I recently learned about the family “gap year.” This is where a family takes a year off from their jobs, school, and other obligations to travel to various destinations for up to a year. At a recent family dinner, we discussed this idea and came up with some things to consider when planning the one-in-a-lifetime, family backpacking trip.
Where do you want to go on your family backpacking trip?
This may be the most fun part of the planning and therefore ends up taking up the most time, which is a good thing I think. The more you can get your children into the discussion the better, especially if your seven year-old, for instance, is interested in ancient Egyptian sites. I would continue this discussion often as it bolsters the initiative you’ll need to do the trip. You can rationalize it by saying “there will never be a better time.” If your kids get too old and start playing serious high school sports and joining clubs, they may be highly reluctant to bolt for a year. If your kids don’t know enough places in Europe, for instance, to have a “favorite,” ask them what types of things they want to do, and then you can point out where this is done. Our daughter is interested in film and art. Many films are made in European cities, and opportunities to see different types of art abound in Europe. For our trip, we have a skeleton plan that maximized use of passenger trains, and minimizes potentially pricey plane flights. For instance, we want to go to Egypt, but the flights are cheaper from France than other countries. It makes sense, therefore, to string the countries together in that manner. From Egypt we will go to Singapore, which is an expensive flight, but cheaper than flying to Singapore from London.
How will you pay for the trip?
Your largest bill may be your home mortgage payment. We decided we would look for some long-term or short-term rental of our own house to pay for some of the expenses–or at least mitigate the bulk of it. Your largest bill while you are at home can end up sinking your trip, making it far less enjoyable, and shortening your timeline from 12 months to 3 months or less. Therefore, it is crucial to find a way to mitigate the cost of your home mortgage while you are abroad. We look at this as the single cornerstone of being able to pull this trip off. You can put your home up for rent on sites like Air BnB and VRBO, or some lesser known sites that cater to corporate rentals and traveling nurse lodging. If you have tons of clutter, you can get rid of and sell some of it with secondary marketplaces like GoodBuyGear.com and others. You need to make preparing your house for rent as easy as possible. You need to check with your local HOA rules and community ordinances regarding short and long-term rentals. Even if you rent your home for three months, it can extend your family backpacking gap year immensely. Can you sell your cars? What will you do if you are gone for a year? If you leave your car covered for a year and start it up, it can break brittle parts, and you’ll have the carrying cost of insurance and registration while gone. When you get back into Country, hopefully the cost of used cars is low, and perhaps you can buy one off of a family member. I’ve looked into owning only a Vespa for my local errands, and using public transport to get to work once we come back in Country.
Also, if you have any credit card points, you will need to use them in some of the more expensive cities. We detail how to use credit card points effectively in another post about our upcoming trip. We plan to use the bulk of our points in cities like London, Paris, and Cairo. You can and should get your children interested in saving for the trip by offering household chores for income. The income would be saved and prior to the trip can be put into a kids’ credit card account for use while on the road in Europe.
What will you do for income while you are traveling? Start planning for this well in advance, because it’s complicated. If you have any cash-flowing investments, then you can use those for some of your living expenses. If you don’t, then you may need to pick up gigs while abroad, such as teaching English remotely, or freelance writing and editing. You can try to start a blog but that can take a lot of time. The important thing is to look at your entire budget, and plan out the daily cost of the trip. For instance, in France and Italy, it’s not difficult to get really fun places to stay for $50/day. These are in off-the-beaten-path locations, however, and not in the center of the most popular cities. If you budget $50 for food per day on average (which may seem low, especially with inflationary global pressures), that can easily put your daily budget over $100. When you factor in airline costs, it can be sobering. This is part of the process. You have to ask whether you just want a longer vacation, or want to truly travel and learn. I feel like the value in this method comes with your family banding together to learn about money, currency, costs, income, all while seeing some incredible places.
Another good way to get your kids involved in the planning is to teach currency conversion. For each of the countries you plan to visit, take a look at the currency exchange rates and do some quick math on a white board. I’ve never been a huge fan of traveling with tons of paper currency. When we go to Mexico, that may be fine and a good idea. But I tend to like to use ATM machines in Europe and the UK.
Insurance and other considerations
If you are traveling to Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia, like we are, the visa rules and other information are readily available online. In fact, we won’t need to apply for a visa. But it is a good idea to review any travel insurance for hospitalizations while abroad. There are special companies that can offer this coverage.
If you and your family are getting wanderlust, it is time to take the plunge. It will be challenging, and most people will think you are crazy. We will have some more thoughts as we work our way through the planning process so check back.