10 Steps to Prepping for a Family Gap Year
In 2018, we made a big announcement to the world: we’re hitting the road! After months and months of preparation, we announced that we would head out on a big family gap year adventure. Now, after more than three and a half years of our travel gap years as a family, we are loving it and thriving!
Looking back, I still marvel at how we managed to make that big leap into the unknown. But know that we're a seasoned long term travel family, the steps that took us to this point seem so logical and simple.
If you've always dreamed of taking a family gap year, then you're in luck. When I was in your shoes, I had to scour the internet and cobble together the information I needed to know to get our family ready for launch. But with this family gap year guide, and the other world travel resources on this travel blog, you'll have more than enough information to get you started on full time family travel.
This post was updated on December 28, 2021.
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The dream of a family gap year
This travel lifestyle has been a long time coming. When I was a student in college, a friend of mine gave me the book, World Stompers by Brad Olsen (which is still surprisingly available on Amazon), and the idea of traveling around the world full time was planted into my head. I immediately began drawing up schemes of how I would backpack around the world, crashing at hostels and living off of street food.
But life doesn't always turn out the way we plan. I graduated college, I went into the Peace Corps, I returned to the US, and eventually met the love of my life.
Since getting married, we have had two beautiful children together, raised a handsome grown-up son, launched our careers, lived on both coasts of the United States, traveled around three continents, and bought a house together. As the years passed, I began to accept that the dream of a family gap year would remain just a dream.
Meeting other families who are taking a family gap year
And then something serendipitous happened. We found ourselves at the Family Adventure Summit in Penticton, BC, surrounded by families who were as passionate about travel as we were. And some of them were even taking their own family gap year!
These families were working remotely and world schooling their kids. They were traveling from place to place, country to country. After several conversations with other families at the conference, my husband and I had an epiphany. Taking a family gap year was actually possible!
Can families actually take a gap year?
The concept of taking a gap year, or several years off, to travel is not new. However, people often think that it's reserved only for 20-somethings, fresh out of college and free of responsibilities.
When kids come into the picture, taking a gap year becomes exponentially more difficult. How does a family even do a gap year when they have to think about school and financing and taking care of little humans?
Fortunately, we're not the first family to ever go on a gap year. There are plenty of families who have written about their experiences, including Tsh Oxenreider in her book, At Home In The World. And in the book, The Road Taken: How to Dream, Plan, and Live Your Family Adventure Abroad, Michelle Damiani gathers together stories from families who have all taken their own trips around the world. Reading these books gave me so many gap year ideas to do with my own family!
Buy these books to get you started on dreaming of your own family gap year:
The fact that so many other families have taken this path gives us comfort in know that we can do it too. The scariest part is imagining the possibilities. But once we made the decision to go for it, everything pretty much fell into place.
Read more about what worldschooling life is like for our family here.
10 steps to putting our (and your!) family gap year plan into action
Back in 2017, after attending the family travel summit, we immediately put a plan into action. We set a launch date of July 2018.
Being the project management-minded folks that we are, we used a combination of Google Sheets and online project management applications to organize all the tasks that we needed to complete to get ourselves ready for what our family calls, "The Big Trip."
The tasks are many. There are so many things to consider for a RTW trip: researching destinations, finding plane tickets, researching visa requirements, deciding what to take with us, and purchasing travel insurance. And there are also tasks associated with moving a family.
When you're planning for a family gap year, you need to think about what you’ll do with your house and where we will store our things. You also need to think about how it's going to be worldschooling for a year or more, how you’ll finalize our will, and what you’re going to do with big things like your car.
If you're ready to start preparing for your own family gap year, follow these ten steps to get your family on the road.
Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.
1. Make a commitment as a family for your family gap year
The first step to prepping for a family gap year is to make a commitment. Set a deadline, like we did. This will help put a concrete end date to your travel plans.
Additionally, spend time talking about traveling as a family with your kids. One of the ways to help kids travel is to make them feel like they're part of the travel planning process. Get them involved in the decision making. Engaging them in the family gap year prep early on will help them feel a sense of ownership to the process.
