So my husband and I have gypsy blood. We must. Otherwise, why would we have this longing to see the world, even though some friends with kids have long relegated that activity for their golden years?
Nope, we’ve decided, after losing three parents all at a young age to cancer, that you never know how much time you have left on this earth. We’re not waiting for retirement to do what we want to do. We decided that now is the time to see the world.
So we’ve left our comfortable house, our familiar community, our school, and our church. We’ve detached from our life and left town - with our kids.
When people heard what we’re doing, often they’d scratch their heads and say, “That’s fine for you. But I could never do that. I could never detach from my life. We have a mortgage, we have jobs, the kids have soccer practice...”
But they can. We all can. Even with kids. In fact, it’s BETTER with kids!
1. Figure out your house.
If you’re really pulling up stakes and heading out for some long-term travel, sell your house. It’s just a house. You can always rent or buy another one, if the mood strikes. Making the commitment to sell can free your mind and soul for this new adventure.
This time we didn’t do that. Who knows what the future holds. If you’re only headed out for a short-term sabbatical, like us, consider renting your home out. Look around for friends and family members who might be looking for a short-term rental before advertising to the world-at-large. In some cases, you might be able to rent it furnished, which makes it easier for you to leave. We rented our home to my brother and his wife, who are sabbatical-minded themselves. They’ve already been to London for a month and plan another three-month sojourn somewhere else once we return from Belize.
Another alternative might be to just leave it. Arrange for someone to check on it once in awhile. Depending on your travel destination, your expenses there could be low enough to enable you to carry the costs of the house even as you’re living somewhere else.
Whatever you do, don’t think, “I have a mortgage. I can’t leave for six months.” You’d be surprised at what you can do!
2. Figure out school.
Many different school options exist these days for those families choosing to take a travel sabbatical. If you settle in one place, the best option, in my mind, is to place your kids in the local school. This is the best way for your children to immerse in the local culture, make friends, and learn the language. If you’re worried about the quality of education, you can always supplement at home to be sure they don’t get too far behind in key areas like math and science. If your sabbatical is 6-12 months, you probably shouldn’t worry overmuch about the lack in the curriculum since the worldview you’re giving them trumps falling behind in math for a few months.
The other option would be to homeschool them yourself. Today’s homeschooling families enjoy the benefits of online support communities and a multitude of online resources, making it easier than ever before to pull your kids from formal school environments. Some states even have cyber school options - with web-based teaching - which allow kids to learn from anywhere in the world.
When you decide to do a sabbatical, talk to your current school about pulling your kids for a short-term sabbatical. Our school was especially helpful in providing current textbooks and workbooks so the kids can keep up on what their classmates are learning back home. Also, their teachers and classmates are keeping in touch via Skype and email and everyone is following our kids’ blogs. This keeps our kids connected to their regular life as well as gives their classmates a glimpse into the learning adventures we’re embarking on.
NOTE: Since we send our kids to a private Catholic school at home, pulling our kids from their regular school means we saved a lot of money in tuition. As I understand it, our new school in Belize only charges $25/year. That’s a fraction of a fraction of what we were paying at home.
3. Figure out your income stream
Of course one of the first questions on the mind of anyone considering long-term travel is Can I afford it? Depending on what you usually do for money, you have many options. Some people, like my husband and I, own their own businesses. In our case, we hired extra support to take over the details so my husband can simply manage remotely. I’m a freelance writer, so I have a part-time income stream coming in that helps out with our travel expenses. I write articles, blog, and am working on a book about our experience of moving from middle-class America to an off-the-grid home in southern Belize.
Don’t forget renting your house will generate some income, or at least erase most of your regular bills associated with living in it. Many times, you can charge more for rent than what you pay for your monthly mortgage. The excess is yours to keep for expenses and... your travel adventure.
If you work a regular 9-5, though, there are still options for you. Many companies these days are offering paid and unpaid leaves of absence for those employees who need time to recharge. Savvy companies are realizing that when people are given freedom to live their lives, they make great employees. They’re well-rested, creative, and more productive than those employees stuck in cubicle prisons.
