling

PUBLISHED: 06:43 21 July 2017

Phil, Kate, Chitah and Robyn Coles love travel and adventure. Picture: Sunray

Phil, Kate, Chitah and Robyn Coles love travel and adventure. Picture: Sunray


All the world’s a classroom for a home-schooling Norfolk family who have found a way to travel for a fraction of a normal holiday budget.

The children might be school age, but they rarely see a classroom. Instead they recently travelled through Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Borneo, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Bali as part of as seven month trip. Now they are back home in Norfolk – but not for long, as journeys around Scotland, and then to Europe, loom.

Three years ago Kate and Phil Coles decided to home educate their children

They took eight-year-old Chitah* out of primary school and daughter Robyn, now six, did not even start school.

An unplanned bonus was not being tied to school holidays for travel and they began talking about a big family trip.

Phil, a geologist, had always travelled for work, but none of the family had ever been to any of the places they chose for their first adventure.

“We didn’t just want to go on holiday for seven months, we wanted to embrace cultures and make friends and of course save money,” said Kate.

They sold their home in Loddon to help fund the adventure and, looking to keep costs to a minimum, joined a website called Trusted Housesitters. It matches people willing to look after animals, with people needing pet-sitters – often in beautiful houses in exotic places.

Their first house-sit was a four week stay in New Zealand. They had been travelling for four months and Kate said they were ready for a home environment. “Being able to shop for food and cook the children’s favourite meals was amazing. Taking the dogs out every day and exploring the area around us was also fantastic and made us feel like locals. The children were missing their own pets, so being able to help look after two dogs was a treat.”

Back home in a rented house near Norwich, for now, Chitah and Robyn are taught by their mum and join other home educated children for activities and outings.

“I’d always wanted to home educate but probably wasn’t brave enough initially and so Chi went to a village school and I became very involved as a volunteer,” said Kate. “School wasn’t right for Chitah at that age and I started to realise that we could give him a very rich education ourselves without the school model. I got in contact with the local home ed community and soon realised just how many home educating families we could spend time with and share education with.”

The children join groups to do activities including drama, gymnastics, art and science, and museum and wildlife tours.

“It’s been fantastic for the children and also for us to be able to watch them blossom at their own pace and really enjoy what they learn,” said Kate.

“Very rarely does a day pass when they don’t see their friends. They also have lots of friends that do got to school that we see at the weekends or after school.”

Phil’s job means he works away, alternate months, with time to travel in between and the Coles are already planning their next house-sitting and world-education adventures.

“Before we go on a trip we all sit down together and work out where we’d like to go, what we’d like to see and we start to work out a plan so that everyone gets a wish fulfilled,” said Kate.

They also indicate what kind of pets they could care for. “We always say family friendly dogs, cats and any other small house pets,” said Kate.

Their own much-loved pets, a chocolate Labrador called Knut and cats Pixie and Tabz, are looked after by friends. And as the family learn first-hand about the geography, history and culture of different countries, Kate has lost count of how many times the children are told how lucky they are.

*“Chi never liked the name we gave him and asked if he could change it when he was around six,” said Kate. His choice combined his love of cheetahs, and the term for universal energy.

What does each child enjoy most about travelling?

Chitah particularly loves trying new foods.

“I think the most unusual dish he had was probably jellyfish sushi,” said Kate. “He is also a wildlife, facts and figures boy. He loved learning about all the different wildlife in different countries. Our Sri Lankan safari was “the best day of his life.”

Both Chitah and Robyn loved meeting children around the world and Chitah gave a talk t at a school in Australia. “He was able to share his experiences with children his age and share the message we’d been learning about saving our oceans,” said Kate.

In Malaysia they met a home educating family and joined the children in batik painting and watching fireflies and sea eagles .

Robyn loves swimming and the sea. “We’ve always called her our little mermaid,” said Kate. “She loved snorkelling over reefs and seeing all the different coral and fish and learning about how the coral need the fish and the fish need the coral. We saw lots of Nemo’s (clownfish) hiding in their coral which is pretty cool for a six year old.”

On a guided night rainforest walk, in torrential rain, Robyn loved seeing the birds tucked up under leaves sleeping. “She also loves clothes and dancing and she really enjoyed seeing the different cultural outfits and dances in each country,” said Kate.

And what do they miss most from home?

“They missed the pets, we all did,” said Kate. “They also missed friends and family lots, but they never missed their things.”

What do they enjoy most about home education?

“They love the freedom to choose their own topics,” said Kate. “Recently they started a stop animation project and were able to really get into it and work on it for over seven hours. At the end of they had three-and-a-half minutes of film, but it was absolutely amazing - the thought that had gone into it all, and the time and effort put into building characters out of plasticine.

“My son has a bit of a sense of humour and he likes to tell people that his favourite thing about home ed is being able to teach me new things!”

Trusted Housesitters is a global community of almost half a million pet lovers. Home, and pet, owners are linked with house, and pet, sitters through the site. The animals range from ogs and cats to ostriches and alpacas.

No money changes hands and you do not have to swap and have other people staying in your home. Members in 140 countries build trust profiles through references, recommendations, ratings and police background checks.

Trusted Housesitters was founded by Andy Peck who spent a year house-sitting while recovering from illness. He had sold a publishing company to begin a screenwriting career before being stranded at altitude in the Andes, and when he left hospital he decided to find somewhere quiet to recover and write.

While house-sitting in Spain became especially fond of a dog called Dave.

“I stayed in some incredible places, which is an understandable perk for many people - but the biggest connection I made was with this dog called Dave. It made me think other people like me might want to house-sit properties for free in order to care for pets they can’t or don’t own back at home. And that for pet owners, this would be the best solution, so they could be free to travel.

“Many of our house-sitters are retired and may have owned pets previously but are now at a life stage where they don’t want to commit a decade of ownership but they still love animals and want to travel, so this helps fill a pet shaped hole for them. A growing number are in their 20s to 40s and they live online lifestyles, meaning they can work anywhere in the world, but they don’t always want to stay in hotels.

“It really is as simple as finding someone who wants to come and stay in your home who will look after your pets like they are their own. We provide reassurance for the home owner, because they know that their pets are being cared for in the place they love most.”

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