a family gap year – know before you go!

I have to admit that our family gap year project started 2 years ago with a very naive plan: we save up a little, do something profitable with our apartment, school the kids somehow, and apart from that we enjoy our family gap year with hanging out happily at a beach or having a walk through a forest. Point. But after a brief reflection we came to the unpleasant conclusion, that it most likely won’t work out like that.

If you are planning a trip that includes no salary for a longer period of time, you are not rich and, you have little humans to take care for, read the following check list to know what you are signing up for.

However, that’s of course our family gap year to do list, tailored to our situation. It probably includes also some overthinking, an affinity for planning and most likely a hand full of things that we are forgetting despite of it all.  Thus, If you plan a similar adventure, your list might be different. I am sure tough ours can still give you a hint of what you’ll have on your plate:

Take time off and cut spending drastically

Those are probably the main and most obvious requirements for starting to seriously plan your trip. For us it is a 3 years saving plan and a Sabbatical. Others are able to simply continue their job en route, and many are traveling between jobs or during parental leaves.

Create a rough schedule of your family gap year

Set your priorities and decide on where to travel (and when) during your family gap year. Even if you don’t want to pin every step down just yet, you should have a rough idea of you itinerary.  It’s important for pre-travel vaccinations (see point below) and potentially logistics; who wants to drag winter equipment for an entire family for months through South East Asia… for an Alaska stay at the end of the world trip? Yeah, me neither. Also, make sure not to schedule your dream destination trip during hurricane, typhoon or any other unfortunate season. Luckily you can check this quite easily online. I am using Selective Asia for the South East Asia leg of our family gap year and find it quite intuitive to use.

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Vietnam is one of our first destinations on our Family Gap Year adventure and even we know it’s not the best period to head over there, we hope for few days like this.. but it’s still beautiful, isn’t it? Photo taken by my friend Tara (tara.schunk@gmail.com

We were a little stuck on the where and when step as opposite to our hopes it’s everything but a no-brainer. It even filled me with anxiety to the extent of second guessing the entire project. To give you an idea; for more than a year we were rather sure of the general direction and even of the order of destination. But it did not feel right and just last weekend, we decided to turn it all around. We literally decided to start our trip by travelling east rather than west. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up visiting a few countries that we had not planned on initially.

Vaccination

You need to get going with the vaccines quite in advance as some of the shots are requiring a refresher a few months after. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a quite good list of vaccination requirements per country.

 Induct school into your plans

We are having an idea how we want to school our kids during our gap year and I will surely write an entire article about our vision once we can pinpoint it a little better. But the first step will be to involve school in our plans. (the kids told everyone already though^^)  You should get familiar as well with the legal situation in your country concerning homeschooling or distance learning.

Insurance

A normal travel insurance covers normal vacations, maybe of 6 weeks. Same applies to travel insurance that might come with your credit card company. We haven’t looked too deep into this matter yet, but with a bit of research you can find companies that are offering a decent coverage for families, without that we have to give a kidney in return (starting at 130€ per month and roughly 250€ on average).

Passports

It’s kinda obvious that you need a passport to travel internationally but you have to consider that entering some countries requires you to have a passport that is valid at least for 6 more month.

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yes, you should absolutely make sure your passport is still valid 🙂

Scan all documents and save them on the cloud, your email outbox or similar

All and everything; passports, tickets, reservations, insurances, visas, birth certificate, marriage certificiate … scan everything. Just in case, and store it somewhere virtual.

Book planes, hotels, campers, cars… whatever you need

To actually book your family gap year is probably the most complicated step. Not only because of a mental blockade when it comes to spending thousands of bucks.

If you are not commissioning an agency to figure out the details and process all the bookings for you, you should research a lot. Like, a LOT! With your schedule at hand make sure to know as well when it’s the best time to book cars and campers. Get familiar with renting and cancellation policies and, once more, set your priorities and define your scope: is it either flexibility with the risk of higher air fares or are you on a tight budget and need to plan ahead?

Get appropriate gear (shoes and jackets and bags and towels and laptops and tablets.. )

You can travel light and stay in regions with a similar climate, take wardrobe for several seasons, or buy necessary gear on the road. We opt in for 1 but with the possibility of upgrading our gear along the way. As we are not exactly uhhm what I would call outdoor nor weather proof folks (I have an umbrella but rather stay inside if it rains) we definitely have to invest in good shoes and jackets. For homeschooling purposes we will also need a tablet.

Clean and clear out flat/put it on Airbnb

We thought a lot about what to do with our place while being away. We came to the conclusion that Airbnb is probably better for us than renting out short term. Big selling point is definitely that we are more flexible in case we need/want to come back and also that we can leave many of our things in (by any chance, anyone living around and want to be a co-host? :))

Minimize belongings

We are going for all options. We sold quite a lot on flea markets and classifieds, gave some things away and trashed a whole lot. Ideally we will got rid off everything we’re really making use of in a year from now and reinvest the money on proper gear (see point above).

We are not kidding when it comes to minimising our belongings for our family gap year. We participated to quite a few flea markets, even rain could not stop us! :)

We are not kidding when it comes to minimising our belongings for our family gap year. We participated to quite a few flea markets, even rain could not stop us! 🙂

Consult with your bank

You need to inform them that you will be abroad for a while. They shouldn’t block your account due to withdraws from different countries.  Also, it’s very much recommended to re-evaluate if your credit cards are the best you can have in terms of fees and insurance. Its worth as well to check online if there are better options; some credit card companies are allowing free of charge international withdraws and payments, which is obviously very interesting.

Cancel everything that can be cancelled

And do that as early as possible to not miss any deadlines. I am thinking mainly about phone, internet, TV but also gyms, memberships of whatever, and also car and school insurances.

Find place to store car (if not selling it)

No matter what’s your choice or situation, think about that a car park is another possible source of funds if rented out.

Organise a good bye party

…and then you’re good to go to set off for your family gap year! yay!

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11 Responses

  1. This is a great (and long) list to consider. We don’t have little ones yet but are (and will be) wondering how we would manage if we were to do family travel. You seem to have it down pretty solid so I’m sure I’ll be coming back when those questions start piling up.

  2. Jas says:

    I wanted to take a gap year after grad but didn’t have the guts to. Can’t imagine doing it with my family!!! It was so interesting to read this tho and I definitely feel more open to the idea after knowing these tips!

  3. There is so much to think about and I really like how honest you described your way to that decision including all the feelings you went through with it. I am leaving for a long term travel in 4 days and I don’t have a partner or kids. I know how planning feels and of how much you have to think before leaving without forgetting any important thing. I already know how hard it is to do that only for myself and you have my respect to do that planning for a whole family! This is a huge pile of responsibility you took but you sound so well organized that I am sure you will do great and you will have an amazing time together!

  4. Swati & Sam says:

    Lucky that you have a concept of gap year, in India we don’t have this concept. I think you have given a lot of thought to your checklist. Schooling of kids during travel would be a challenge, but travel always teaches you something new.

    There is a typo in your Book your flights section, you have written it as Sook planes.

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