We’ve been on the road for a year! Looking back on this past year, it still seems a bit surreal. Less than two years ago, we were scheming up gap year ideas for our family. Now, we are living a life of long term travel. This lifestyle is quite solidly our reality.
In the span of a year, we’ve traveled over 34,000 miles through five countries. We visited over 59 cities and towns in North America, Central America, and Europe. We sampled various types of cuisines. And we tried our hand at speaking three different languages (Spanish, Italian, and French). It’s been quite an experience so far!
Reflections on one year of taking our kids around the world
When we first considered taking our kids around the world, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we drive each other crazy? Would we miss home too much? We had so many gap year ideas floating in our heads. Would we be able to do them all? Now, after a year of long term travel, I have to say that this life can be quite different than how it’s portrayed online.
The image of kids world travel that you see in the blogs and Instagram photos only show part of the story: the fun parts. They miss out on the other, more real, travel moments. This past year, we’ve experienced our share of amazing beaches, historical ruins, and cultural celebrations. But we’ve also had many mundane moments, like waiting six hours for a bus or waiting at a CVS for our passport photos to develop. We’ve also had very scary moments, like losing our kid in a big city, or witnessing our child get stitches on her head.
But if you asked me whether I would do this all again, I would answer with an emphatic, “yes!” Taking our kids around the world is still a worthwhile decision for our family. And we’re looking forward to what the next two years have in store for us.
The benefits of long term travel for kids
Long term travel was always a dream of mine, even before I had kids. I envisioned myself backpacking throughout Europe and Southeast Asia. Now that I’m doing it with kids, I’m understanding and enjoying the many benefits there are to doing this kind of lifestyle.
One of the benefits to travel, in general, is how it introduces people to different cultures and ways of living. Our kids have learned a lot from being in the countries we’ve visited this past year. We’ve talked about the differences among American, Mexican, Italian, and even French culture. They’ve tried living in a camper, a tiny house, a big city apartment, and a farmhouse.
The biggest benefit of taking our kids around the world, though, is how it is bringing us closer as a family. Being with each other every single day has its challenges. I am learning that I’m not always the most patient or compassionate person to the people I love. But as the days pass, we are learning more about what makes each other happy and what makes each other tick. We have our share of fights. But we also have moments of bonding that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for this trip.
Gap year ideas for families
Long term travel has allowed us to connect as a family. It’s not a perfect lifestyle, but it can be manageable if you and your family are up for the challenge. If it’s possible for your family, a gap year can be a worthwhile experience.
There are many ways to do an around the world trip with your kids. Your trip can be as short or as long as you like. You can travel fast, or you can travel slow. And you can fill your days with activities, or purposely spend your time getting to know each other better. The gap year ideas and possibilities are virtually endless.
If you’re interested in doing long term travel with your family, here are a few gap year ideas to get you and your family started with your planning.
Besides transportation, lodging is the most expensive part of long term travel. If you’re looking to limit your expenses on accommodations, one of the more creative gap year ideas is to spend your time housesitting. We’ve tried this in the United States. And we’re currently doing this in France.
Housesitting sites like Trusted Housesitters and MindMyHouse charge a small annual fee to join. Most of the sites require you to watch a pet too. If your kids are animal lovers, this is a great opportunity for your kids to get their pet fix during travel.
One of the downsides of housesitting, however, is that you’re limited to the destinations where you can get sits. And often, home or pet owners don’t want to choose families with young kids. Having strong references can help your chances of getting a housesitting gig, as does keeping some level of flexibility in your travel schedule.
Something that we’ve loved about housesitting is that it’s helped teach our kids about the responsibilities that come with caring for a pet. They help with the feeding, caring for, and cleaning of the pets we watch. And we have them walk the dogs, and play with them too. The kids are so loving and gentle with the animals we care for.
#2: Road trips and camping
One of the gap year ideas we considered for long term travel was road tripping around a country and camping at parks and campgrounds. We essentially did this during the first few months of our around the world trip, when we were traveling through the United States. But since traveling internationally, we haven’t done much road tripping. And we certainly haven’t done any camping.
Camping around a country is a great way to save money on accommodations. Campgrounds can be quite cheap (if not free). In the United States, there’s a site called Hipcamp, which lets you camp on people’s properties for very cheap. We did this a couple of times in the United States. One of the places we camped was a gorgeous homestead in Indiana, where the owner had a treehouse that he lived in!
However, this type of long term travel does have its downsides. For us, having connectivity is important for work. And in the outdoors, that may not always be reliable. Having a portable WiFi router can at least help boost your WiFi signal. Additionally, if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need to pack your camping gear, like a tent and sleeping bags. For minimalist travelers like us, this would make our bags so much heavier.
