We started recording our journey of planning for and executing a family gap year in the hope that it may help others take the leap. The hardest aspect of planning to take a year away is committing to a start date. From there you have no choice but to continue placing one foot in front of the other and continue to move forward with your “to do list”.
You are most likely reading this because, like us, travel is or was part of your life prior to having children. We went on our first international trip together 3 months into our relationship and backpacked through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. We visited New Zealand for a skiing holiday the year after and 2 years later we embarked on 6 months in South America and 2 years living in London and travelling through Europe. On our way “home” we detoured via Turkey, India and Sri Lanka to then settle in Darwin for 12 months before moving back to our home state of Victoria. To Consider that this love for travel would end once children became part of our life was …inconceivable! During our travels we came across numerous families exploring the world together which sparked in us that feeling of “if they can do it…so can we.”
And here we are ONE MONTH out from a year backpacking with our 3 children under 5 with no set plans other than to start in Sri Lanka and have an extraordinary year of slow travel.
So here is the how and what to get you started:
5 years – 12 months
Commit to your plan. Be it one year, one school term, 2 weeks, whatever this may look like for you, put a date on it and tell someone – anyone!
How did we decide on 2019? Issy was born in April 2014 – in Australia that places her in the school cutoff which would allow her to start school in either 2019 or 2020. It made sense for us to not be pulling her out of school. So we planned 2019 to allow Issy to have her kinder year (pre-school) in 2018, then have a gap year. The other children, or planning of other children fell in to place for us. I personally didn’t want to be travelling with a newborn – I don’t deal so well with being sleep deprived and wanted to be able to join in with the family on all the adventures. Our youngest will turn one 4 days after arriving in Sri Lanka.
Book your flights! Even if it is only one way like ours….Let’s make this happen. There is nothing like putting money where your mouth is to stir you into action.
For us this is still the only flight we have booked. However, we will need to purchase a return ticket prior to departing to ensure our travel insurance will be valid in getting us home in case of an emergency. We will most likely purchase one from Kuala Lumpur as it is a major transport hub for flights to and from Australia.
Budget and savings. Set yourself a goal – ours was $20,000. For us this seemed feasible given I was on maternity leave for 6 months of the year and we now have 3 children in daycare/kindergarten. Start by considering your budget and discretionary weekly spending. We have tried to set ourselves small challenges along the way. No purchased coffee for a week at a time (whole months seemed too daunting with our sleep adverse baby!). Taking lunches to work. Not buying takeaway meals when we are too tired to cook. We have no idea how much we will spend but we are aiming to spend $100-120/day (including accommodation). This will vary depending where we are: more in Sri Lanka and less in Vietnam for example. We go into a little bit more detail here. At this stage Adam’s Long Service Leave will fund most of our first 4-5 months (hopefully). The slower we travel the further our money will take us. By having less restrictions on our time we can plan to visit places in shoulder or low season, take more public transport and stay longer which is also more likely to be discounted.
Side Hustle. Consider renting your house out on AirBnb to supplement your savings or offset any holidays you are taking. We rent our house out every time we go away for a weekend. It is a lot of hard work – 6-8 hours at least, but the pay off $400-$800 Australian helps to keep our savings at least on an even keel.
Travel doctor appointment. Your GP might be quite capable of supplying your vaccines, given the age of our children we felt that we would be best served by visiting the specialists at The Travel Doctor in Melbourne. Vaccinations for us have been quite an arduous and financial task. Having our travel plans up in the air has meant that we have had to be more conservative with our vaccinations, especially for our children. Between trips to Melbourne and vaccinations numbering in the 20-30’s (or more) between the 5 of us it has cost us close to $3,000. It is well worth the peace of mind, it is however something that we had not factored in to our savings/budget intially. You can read a very detailed post here.
First garage sale: This wasn’t as successful as we hoped. We did manage to move a lot of big items but that was mostly through Facebook Buy Swap and Sell. It did help get us into gear and start minimising our possessions early in the year which I can highly recommend. Many items that I wanted to keep 5 months ago have since been sold or gifted to a new home.
Request Leave (Leave without pay, Long Service Leave): Check your organisations policies regarding the amount of notice required. We live in a small regional town and our work colleagues are in our circle of friends. It was important to us to apply for this earlier than “necessary” so that we could then share our excitement about our upcoming plans. It is important to note that not everyone will be excited for you. Some will question the why? Question the timing. Suggest that there might be a better time. There is no better time than now. There will be other opportunities, hopefully. Your children are only young once.
Passports: Make sure you all have passports that have at least 6 months validity from the END of your trip. Without this you may not be granted a visa. We didn’t realise this with Issy’s until 3 weeks ago and are waiting somewhat impatiently for it to arrive with a month to go.
Travel insurance: RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH. Adam is the researcher of the family (it’s the ex-lawyer coming out in him) and he had spreadsheets comparing all the best cover. Firstly, Adam researched the Travellers Choice Awards and then compared the best of those. Prior to purchasing we googled a discount code – and one happened to work – and we received 20% off. We got comprehensive cover for an entire year for 5 people at (what we consider) a really great rate of $1294 with World2Cover.
Vehicles: Consider selling, housing, leasing your vehicles. We live 350km from our capital city and “require” 2 cars to manage work commitments and childcare, kindergarten drop offs (this may be re-evaluated on our return). We chose to sell our more expensive newer car. We have put that money against our mortgage for the moment and will only use that as an in case of emergency fund and/or to purchase a car on our return if need be. Our second car is doing the trick for now – we have had to rely on the help of some very considerate friends for Adams final 3 weeks at work. Thankfully we will be able to store it with family for 12 months at minimal cost. The savings associated with not paying for registration, insurance etc are well worth it.
