How to Plan a Family Gap Year-A Step by Step Guide: Part I

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The Pandemic took its toll, in more ways than one. However, one positive thing that came out of it was that myself and my husband realized were not able to spend enough time together pre-pandemic.  With the hustle and bustle of life, the commutes, extracurriculars, family obligations, etc… there wasn’t much time for just us. So we decided that we should take a family gap year! Why not?

In deciding to take a family gap year reasoned that we’d get to spend more quality time together, and we’d get to see the world.  Lots of people worry about what the best age is for a family gap year, and to that, I’d say- whenever your family can do it. Apprehensive about flying with a baby or toddler, check out this guide to flying internationally with a baby.

This article is a step-by-step guide to planning a family gap year.  This was the method that I used, based on extensive research.  We have not taken said family gap year yet; however, as we progress through our planning, and ultimately when we set off, I will update this post to include what worked and, and what did not.

Pinterest image for planning a family gap year.  Collage includes a girl holding a globe, and a picture of many iconic locations surounding the earth.

1. Select Your Tenative Time Frames & Duration of Trip

In choosing the duration of your family gap year you’ll want to consider the following things:

  • Can you work remotely? Or will you have to take tame off work?
  • Do you have a paid sabbatical, or will your employer hold your job for a certain amount of time? If so, you may want to stick to that time frame.
  • Are your children school aged? If so, are you comfortable home schooling?  If not, then your family travel will likely be confined to the 2-3 month summer break.
  • How much time do you need to save? This will dictate when you can leave, and for how long you must save.

Initially we planned to take a family gap year-i.e. a 12 month hiatus.  However, as I began planning the trip, I quickly realized that one year was not enough time.  Thus, we have stretched it to two years. 

Since we upped our trip to 2 years, we are shooting to leave in summer of 2023.  That gives us 2+ years to save for this trip.  In the end, we decided to take our trip from June 2023-July 2025.

2. Plan Your Route

Route Planning is one of the biggest and most time-consuming parts of planning a family gap year. Planning a route (even tentatively) can get overwhelming, so it is best to approach this in chunks, or phases. Also, your route may change (multiple times)- and that’s ok.

a. Step One: Create a Destination Idea Bucket List

Start with a destination bucket list. Pour over magazines, books, articles, etc…, whatever you need for inspiration.  For this part, its best to look at books with pictures.  Here are some of the books that we used for inspiration:

  1. Destinations of a Lifetime;
  2. Journeys of a Lifetime;
  3. Epic Drives of the World;
  4. Best in Travel 2020;

We used other books as well, but these were used for general inspiration while putting together the bucket list. You can also get these types of books at the library if you are looking to save money.

b. Step Two: Create a ‘Things to Do’ Bucket List

What experiences do you want to have on your family gap year? 

Want to go bungy jumping, perhaps visit New Zealand.  

Some things on our ‘things to do’ bucket list include climbing a mountain, safari in Africa, visiting a jungle, taking a cooking class, making pasta in Italy, attend the Rugby World Cup in France, learning to snorkel and scuba dive, visiting a treehouse in the Amazon, and doing some volunteer work. 

After you put together your ‘things to do’ bucket list compare it to your destination bucket list to see where you can make these happen.  If you are hell bent on visiting a jungle, but don’t have any countries with jungles on your list-now is the time to add one.

c. Step Three: Create an ‘Events/Festivals’ Bucket List

Next, make a list of all the festivals and events that you wouldn’t mind attending.  Also note when these events/festivals take place. 

A few festivals/events on our list include:

  • Attending Holi: India (late February/early march);
  • Seeing the Northern Lights: Above the arctic circle (late August-early April);
  • Witnessing the Wildebeest Migration: Serengeti, Tanzania- Masai Mara, Kenya (depends on what we’d like to see).

Next, you’ll take all the information from a-c, and create a chart.  The first column is the country (then below that the region, city, experience, etc…).  In column two enter “Best Time of Year to Visit.”  Lastly, in column three enter notes.

Europe
LocationBest Time of Year to GoNotes
   
Ireland  
Wild Atlantic WayApril-October 
Ring of Kerry  
The Wicklow Way  
North May Dr.  
Connemara  
   
Scotland  
Faroe Islands  
Cross the Atlantic  
Isle of Skye-Applecross-Portree  
   
France  
Paris  
Le Train des Pignes  
Cote d’ Azure: The Grand Corniche (3 corniches)  
Wine Route  
Southern France  
Brittany’s Emerald Coast  
Route de Vins D’Alsace  
   
Spain  
La Rioja  
Barcelona  
Straight of Gibraltar  
Camino de Santiago  
Sample Bucketlist Spreadsheet

d. Step Four: When to Visit vs. When NOT to Visit

Next, make a list of the best time to visit your destinations, and the worst times to visit. You can skip this step if you’d like; however, I’d recommend doing it for the places/events you really want to visit.