If it helps put the date on a calendar, on your phone, on your computer, and anything else you might use to plan your days. And consider doing what we did and investing in a project management tool. This can help you break down your goal into more manageable tasks, and help you set mini deadlines for yourself.
2. Meet another gap year family in person
Once you've made the decision to take a world trip, now it's time to talk to other people who have. Meeting families at the family travel summit really helped us get excited about the idea of traveling the world for ourselves, and helped us gain a lot of travel tips too.
Worldschooling Facebook groups are a great way to meet other families. Reach out personally to families in those groups. Or search if there are family travel or worldschooling summits that are happening near you.
Want to read up on other families who travel? Take a look at this post.
3. Plan out a first draft of your family gap year itinerary
The next step to planning your family gap year is to decide on where you want to go, how you want to travel, and for how long. Start with a brain dump of all your bucket list destinations.
Have you always dreamed of traveling to New Zealand? Do you long for a family gap year Spain experience, exploring cities like Seville and Barcelona? Are you yearning for a road trip, or multiple road trips, around the world? Do you want to travel for more than just one year?
In this stage, it's okay to dream big. You're just creating a first draft. As your travel prep progresses, and you start thinking about nitty-gritty things like your family gap year budget and accommodations, you'll be able to pare down your destinations and travel plans. But for now, the sky is the limit.
In my opinion, some of the best places to take a gap year are the Central and South America, as well as Southeast Asia. We like them primarily because they are more budget friendly. However, it's also possible to do a family gap year in the US. And we also know families who have done family gap year Europe experiences.
Read up on some of the regions we've traveled to to get inspiration for your family gap year destinations:
4. Decide how you'll pay for your family gap year
Now that you've set up your dream, it's time to anchor it to reality. How much money will you need to achieve your dream? And how will you actually fund it?
For a family of four, the average cost of a gap year can range from $36,000 to $100,000. It depends on your travel style, the speed of travel, and the destinations you choose. For reference, our monthly family gap year cost averages around $6,000 a month.
The traditional way of funding a gap year with kids is to save up the necessary funds and travel on a budget. But now that many people work remotely, it is possible to travel while also earning an income.
There are some disadvantages to living a digital nomad lifestyle with kids. You’re often tied to a set work schedule and you’re limited to destinations that have strong internet connection.
But having consistent income helps make travel more sustainable for your family and relieves some of the stress of having to stick to a tight budget. Take some time to assess whether it’s possible for your family to earn income on the road.
5. Discuss how you'll school the kids
The next conversation to have with your family is how your kids will learn while they’re on the road. Taking a year off to travel with kids doesn't mean that they will stop learning. There are countless ways that families doing a gap year with children can school their kids. And there are plenty of useful worldschooling resources families can access as well.
Some families follow a homeschool curriculum while they travel. Or they enroll their children in online school. Still others choose to unschool, and let their travel experiences guide their kids’ learning.
As you talk through this with your family, take into consideration your children’s learning styles and what feels best for your family. And also know that your choice doesn’t have to be permanent.
6. Determine essential items to bring
Once you’ve gotten through the tough conversations, you can jump into the fun part. It’s time to get your gear together for your family’s gap year travel around the world.
Decide as a family what travel essentials you'll want to take with you. Of course you will need clothes. But how much clothes are you willing to bring? For our family, we pack one large packing cube per person full of clothes. That's enough to last one week before we have to do laundry.
Other useful travel items include shoes, water bottles, sarongs, devices, learning tools, and small toys for the kids. If you want to be mindful of waste as you travel, you might also want to pack some eco-friendly travel products like detergent sheets, bar shampoo, reusable silicone bags, and beeswax wraps.
The most important items for your gap year with family will be your bags. The amount of bags you bring can also help you determine how much stuff you pack for your trip. Take some time to pick the right bag for traveling with kids that fits your needs.