Consider Special Purchases: We managed to save hundreds of dollars by knowing what items we needed to “investment” in and sourcing them from second hand sites such as Ebay and Gumtree. We purchased our Babyzen Yoyo pram, Tula Toddler Carrier and Kidco Peapod all second hand and in fabulous condition. This also gives you time to keep an eye out for sales.
Book initial accommodation: We fly out in one month and have 2 weeks accommodation booked. After this we have no plans and that’s how we like to travel. If this makes you anxious, I suggest booking a little more. We have no idea how our 3 children will respond to the culture change, the climate etc so we want to remain as flexible as we can without deadlines to ensure that their needs are always at the forefront of our decisions. It is easy, when you have a flight to catch or deadline to meet to push each other through things that you wouldn’t normally.
Rehouse Pets (and plants):We managed to rehouse our chickens with friends of ours that will appreciate the fresh eggs. Our kitten will go to live on my families farm for the year and hopefully will want to return home when we get back! Plants…not an issue for this “green thumb!”
Packing List and Packing Cells:This is an ever evolving list at the moment and we are reading A LOT, I would hazard a guess at almost EVERY minimalist packing article, book, blog post that exists. We are trying to figure out how to nail this packing situation so that we can spend as much time as possible enjoying travelling wiht our kids and less time worrying about what we have forgotten, lost, ruined along the way. For me, I am finding this a little hard as multipurpose clothing is quite…conservative…so I feel like I am lacking a bit of FUN from my closet so I will try wrangle something in over the next few weeks. We will be sure to add a detailed list with photos..at the moment this is what it includes (similar for all of us):
- Smalls:4 pairs of underwear, 2 bras (1 merino icebreaker sports bra and 1 regular), 2 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of bathers and 1 rash vest
- Shoes: 1 pair of Birkenstocks, 1 pair of Nike casual shoes
- Bottoms: 1 pair of pants (yet to decide between jeans or linen), 1 pair of running shorts, 1 pair of denim shorts
- 1 maxi dress
- Tops: 2 Lulu lemon (active wear/casual) singlets, 1 quick dry t-shirt, 1 standard t-shirt, ?1 long sleeve shirt
- 1 long sleeve Icebreaker merino
- Accessories: hat, scarf/sarong (purchase there, sunglasses)
- Toiletries: Rodan and Fields SPF 25 tinted moisturiser, mascara, considering a dry shampoo bar, toothbrush and toothpaste of course 🙂
House rental: We decided to rent our house for the year rather than to sell. Our intention is to return home after this 12 months for Issy to commence school and return to our jobs…and start planning and saving for our next gap year! One month out and we feel a little uneasy that we haven’t yet got this signed off but know that it will happen …soon.
First attempt to pack the house: We have been minimising our possessions over the past 12 months. Selling things off as we decided we didn’t need them. Now we are trying to pack room by room. We have bags and boxes with us at all times labelled – BIN/DONATE/KEEP. We cannot believe how many “things” we have to sort through, and it feel so good to be getting rid of it all.
Selling off unnecessary items: Sometimes it can feel like more hassle than it is worth. But as my mantra goes 10 x $10 is a $100 (1 day away). 10 x $0 is always going to be $0. Everything in our home at one point was $ it would be crazy to not try and recapture at least a small amount of that.
1 month (this is where things are getting a little bit foggy – I will update this as we most likely stumble across extra hurdles)
Second attempt to pack the house: This weekend. If you have children make sure you enlist the help of family and friends if you can to keep them otherwise occupied. Our girls are like magnets to anything we want to donate of theirs if they are around…our tactic is to move it straight outside to the car so that it doesn’t find it’s way back in 🙂
Visas: This is one that I would have preferred to ave already sorted. However, luckily for us, Adam realised that Issy’s passport only has 16 months validity on it…with our plan to travel for 12 months it would mean she would have fallen short on the 6 months validity for a visa as we got further through our trip. Hence, Visas are still on the list as we are eagerly awaiting her replacement passport!
Trial Packing: We have had a few trials thus far and have found we are taking less each time. The most difficult part has been that it has been much cooler than what it will be and hence more layers required for all of us. Our second daughter Etta can’t seem to keep anything clean .. she might end up with one extra t-shirt than all of us! Now that all of our packing cubes have now arrived we will be attempting a trial pack this week and will be sure to update you all with some pictures!
Celebrate Christmas and New Year with our friends and family! We may try to hit up some boxing day sales for our dream Day Bag!
Final House pack: Not much to add here. Many hands make light work! If it is getting too stressful arrange a professional cleaner to finish the job off.
Create will and assign Financial Power of Attorney: Not something that any of us want to think about. It doesn’t have to be complicated but will help if anything arises especially financially with our house whilst we are away.
Photocopies of documents: There has been a suggestion to even laminate some of these copies so they don’t become damaged. Email copies of these to 2-3 trusted family or friends also in case of an emergency. Be sure to also download information (write it down!!!) of your first accommodation in case your phone goes flat, you lose it…etc
The Fun Stuff: Start to plan the fun stuff for the kids for the flight. It is after all just ONE REALLY LONG DAY with them with lots of exciting things along the way. We’ve all had long days with our kids but haven’t had exciting activities stashed away in case of emergency (other than the bath!) – so this should be a breeze right. We are thinking STICKERS, drawing, more stickers, snacks…colouring….Not sure what else yet.
YAY. Time to go. All the planning in the world cannot prepare us for what is going to meet us on the other side. All we know is that we will have each other and will have 12 months of shared memories and experiences with our 3 daughters to treasure for our (and their) lifetimes.