Family getting on a plane in South America

Family Year Out: 5 Things We Learned in One Year

It’s been over a year since we sold our house, closed the door to our storage pod, and headed out on the road. It’s been six months since we waved goodbye to our car, and got on a plane to leave the United States with our two girls, then 4 and 7 years old.

So whether you call it one year? Or six months? We thought it was time to reflect on what we’ve all learned and how we’ve changed along the way during this Family Year Out of full-time travel.

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Our Family Year Out (So Far)

We spent the first six months traveling across the US- we started with an Epic Cross Country Road Trip, followed by American Northwest Family Road Trip, and then a Baja Road Trip.

In January of 2022, we started in Mexico, then explored Columbia, and Peru. We paused for a month in Buenos Aires where we all took Spanish classes, then headed to Brazil.

After Brazil, we flew to London, then did a short road trip to explore Southern England and Wales, then weeks in Brussels, and Paris, before taking an overnight train to Croatia.

Tomorrow, we’ll jump on a bus to Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will be our 12th country since we left the United States.

Worried about long-term travel? Check out our best safety tips for traveling with kids, some of them may surprise you!

5 Things We’ve Learned on our Family Year Out

We’ve had all sorts of adventures, from releasing baby sea turtles in Mexico to seeing a few of the “New Wonders of the World” like Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer.

Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

1. It’s a Big World Out There

We surprised ourselves with how little of the world we have seen in six months abroad- we spent five months just in South America, and still skipped so much! As always, the more we travel, the more we realize we want to see.

Visiting Machu Picchu Together

The kids have realized how many things are out there that they just didn’t know about- from pastries to fruits to geologic wonders. In the past year, they’ve been exposed to so many things that just aren’t available in the United States, and that in itself has been a big eye opener for them.

Don’t Miss: The Ultimate Family Travel Bucket List: 100+ Adventures Around the World

2. Slower is Better

Sometimes we get so excited about all that there is to see moving across a new country, that we wear ourselves out. It’s impossible to see it all, and of course, we’re also trying to stay on budget. It’s easy to underestimate how mentally tiring it is to arrive in a new country- with a new currency, new culture, and often a new language.

We quickly learned to intersperse month-long “pauses” into our travels where we stay in one city (one apartment) for a month and take day trips from there. We all love getting to know a new neighborhood and getting comfortable with the local shops and transportation. It allows the kids to unpack a bit and lets the grown-ups do bigger grocery shopping runs without worrying about packing it all up a few days later.

3. You Can “Stock Up” Anywhere

There’s little you can’t buy on the road. If anything, finding familiar foods in the grocery store is the biggest challenge- for example, we had a lot of trouble finding unsweetened yogurt in South America.

However, new sneakers in Lima? A new nightlight in Bath? Antibiotics in Brussels? It’s all there, no need to stock up before you leave home. If anything, we find ourselves slowly leaving things behind to travel lighter!

4. Plan Head for High Season: Summer and Holiday Months

When we started we were planning about one country ahead- or 4 to 6 weeks. This allowed us to adjust our pace or change our plans as needed. This was also important in 2021 when border closures and entry requirements were changing weekly.

However, the summer months are a different ball game- the summer of 2022 was the first summer in two years with almost all major tourist attractions open, which led to record-level crowds.

Visiting Chartres during the hot, crowded, summer months

During the summer, and also the holiday period, it’s important to secure your housing well ahead of time. Prices are higher, and supply drops quickly.

We also found that during the high season, many places require timed tickets that sell out fast. I marked my calendar to buy tickets to the Vatican for the end of August, which are released on a rolling 60-day basis. I missed the ticket release by one day, and found that all the tours before 5 pm were sold out! You’ve got to be on top of your planning.

While we are not sure where we’ll be in November, we locked down our accommodations for mid-December to mid-January months ago, to be sure we didn’t get priced out of our top destinations for that time period, which is often so important to families.

We’ll be staying in an Airbnb for just over 30 days in Vienna for the holidays- giving us time to shop the Christmas markets, take some day trips to nearby towns, and bake lots of Christmas treats.

5. It Goes By Quickly!

Just like watching our kids grow (another birthday already?) we often look at each other and wonder where the time has gone.

We’re so busy exploring and learning (and doing laundry and managing kid meltdowns), that the weeks fly by.

We’re constantly planning for future stops while managing the logistics for the next few days. Whether it’s locating the bus tickets for tomorrow morning, or checking in with the next apartment host, there are always details to be managed.

All the while, we’ve celebrated birthdays by making new traditions where we need to and keeping whatever old traditions we can. We’ve been visited by the tooth fairy several times (who seems to exist regardless of geography).

E with a birthday cake in paris
E chose her birthday “cake” from a Paris patisserie

We’ve all learned to be a bit flexible with our expectations. The kids have dealt with these changes really well- we find that the key is setting expectations early, so they have time to process the ideas. We focus on the importance of being together, and all the fun things that will be new, and less on which traditions we won’t be able to maintain.

So How Have We Changed?

So how have we changed after one year of a family year out around the world?

Our girls are much more confident trying new things- they embrace new foods, and are no longer afraid of navigating new languages. Yes, we have days where they eat pasta with butter and no sauce, but we also have nights where we share a prosciutto and cheese platter or enjoy a sushi boat together.

E sitting at the window of a Metro Car in Mexico City
Watching the World from the Mexico City Metro

They’ve found there are versions of popular US toy brands around the world, as well as lots of cool toys and journals that don’t exist in the US. They know that we can only buy souvenirs that are small enough and light enough to carry around in their backpacks.

We’ve learned to read the family mood, and adjust- currently, we’re enjoying a movie “matinee” in our apartment after a long day in the sun yesterday. When we push through and ignore how tired everyone is getting, we regret it. We also occasionally embrace late nights out, even though we know the next day will be a struggle (for all of us).

The kids have learned to make quick friends on playgrounds- regardless of whether the other kids speak any English. E, now 5, can make friends anywhere- and loves to talk to strangers on boats or in airplane lounges.

There You Have It: One Year of Travel

A few things we’ve learned in the first year of our Family Year Out, and we’re just getting started! The more we travel, the more we want to keep going. We’ll keep you posted!

Don’t miss our guide to packing for long-term travel, and our popular guide to planning a family gap year!

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