7. Do a test run of your family gap year
Sometimes the thought of taking a year off to travel with family can seem to scary to imagine. So why not do a test run?
A few months before we left for our big trip, we did a test run right in our own home town of Seattle. We signed up for a housesit and stayed in a different neighborhood for a week. The timing coincided with my kids' winter break, so we used the time to see how working remotely and schooling our kids would work. While there were some hiccups, it went pretty smoothly.
Before your launch date, schedule a short trip with your family and test the waters of full time travel. Take a road trip outside your state. Or visit a place that's different from your home, but still has some familiar elements.
Alternatively, you can start with traveling closer to home and work your way towards going towards the other side of the world. That way, you're not jumping into culture shock, as you're simultaneously trying to adjust to your new lifestyle.
When we set off on our trip, we started with a road trip visiting National Parks in the western United States, and then made our way to Mexico and Costa Rica. It wasn't until ten months in that we jumped across the ocean to Europe and Asia. Start small, and gradually work your way up to bigger things.
8. Make your initial family gap year bookings
For us, things didn't really start to feel concrete until we bought our first plane ticket to Mexico. That's when reality started to set in. We were actually going to be traveling around the world with our kids!
As your launch deadline approaches, it's time to start making your initial bookings for your family gap year. These could be your plane tickets, train tickets, and accommodations.
Keep in mind that you don't need to buy all your tickets and book all your lodging ahead of time. As we've learned through our travels, it helps to have some flexibility in your travel plans, especially if you're planning to do a family gap year during COVID.
Travel restrictions can change quickly, and if you're not flexible with your plans, you may end up losing thousands of dollars.
9. Get rid of your things
In the final months before your departure, you also want to get serious with getting rid of your things. Unless you're willing to pay for a storage unit for a year or more, you will want to sell, donate, give away, or throw away as many of your things as possible.
When we left for our family gap year, Marie Kondo was all the rage. We used the KonMari method on all of our things, and continue doing it as we travel. While we didn't completely liquidate everything, we did manage to condense our belongings from a two-bedroom house to one storage closet in my parents' house.
The process of getting rid of things should be a whole family effort. Get your kids involved in deciding what they want to do with their things. It's going to be a long process, but trust me, it will be worth it.
If you need a methodical process for getting rid of your things, buy Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
10. Get your wills and accounts in order
The final, and most important, step to take before you take off is to get your accounts in order. This means having a will in place, and also getting life insurance, travel insurance, and health insurance.
You also want to make sure that you'll have credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts that you can access outside of the country. And you'll want to make arrangements for what to do with your mail. I call this the "everything-else" step. Essentially, it's time to take care of everything else that you've put to the last minute before you take off.
Need more tips to help you get ready for full time travel with kids? Click here.
Remembering why you want to do a family gap year
Planning for full time travel with your kids isn't going to be easy, but hopefully these ten steps will help you get to where you want to be. You don't have to follow the steps in the exact order, and you don't have to complete one step to start the next one. But it is important that you do them all.
As you go through all these steps to launching your family gap year dream, remember why you want to go in the first place. For our family, we wanted an opportunity to learn about the world, but also to connect with each other on a deeper level.
Whatever your reasons and motivations, let that drive you through this process of planning. It will help you overcome the hard moments.
Keeping in touch while traveling around the world
When we left for our family gap year, we decided to document our experiences through this travel blog. That allowed us to keep in touch with our family while we traveled around the world.
While you don't have to start a blog, think about what you'll use to capture your travel memories and share them with those you love back home (and also the friends you will meet on your travels).
If you’re interested in following along on our family gap year adventure, keep reading this blog! You'll find a lot of useful information for traveling full time with kids, and also tips for how to explore various destinations around the world. And if you sign up for my email list, you can also get travel information directly into your inbox.
Are you ready to make your family gap year dreams a reality? Share in the comments where you're dreaming of traveling to and what you've done so far to get ready.
Need help thinking through how to budget for a family trip? My Travel Budget Worksheet is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.
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