Choosing Wings: Our family gap year and trip around the world
We love so many things about our family’s life in LA. We are surrounded by an amazing network of family, we have wonderful friends, we are deeply involved in a religious community that we love, the weather is usually amazing and the list of activities is never-ending. But as you might imagine, life in the City of Angels isn’t without challenges… it is crowded, it’s extremely expensive for a family, navigating school decisions can require an advanced degree and some days you feel like your entire schedule is planned around minimizing time in traffic. Through all its faults, LA has been our home for a very long time and the only one our children have ever known. In fact, Ronnie and I have shared this wonderful apartment for almost a decade!
For a few years we’ve felt that our family needed some sort of change and we think that this is the right time to shake things up. Ronnie and I are both ready to move on professionally after a decade in our jobs, Jacob has graduated from preschool and needs to transition to a new school, and Shoshana is still a sweet, flexible kid whose primary need is time with us. All in all, we feel that this is the best time for a transition if there will ever be one.
So what’s the big news?
We’ve decided to take a “family gap year”! As you all know, family travel is a big part of our lives – we enjoy it very much and feel that it binds the four of us into an unbreakable team. So often, being out in the world feels like our collective “happy place”. We will be leaving LA at the end of August 2017 and returning to the US around the end of June 2018. After our almost-year of travel, our family’s path isn’t very well-defined yet. We’ve told a number of people about our plans already, and here are some questions we get a lot and the best answers we can give you at this time.
What are your family gap year destinations?
We’re kicking it off with a good ol’ American road trip! We’ll take three weeks to drive cross-country from LA to Nana’s house in Virginia. We’re so excited to visit with family and friends along the way!!! Definite stops include Phoenix, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Tulsa, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and of course the DC area. Once we fly out from D.C…
Europe (probably some combination of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Holland)
back to the US and possibly Canada
How did you choose your around-the-world itinerary? Did you buy a “round the world plane ticket”? Where will you stay in all these places?
We chose our itinerary to travel the world with kids mostly based on three factors: personal interest, seasonal logistics, and health/safety concerns.
All of the countries we’ll be visiting until Israel are new for us! We started with a much longer list of destinations and spent about a month playing with different options and whittling it down based on further research. We’ll mostly be chasing the sun and avoiding nasty things like hurricanes and peak mosquito seasons. There are a few places we might have considered visiting if we didn’t have the kids with us, but in reality we feel good about the pacing of our trip and don’t want to add any more stops. We’ll spend several weeks in each country, which should give us a chance to explore beyond just the surface (though honestly sometimes even that pace seems faster than we’d like). Recognizing that we’ll need a little decompression along the way, we plan to give ourselves some slow-travel time in Australia and Israel, where we have friends and family.
We aren’t using a special round the world plane ticket. There are very few of them available these days, though I know they were popular back when most of our peers took their solo travel gap years. The few that are available have enough limitations in terms of routing and segment totals that they didn’t seem like the best fit for us. Moreover, we have a huge pile of United frequent flyer miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards points from our travels and credit card spending (especially those awesome Chase sign up bonuses!). While we aren’t booking everything with miles and points, we’ll be able to use them to save money on air travel.
Pro tip: We recently added the Chase Ink Business Preferred to our wallets for business expenses, as it gave us a sign-up bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points (transferrable to many other programs or directly redeemable), offers 3x points for travel and business expenses and carries an annual fee of only $95!
We generally prefer to stay in vacation homes rather than hotels. They offer more space for our family to feel comfortable, a kitchen for quick breakfasts and lunch packing, and often laundry facilities so that we can pack light. We’ve been fortunate to find a great partner for this trip in GuestToGuest, an international leader in home exchanges. Most people think of home exchange as it’s shown in The Holiday – Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet go to stay at each other’s houses (and find quirky romances in the process) and GuestToGuest has that traditional option (sorry, Jude Law not included). They also have a more flexible non-reciprocal option that allows you to earn points for hosting guests, which you can then use to stay in any home available through the network! For instance, Cameron goes to Kate’s house for Christmas and then Kate goes to JLaw’s house for New Year’s. Throughout our trip, we’ll be staying in GuestToGuest properties wherever they’re available – and I must say, we’ve booked some gorgeous homes and some beautiful locations! We’ll be sharing more info on how to use GuestToGuest and showing you the awesome places we’re staying, so stay tuned. In the meantime, head over and sign yourself up — by going through the full registration and verification process, you’ll score enough points to try out the service as a guest before you even host in your own home. Sign up here to get an extra 100 bonus points as well.
