My Family's Crazy Gap Year - Channel 4


The idea behind Channel 4's latest travel show is simple: A British middle-class family goes around the world and tries to get well out of their comfort zone.



In tonight's programme, the Willmott family travelled through India, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and South America, in an attempt to educate the kids - two boys, aged 13 and 9, and a girl, aged 6 - all the while filming their adventures.



Mother Raffia, a bhuddist, does not believe in conventional medicine, and puts her family at risk when they depart for the jungle without any of the recommended vaccinations or malaria prophylaxes and only homeopathic remedies in their bags. Although the family stays with host families in remote parts of India to interact with the locals, My Family's Crazy Gap Year soon turns into a dangerous ego trip when Raffia decides that she just has to meet the Dalai Lama. Head over heels, two cars are organised to drive them 200 miles into the Himalayas to get a chance of meeting His Holiness. On treacherous mountain roads, one of the cars looses grip and rolls twice, with the kids in the back. The Willmott's finally meet the Dalai Lama, and the kids summarise the experience with the words "It wasn't that important to me."



Somehow, the family then ends up on the Mongolian plain (how exactly they got there is any viewer's guess), staying with Nomads in gers (yurts). Within hours, they have to help herd yaks, horses and sheep, and look on as their breakfast is slaughtered before their eyes. While the father of the family has to pitch in, mum looks away in disgust although she claims that they had told the kids "where their food comes from." Only the boys seem to be getting really into it, tucking into breakfast without problems and they even herd the yaks by themselves at the end of the stay.



For some reason, the family then backtracks to the Mount Everest basecamp, before ending up in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Here, the family seeks out a remote tribe that has never met a Western family before. Next to abandoned huts, the family and their guide set up camp, just to be surrounded by tribesmen armed with bows and arrows as soon as they are finished. Although they are then invited to join the tribe, and the kids definitely seem to be making good friends, the one constant in this episode is the lack of communication between the family and their hosts, most of which do not speak any English at all. But the family only seems to pick up a few words in their hosts' languages throughout the programme. Unfortunately, the viewers only get glimpses of the Willmott family gap year. Huge parts are skipped or only explained with one sentence and one picture, which leaves the viewers wondering: "What happened and how did they get there?" And the whole issue about travel health and homeopathic is not touched again throughout the programme - without medication or vaccinations, I doubt that the entire family managed to travel around the world for a year without any illnesses whatsoever.

The immersion idea is a good one. It definitely takes them all out of their comfort zones and into the unknown, where they have to live like the locals and work like the locals. The children learn not to take things like running water and flushing toilets for granted, and even try insects as snacks offered by the Papuan tribe. Children should learn about these things first hand, make new friends in faraway places, hear different languages, eat different food. The more they learn, the more tolerant towards other people and cultures they will become.

Channel 4's show has left some questions unanswered, though. What kind of luggage did this family take with them? Suitcases or backpacks? When did they get the idea of going around the world and how much planning has gone into it? How much did it cost? Where did they get fitting local dresses upon arrival from? How did they pick the places, and, most of all: how did they arrange all these host family stays?


It's a good show, if you are interested in one family's travels, or want to see middle-class Brits getting back to nature. But from experience, I can only say that meeting the Dalai Lama and living with a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea are not your average Gap Year experiences, nor do these exploits, as down to earth as they might be, sound like they were planned on a budget.

My Family's Crazy Gap Year, Mondays 9pm, Channel 4.

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