Does the thought of picking up and moving abroad for an extended period make your heart skip a beat? Do you dream of places you’ve never been, exposing your children to the cultures of the world, having children fluent in a second (or third) language, getting them out of a traditional school setting and giving them the gift of a global classroom? Does the thought of actually making it happen feel a little (or a lot) overwhelming?
You are in good company.
Sabbaticals are by nature more complicated than your typical vacation. When you are planning this as a family, which is where my experience lies, then the complexities are even more magnified.
But when you plan well, you can overcome any perceived obstacles and a family sabbatical is absolutely doable. It will be one of the best decisions you make in your life. The year my family spent on sabbatical in Spain was life changing for all of us, and it almost didn’t happen. You can read a bit more about it here.
I’ve read many books and articles sharing the value of travel for teens and children – the experiential nature of it brings history to life and helps them connect it to the present. For many kids, it is what helps them feel as though what they are learning in school is relevant to life.
HOW DO I BEGIN THINKING ABOUT TAKING A FAMILY SABBATICAL?
I’m often asked how to even begin thinking about taking a sabbatical. As you might imagine, I love that question! The dreaming about living abroad for an extended period is like a seed about to sprout its first shoot. There is so much potential! And it could go in so many different directions as it completely depends upon what you would like to do during your family’s time away.
Let’s start with some questions:
What are the goals of your sabbatical?
- Learn/improve a skill
- new language
- scuba diving
- musical instrument
- Tackle a challenge
- Climb the highest peaks
- Write a book
- Start a new business
- Marathon/Spartan races/triathalon
- Get in incredible shape
- Earn a certification
- Explore an interest
- World religion
- Expose your kids to other cultures and people, learning how to navigate new cultures
- Connect learning with the curriculum from your school at home
- Explore your family’s roots
How long are you able to be away?
- Depending upon your goals and your situation this can be a wide range and one of the greatest impacts on your budget.
What is your family like?
- How old are your kids? What grades? When is the ideal time to be away?
- How well do your kids travel?
- How willing are they to connect with local kids (who may not speak their language)?
- What do they think about the idea of being gone from home for an extended period?
- How well do they handle transitions? (this may impact your pace of travel)
- Do you know what your home school requirements are for missing extended periods of school? (typically it is not a big ordeal until they are in high school)
Where are you considering going?
- Do you want to plant yourself in one place, or explore one country, one continent or several?
- Will you be working while away?
- Are there time zone considerations?
- Are there seasonality considerations (ex: typically school calendars in the southern hemisphere are opposite of those in the US)
What is the pace of travel you are comfortable with?
- Staying for weeks (or the whole time) in one place to feel like a local, be continuously on the move and see as much as possible or somewhere in between?
- Items left at home
- Keeping up with schoolwork/learning
- Applying to college, satisfying your home school’s requirements
- Your children will likely get homesick. What do you do when that happens? You also may go through a version of this. What will you do?
- What to pack?
- How best to encourage your kids (and you) to record their experience
- In a journal
- In a blog/vlog
- In social media/YouTube channel
- Through photos
- Specific covid rules to/from certain countries
What is your budget?
The budget is one of the most important considerations to think about up front. If you come up with a number you are comfortable with, then it makes the planning process much easier. Because of that it is one of the first things we will tackle.
Typical components of a vacation budget include the following 3 items. They are similar (just larger $) for sabbaticals.
Even if staying in a 5* hotel every night is in your budget, most travelers wouldn’t want to. Access to a kitchen and having more of a familial environment is important for keeping a sense of normalcy for your children. Typically you will stay in a variety of accommodations throughout your time away.
- Type of accommodation – 5*, 4* or boutique hotel, apartment, home/villa rental
- Level of room within the accommodation – entry level to presidential suite
- Unconventional accommodations – so many creative options! (sailboat, houseboat, estancia, ranch, cabin, yurt, treehouse, glass dome, glamping)
- International flights
- Domestic transportation (flights, trains, car rentals, transfers, public transportation, taxis)
- Culinary – eating out, markets, picnics
- Fitness centers, yoga studios, outdoor classes, tennis lessons, local running clubs
- Renting bikes
- Practicing the new language (with a tutor or not)
- Unconventional transportation – boats, ferries, Vespas, side cars, camels, horses
- Local recipes – made in your house
- Using public transportation
- Festivals, concerts
- City introduction tours
- Special interests – architecture, food, photography
- Culinary – tasting tours, artisanal visits
- Local artisans
- Scavenger hunts
- Chef comes to your home or you go to their restaurant/kitchen to learn to cook
Take a minute to read my comments in this article… How to School Your Children from Anywhere, According to People Who Have Done It, Condé Nast Travel.
