While teenagers taking a gap year before they head off to university has been common for some time, in recent years there has been an upsurge in the idea of the family gap year. Amid the busyness of working life it can be hard to find the opportunity to spend real quality time as a family. If the rat race is wearing you down, and you want to forge some precious memories with the people that mean the most to you, then taking a year out to travel might well be the thing for you.
Planning and committing to taking a year out when you have to juggle all the extra responsibilities of parenthood and work can seem like a daunting undertaking at first glance. However, if you do your research and take the time to consider all of your options carefully there’s no reason to be intimidated.
Although there is no one right way to go about embarking on a family gap year we’ve broken down the three main ways you can spend your year – or however long – away from home.
If you want a slightly more laidback gap year experience then perhaps you don’t even need to leave the country at all. International travel – and all it involves – can be pretty pricey, and a real headache to organise so far in advance. Committing to a schedule involving flights, visas, currency changes and more can add stress to your gap year rather than taking it away. If you think you might not be the globe-trotting type then you can get just as much – or even more – out of staying closer to home and having an adventure without even crossing any international borders.
One of the greatest benefits of this approach is the fact that you have the ability to visit home every so often, if and when you choose. This can make the potential upheaval of a year out easier for the children, allowing them to better keep up with their existing friends without having to simply rely on social media. Furthermore, staying in the same time zone as the rest of your friends and family makes it simpler to stay in touch, helping to limit any sense of homesickness that may come from spending so long away from home.
If you choose to rent out your family home during your travels then staying in the country means you can better deal with any problems that your tenants may face. Equally, you won’t have to worry about having to get to grips with foreign currencies and you’ll be able to keep the paperwork to an absolute minimum.
However, perhaps this more limited split between your normal life and your year out may not be so appealing in the greater balance of things. Maybe you’d rather take the opportunity to see places entirely new to you …
There is something to be said for taking a more relaxed pace and not spending your gap year living out of a suitcase, spending countless hours in cars and on plane journeys. A family year out doesn’t have to mean being constantly on the move, with the best way to truly experience a country being to linger for a while.
Renting out a local home for a few months gives you a home base in the country you’re visiting from which to strike out on shorter adventures, offering you all the opportunity to better appreciate and take in the local culture. As British citizens can enjoy visa free travel to more than a hundred countries worldwide, you may not even have to deal with much extra paperwork outside of a rental agreement.
Another benefit of taking a more rooted approach to your family’s year out is that you can enrol your children in the local schooling system if you so choose. This can give them a fresh perspective on learning which may well be a significant benefit in their future studies and career. More than that, it allows them the opportunity to socialise with their own age group and forge new friendships, reducing the risk of homesickness.
If you’re going to be working remotely over the year – rather than taking a full sabbatical – then the presence of a stable internet connection should also make this a lot easier for you.
Still, if you’ve really got the itch to travel and squeeze the very most out of your gap year then spending all your time in only one or two places isn’t likely going to be enough to satisfy you.
Globetrotting is easily the most intensive option on the table but probably the first that springs to mind when someone mentions the phrase ‘gap year’. If you’re going to take the plunge then why not maximise what you do with your time out and pack in as many new experiences as possible? Even when you don’t have the biggest of budgets you can still take the opportunity to see as many countries as possible over the course of your travels as long as you budget carefully and take advantage of advance bookings and other discounts.
As every different country has different entry requirements you have to be organised and make sure you plan for each stop that you want to make. Vaccinations can be a requirement of tropical destinations and other hotter climates, so be sure to check things over with your doctor well ahead of time in order to make sure you and your family have all the protection you need for your travels.
Beware that while it can be tempting to plan out every minute of such a massive trip, there is a danger in over-planning. There needs to be an element of flexibility in your approach to the year, leaving space for any of the unexpected complications or changes that are likely to come your way as you travel from country to country. Although nobody wants to assume that things will go wrong it’s always best to be prepared for the possibilities of delayed flights or last-minutes changes of plan and be willing to adapt as necessary.
However you choose to approach your family gap year there are few more rewarding experiences than travelling with the ones you love and discovering new things and places together. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter where you go or how you choose to get the most out of your time out as a family. Whether you ultimately take a more leisurely approach or spend the year hopping from country to country it will always be the journey, and the memories you make that count the most.
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