For example, if you’d like to visit the south pacific, you may want to avoid the monsoon and cyclone seasons. Another example would be to avoid the Inca Trail and the Galapagos Islands from January-April.  Another example is trying to watch the northern lights from April-August (you may not have much luck seeing them during 24-hour sunlight).

It won’t be possible to visit everywhere at the optimum time; however, you can avoid the ‘worst’ times, for many places.

e. Step Five: Northern vs. Southern Hemispheres

Make note of the seasons in the northern and Southern Hemispheres.

I found it easiest to make a chart, and then reference the chart as I was outlining the route.  This helped me tremendously because for some reason I could not keep these seasons straight!

Northern Hemisphere

  • Winter:  December 1- February 29
  • Spring: March 1-May 31
  • Summer: June 1-August 31
  • Fall: September 1-Novebmer 30

Southern Hemisphere

  • Winter: June 1-August 31
  • Spring: September 1-November 30
  • Summer: December 1-February 29
  • Fall: March 1-May 31

3. Traveling Eastward vs. Traveling Westward Around the Globe

Next, you’ll decide if you’s like to travel eastward or westward around the globe.

This is where it all comes together, as you put all your hard work into some sort of ‘itinerary.’  For this, I had to make a few different itineraries, to see what worked best.   I also had to sit on this for a few weeks to let it all sink in for me.

Once you begin mapping the family gap year route, you’ll see which countries work and which ones don’t, and which sections need re-jiging.

Benefits and Cons to Traveling Eastward:

  • As you travel eastward (from west to east) you lose an hour for every time zone you cross.  For example, flying Chicago to Dublin, you lose 6 hours. You leave in the PM, and arrive in the AM the next day, and many times you’ll lose a night of sleep.
  • This is hard on the body, and produces more jet lag. 
  • If you are creeping around the world, at a slow pace, the effects of jetlag will not be as pronounced.
  • Likely to have shorter flight times (flying with the Jetstream); however, more likely that they’ll be redeyes.
  • If you are beginning in the US, traveling eastward may be your initial inclination.  It may be easier to start your journey in Western Europe, than say- south east Asia

Benefits to Cons to Traveling Westward:

  • Moving westward is easier on the body, particularly over long distances.
  • Traveling 1-2 times zones this direction should produce minimal jet lag.
  • Heading westward from the US may not be ideal, if you are not familiar with the south pacific or Asia, you may want to start your trip in Europe.
  • Likely be longer flight times.

What We Decided:

Ultimately, we decided to travel East to West (westward).   We live in the States, but our trip will start in France, as we’ll be attending the Rugby World cup in the summer of 2023.  When I mapped out our routes both westward and eastward we were able to hit most of our destinations at good times of year, moving westward, than eastward.  Moving the other way we wouldn’t have been able to see everything, or we would have had to visit at sub-optimal times.

Whatever you decide, there is no right or wrong answer.   Whichever route you decide, check out this article on minimizing jetlag in babies and toddlers.

4. Slow vs. Fast Travel

The next (and possibly most important) consideration is whether your family will engage in slow or fast travel.

Fast Travel: hitting as many towns, countries, and attractions as possible, in a fixed amount of time. 

  • Advantages include:
    • constantly on the move and you can thus cram a lot more into a short period of time.
    • See a wider variety of places;
      • Have a lot of experiences in a short period of time;
  • Disadvantages include:
    • Can be exhausting, may cause burn out;
    • Fast travel is generally more expensive than slow travel;
    • Immersive experiences are more limited;

Fast travel may be good for a short period of time; however, may not be sustainable, with children, over long periods. Consider your reasons for long-term family travel, along with your temperaments.  You can also do periods of faster travel, interspersed amongst periods of slow travel.   

Slow Travel: Slow travel is moving slowly through an area, perhaps staying in the same place for weeks, or even months.

  • Advantages include:
    • Getting to know a place well;
    • Relaxing, much less burn out than fast travel;
    • Slow travel is generally cheaper;
    • Immersive experiences are possible.
    • More time to make friends (especially for kids);
  • Disadvantages include:
    • You need more time to travel this way;
    • May only explore 1-4 cities/regions per month (this may not be a downside at all);

So which is better? Well, that depends on your family/travel companions, how much time you have, your temperaments, and your budget.

We’ve decided to go with slow travel, and we’ve really had to be intentional about this.  My inclination is to try to cram as much into as short a time as possible; however, for our family, this would be unsustainable.  We stress easily and can get anxious.  I *know* that once on road, we’ll be much happier if we are moving slowly.

Lastly, we’ve decided not to approach our family gap year as a family vacation.  We are approaching this as essentially living on the road (travelers if you will).  We will live, work, and run our lives as ‘normally’ as can be; meanwhile, we will relocate every so often. 

