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Taking a Family Gap Year Before It’s Too Late!
Our decision to pull our three kids out of school and embark on a family gap year was a shock to many of our friends and family despite us talking for years about taking an extended trip!
For our family, it was the adventure of a lifetime and we have no regrets about fulfilling our dream to travel around the world.
We wanted to take a family gap year to spend extended quality time with our kids
My husband and I love travelling.
We are as happy exploring our own backyard as foreign countries.
We had always dreamed of a family gap year and started a savings account to one day make our dream become a reality.
We started travelling with our kids by doing family camping trips around the U.K.
As our confidence grew in travelling with three children we did several short trips to Europe.
And then, one day, we realised our kids were getting older quickly. And so were we!
There was never going to be the ‘right’ time to travel as a family and, at some point, we would run out of time.
Our children were 11, 9 and 6 years old.
We travelled light with no fixed route
We travelled hand luggage only (yes, with three kids!) and bought one way tickets as we travelled.
We did not use a round the world ticket as this ensured we wouldn’t lose a lot of money if we had to return home prematurely. When you travel as a group of five, pre-bookings quickly exceed your travel insurance cancellation limit. Travelling on one way tickets enabled us to keep our route flexible, follow recommendations and interests and to take advantage of last minute deals.
The downside of not having a predetermined route was spending endless hours on the road planning and researching. It also meant that our route was sometimes erratic with extreme temperature changes.
We circumnavigated the world
Our trip in Iceland was followed by a road and rail trip down the east coast of the United States. We then spent two months in Argentina and Chile; most of it in the breathtaking landscapes of Patagonia.
Tropical Costa Rica followed and then a road and rail trip up the west coast of the U.S into Canada. After a slower pace in Hawaii we flew to Samoa.
Samoa was a last minute destination.
I could not find an affordable flight for five from Hawaii (or the U.S) to New Zealand when I discovered a cheap flight which enabled us to stay in Samoa for two weeks before continuing onto New Zealand.
I quickly booked the flights and then googled ‘Where is Samoa?’ We loved every minute of our stay in this beautiful, friendly nation.
Two months in glorious New Zealand followed and then six weeks exploring the east coast of Australia.
Many budget travellers avoid these ‘expensive’ countries in favour of cheaper Asian countries but although Australia and New Zealand have a high cost of living, the infrastructure for budget travellers is fantastic.
We toured these two countries using relocation cars and motorhomes and freedom camped at every opportunity. We spent less money in Australia and New Zealand than anywhere else on our trip.
It was in New Zealand that we held a family meeting and reassessed our trip.
We decided to make a bold change. No more flying.
We had had enough of aeroplanes and airports and felt increasingly guilty about our carbon footprint.
So after landing in Hongkong, we spent the next few months travelling to the UK by train.
We travelled around China by train and crossed the wilds of Mongolia on the Trans Mongolian Railway.
Mongolia is one of the favourite countries that we visited.
Incredible landscapes with the most awe inspiring starry nights are matched by warm, welcoming people – who love kids!
We then embarked on the Trans Siberian Railway across Russia.
Our longest stretch on the Trans Siberian Railway was four nights and five days. We loved every minute of this epic journey and found it a relaxing ‘break’ from the pace and stresses of travelling with children.
After Russia we purchased a Family Eurail pass and spent the remaining weeks of our trip zigzagging our way across Europe to catch the Eurostar and a regional train back to our home in Yorkshire.
What we learned on our family round the world
We learned that countries we expected to be ‘easy’ travelling with kids (the United States) we found surprisingly hard and countries we thought would be challenging with children (Mongolia) were easy.
I had expected to find it difficult being together as a family 24/7 but it proved easy to adapt to.
We made the decision to homeschool whilst we travelled and this proved to be both fun and stressful at times.
We incorporated home school and education activities into our trip planning which led to some amazing experiences for us adults as well as the kids
My husband and I learnt that our children are more resilient and capable than we give them credit for but that they have the capacity to bicker for hours!
By travelling hand luggage only, our family learnt that we can live with very little – something we are trying to continue today.
I felt that the world today seems a lot smaller.
Backpackers phone home on their mobiles rather than write airmail letters.
Fast food and coffee chains are everywhere. Mongolia had the fastest WiFi in our entire trip!
But we were horrified by the waste we witnessed – food, resources and how people treat disposable items.
Yet we were heartened by the low key community and individual conservation efforts we encountered.
The most challenging aspects of a round the world trip
One of the hardest parts of our trip was leaving home.
The months running up to the trip were too busy decluttering and preparing our home for tenants, putting our belongings into storage and many, many emotional goodbyes. It was physically and emotionally draining.
It also meant that we spent very little time planning our actual trip!
This led to endless hours and countless late nights planning and researching destinations whilst travelling.
In hindsight, I would not have set ourselves a departure deadline until we had realised how momentous a task leaving work and home would be.
The biggest challenge of long term family travel was not homeschooling or the challenges of being together 24/7.
It was ensuring the kids safety and we constantly worried about their health and safety.
Advice to people planning a gap year
Go. You will not regret it.
If you don’t adapt to long term travelling or don’t enjoy it, you can always come home – but at least you can say you tried.
Try not to commit to a fixed route and itinerary before leaving home.
You will find your travel style and interests will change the more you travel and the more confident you become.
Consider visiting ‘expensive’ countries; they may end up being the places you spend the least money.
Avoid cities and especially city hopping.
Cities tend to be impersonal and expensive and rarely provide everything the country has to offer you. Spend as much time in nature as you can.
Do not over rely on flying, consider alternative modes of transport.
Be kind and use the language that everyone knows – a smile.
The Map Made Memories family have visited 34 countries together and blog at Map Made Memories to share honest, budget friendly tips and tricks for travelling with children and about the destinations they have visited. You can also find Map Made Memories on Facebook.
If you’re interested in adult gap years, gap years for older people, or taking a year out from work to travel or volunteer, check out our Gap Years Travel Series for travel tips, information and stories from those who’ve already taken the leap!