How and Why To Plan a Family Gap Year

April 26, 2023

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The family gap year, aka family sabbatical, is an increasingly popular trend in which a whole family takes a collective break from normal life to set out on an epic full-year travel adventure. Whether you want to travel around the world or stick to your home country, family gap years come in all shapes and sizes. 

But what exactly does planning such a journey entail financially and logistically? We recently sat down with author Heidi Dusek, whose family turned their travel dreams into a reality. 

Read on for insights into everything from how to save money for your family trip to advice on how to plan a gap year with kids. We'll give you the inside scoop on how to plan the trip of a lifetime!

What Is a Family Gap Year?

During our chat with Heidi Dusek, she described the concept as “an intentional break from traditional school and employment.” While the entire idea may have sounded like a recipe for chaos just a few years ago, 2020 inadvertently went a long way toward turning many people's ideas of what's possible upside down. 

After all, who says you have to live in your hometown until you retire or wait until your 60s to start ticking dream destinations off your bucket list? Planning your own gap year can be an amazing way to see the world, all while spending quality time with your family. 

Start by having an open and honest conversation about the idea of spending a year traveling to make sure everyone is on board. It's also a good idea to take a short trip, or even several, as a test run. 

Not only can this give the entire family a taste of what to expect during a year of family travel, but it may also help you select your preferred travel style. For instance, you may (or may not) discover that sharing a camper van with three boys for a year is a challenge that'll take a little extra planning to prepare for. 

While sharing a hotel room may not be an issue if you only have two kids, how will it work if you have a third child? Are you better off shooting for Airbnbs? Are there any airlines that offer cheaper plane tickets for kids of a certain age? These are some of the many questions you'll want to prepare for before you set off on your big trip. 

How to Prepare Financially For a Family Gap Year

Okay, so the idea of full-time family travel sounds great, but how does anyone actually afford it? The truth is that there's no one-size-fits-all answer. 

For Heidi and her husband, planning a family gap year was a long process that began with life changes like bringing in a larger income. Like many of us, however, simply breaking out of her comfort zone proved to be one of Heidi's first challenges. 

“I actually had to do some mindset work that I was worth a higher salary,” Heidi admits. But by seeking out mentors among people who were further ahead on their financial journeys, she discovered the magic of “finding the masters and being an apprentice.”

After looking into compensation and benefits studies for their skill sets, Heidi and her husband were able to negotiate their way to substantially higher salaries within a couple of years. The next key to saving for their family gap year adventure was a time-honored strategy for increasing wealth – enjoying a higher salary without necessarily upgrading to a new lifestyle. 

By keeping their expenses low, Heidi and her husband were able to set aside enough money to survive for an entire year in their short-term savings accounts, as well as stash away “emergency funds” in IRAs and Roth IRAs. While some families choose to take a similar approach, others fund their family gap year budget by working remotely or even selling or renting their homes. 

Many families plan to go back to work after their gap year and look at it more as a year or extended trip than retirement altogether. The important thing is to figure out what makes sense for you and plan ahead to ensure you have enough money set aside for both your trip and until you find work after you return. 

What Happens When You Take Your Kids Out of School for a Year?

Let's face it, kids grow up fast, and the idea of getting in more precious family time before they leave for college is one of the biggest draws of the family gap year. But what's the best age for kids to travel? 

While there's a great deal of debate about the best time to take a family gap year, it's important to keep in mind that every family is different. Some young kids may be more receptive to the whole idea than high schoolers, who may not want to leave behind their friends for a full year. 

That said, plenty of kids travel well at any age. Though it's possible to plan a great family gap year itinerary with kids of any age, it's worth considering that a world trip may prove easier with teens instead of toddlers.    

As far as how to keep your kids learning during your gap year, be sure to check the homeschool laws in your state. Some parents choose to enroll their kids in an online school, others homeschool based on public school curriculums, while others still design unique curriculums for each of their kids. 

The fun part about a gap year is that you can design your trip to teach your kids amazing things about the world by experiencing it firsthand. What better way to learn about the government or American history, for instance, than a trip to Washington DC?

Family Gap Year Ideas to Consider

When it comes to the best family gap year destinations to visit, the world is your oyster. Some families plot out exactly how much time they'll want to spend in a variety of different destinations around the world, while others set out on a cross-country road trip and plan as they go. 

You might choose to spend time exploring South America or Southeast Asia. Or you might simply live in the same place, such as a major city in a new country, while you work remotely for a year. The bottom line is that whether you want to explore Africa, visit Central America, or cruise the South Pacific, there's no wrong way to plan a family gap year. 

Spend some time researching world travel guides and exploring areas you'd most like to visit. Getting an idea of how much your big expenses should cost beforehand is a great way to avoid surprises and may even help narrow down your options if you want to stick to mid-range travel costs, 

Be sure you also factor in things like travel insurance and any home maintenance costs that may crop up while you're away. For instance, you might choose to invest in a storage unit if you plan to rent out your home or pay someone to keep your yard in shape while you're away. 

Final Thoughts and Resources for Gap Year Planning

For more inspiration and travel tips, be sure to check out Heidi's site Ordinary Sherpa, as well as her book Beyond Normal. One of the best ways to ensure you'll have an incredible time on your next trip is to connect with other families like Heidi's who have experienced the fun of a gap year firsthand. 

Check out other great blogs from family travelers such as:

With proper planning, it's not only possible to spend a year traveling with your family but to enjoy an adventure you'll cherish for a lifetime. 

Have you given any thought to a family gap year? What's most exciting to you or what's holding you back?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Andy Hill

Andy Hill, AFC® is the award-winning family finance coach behind Marriage Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping families build wealth and happiness. With millions of podcast downloads and video views, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys being a Soccer Dad, singing karaoke with his wife and relaxing on his hammock.

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