While we’ve had great luck booking GuestToGuest homes in some countries, they are still growing their presence in others. In some remote areas without many restaurants or grocery stores, we’ll be staying at all-inclusive resorts or hotels to ease culinary logistics. In other places, we’ll rely on Airbnb for our accommodations. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, you can save $40 on your first booking here. Pro tip: If you add your work email address and book a business trip, you get an extra $50 Airbnb credit.
After a few years of pretty serious travel, we’ve found that booking.com is our favorite hotel search engine. Most properties can be booked with no cancellation fee and they clearly show the pricing and details of every room available. There are tons of reviews on the site, and we try to target properties with an average score of at least 8+ (preferably 9+).
We’re so jealous! How can we follow along vicariously/keep up with your adventures?
I can’t help you with the jealousy, except to hope that our family’s adventures inspire you to explore more and maybe even give you family gap year ideas. Want to travel around the world with your family? Ronnie is a master travel planner and we are always happy to give general advice on traveling with kids or specific recommendations for where to travel with kids. I’ll also set up part of this site where we’ll share updates that are more of a family travel journal than a formal advice-giving travel blog.
If you want to follow along from home, there are a few great options:
Sign up to receive our latest family gap year blog posts (when I have “free time” I hope to move to a monthly newsletter format)
Like/follow on Facebook (you’ll also receive new blog post notifications there)
Our Youtube channel is still pretty sparse, but we hope to add more (especially interviews with the kids)
Do the kids know? How do they feel about your family trip around the world? How will you teach the kids while traveling the world?
The kids know about our big trip and they’re very excited to explore the world and especially to meet all of the different animals. If you see them around this summer, ask them and they’re sure to give you an earful. Jacob also feels a little sad to leave behind his friends and family, but he’s looking forward to Skype, exchanging emoji-laden text messages and even sending some postcards. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to interview him in some of our destinations for our YouTube channel!
Since Shoshana is only 3yo, her primary educational needs are learning how to interact with people and with the world around her. We know that she won’t remember much from this trip, but hope that it makes a positive impression on her as a human being. We’re sure she’ll learn to appreciate and tolerate other cultures and her sense of curiosity will blast into overdrive as she’s exposed to so much of the world!
Jacob has just graduated from preschool and will be skipping kindergarten. His only strict educational objective for the year is literacy: he needs to learn to read decently and to write at least a little in order to be ready for 1st grade when we return. Fortunately he has already begun reading a little and seems to be gaining more interest. We’ll be working on hand-written journaling with him during our trip to help him learn how to write and to document our adventures through his eyes. I suspect that his travel journal will be the best souvenir of the entire trip.
We’re sure that the kids will learn so much during our gap year. We’ll try to educate them and ourselves in a developmentally appropriate way about things like history, food, climate, flora and fauna of the places we visit. Rather than occurring in a classroom, that teaching might take place while we’re hiking around ruins, visiting an indigenous people’s cultural center, using our art supplies to document the world visually or sampling desserts around the world. We’re continuing to read some great worldschooling resources and please feel free to send your favorites our way.
How do you feel about leaving your life behind in LA? Where will you live when you get back?
Leaving our family’s life in LA definitely brings a mix of emotions. We’re excited for our year traveling as a family and also to see what’s in store after that. But of course we will miss all of our LA people so much! We don’t currently know where we’ll live when we come back to the US, but it will be driven largely by professional considerations in conjunction with our family’s needs. If we aren’t able to get the professional situation squared away in time for the beginning of the school year, we’ll probably come back to the LA area at least temporarily while we figure things out.
How much does a family gap year cost?
In the interest of transparency, I’ll say that it’s costing less in outright money than we initially anticipated thanks to our awesome brand partners like GuestToGuest, but of course we are essentially paying with our time and energy in those situations. We will still be paying for lodging in some places and our goal is to keep those costs to an average of $100 per night.
Through judicious use of our frequent flyer miles and points, I’m hoping to keep our total flight costs to around $10k for the four of us. I don’t yet know how much rental cars will cost and in total, but in some places like New Zealand and Argentina that will be a big expense. I’d love to hear any suggestions on keeping that cost down!
