I don’t know if it’s the winter winds howling outside my window, or the stress of pulling everything together for the holidays, but whatever the reason, winter just feels like the perfect time to plan adventures, and something has entered my radar during my armchair travels that I just can’t stop thinking about: Family Round the World (RTW) Travel. Although it’s practically unheard of in the States, it is not uncommon for people in the UK and some other affluent nations to take a “Gap Year” : a year or so time-out from normal life to travel the world. While young people between college and career typically do this, it seems that more and more families are taking advantage of the Gap Year philosophy.
The Higham Kids in The Blue Pool, Reykjavik, Iceland, © John Higham
Imagine if you and your family could leave your jobs, your schools, your home, and travel around the world for an entire year. Where would you go? What would you see?
Would you snorkel in Fiji, visit a cloud forest in Costa Rica, volunteer with a wildlife rescue center in Thailand? Or maybe sleep in an ice hotel in Sweden and a tree house in the Amazon, eat gelato in Florence, and take cooking classes in Provence? A round the world trip is something that you and your family will remember and talk about for the rest of your lives, and it may not be as impossible as it sounds.
Hanging out in Panama on a RTW Trip, © John Higham
And what if you don’t just want to read about it: what if you really want to do it? According to the James family on their RTW travel blog, there are three things that families who decide to take such a journey have in common:
First, each family has expressed the feeling that time with your children is fleeting. They made a choice to share an extraordinary family experience, one that will never be forgotten.
Second, each of these families seems to embrace the idea that there is much more to life than school and a career; that other, less traditional paths can have their own rewards.
And third, each family seems to recognize that seeing the world from the perspective of other people and other cultures makes for a more enlightened world view, and perhaps makes us more understanding citizens of the world.
A Carriage Ride in Prague, photo courtesy Soul Travelers 3
How Can I Do It?
- There’s no way around it, if you want to take your family around the world, you are going to need to save up some significant cash. The Higham Family stated that it cost about $30,000 per family member to travel for the entire year, including plane tickets. However, this amount could easily spiral out of control if you insist on staying in 4-star hotels and eating every meal out!
How Can We Control Costs?
- Lease your house or sublet your apartment while you are gone, either leaving it fully furnished or divvying up your belongings among friends for safekeeping.
- If your job allows you to work from home at all, look into keeping your job and working from abroad. This could make a RTW trip much easier financially!
- Another possibility is to take your “year” in chunks: travel for several months at a time, and come home in between to work and sock away a little more cash for your next leg of the trip.
- Look into renting apartments in other countries where you will be staying in one place for over a week: not only is it generally cheaper per night, but you have the added benefit of cooking meals at “home”, which is cheaper than going out to eat.
- Intersperse stays in traditional hotels and apartments with budget finds like a home stay or camping.
Taking a Big Leap, Turkey, photo courtesy Six in the World
Before You Go…
- Contact any and all friends/family/acquaintances who live in other countries and fill them in on your plans. You won’t necessarily be housed, but it will feel great to have a contact person a little closer to you when you are so far from home. And you may just get to share a dinner or get a special tour with a local, which always makes the experience more special.
- Look into your health insurance and other insurance policies, and make sure that you will be covered during your travels.
- Automate all of your families bills and/or set up online payments so you can take care of it on the road.
- Call your credit card companies in advance to let them know your plans – this can avoid the serious hassle of having a frozen credit card because they think someone else is using it!
- Photocopy all every family member’s ID, as well as your insurance and banking information. Keep an extra set on you, and leave a set with a trusted friend or relative.
- Try to find a few other families with children who will be traveling the world at the same time you are. It can be such a relief to meet up with someone who speaks your language and swap travel stories! Check out the forums on the traveler’s website Boots ‘n All to find families going on RTW trips.
And What About The Kids?
Katrina and Jordan Higham, Enjoying a Trailside Playground in Switzerland, © John Higham
- How old should your children be before setting out on this adventure? Although I know there are plenty of parents out there who travel well with their very young children, I think John Higham summed it up best on his family travel blog by saying “I couldn’t even imagine tackling a trip of this magnitude with children who couldn’t keep themselves entertained with a good book.”
Katrina & Jordan Higham, Reading in Oxford, © John Higham
- Speak with your child’s school and get information about homeschooling for the year you are on the road.
- Look at your itinerary and search for children’s books about or set in the places you will be visiting. Use your travels to your advantage – the world is your classroom!
- In conjunction with homeschooling (or “Roadschooling” ) you could look into enrolling your children in a foreign school if they are old enough and if you will be staying in one place for any significant amount of time.
- Many families taking RTW trips keep a travel blog (the photos in this post all come from Family RTW Travel blogs), and more than being a delight to read for any armchair traveler, they can also be a teaching tool and a way to keep in touch with family. If you have older children or teens, they can really get involved by writing posts.
- And if you think your teenager will claim boredom or be embarrassed by you, I say maybe not. From zip lining in Costa Rica to sand boarding in Namibia, or taste-testing chocolate across Europe, boredom is unlikely. And embarrassed? In a foreign country where nothing is what you’re used to, I think you would be surprised how at close you become with your teenager.
Dax Sand Boarding in Namibia, photo courtesy Six in the World
The Kids with a New Friend, Cambodia, photo courtesy Six in the World
The Highams, from Mountain View California, took a year-long RTW trip with their two children, aged 8 and 11, visiting 30 countries on 5 continents; you can read their travel blog here.
Six in the World is a blog documenting a family of six who took an 11-month round the world trip.
Soul Travelers 3 documents this mama, papa, and daughter from Santa Cruz, CA, as they take an “open-ended, years long slow trip around the world as a family adventure, unschool, spiritual journey and lifestyle.”
The forums on international travel website BootsnAll are extremely helpful, and it’s a good place to find other families taking RTW trips.
This Wikitravel Article has a great discussion of the pros and cons of various RTW flight options.
Storybook Travels: From Eloise’s New York to Harry Potter’s London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children’s Literature by Colleen Dunn Bates and Susan La Tempa is a fun resource for planning literature-themed travel with kids in mind.
One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot Cohen is the highly entertaining memoir of one family’s trip around the globe.
The Rough Guide First-Time Around the World: A Trip Planner for the Ultimate Journey, 2nd Edition, while not specifically aimed at families, is a great resource for planning long-term travel.
Educational Travel on a Shoestring: Frugal Family Fun and Learning Away from Home contains tons of useful tips for learning while on the road.
Coming up on Global Mama: We will begin following a family who is taking a round the world trip right now!
Is taking a year to travel the world with your family something you are interested in doing? What is holding you back? What do you think would be the hardest part? Where would you go? Leave a comment below to join in the discussion – I want to hear from you!
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