For us, we’ve decided that 4 weeks in one place is a good baseline.  Some destinations we’ll spend less time in (for example Bhutan).  And we plan to take weekend trips, from our home base; however, slow and steady will be the norm.

5. Determine Your Budget

Lastly, (and this is the fun part), create your budget.  Doing this will help to refine your route and determine when/where/how long you can travel.

  • Budget considerations:
    • Will you work while you travel?
    • Will your spouse/partner work while you travel?
    • Are you budget, mid-range, or luxury travelers?
    • Will you rent or sell your home, while you are on the road?
    • Exactly how budget are you comfortable going (no right or wrong answers here).

If you work while traveling then you don’t necessarily have to have all of your money saved upfront; whereas if you do not work, you’ll want to begin your travels with your savings secured.

After you’ve created a tentative itinerary, start a spreadsheet, and begin plugging in numbers.  The best resource that I’ve found for providing cost estimates for various countries is BudgetYourTrip.com. Budget Your Trip can provide you country level info, along with region and city level data.

Start with the county level numbers unless you know which cities you’d like to visit within a particular country.

In creating the budget you’ll have two competing interests:

How much you’d like to spend vs. How much you can Afford

First, decide how your family will travels. I.E., budget, mid-range, or luxury-this will help you determine your daily budget in a particular place.  

Budget Your Trip is handy because it breaks down daily costs into meals, accommodations, transportation, and attractions.  From there you can adjust costs for your family.

Other considerations are that children do not cost as much as an adult, and that hotels may charge additional fees (based on double occupancy), for additional people (even if they are children).

As a baseline, I recommend either taking the average daily cost for the budget option (converted into your currency) x the number in your family/party.  

Example, Ireland:

  • Travel Style: budget;
  • Currency: US Dollar;
  • Average Daily Cost Per person= $51 x 3 people = $153 per day, for Ireland

I’ve seen other people take the average hotel price x the number in your family/party.  These numbers come out approximately the same.

Example, Ireland:

  • Travel Style: budget;
  • Currency: US Dollar;
  • Average hotel price for a couple = $47 x 3 people =$141 per day, for Ireland

After you’ve done this for every country on your itinerary, add up all the numbers. This gives you the total daily cost for the year.

Take the total daily cost for the year, and divide it by the number of days you’ll be traveling.  This will give you your average cost per day.   If the average cost per day is too high for the money you’ll be able to save- then you need to re-work some things. 

Daily Average Cost/Monthly Budget:

The average daily cost includes the following:

  • accommodation,
  • overland travel,
  • daily travel,
  • daily food and drinks, and
  • regular activities such as museums, attractions, etc…

Be sure to have as many ‘low-cost’ destinations as you have ‘high-cost’ destinations.  For example, if you spend 12 months traveling around Europe, that’ll be a lot more expensive than 12 months around southeast Asia or South America. 

Depending on your priorities, a good strategy is to balance these places.  For example, for every one month in a ‘high-cost’ destination, be sure to spend a month in a ‘low-cost’ destination.   This will also allow you, perhaps,  to live in the mid-range or luxury price range in southeast Asia, while staying in the budget option in England. 

Additional Budget Considerations:

The following are not counted in the average daily cost, and need to be added to your total ‘daily cost’ for the year- in order to get to your grand total for the trip.

Flights: We are budgeting $20,000 for flights.  From what I’ve read you want to budget ~$5,000 per person.  There are three of us, so we are giving ourselves a bit of a buffer with a $20,000 flight budget.

Splurges: We are budgeting $20,000 for splurges.This is for things that are out of the ordinary (and NOT included in your daily cost).

For example, you may splurge on Rugby World Cup tickets, a safari in Botswana, visiting the pyramids of Egypt, visiting Petra, visiting Bhutan, or visiting the Galapagos (you get the gist). Anything that is ‘extra’ (not necessarily expensive).  Separating these things out will help you to keep your daily budget on track.

Sample Around the World Budget

As you can see, the target budget of $150/day ($62,700) doesn’t align with the $70,828 total. At this point, you would go back and try to shave some costs off somewhere.

6. Around the World Trip Proposal

After you’ve done all of that research and compiled all that data put it into an Around the World Trip Proposal. I had to do this for my husband, in order to convince him that (1) this was doable, and (2) that we should do it. You may not need to do this if both partners are on board from the start.

Although, it’s still a good idea to put all of this information in one place, for reference and review.

Stay tuned for Part two of How to Plan Family Gap Year. In Part Two we’ll cover:

  • Refining your Route:
  • Saving for your Trip;
  • What will you do with your house;
  • Homeschooling;

Take Away

Have you taken a family gap year?  Or are you currently planning for a family gap year?  If so, drop us a line below and let us know if there is anything that you’d add!

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