We had our first daughter three years ago, and we are now planning our first family sabbatical, and in this post I share sabbatical ideas and planning tips for your own getaway.
Becca and I have taken sabbaticals before, but what spurred me on to start planning this latest sabbatical was reading Bill Perkins’ confronting but inspiring book Die With Zero.
In chapter seven, he talks about time bucketing, and how there are certain experiences that can only happen at certain times of your life.
“Unfortunately, in real life you rarely get an exact date for when you will no longer be able to do something—these things just seem to fade away. And until they’re gone, you don’t give their gradual demise much thought, if any. You just kind of assume that some things will last forever. But of course, they don’t.”
The reality is, we’ll get about twelve summers with Grace from when she’s aware enough to experience things, through to when she no longer wants to spend time with us anymore, and her friends are suddenly cooler than her parents.
I share this, as I know you might be nervous about taking a sabbatical with your family (we are!), but thought the above would serve as some extra motivation.
In this post, I’m going to cover off what we think are the best sabbatical ideas for families, as well as the logistics that go with planning one.
Sabbatical Ideas for Families
Here are a few sabbatical ideas for families that we think are perfect.
We’ve chosen ideas that are slow-paced, can incorporate child-friendly activities, but will still be a great learning experience.
House sitting is our number one choice for a family sabbatical.
You can experience another part of the world from the comfort of someone else’s home!
People list their homes as a hose sit when they are away and need their pets looking after. This creates opportunities for anything from one week to six month house sits!
These are often free, with some requiring the sitters cover some of the maintenance costs while they are there.
The Biggest House Sitting Services
Our preference has always been Trusted House Sitters, as it seems to have more house sits available, and the website is easier to navigate.
Using a House Sitting Site
My advice with house sitting, is to start looking early. Just because you want to go away at a certain time, doesn’t mean this fits with when others will be away. There are generally more house sits over times such as Christmas, when people are more likely to be away.
You will find the majority of house sits are in the USA, UK and Australia, and around the two-week mark, not ideal for a sabbatical.
…two-month or longer sabbaticals in other countries do come up, and we’ve found that these are less popular, and we are often the only applicants.
The best things to do is sign up for Trusted House Sitters, and then you can be notified as new house sits come up.
Be aware though, that many owners will ask for clear proof that you will be in the country at the time of the house sit, having been let down in the past by others who have not shown up. It’s a kind of chicken-and-egg situation, as why would you book flights if the house sit isn’t confirmed, however the more you can show your travel credentials (this website’s really helped me with booking) and tell the story of your family sabbatical and its intentions, the most chance you have of getting chosen.
Taking an RV or Road Trip
Our second favourite idea for a family sabbatical is waking an RV or road-trip.
This way you can choose the speed of travel, and pack all your belongings up in the vehicle with you (when we told Grace she had to choose one of her two dolls to take with us to Japan recently, you’d think it was a life or death decision!) so you can carry around more stuff.
The only challenge is with this option, is the countries/continents you are most likely to take an RV trip in, are also likely to be the most expensive – namely the North America, Europe, Australia or New Zealand.
RV Rental Cost
It is hard to put an accurate number on exactly how much renting an RV will cost, as this can vary due to factors such as the country you’re booking in, length of booking and the season you’re booking in.
To give you an idea though, I looked into the cost of a three-month RV rental in the USA, and it came to around $10,000 USD for an RV big enough for a family sabbatical.
RV Trip Route Ideas
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
- 3 Months Travelling Around Australia
- 3 Month European Road Trip Itinerary
- One Month RV Trip Around Iceland
- Route 66 (USA Coast to Coast)
- 3 Month Canadian Road Trip
RV Rental Companies by Country
If you’re looking for RV Rental companies, check out the following:
- Australian RV Rental: GoSeeAustralia.com
- Canada RV Rental: Canada-RV-Rentals.com
- Europe RV Rental: McRent.eu
- Iceland RV Rental: IndieCampers.com
- USA RV Rental: USARVRentals.com
Volunteering and Community Projects
Volunteering as a family could be a life-changing experience.
It’s the double header of getting to learn about a new destination alongside doing something truly meaningful.
Finding Volunteering Programs
The good news is, there are companies out there that do all the leg work for you
Companies such as Oyster Worldwide, who specialise is connecting volunteers with projects in need, have an option to select trips designed with families in mind.
