Taking a Family Sabbatical: Advice From a Family Who’ve Done it Twice!

Two kids standing in front of Angkor Wat Temple

Becca and I are having our first child this year, so the subject of a family sabbatical has started to interest me.

We hope our little baby girl is going to love travel just as we do, so I am keen to learn from other’s who’ve taken their kids with them on a sabbatical.

In this post I pick up from Kylie from OurOverseasAdventures.com an incredible resource for those wanting advice on travelling with kids.

It’s over to Kylie for her best tips and advice on taking family sabbatical….

How did you afford it? How long did you save for? 

For our first family sabbatical, we used savings that we were going to put towards house renovations to fund our 8 month-long trip.

The second time around we saved money by renting out our house six months before we left and moving into a small apartment out in the suburbs. The difference in rent was significant and allowed us to build up a nest egg before we left, pay for flights and accommodation for the first few months of our travels.

We are working this time around to fund our travels by doing freelance work for companies back in New Zealand and monetising our family travel blog. Our property rental also brings in a small amount each month after the mortgage and bills have been paid.

How did you co-ordinate the time so both of you and the kids had the same time off?

We both left our jobs and the kids left school.

Did you have to take the kids out of school, if so how easy was this?

Yes, we are very lucky in New Zealand and with our school that they view our travels as a valuable educational experience, and the kids’ teachers have been very supportive.  There are no rules or restrictions with regards to us leaving the country and travelling, we just unenroll them and re-enrol them upon return.

Do you think having them away from school affected their education at all? What steps did you take to ensure it didn’t?

It’s affected their education in that they obviously have less classroom time, however, we homeschool while travelling and follow a curriculum to ensure they’re keeping up with literacy and maths.

Interestingly much of what they are doing is using apps that they use in the classroom back home anyway like Reading Eggs and Mathletics. We utilise the subscription from our local library so they can access books online. We also love Outschool, which provides online classes in real-time, our eldest child, in particular, is quite an extrovert so she enjoys interacting with a teacher and other kids from around the world in a virtual setting.

We are in the Dordogne region of France at the moment and they’re attending school one day a week taking English literacy and drama classes, which also gives them some socialisation with other kids.

In terms of science, history, art we have visited some of the most amazing museums and galleries in the world, so they’re seeing in the flesh much of what they would read about in a classroom.

We also view understanding of other cultures and diversity as a really important part of their life education, so they’re being exposed to that every day!

How did taking a sabbatical with kids affect your plans?

When we initially started out we travelled fast in different destinations but we realised quickly that we needed to slow down so we didn’t burn out!

We’re probably at our happiest when we stay for a month at a time in a destination – this allows us to explore a local community and have as much of a ‘normal’ life as possible, incorporating work, schooling, being able to cook meals, do laundry etc.

If we’re getting a bit bored we mix it up by doing a couple of weeks of fast travel to feel like we’re ‘on the road’ again. We find it very difficult however to work and do homeschooling if we’re doing fast travel.

NOTE: A Great way to do slow travel is to look for housesitting opportunities, which allow you to have a good base without huge costs. Click here to view current opporunities with HouseSitters.com

Did you have to choose childfriendly destinations? If so how did you plan this?

Not specifically however we always make sure there are at least some things that are kid-friendly at a destination. We all love the outdoors so everyone’s happy when we’re in nature or at beaches, and luckily we all love museums and art galleries too.

Sometimes it does get a bit much – the kids got very ‘churched out’ in Romania, so we made sure at our next destination we did some fun kid stuff – visiting a child-friendly museum, or a trip to the cinema with popcorn and ice-cream. Our kids also love theme parks, so we try and factor those in if we can and budget allows it. We find if you look hard enough there are generally a few things to cater to kids in most places!

Kids playing own swings at Phu Quoc beach in Vietnam whilst taking a family sabbatical.
Having fun on the beach swings at Phú Quốc in Vietnam. Building kid friendly activities into the sabbatical was really important.

In terms of health and safety, we also consider the appropriateness of a destination from a political safety point of view and health-wise (for example we’re leaving destinations with high altitude and those needing malaria medication until the kids are a little older).

What kind of kit did you have to buy before the family sabbatical? Was there anything kid-specific you purchased for the sabbatical? Was there anything you didn’t use that you regretted buying?

When the kids were younger the big decision was whether to bring a stroller along or not (every travelling parent’s dilemma!) We took a small umbrella stroller and overall we’re glad we did as it came in useful sometimes, but we’re glad to see the back of it now they’re older as it was a pain carrying it around!

An invaluable item was our Tula toddler carrier that fitted both our 3 and tall 5-year-old in it. It was perfect for putting them into when they got tired or we were walking long distances.