You’ll also need a car, as many campsites are not so easy to access through public transportation. Make sure to get an International Driver’s License before leaving your home country. These are generally good for a year. Also be sure to research the driving laws in the countries you’re visiting, as they may not always be the same as your home country.
#3: Legacy travel
Before we left for our around the world trip, my husband and I took a DNA test to see where our ancestors came from. One of our gap year ideas was to visit the countries that were significant to our family histories.
Legacy travel is a popular theme of around the world travel for many families. Learning about the cultures where your ancestors came from can be a great way for you and your kids to connect to the places you visit.
For our family, several of the countries we are choosing to visit are tied to our family histories in some way. Besides the obvious countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines, we also have a connection to countries like France, Norway, and Australia. Even Ghana has a role in my personal and family history.
While we were in Mexico, we learned that trade routes existed that connected Mexico directly with the Philippines (bypassing Spain altogether). Spanish galleons crossed the Pacific Ocean from Acapulco to Manila, trading gold and cacao from the Americas with jade and silks from Asia. Suddenly, things like arroz caldo, Spanish style dancing, and even Filipino dresses all made sense to me!
#4: Cultural immersion
As much as we can, we like to learn about the local culture when we travel. If you’re up for some more adventurous gap year ideas, you can join cultural immersion tours during your travels. One company, Global Family Travels, specializes in cultural immersion tours to countries like India and Indonesia.
You can also try and create your own cultural immersion experiences as you travel. In Mexico, we took a cooking class and learned how to make traditional tamales. In Costa Rica, we took a chocolate making workshop and learned about the history of chocolate in Central America. And in Italy, we did an interactive walking tour to learn about the history of Venice. These types of activities can make long term travel enriching and educational for your kids.
#5: Worldschooling communities
For many families who take their kids around the world, connecting with other like-minded families is important. Having a connection to a community can help make your travels seem less lonely and isolating.
One of the resources available to traveling families are worldschooling communities. They can be a short weekend conference or summit. Or they can be a permanent community set up in a country. If you’re the type of family that thrives on being part of a community, you may want to consider worldschooling meetups and communities as part of your gap year ideas.
Last October, after attending the Family Adventure Summit in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we stuck around for a month in the city, along with a few other families from the conference. Throughout the month, it felt like we were part of a little community of traveling families. I really appreciated having a chance to get to know other families, and my kids especially enjoyed having other kids their age to play with.
This year, we plan to attend the Stone Soup Pop-Up Community, which will happen in Amed, Indonesia. It will be a month long community-like event for traveling families, where they can learn from each other and connect with each other.
When you’re thinking up gap year ideas, keep in mind that taking your kids around the world can get lonely for them. Language barriers can keep your kids from developing relationships with local kids. And the transient lifestyle can make it hard for your little ones to feel connection to a place. Taking part in worldschooling communities (apart from just online communities) can help provide a sense of belonging and stability for your kids, and for you.
#6: Multiple months in one country
When we were thinking up gap year ideas for our kids world travel adventure, we kept coming back to the idea of spending several months at a time in a country. We really like the idea of choosing a destination and living there for a while. We did this style of travel in Mexico. And we plan to do it again when we get to Indonesia.
Spending at least one or two months in a country really gives you a chance to get to know the culture on a deeper level. After spending six months in Mexico, we can now tell the difference between the sound of the knife sharpener and the yam man. And after spending a month in Italy, we know not to order a cappuccino after 11 am.
Spending an extended amount of time in a country really gives you a chance to connect to that country on a deeper level than just the basic sight-seeing. You really begin to see the class or cultural dynamics that come into play, and you start to understand why people do certain things that they do.
Kids world travel isn’t as tough as it seems!
On the surface, kids world travel may seem like a challenging endeavor. There are so many logistics that come into play, even when planning a simple family vacation. Planning a multi-country gap year may seem like an insurmountable task.
But luckily, planning a trip with your kids around the world can be fun. So many other families have done it! Reading books like Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home In The World, or Lonely Planet’s Around The World In 50 Ways can help you and your family come up with gap year ideas of your own.
As you’re thinking of what you will be doing on this epic family adventure, remember to include your kids in the decision making. Ask them what gap year ideas they may be interested in doing. Have them brainstorm some ideas themselves. And don’t limit yourself to just one.
The wonderful thing about long term travel with your family is that you can make it to be however you want it to be. This is your chance for you to really be with your family. Make sure you make it count.
Have you done kids world travel with your family? What were some of your gap year ideas that you came up with? Share them in the comments!
Don’t miss out on my latest tool, the Overseas Family Vacation Checklist. Click here to receive your free copy and subscribe to my newsletter.