As you can see, many of the projects have minimum age requirements, so this type of sabbatical may only be suitable for slightly older children.
Volunteering also comes with a cost, which generally include food and board, but you’ll be expected to find your own way there.
Best Volunteering Companies
If you’re looking to find a place to volunteer on your family sabbatical, here are a few websites to search through for opportunities:
Cultural Immersion Experiences
A family sabbatical can be a unique opportunity to immerse yourselves in a different culture. Some cultural immersion experiences to consider include:
- Homestays: Live with a local family to gain firsthand insights into their culture, customs, and traditions.
- Cultural exchanges or language learning: Participate in exchange programmes that allow your family to immerse themselves in the local community and practice a new language.
- Festivals and celebrations: Attend traditional festivals and celebrations to learn more about a culture and its history.
Planning a Family Sabbatical
I have written extensively about planning a sabbatical on this site, but are there many differences when it comes to planning a family sabbatical?
Honestly, not many – planning a family sabbatical is not hugely different to planning a regular sabbatical.
The same principles of budgeting, choosing destinations and checking work policies all apply (see me do this first-hand for our last sabbatical as a couple if you want complete information) but there are a few areas that differ slightly for a family sabbatical.
Here are where I feel there are the biggest differences.
Choosing a Destination
We have got hundreds of sabbatical ideas on this site, but many of them are not going to be completely suitable for a family sabbatical.
I can’t imagine backpacking across Southeast Asia with a toddler, I’m sure it would be possible, but some of the long trips and days we put ourselves through on that trip, would just not work with her, though, as children get older, these possibilities may open up again.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a destination for a sabbatical with kids:
- Safety: We have looked more closely at the safety of the places we are considering.
- Cultural experiences: We want to find somewhere that is very different to the place we spend everyday life, somewhere that will open her eyes to how diverse and special the world is.
- Child-friendly activities: Whilst Grace is happy to tag along with almost everything we do, giving her space to be a child is really important.
- Travel: We are looking at family sabbatical ideas that don’t involve a massive amount of travel. On our last sabbatical to Southeast Asia, we changed location every few days, which we don’t think is too much change for her. It also gives us a chance to immerse ourselves in a destination for longer and learn more about it.
Whilst timing was always important on our previous sabbaticals (I’m a retailer, so have always tried to avoid the key trading periods at Christmas and Easter), with Grace we have tried to consider where she is in her learning development. We are aiming to plan the sabbatical for her last year of kinder, rather than when she has started school.
If you are planning a family sabbatical, you will need to review things such as exam timings alongside the needs of your workplace.
- School schedules: If you’re travelling with school-aged children, consider their academic calendar and any potential impact on their studies.
- Work arrangements: Coordinate with your employer to determine ideal sabbatical timing and duration.
- Seasonal rates: The obvious move is to plan your family sabbatical in the long school holidays, but (as all parents already know) you’ll pay a premium for travelling at this time.
Family Sabbatical Resources
Many of the other tools and resources we have on the site are still relevant to planning a sabbatical with your kids, so here are a few recommendations:
- Sabbatical Cost Calculator
- How to Ask Your Workplace for a Sabbatical
- 35 Things to Do Before You Get on the Plane
If You Need to Homeschool on Sabbatical
When planning a sabbatical for your family, homeschooling may be an essential component, allowing your children to continue their education while immersing in new experiences. This section will provide you with ideas and resources to create a successful homeschooling experience during your sabbatical.
Setting Up a Learning Programme
To start, assess your children’s current academic levels and pinpoint their specific educational needs. Be prepared to adapt your homeschooling plan as you discover which methods work best for your family. By devising a flexible schedule, you can balance between structured learning and free exploration that complements your sabbatical adventure.
Here are a few tips:
- Identify your children’s goals and priorities.
- Create a timetable highlighting the key subjects and activities.
- Implement a mix of class-based instruction, project-based learning, and field trips relevant to your sabbatical destination.
- Establish regular check-ins to evaluate progress and make necessary adjustments.
Online Resources and Tools
The internet offers a wealth of resources to support you in developing a comprehensive homeschool program. Utilise online platforms like Khan Academy for a variety of courses, or BBC Bitesize for curriculum-aligned resources. Here are some popular options:
- Duolingo: Learn languages through fun, game-based exercises.