We often keep our food costs low when we travel by eating breakfast at home and packing a picnic lunch. Those food choices also keep us moving through our days at a decent pace since no one in our family is an early riser. I anticipate that we’ll eat dinner out several nights per week, because restaurants and local food are an important cultural experience in addition to being fun and tasty.
We’ve already spent over a thousand dollars on vaccines for the family and we expect that travel insurance through World Nomads will cost around two thousand dollars.
We could spend less if we chose our itinerary based on cost, but we figure this is (probably) and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the world as a family and so we let our interests dictate our destinations. We’ve discovered that New Zealand, where we’ll probably spend the most time of any country, is extremely expensive. Another surprise on the financial front is the high cost of renting an automatic car in certain places – we’re used to paying an extra hundred dollars in Europe, not the multiples that we’re seeing in places like Argentina.
What’s your packing list for a trip around the world with kids? What about car seats for a trip around the world? What’s the best stroller for travel abroad?
We generally pack light (it’s take lots of practice over years of family travel and countless trips), but we’re still working on specific packing lists for clothing. I’ll update here when we know, but in general we’ll plan a mix-and-match travel capsule wardrobe for each of us.
Ronnie and I will each carry a large backpack. He has a Kelty Redwing 50L and I recently picked up the super awesome Thule Versant 60L after lots of research and testing. Upon the recommendation of another traveling family, we bought the kids his-and-hers REI Tarn 18L and REI Tarn 12L backpacks – they love them! Jacob will probably carry most of his clothing in addition to his Amazon Fire tablet (loaded with our favorite free apps) and some other entertainment, while Shoshana will probably just carry her entertainment and a change of clothing for herself lest she topple over.
Obviously with kids comes additional “kid travel gear”. We’re trying to be very strategic! We recently reviewed the Ride Safer Delight travel vest and that is definitely coming with us. We will probably also bring a Bubblebum inflatable booster seat and our beloved Combi Coccoro car seat. During long drives in our rental cars, Jacob will use the vest and Shoshana will ride in the Coccoro. If we’re going out in a city where we anticipate taking a taxi, we’ll bring the Bubblebum for Jacob and Shoshana will use the vest since she does meet all of the minimum requirements. Remember: the laws of physics are the same in other countries and in taxis! (Unfortunately we may need to rent car seats in Australia, as their laws are extremely specific even though I don’t believe that they would make my children any safer than the choices we generally make for their ages. But that rant will be the subject for another blog post.)
We still haven’t fully decided which stroller to bring for the trip around the world. When we leave the US, Shoshana will be almost 3.5 and Jacob will be 6. In some ways, they’re old enough to travel without a stroller and that could make life much easier at times. But travel days are long and legs are short. We want the kids to be happy and comfortable for their sakes and ours! We plan to bring a “big single” stroller that could allow both kids to ride in a pinch, either our Baby Jogger Versa (now replaced by the City Premier) that would allow Jacob to ride in the footwell or our Baby Jogger POD stroller/bike trailer (it’s designed for one or two kids, but it’s a little tight for two and doesn’t recline; I love that the front mesh zips closed to keep bugs out and potentially overwhelmed kids in). If you’ve done similar travel and have suggestions on our stroller choice, please drop a comment to let us know!
What will you do with all your stuff while you travel?
Step 1: sell/donate/trash as much as possible
Step 2: store the rest
This is high on my list of “things to figure out before abandoning life as we know it.” We don’t know where we’ll end up next August, so I’m not sure if it will make more sense to get a fixed storage unit in LA or a movable unit like a POD or similar. We do know that we’ll hedge our bets on the inbound return flight by leaving a car on each coast. Our apartment is fantastic and we feel a great deal of nostalgia for it, but given our uncertain geography it just didn’t make sense to hold on to it. If you are ever looking for an apartment in West LA, we’d be happy to recommend our landlords.
I’m excited for you guys, but I am a part of your lives in LA and I’m sad/angry/hurt/lonely.
We love you and our excitement about the next chapter is absolutely tempered by the heaviness in our hearts too! We are hoping to get back to LA next summer before we settle somewhere and promise promise promise that we will come to see you as often as is humanly possible when we get back to the US (if you’re really lucky, we’ll even stay in your guest room!). Thanks for being so supportive even though you’re sad that we’re leaving you.
That’s a wrap for now. If you have a burning question that I didn’t answer already, please leave it in the comments and I’ll try to add the answer to this post!
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