If your company has seen the light and offers a sabbatical program, you’re in luck. If not, maybe it’s time for a change of employment. Check out yoursabbatical.com for more information on companies that offer this sort of leave.
The other important aspect of financing your journey is saving up money. Having a reserve is always wise, in case your income streams run dry.
4. Pay your bills online
Lots of people already do this. If you don’t, consider how convenient it is for you to be away if you don’t have to sit and lick stamps.
If you pay your bills through autopay services or at least via the company’s website, you don’t need to wait by your mailbox for any bill you leave behind in your home country. Going paperless is the way to go, whether you’re traveling or not. Why waste paper, postage, gasoline for the mail truck, etc.
I now pay my mortgage, health insurance, electric, gas, credit card, cell phone, car insurance, and every other payment online. Most of these are automatically deducted from my checking account or credit card (for which I get air miles). And right now, we have close family members living in our house, so they are paying rent and reimbursing us for the bills they use.
5. Get rid of stuff
Getting rid of things you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t want is perhaps one of the biggest reasons to consider traveling. In our modern culture, we all have access to great quantities of items that inevitably find their way into our homes. While having resources available to us can be lovely, too much of a good thing can definitely be bad. Stuff can hamper us, hold us back, rob us of simplicity and awareness. We have to pay for everything we own and pay for its upkeep. We have to pay to store it, upgrade it, and replace it. By selling the stuff you own, you’ll clear out your house and raise money for travel. Even giving it away will simplify your life and open up brain space for new adventures.
That chair no one ever sits in. The smoothie maker that seemed like such a good idea for Christmas last year. Books you won’t read or already read. Chuck them all. Grab the cash. And take off.
6. Break the news
Telling our friends and family about our insane idea to leave our regular life behind for a half a year of living off-the-grid in Belize and traveling around Central America was one of the hardest parts of our journey, so far. People just didn’t want to believe it. They told us we were crazy. They told us we would get robbed, kidnapped, and/or killed. They said they would miss us.
After awhile, though, most people got their arms around the idea and were supportive, loving, and excited for us. The key is to stay strong and remember your dream when people are dishing negativity. Not everyone will understand why you want to do this. But, in the end, it’s none of their business, anyway. It’s your life.
If you have parents or others you don’t want to leave for a long time, consider a couple of smaller periods of travel with a visit home in between. But, beyond that, simply remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And most of the fears they have on your behalf are unwarranted and not at all true.
We’re here in Belize now, and came for three weeks in July. We have never once seen anyone eat a baby, pick a pocket, or sell a kid drugs. I’m certain crimes, and even serious crimes, happen here, as they do all over the world. But, just as I would in my own hometown, I watch my back and encourage my kids to do the same. An important life lesson.
7. Plan how to stay in touch
It’s 2012. Let’s face it: there are few places left in the world where you can’t get free wifi in your hotel. Get a gmail account so you’re always able to check your email, on any computer, anywhere. Sign up for Facebook. Not only is it a great way to stay connected with friends and family while gone, it also gives you membership into various travel-related groups for advice and friendship. It’s a big, big world. You can use all the friends you can get!
Many traveling families start blogs. Mine is at renaissancehousewife.com and tells the unfolding story of our sabbatical to Belize. All three of my older kids have blogs to help them connect with their friends back home.
8. Have a party
Before you leave town for good, have a party to hang out with everybody you love. This is a great way to kill two (or ten or thirty) birds all at the same time. Friends who we hadn’t seen in six months as it was wanted to see us “one last time.” By having a party, we didn’t have to get together for separate visits with everyone in those last few busy weeks before our departure.
It’s a great way to get rid of your excess booze. It’s a great way to get some support when you’re nervous and wondering if you’re doing the right thing in taking your family on a world adventure. People want to help and support you. You just need to tell them how they can.
Life is all about people. The ones you’ll meet while traveling, sure. But don’t forget about the ones you’ve left behind.