- Project Gutenberg: Access a library of over 60,000 free e-books.
- Smithsonian Learning Lab: Explore digital resources from the world’s largest museum and research complex.
- Ted-Ed: Watch engaging educational videos on various subjects.
Connecting with the Local Community
Homeschooling on sabbatical is not solely about academics; it’s also an opportunity to immerse your family in the local community and culture of your temporary home.
Seek out local museums, galleries, and cultural centres or arrange meet-ups with locals and other expatriate families (joining local Facebook groups is often a good way to do this) to enrich your homeschool experience.
You can also attend workshops, classes, and events designed for children, enabling social interactions and fostering a sense of belonging within your new surroundings.
Establishing Family Routines
Whilst being on sabbatical will be a whirlwind of new experiences, it might be worth establishing some rules and routines.
Travelling as a family is fun, until it’s not! Don’t expect every second to be perfect, but do try to set some expectations in advance.
- Set boundaries: Clearly define your work area, and establish specific work hours. This clarity assists your family in understanding when you’re available for them and when you’re focused on work.
- Engage in family bonding activities: Allocate time for family-oriented activities, such as game nights, movie nights, or outdoor adventures, which encourage stronger connections and create lasting memories.
- Encourage open communication: Make it a priority to discuss any challenges or issues that may arise as your family adjusts to the new setup. Open communication allows you to address concerns and find solutions together as a family.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a family gap year cost?
The cost of a family gap year can vary greatly depending on factors like travel destinations, accommodation choices, and daily expenses.
At The Sabbatical Guide, we set three simple steps to work out how much a family gap year costs:
- Calculate all ongoing costs while you’re away (such mortgage or insurance payments which can’t be stopped).
- Add up the one-off payments associated with the trip (flights, tours etc).
- Work out a daily cost for while you are travelling (on this page we list some tools which can help you discover this for any country).
What are some family-friendly sabbatical destinations?
There are numerous family-friendly destinations for your sabbatical, such as:
- Countries with a low cost of living, like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia
- European destinations like Spain, Italy, and France, with their rich history, culture, and family-oriented lifestyle
- Safe and developed countries like Australia or New Zealand with beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities
Consider your family’s interests and preferences when choosing a destination.
What is the best age for children on a family gap year?
The best age for children on a family gap year depends on your child’s personality, adaptability, and educational needs.
Some families find that travelling with younger children, before they start primary school, is more manageable. Others opt to travel when their children are a bit older and more independent, around 8-12 years old.
It’s crucial to consider your child’s schooling when planning a gap year, as taking them out of formal education for a long period may require setting up a homeschooling plan or enrolling them in local schools temporarily.
What activities can families do during a sabbatical?
During your family sabbatical, you could:
- Engage in outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, or swimming
- Visit museums, historical sites, and cultural places to broaden your family’s horizons
- Enrol in language classes or join local workshops
- Try out new hobbies or sports as a family, such as cooking classes or yoga
- Participate in meaningful experiences, like volunteering or working on sustainable community projects
How to plan a one-month family sabbatical?
To plan a one-month family sabbatical, follow these steps:
- Choose a destination that meets your family’s interests and budget constraints.
- Determine the specific goals or experiences you want to achieve during the sabbatical.
- Research accommodation options and make reservations in advance.
- Create a rough itinerary, but leave room for flexibility, so you can adjust it based on your family’s preferences and the experiences you encounter during your sabbatical.
- Consider educational aspects, and address any school requirements with your child’s institution.
- Ensure all members of the family have the necessary travel documents, such as passports and visas.
What are some affordable family sabbatical ideas?
Affordable family sabbatical ideas include:
- Opting for a “staycation” by exploring your local area and focusing on engaging activities and quality family time
- Choosing low-cost destinations in regions like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, or South America
- House swapping or housesitting to save on accommodation expenses
- Volunteering on a family-friendly project, which may include free or reduced-cost lodging
- Road trips or camping adventures that allow for budget-friendly accommodation and meal options
Keep in mind that the most affordable option will depend on your family’s preferences and travel style.
Before You Go
Good luck with your sabbatical!
If you want some more inspiration, then have a read of our first-hand case study from Kylie, Mike, Sophie and Jack, who’ve spent lots of time travelling the globe together and give our some great tips on taking a family sabbatical.
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