Car seats are also a consideration – when the children were younger we took Trunki Boostapaks which are fantastic (they double as a car seat and a backpack) and we found them super easy to put into taxis, Uber, on ferries, rental cars. Now they are taller we use Bubblebum car seats which are inflatable booster seats and easily fold down into our backpack. You can find a list of our top items we love for travelling with kids here.

Baby Tula Coast Explore Mesh Baby Carrier, Adjustable Newborn to Toddler Carrier, Ergonomic and Multiple Positions for 7 – 45 pounds (Land Before Tula)
Bubblebum Inflatable Car Booster Seat New Black
Baby Tula Coast Explore Mesh Baby Carrier, Adjustable Newborn to Toddler Carrier, Ergonomic and Multiple Positions for 7 – 45 pounds (Land Before Tula)
Bubblebum Inflatable Car Booster Seat New Black
Price not available
Baby Tula Coast Explore Mesh Baby Carrier, Adjustable Newborn to Toddler Carrier, Ergonomic and Multiple Positions for 7 – 45 pounds (Land Before Tula)
Baby Tula Coast Explore Mesh Baby Carrier, Adjustable Newborn to Toddler Carrier, Ergonomic and Multiple Positions for 7 – 45 pounds (Land Before Tula)
Bubblebum Inflatable Car Booster Seat New Black
Bubblebum Inflatable Car Booster Seat New Black
Price not available

How much luggage did you take? How did you arrange packing to fit everything in?

I would love to say that we are a hand luggage only family, but packing and luggage really is our Achilles heel! 

We always seem to have too much stuff. We are currently travelling with a suitcase, 40-litre backpack, the kids have a cabin bag each that fits their clothes and toys in that they tow along and we have another cabin backpack for all our electronics.

Packing cubes are an absolute life-saver (I agree with this, I didn’t realise how useful they were until we got some – Ben) for us and the only way that we can fit everything into our bags and knowing which clothes belong to whom. It’s also essential to have a decent travel laundry bag to keep everyone’s smelly gear separate from clean clothes.

Starting off a family sabbatical, our family at Aukland airport with baggage.
Hand Luggage only?! In this photo maybe, but travelling light with kids is not easy!

What do you think the kids learned during the sabbatical?

I think the biggest thing they’ve learned is that there are different religions, cultures, food, ways of doing things in the world, but underneath it, most people are kind, generous, good people. Their world view is that there are lots of different nationalities and ethnicities but they’re all equal, and they have no prejudices which we love.

They’ve also learned (hopefully) that there’s a different way to live your life – that you don’t have to necessarily be in the corporate rat race for 45 years and that it’s ok to take some time out, explore our planet and spend time as a family. They’ve got to see their parents and spend quality time with them rather than the snatched bits here and there with our busy lives at home.

From a practical perspective, they’ve also learned to snorkel in coral reefs, use chopsticks, say hello, goodbye, thank you and count to 10 in multiple languages, what different currencies look like and the value of them, airline/bus/ferry/train etiquette, what snails, tarantula donuts, fishball soup and a myriad of other dishes taste like! They’re also super aware of climate change and the effects it’s having on our planet and wildlife habitats.

What went wrong? What would you do differently next time?

The second time around we’ve had a few disasters – cancelled flights, changes in destination due to poor air quality in Thailand, vomiting bugs and car sickness.

There wasn’t much we could do about any of it as it was unforeseen, but it underlines the importance of having good, comprehensive travel insurance. Read the policy fine print carefully so you know exactly what you’re covered for. 

How do the kids speak about the sabbatical now? What was their favourite bit?

We’re mid-way through family sabbatical number two and we talk everyday about what we’ve seen and done and “remember that time”.

Highlights for the kids (verbatim!) are visiting the rainforest in Borneo, the food in France, seeing the ‘real’ Santa in Finland and Arctic animals, snorkelling in Thailand and Malaysia and seeing lots of fish and coral. 

If you’re heading to Thailand, check out my full travel guide here.

How do you reflect on your time on sabbatical? Was it worth it?

It is absolutely worth it and hands down the best thing we’ve ever done.

We have no regrets even though it isn’t always easy both logistically and financially, but it’s helped build resilience and resourcefulness in all of us. We would recommend it to other families – if you ever get the opportunity to do it, grab it with both hands!

We’re so passionate about it we recently wrote an e-book called The Ultimate Guide to Family Gap Year Travel detailing all of the tips and practical advice we’ve gathered over two family sabbaticals. 

If you are worried about financing a sabbatical, I have lots of posts that will help (just click the link).

Are you planning to do it again?

We’re absolutely blessed to have been able to do this twice already, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to do a third?!

From a practical perspective however as our children get older and consistency of schooling, friends and having a permanent home gets more important to them, we will likely stick to shorter trips during school holidays. But you never know!


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How Long Did You Take For A Sabbatical or Career Break?

If you have taken a sabbatical or career break (unpaid time off from work) how long did you take?