Life in a developed country like America is stressful and chaotic. We have abundance bordering on excess and often find material objects cluttering our homes and our minds. Many families feel this excess is claustrophobic. We fill our homes with stuff and work harder to pay for it. We over-schedule ourselves. We eat too much, work too much, do too much, think too much – and yet we never seem to feel satisfied.
Some dream of escaping this reality and moving to a simpler place, even if only for a short time. Who doesn’t dream of living on an island with palm trees and monkeys? Ahhh… now that’s simplicity.
But I can’t do that, you think. I have kids. I have a house. I have a job.
I will argue that you CAN move to that island. Or to another foreign location. Moving to any place away from your homeland has the power to break you out of your regular mold of living. Freshening up your geography – even for a temporary sabbatical – can calm you, refresh you, and inspire your creativity.
How do I know you can do this? Because I am doing it right now.
Last month, I moved to Belize for a six-month family sabbatical with my husband and four kids (ages 11, 10, 7, and 2). We live in a comfortable and beautiful off-the-grid property directly on the Caribbean Sea. We’re enjoying each other more than we ever could in our busy life back home. We’re enjoying outdoor activities, fresh air, sunshine, and healthy foods. And we’re doing it all for about the same cost of living back in the States.
How is this possible?
Get up close and personal with your expenses.
Many people really have no idea what they spend month to month. And most would simply assume they could never afford to live the life of their dreams.
Sit down. Put a good old-fashioned pen to paper. Make a list of everything you spend money on. Housing, utilities, health care. Transportation, entertainment, school tuition. Clothing, gifts, and vacations. Take a look at the most significant expenditures. What expenses can you shave to free up some money for travel?
When we left, we obviously did not have to continue paying school tuition at the private Catholic school we send our kids to back home. That saved us several thousand dollars. That took care of the airfare to fly all six of us down to Belize.
We rented our house to a close family member who needed a short-term rental. Not only do we have a trusted person watching over our home, but we also have some relief from the bills related to it.
The third big expense we are saving on while down in Belize is travel. We live in an area in Pennsylvania that typically gets gray and wet in November and stays that way until March. That means we often bail for a week or two during the winter months. But vacations cost money. Why vacation when you can travel? Get the most out of the dollars you invest in airfare by staying put in a single location for a sabbatical.
Figure out how to keep making money while you’re gone.
These days, many people work independently from home for themselves or a company. If you don’t already, consider ways that you can make this a reality. That way, you can live and work anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection.
If you can afford to take time off without pay, check with your employer to see if they have a family leave policy. Many companies understand that well-rested employees who are allowed to take a break are more focused, more creative, and more productive than those employees stuck in cubicle prisons. You can find a list of companies with family sabbatical programs at yoursabbatical.com.
Alternatively, figure out an income source that doesn’t come from a traditional 9-5, you-must-show-up-every-day J-O-B. Will your company let you quit but hire you back as an independent contractor? Can you rent your house out while you’re gone, or sell it and pocket the proceeds? Can you invest in some rental real estate for added cash flow? Copywriting, freelance writing, freelance design work – can you do any of these things? Do you make any handmade items you can sell through a website like www.etsy.com/? How about consulting in your field of expertise? Depending on the place you’d like to take your family for your sabbatical, you may be able teach a skill like speaking English, how to play the guitar, or yoga.
Also, consider the stuff you own. Which of your belongings can you sell to make money for the rich experience of traveling with your kids? Also think about the stuff you buy regularly and decide what you can start living without. Don’t forget accumulated savings count just as much as earnings.
To keep expenses low while you’re traveling, look into house sitting opportunities like we did. We’re house sitting for the home we live in now in Belize and are asked to pay only for our utilities (which are low since we use solar power and rain water), a caretaker, and personal expenses. Alternatively, if you live in an area many people would like to visit, google “home exchange” and find many websites that offer listings of people wishing to swap homes for weeks to months at a time. Both of these options can help keep your expenses low, while on the road.
Loosen up your idea of what education means for your kids.
Educating your children is serious business and nothing to take lightly. My children are now attending a rural school in Belize, where the education seems to me to be basic at best. That said, I believe my kids will be gaining a life experience well worth back-sliding a bit in math class. All three of my school-age kids are A and B students at their school at home, so I’m not worried about them regressing too much.
Besides, I feel that parents are the true educators, no matter which school you send your children to. I supplement at home and work with both our school in the States and their new school here in Belize to ensure my children are staying on par with their American peers.
Monkey River Village, Belize, doesn’t offer the best education for my kids. But there are a ton of locations parents can choose to settle for a family sabbatical that do offer superior schooling options. In Costa Rica, for instance, visiting families have the choice to send their kids to local schools, bi-lingual (Spanish and English) schools, or even the more expensive international schools that house the children of diplomats and wealthier families. Arguments can be made for any of these options. The point is: options do exist.
If you want to travel more often – say, take a cycling trip across Europe – you may choose to homeschool your kids, using the many online resources and support networks available. Homeschooling is a great way to make sure your kids continue to learn even as you’re seeing the world. Plus, you get the added benefit of hands-on learning. What better way to teach social studies than by visiting local villages to learn about customs and culture? Or a history lesson that takes place at a Mayan ruin?
Connect with those families already living your dreams.
When you’re daydreaming about taking a family travel sabbatical, realize you’re not alone. There are many other families who felt just as stifled by their lives as you do. But they followed their dream and are now traveling around the globe with their children. Some go only for six months or so while others love the road so much they’re gone for years. These global citizens are inspired and inspiring and are extremely eager to share their experiences, offer advice, and help you through the beginning stages of, “is it really possible?” Check out vagabondfamily.org, www.raisingmiro.com, wanderingeducators.com, or my site, renaissancehousewife.com, for fact-finding and soul-searching questions.
In any case, it’s never a bad idea to leverage the experience of others to gather inertia for your own journey.
So, if you’re thinking of taking your family away for a travel sabbatical, it might be time to make your dream a reality. Why wait any longer when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring? With a little planning, saving, and research, traveling for an extended time with your kids is totally possible.
Guest Article By: Domini Hedderman
Domini Hedderman is a blogger and travel writer. For more tips, advice, and lessons learned on the road, follow her story at renaissancehousewife.com.