- Attending local school abroad? Public vs private
- Tutor from the USA via Zoom
- Home schooling
- Having your US teachers create a curriculum you follow
- Doing it yourself
- Bringing a teacher/tutor with you
- Learning a language
The educational component may be one that creates the most uncertainty or stress. Depending upon your kids’ ages, there are a variety of options that will work. My clients have access to collaborating with an engaging certified teacher to assist with their children’s curriculum.
Let’s walk through an example – a family with two children, one in elementary school, one in middle school. They are considering six months away for their family of four. Let’s say their budget is $300,000. On average that is $50,000/month or $1667/day. Some days will be less and some days more. The goal is to average out to that over the course of your time away. It’s difficult to break that down into X on accommodations, Y on logistics/transportation and Z on experiences as each family is so different in what they prioritize. But as we build the itinerary these are the levers we will play with to find the right balance for your family.
Where to begin? You’ve started in a good place. Research.
Research by talking with other families who have gone on a sabbatical. They will be excited to share their experiences and you will learn a lot!
Read books. Below is a list of a few with varied topics and genres. I’ve either read it or it’s been recommended to me.
Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, by David Brooks
The Prophet, by Khalil Jibran
Equally important is distilling down the reason you want to take a family sabbatical in the first place (again see some of the books above). As with most goals, begin with the end in mind. When you get home from your time abroad, what will you have learned? Who will you have met? Where will you have gone? What will you have accomplished? Answer those questions for each member of your family.
If you want professional help – find people like me or others with both personal and professional experience helping families plan sabbaticals. When you are in a foreign country and have hit a bump, having someone to call who either knows the answer or can help find the answer to your question/predicament is gold. As a certified coach with the Sabbatical Project, I’m well equipped to assist. Read a bit more about me here.
The first step to seeing if we are a good match to work together starts with answering a series of questions in our Family Sabbatical Inquiry form. That is followed by a 30 minute conversation to learn more about you, your family and your dreams and for you to get to know me.
If we decide to move forward the next step is completing a more extensive Family Sabbatical Planning form and planning a deep dive conversation to talk through your ideas, priorities and logistics.
From there I will create a family dossier specific to your family. This will be the framework we use to begin planning your sabbatical. We will start big picture and break your time down into more manageable chunks to minimize the logistics, take advantage of the seasonality, fit in date-specific bucket list experiences (attending the World Cup, Diwali in India, a performance in the Theater of Dionysus). From there we will narrown those down into smaller sections and plan each one.
With each section, we will plan the details, book them and then connect each with the next.
What do you think? Does it sound doable? I promise it is!
Send me a note to email@example.com if you’d like to have an exploratory brainstorming conversation. I know you will leave our call even more inspired and closer to actually making your dream a reality.
Although the family sabbaticals I plan are 100% tailored to your family’s interests, here are some popular learning experiences to ponder:
- archeology through excavating dinosaur fossils in Wyoming
- learning about environmental concerns in Antarctica
- conservation and community development in Africa
- world religions – Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism
- stepping outside of your comfort zone on a via ferrata in the Dolomite mountains
- WWI and WWII history in Normandy, Japan, Pearl Harbor, Germany, Poland, Vietnam
- international relations through visiting embassies in other countries
- astronomy through visits to a Dark Sky Preserve in the Atacama Desert
- learning more about your family’s genealogy
- Renaissance painters of Italy
- importance of human rights and education
- scuba diving for the pure joy of it and to learn about the impacts of pollution in the world’s oceans
- following Odysseus’s journey through Greece
- visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites
Additional reading material
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. I love the work by these Stanford professors and Bernie Roth – applying design thinking to your life.
How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self, Harvard Business Review
What Is Life Like When We Subtract Work From It?, The Atlantic
When a Vacation Isn’t Enough, a Sabbatical Can Recharge Your Life—and Your Career, Harvard Business School
5 Reasons why Entrepreneurs Seriously Need to Take a Break, Entrepreneur Magazine
Thomson Reuters expanding remote work policy, sabbatical program, Benefits Canada
Sabbaticals are a nice perk – but they won’t cure your burnout, Financial Review
For those who want to take a sabbatical, while one member of the family continues to work: