How to Plan A Family Year Out in 14 Steps [updated 2023]
So you’re ready to plan a Family Year Out or a Family Gap Year, congratulations!
Planning a Family Year Out or a gap year with family is a lengthy, complicated process. Here’s everything you need to know to start planning long-term family travel- from finances to visa requirements and border closures.
We’ve boiled it down to 14 not-so-simple steps to make sure you tackle everything that needs to happen before you actually start traveling.
Make sure you start with the basics- in What is a Family Year Out we cover the first steps in deciding if a Family Year Out or a Family Gap Year is right for you.
As you start the massive task of planning a family year of long-term travel, you will find yourself skipping around the below items. Some things take longer to complete (hello passport renewals!) and some things you’ll need time to think through and go back to.
At the bottom of this post Download a Free Checklist to Plan a Family Year Out!
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1. Plan your Family Year Out Route
This is the fun part among all the other tedious tasks that need to happen to plan a Family Year Out!
Planning ahead is one of our top family travel tips. While heading out and seeing where the world takes you is possible- we find it just adds stress to the situation. We try to sketch out our long-term travel plan a few months at a time- more so for high-travel times like summer or the holiday season, then do the nitty gritty planning of flights and hotels 30-60 days ahead.
Start with some brainstorming, then let it sit, and come back to it when the other logistics are getting you down. This is where the motivation and inspiration come from!
Define Your Family Travel Bucket List
Family travel bucket lists are a great place to start brainstorming travel. Where have you always wanted to go? If your trip was cut short (family emergency, global pandemic, out of money…), what would be most disappointed to miss?
If you can, put the places that are the most important to you at the beginning of your itinerary.
You may be surprised by what destinations are at the top of the list for your partner or kids. Kids may be itching to see mummies in Egypt or the Coliseum in Rome. Planning will be more fun for everyone when there’s something on the list they are really excited about.
Need ideas? Check out our list of bucket list family travel ideas!
In our first year on the road internationally we end up visiting 20 countries including Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Croatia, Morocco, and more!
Personal Travel Coaching
Feeling overwhelmed with all the moving parts involved in planning a Family Gap Year or other long-term travel?
Travel Coaching provides direct, personal help to move your plan forward.
Book a 60-minute travel coaching call with me!
Check the Seasons
Climate should be a huge factor in planning your itinerary. Once you have a list of priority destinations, research each one to find the best time to visit.
You probably don’t want to be somewhere during monsoon season or arrive somewhere during the off-season to find everything closed. You’ll find each destination a very different experience in different seasons.
A lot of families on longer trips like to “chase the sun”, following the warm weather across the globe. This has a couple of advantages- first, it means only packing warm weather gear, which reduces what you have to carry.
Second, warm weather means outdoor activities, and outdoor restaurants, which should keep your family safer.
Choosing “In-Season” vs “Off-Season”
Every destination has peak “in-season” dates, “off-season” dates, and shoulder times in between. The advantage of being “in-season” is everything will be open (fingers crossed during these crazy times). However, prices will be higher, and there may be large crowds.
The off-season can be much cheaper, but you may find that some attractions or even restaurants are closed.
We visited Ireland in November- we got a great deal on tickets because it was off-season. However, we found that some castles were closed, in some towns only one restaurant was open, and it started to get dark at 3:30 pm, limiting what we could see in one day.
On the positive side, visiting off-season means avoiding crowds. We were able to kiss the Blarney Stone without waiting in line when visitors in the summer often wait hours to reach the stone.
Don’t Ignore Geography
Unless you have unlimited funds, you probably don’t want to skip back and forth across the globe. Look at a map and draw a logical line between destinations. It may be best to move in one general direction.
Also, take into account which locations have the most flights between them. For example, because South Africa is a former British Colony, a lot of the flights coming in are from the UK or other former colonies.
British Airways has the most direct flights into South Africa, so you will probably find a better price flying from London or New Zealand, than, for example, Japan.
Set a Reasonable Pace
The pace you set is really important for your budget and your sanity. This will vary by family, and by the age of the kids. Those with younger kids often like to stay somewhere a few weeks at a time, get to know a place, and not have to pack up too often.
Families with older kids or more limited time may move a lot faster- every three or four days. Pre-kids, we moved pretty quickly when traveling, and we are still trying to figure out the ideal pace for us.
The faster you move, the more your trip will cost. Accommodation costs go down dramatically with longer stays. Airbnb has prioritized longer rentals, to the point where stays of 30+ days take you to a different section of the website, with much lower per day prices.
Transportation will be a big part of your budget- the faster you move, the more planes, trains, car rentals, or busses you will be paying for, increasing your monthly spending.
Travel burnout is real. If you move too fast, you will likely get tired and cranky. The pace you can keep up for a two-week vacation is very different than the pace you can sustain for a year.
Most likely you are also leaving behind most of your ability to take time away from each other. Grandparents, time at school, nannies, or babysitters are no longer there to give you a break.
Kids also need breaks- time to sleep in, run around a playground, or just stop moving for a few days and process everything they are seeing and doing.
Watch for travel burnout and be ready to adjust your plan as you go. We have found there are some places we like to visit and move on, and others we like to sit for a while. We all love having one-month stays in specific cities where we can settle in a bit, and explore the area with day trips.
Plan for Holidays on your Family Year Out
Don’t forget to plan for holidays and other special days! Whether it’s a family birthday, a national holiday, or Independence Day, Easter, or Christmas, these holidays will change how you experience each destination.
Some national holidays are a lot of fun to experience and will add flavor to your trip, others will just mean added crowds and added expense.
For example, we altered our cross-country road trip, to make sure we were somewhere fun for E’s 4th birthday, and not spending most of the day in the car.
I once got stuck in Thesolonniki Greece for an extra day, as I hadn’t realized I was traveling over Greek Orthodox Easter, and all the trains were booked with traveling families.
Festive destinations for Christmas will be more expensive and book up fast. Decide early where you want to be for the winter holidays and book ahead. Note that Greek Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in early January.
Check Border Restrictions and Visas
Research where you will need a travel visa, and what border restrictions you may encounter. Keep checking back, as the situation may change quickly. We crossed the border into Canada just as restrictions were being lifted, and found it doable, but complicated.
Some visas require you to apply from your home country (hello Ghana), while others will only let you apply 90 days or less before your arrival.
The 90-Day Schengen Area Rule
For most Americans, the 90-Day Schengen Rule is the most important and limiting, border restriction.
The Schengen Area is the 26 European countries that have agreed to borderless access. So for example, when you cross from France to Belgium, you are remaining within the Schengen Area, so there is no passport or customs check.
There are 26 countries in the Schengen Area- Americans are allowed entry without a special visa, for 90 days within a 180-day period.
That means 90 days total within the area, regardless of countries visited. This is within a rolling 180 days.
After spending 90 days in Italy, you cannot hop over to Croatia and back to restart the clock. If you spend 90 consecutive days in the Schengen Area, you would then need to spend 90 days elsewhere before you could re-enter.
If you are moving in and out of the Schengen Area, these rolling 90 days can get complicated to track. There are whole apps devoted to this.
It is important to note that if you spend even part of a day (for example the day you depart) in the Schengen Area, this counts toward your total.
We found the easiest way to track this was an Excel spreadsheet that counts our planned Schengen Area days. With 26+ countries, 90 days go fast!
There are many posts devoted to how to “beat” the 90-day rule, just be aware that there are penalties for overstaying.
We live in a digital world where these details are not that hard to track across multiple countries and customs systems. We suggest leaving a day or two of leeway in case your plans change so you don’t accidentally overstay.
The included countries are: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Please note that Iceland is part of the Schengen Area, despite its relative distance/isolation.
Important Exclusions: The UK (including Guernsey and the other Channel Islands), Ireland, Andorra, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Turkey.
You may also consider hopping over to Morocco or Tunisia.
As we all know, 2020 (and 2021) created a lot of border restrictions. Most of these have now been lifted, but you’ll need to stay vigilant and check your destinations. As of mid-2023, some countries in Asia are still requiring masks on all public transportation.
Many places that are open to vaccinated travelers may still require unvaccinated kids to quarantine. Make refundable reservations, and double-check border requirements before you go, as they may change frequently.
The best way to check the safety of a destination is to visit the Center for Disease Control website. They publish Travel Recommendations by Destination that assigns each country a Risk level from 1-4. They also provide a handy color-coded map showing current risk levels.
For more detailed numbers on each destination, google the destination and check the reported cases graph.
For example, a search of Italy shows me a one-year graph of reported cases and tells me the 7-day average is currently over 18K cases. While a similar search for Australia shows me a 7-day average of 11 cases. Assuming both borders were open, Australia would be the safer choice.
Check Visa Requirements
Make sure to check the visa requirement for any country you are considering. Some destinations have “visa on entry” programs, which are easily completed at the airport or border crossing if you have the required cash on hand.
Some also require passport photos for their visas. Plan to carry extra passport photos for each member of your family.
Many visa applications can be completed online, but some require an in-person appointment which can be time-consuming and difficult to schedule. Many of these are much easier to complete in your home country before you leave than once you are abroad.
Research the cost of visas, and weigh that against your desire to visit and your total itinerary.
For example, a single-entry visa for Russia is 160 USD per person (or $640 for a family of four). While I would love to visit Russia, that additional cost combined with the current political climate means we will leave visiting Russia for another time.
Research Safety for Your Family Year Out
While we’ve all been consumed with the recent challenges of 2020 and beyond, we need to be aware of other safety precautions as well.
Has there been a recent flood, earthquake, or other disaster that are impacting the region? Check the State Department website for travel restrictions or warnings.
For example, in 2019 lots of families had a wonderful time visiting Myanmar, however, it’s currently listed “Do Not Travel” based on recent civil unrest.
Once you have cleared a country, make sure you do your research on a city-by-city basis. When traveling with kids you’ll want to make sure you are staying in a safe, clean neighborhood where you feel comfortable walking around.
2. Check your Important Documents
This is an important step to complete early- renewing government documents can take a very long time!
Apply or renew your passports if needed. I constantly see panicked Facebook posts where people suddenly realize that their (or their kid’s) passport is expired right before a trip.
We had to renew S’s passport, and paid for expedited service in early December 2020, to finally receive it back in February 2021. Government shutdowns have led to backlogs in processing. Don’t assume you can do this quickly!
We love having Global Entry (and the attached TSA Pre-Check). When you arrive at JFK exhausted after a long flight, it feels great to skip the two-hour line for customs, head to the automated Global Entry machine, and breeze through customs.
We felt that if our kids didn’t also have Global Entry when traveling together we would lose most of the benefits.
I filled out an application for both girls in November and they were conditionally approved very quickly. However, the earliest appointment I could get for their interviews was at the end of March.
Keep in mind you need their passports for the interview, so this step has to be completed after their passports are approved.
If you do the interview first, and then renew the passport you will need to return to the Global Entry office (with an appointment) to get the new passport scanned into the system.
Check your driver’s license expiration date- you don’t want to be ready to embark on an awesome New Zealand road trip only to realize that your US driver’s license is no longer valid.
State laws vary- some states are a quick renewal online, while others require standing in line at the nearest DMV.
Consider getting an International Driver’s Permit. An International Driver’s Permit provides a translation of your existing license and has been known to reduce fines if you get pulled over in another country.
Research where you may plan to drive to determine whether an international driver’s permit is necessary.
An International Driver’s Permit is good for one year after it is issued. It is available at AAA offices in the US and costs $20, so it may be a good investment for “recommended” countries even if it is not strictly necessary.
Plan to update your family’s travel vaccines as necessary. A travel clinic can advise you about what you need based on your itinerary.
Currently, the only vaccine that may be required for entry into another country is the yellow fever vaccine.
If you have just left a country where yellow fever is present, other countries may require proof of the yellow fever vaccine before allowing you to cross their border.
There is a specific yellow form created by the WHO that certifies that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever.
Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease generally found in parts of Africa and South America. The good news is that one vaccine protects you for life. The CDC recommends this vaccine for anyone traveling to those areas who are over 9 months of age.
Be aware that there has been a shortage of yellow fever vaccines in the US. In response to the lack of supply, the FDA has authorized an alternative vaccination that has long been used in Europe.
Consequently, the vaccine is available at fewer locations than it was a few years ago, so check the CDC website for a list of clinics if you need a yellow fever vaccine.
Some travel health clinics have a waitlist for appointments, so book early.
Children’s Birth Certificates
When traveling with kids, make sure you have a copy of their birth certificate in case border officials question your right to move the kids across borders. This will also be handy if an airline or any other authority questions a child’s age.
If you have children who are not traveling with both birth parents, make sure you have a signed Child Travel Consent form from any parent who is not present.
You may also need a copy of an adoption notice or court order as applicable to demonstrate custody.
Once you have defined your route, make sure to apply for the necessary travel visas. You may need to make appointments at embassies or consulates.
Some visas take weeks to get approved, others are approved online in just a few days. It once took me three tries to get a visa to China approved (it was right before the Beijing Olympics).
Make a backup copy of all of your important documentation. Scan passports, global entry cards, driver’s licenses, and kids’ birth certificates.
Keep a digital copy on one of your devices, and leave a copy with someone you trust back home.
3. Get your Finances in Order
Finances are an important part of how you plan a family year out.
Start with forming a clear picture of where you are currently, and then figure out where you need to be to finance a year of travel.
Create a Budget
Create a budget so you can see what you actually spend each month. You may be surprised!
We use YNAB and love it (You Need A Budget). We will continue to use it while we are on the road.
Family budgets for a year of travel vary widely. The size of the family and the age of the kids are some of the largest factors. A two-year-old costs very little to bring along, while a teenager costs as much as a full adult.
Some families are comfortable camping and doing mostly hikes and free outdoor activities, while other families prefer hotels or apartments and like to visit museums, landmarks, and other ticketed attractions.
All of this factors into what kind of budget is realistic for you. On average, for one year of travel, a family spends around 20-25K USD per person.
Figure out Monthly Set Expenses
Figure out which of your current monthly expenses will remain when you are traveling. These will be your set monthly expenses regardless of your destination, or how fast you travel.
For us, this includes:
Take a look at each item and see if you can reduce any of your fixed expenses.
Build a Travel Budget for Your Family Year Out
Start to make a travel budget. There are many ways to do this, here are two:
Start with the Total Budget: Start with what you hope to spend. Subtract your fixed monthly expenses x months you will be traveling. Estimate larger expenses like long-haul international flights, or month-long car rentals.
Divide the rest by months traveled, then by 30 days. This is your average daily spend including food, activities, and a place to sleep.
Decide whether this is realistic for your destinations. Adjust accordingly.
Start with the Need: Estimate a realistic daily spend for each destination ($150-200/day in the US or Europe, vs $75 a day or less in SE Asia). Multiply by the days in each destination.
Add in monthly fixed expenses and larger transportation expenses. Add in a buffer.
Decide whether this is a realistic amount for you to spend and how long you need to save.
Getting the Money
So now you’ve figured out how much you will spend on your Family Year Out. Deduct your savings, and that’s how much you need to acquire. Now let’s plan a way to get that money.
Big Ticket Items
Look at the big-ticket items first- do you have a house, car, or boat you can sell to finance this trip? Can you rent out your home to cover expenses?
Consider Ways to Earn Money While Traveling
Are there ways you could make money while traveling? Can one of you work remotely- even part-time?
Can you start a blog or other online business? Do your skills translate to freelance work you could do from the road?
Figure out how much you can save each month, and then how long it will take you to save what you need. Some families save for years to make their dream trip a reality.
Have a Financial Safety Net
Whichever way you plan your Family Year Out, make sure you leave a financial safety net. You don’t want to load up on credit card debt or run into problems if unexpected expenses occur.
4. Make a Spending Plan
Now that you know what you will need, and how you are going to save for it, it’s time for the next step in your plan for a Family Year Out- the spending plan!
Split your money between at least two banks. Decide which bank account will be your primary spending account.
Ideally, this account will have a debit card with no foreign transaction fee that you can use to get cash in foreign currencies.
You will want to have multiple credit cards- ideally Visa or American Express which are widely accepted worldwide.
Check Foreign Transaction Fees
A lot of credit cards have foreign transaction fees- that 3% adds up fast. Only carry cards you know have no foreign transaction fees.
Consider Travel Cards with Points
You may want to get a travel credit card with points. The sign-up bonuses can be quite high, make sure you can meet the required minimum spend to get the bonus.
You may want to time this so you get the card when you start booking flights and travel arrangements. Look for a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that has a point system that can be applied to multiple airlines.
Make sure to notify banks and credit card companies of your intent to travel. I’ve had cards get shut off as soon as I tried to use them overseas to avoid fraud. It’s not fun.
Bring some good old-fashioned cash. Split it between several locations to avoid theft. There are some places ATMs or banks are scarce, and cash will get you out of most jams.
Before we spent six weeks in Mexico, we took a road trip to Baja and quickly found that most restaurants and vendors only accepted cash. In these areas, make sure to keep cash handy- you may find that ATMs fail or run out of money on weekends. We spent a few hours running around Guatape Colombia looking for a working ATM before finding one to pay our hotel bill. Learn from our mistakes!
5. Get Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance is important- it covers everything from trip cancelation to needing surgery in a foreign country.
There are two main companies that cater to digital nomads and long-term travelers- WorldNomads and Safetywing.
Safetywing was a better deal for us, but I suggest you get quotes from both. Safetywing covers you month-to-month until you request a stop, WorldNomads covers up to six months at a time but can be renewed from the road.
6. Make an Education Plan for Your Family Year Out
You will need to pull the kids from their registered school unless they are already homeschooled.
Choose an Educational Philosophy
How will you homeschool? There are many philosophies from child-led to parent-led or state-driven curriculum.
Spend some time figuring out where you fall on the spectrum of Homeschooling to Un-schooling. This will be influenced by your children’s ages, as well as whether you plan to continue homeschooling indefinitely or to re-enroll your children in public schools after a year.
Check State Regulations
Each state has very specific rules for homeschooling. Some states are very lax, others require a specific number of hours of instruction, a paper trail, and standardized testing. Check your State Homeschooling Laws.
Choose a Curriculum
There are many homeschooling programs out there- many of them are workbook-based, and many of them are religious in nature.
Because we will be traveling with just our backpacks we needed something online only. We will be starting with Time4Learning– I chose this program because it covers language arts, science, math, and social studies in alignment with state requirements.
We will also use Duolingo for Spanish (I created a classroom for my girls). Update: Duoling was too advanced for our early grade-schoolers, but they are enjoying Spanish School Bus which is structured with more games where they can unlock achievements.
Both girls will also have journals to write in, and each one will have an age-appropriate workbook to practice their creative writing and handwriting skills.
Many people choose separate programs for math- I wanted less to track, without having to enforce when they switch between programs.
Set Expectations for the Kids
Be clear about what your expectations for school time will be. Will they do schoolwork several hours every day, or a few days a week? Will they work through the summer or have a traditional “summer break”?
We expect that traveling itself will be a large part of the kid’s education over the next year, so we are ok with having days where the kids have no formal schooling. Our expectation is that they will do some school work most days in the mornings (we have early risers!).
Ongoing projects will also be part of our educational routine- for example, writing postcards to send back home, or making lists of the gelato places we try.
Notify Your Public School District
Some states require that you send a Letter of Intent to the public school district. In most states, this is just a recommendation. Check the rules and make sure you file the proper paperwork.
7. Make a Technology Plan
Depending on your remote work and schooling plans, you will need to make sure you have the technology to keep up.
I get squeamish about carrying around so many dollars in electronics, but the reality is that we all need tech to do our work/school.
Laptops and Tablets
As a blogger, I need a fast, reliable laptop. Since I have a design background, I’m most comfortable on a Mac, and I rely on programs like Photoshop and InDesign. I love my Macbook Air– it’s skinny, lightweight, and has a solid-state drive.
For the kids, we use iPads. I know that some families prefer Kindle Fires because they don’t have to worry about gaming when the kids are supposed to be reading, but Time4Learning only supports iOS tablets and does not support Kindles for K-8 learning.
Make sure you check the specs for your online curriculum before you make your tech plan for a family year out.
iPads are also how we keep in touch with family and friends- Facetime lets us all get in front of one screen to chat and catch up. The kids schedule regular catch-ups with grandparents and even have virtual playdates with other kids.
Cell Phone Plan
We plan to keep our regular cell phone plan with unlimited data and add an international plan.
We switched to TMobile just for their international options- they have unlimited international texting and 2G data on their Magenta plan.
Bonus, their US plan also includes Canada and Mexico, so we didn’t have to limit our data usage in either place.
US-based cellphones are expensive- the alternative is getting an inexpensive unlocked phone and then buying local SIM cards for different countries.
We decided against this for the convenience of keeping our existing numbers (and printing those numbers on the kid’s ID bracelets), but you could do a combo approach. If we need to make a lot of calls, my iPhone is unlocked, and we could do a SIM switch out and back.
As we’ve traveled, we’ve found that in some places, our current service works fine (hello 5G in Austria!), and in others, it’s throttled and slow. After Waker’s phone was stolen in Italy he got an Italian SIM card until we could get a new one sent from the US to restore his regular number. The speed increase was definitely noticeable! Also, some food delivery apps only will let you register if you have an in-country phone number, and we do find it helpful to get a pizza delivered once in a while!
Wi-Fi is unreliable in many places. Set your work/school expectations around this. You may be able to set up a hotspot off your phone, but it may not run multiple devices well.
WIFI hotspots can solve this problem, but you’ll be paying (a lot) for data usage. You want to avoid a hotspot that relies on a SIM card, or you’ll have to change it for each country/region that you are in.
The Skyroam Solis Lite mobile hotspot charges for data in a specific period, so you can pay for unlimited monthly access, one day (24 hours) of access or 5+ GB to use over 30 days. The service works in over 130 countries. This seems like a good SIM-free choice for those that need consistent or predictable internet access.
The Macaroon Hot Spot has similar SIM-free technology. They offer a day pass, a 30-day option, or a smaller data package of 3 GB over 90 days.
We haven’t tried these, and while the technology seems tempting, those usage fees could add up quickly. Let us know if you’ve had experience with these products or something similar!
Chargers and Battery Banks
All these devices will need to be charged (a lot). We like this Travel Charging Hub that lets everything be connected to one outlet. You may also want a Portable Charger Bank for power top-ups while you are on the go.
Back Up Your Data
Create at least a two-level backup plan. Back up important files to an external hard drive in case your laptop fails (or breaks, or gets wet, or gets stolen).
Pack your laptop and external hard drive in different bags. That way if your backpack ends up a the bottom of a lake (oops!) both items won’t be ruined.
Also, back up data (including your phones) to a cloud-based service, so if necessary, you can recover files from the cloud. You don’t want to lose a year’s worth of family photos because you forgot to back them up!
8. Figure out a Packing Plan
To successfully plan a Family Year Out you’ll need some packing guidelines. We won’t go into the specifics of exactly how many t-shirts you should pack, but here are some guidelines to help you make the right decisions for your family.
To help you with this, we’ve shared our complete packing list for long-term travel, which we update as we go. We’ve also listed what we chose to leave behind, and whether we regretted it! We also have a separate packing list for day packs that include a med kit and other things we carry when we are out and about and also use for a carry-on.
Check or Carry On?
This is a big question that people feel very strongly about. It is a part of your traveling philosophy (and depends on how much you hate waiting at baggage claim!)
We are not attempting carry-on only. Planning for multiple seasons, even following the sun, with two young kids, we will need to check luggage. Maybe in a few years, we can aspire to move to carry-on only. Honestly, with sunscreen and shampoo for four people, I can’t see this working for us. Our goal is to eventually get down to two checked bags rather than three.
The Carry Your Own Stuff Rule
This rule is generally what allows the “carry-on only” families to make it work. However, kids are only supposed to carry approx.10% of their body weight- that means there is no way my five-year-old is carrying all of her stuff.
Our plan is for the adults to each have a large (checkable) backpack, and then all four of us will have one carry-on backpack each. This way the girls will get used to carrying their packs, and we will have small packs suitable for day trips or beach bags.
This is a bit of a mantra. Make a pile, then take a few things out. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that it all fits, with room to spare (you will acquire new things along the way!).
Some people swear by bringing only one pair of shoes- I’m personally bringing three (waterproof trainers, flip-flops, and comfy “city” walking shoes”), and my kids will each have two (sneakers and flip-flops).
A year is a long time, figure out what you need to be comfortable in most situations. We have found that every few countries we need to send a box of things back to the US for someone to hold for us- we pick up some souvenirs, the kids get gifted little things along the way, we realize we don’t need that extra pair of shorts but don’t want to throw it away… etc.
Stock Up on Hard to Replace
People always say “pack light, you can always buy stuff when you get there!” Which is true, to a point.
Yes, I can find a new pair of socks if mine wear out, but replacing my contact lenses with a prescription? That could be a real pain. The last thing I want to do is spend days running around trying to navigate the eye-care system of another country if I can avoid it.
Figure out what your “hard to replace” items are, and stock up! If you have a certain brand of something (face soap) consider how you’ll feel about using whatever you can find at a pharmacy where you may not be able to read the language.
For me, it’s contact lenses, and sunscreen (really hard to buy in Asia!) We also use visits from family and friends to help with this. My parents joined us for Christmas in Vienna in 2022, and guess what we asked for? Fun things like our favorite brand of deodorant, and more gel laundry stain remover!
Ditch the Old Stuff
You know those comfy sweats that you love but you also know are juuuust starting to fall apart? Kids’ underwear starting to get stretched out or their socks are almost too small? Don’t bring them!
Ditch the old stuff you know isn’t going to last, you’ll just waste time trying to replace things- it will take you three times as long when you don’t know the brands and stores around you. Replace the worn-out stuff before you leave.
Make a List of Everything you Need
Make a list, then add to it as you realize all the little things you will need. Some people swear that they didn’t need much gear before they left, I feel like our list was a mile long.
Yes, our kids had backpacks for school, but not that I knew would survive a year-long trip, and not that fit them the way they really should for longer wear.
Water purifier, lightweight rain gear, enough travel towels for everyone, mosquito patches, motion sickness bands, travel car seats, etc. our list just seemed to keep growing!
Make a list, then keep chipping away at it. I bought and returned at least 4 pairs of lightweight, waterproof trail runner/hiking shoes before I found a pair I liked. Leave time to try things on and then return them if necessary.
Get Packing Cubes
Packing cubes keep you from packing and repacking every time you pull something out of your backpack. They will also help us keep things color-coordinated by family member.
There are two general styles- the Amazon Basics Packing Cubes zip open along the side, so things can go in and out easier, and things stay neater. You can see through the netting to what is inside. They are made of thick fabric and will add some weight to your pack. Ebags is another popular brand in this style of packing cube.
The Eagle Creek Packing Cubes have a top zip with a super lightweight material. The top entry is less user-friendly- we will be using these for things like socks and underwear that we just stuff inside and forget.
It’s a bit of a puzzle to figure out exactly which size cubes work for which categories of clothing for each person. The kids will use mostly x-small and small cubes, and adults the small and medium.
Plan a Dry Run
With a family of four, this is a pain, but it’s necessary! Do a fully packed dry run to make sure everything has a place and fits (and you can still carry it). It will take some time to get a system everyone is familiar with.
You may find you need more small cubes, that you need a better system for keeping cords organized, or that the toothbrush covers don’t fit those new princess toothbrushes! Give yourself time to fix these issues without stress.
We actually did a terrible job following our own advice and had to ship several boxes ahead of us at the last minute.
We thought we had a plan, but in the madness of packing up the entire house, didn’t actually do a full dry run. We would have saved ourselves some stress if we had managed to fit it in!
9. Make a Plan to Stay Safe while Traveling
Part of your plan for a Family Year Out should include some safety issues. Some of these are best addressed over time, while others are a quicker “fix”.
Don’t miss our full guide for staying safe, as well as travel tips specific to South America.
All four of us have ID bands we will wear all the time when we are traveling. We got Road Id bracelets- the information printed on them includes the kid’s name, parent’s phone numbers (with +1 for international calling), allergy info, and blood type.
This is also why we are sticking with our normal cell phones and not switching numbers with new SIM cards every time we cross a border.
They are stretchy silicone, come in cool colors, and wearing them is non-negotiable. Each bracelet comes in three sizes so they fit all ages.
If for some reason we get separated (or are in a car crash) I don’t need to worry about the kids remembering my phone number, and emergency personnel will have crucial information.
Make a Separation Plan
Pick an easy place to meet if you get separated- this should be a habit in any crowded place. We constantly have these conversations as we travel.
For example, when we get into Grand Central Station, we point to the big clock in the middle and say “Meet there if we get separated”.
We also discuss transportation in general- “If we get separated on a subway, stay where you are, we will find you”. Or “If you get on a train and we don’t, get off at the next stop and wait”.
Our general rule for the kids is that if we get separated, they are to stay still and wait for us to find them. If a certain amount of time has passed, they can look for an adult that can help (and use the phone number on their bracelet).
Swim Lessons and Biking
We know being strong swimmers and competent bikers will help keep our kids safe. Part of our plan before we left for our Family Year Out included getting the kids off training wheels on their bikes and improving their swimming skills. The stronger their skills, the safer they will be in strange pools, lakes, and any other water situations we may encounter.
These may not be the skills your kids need to work on but think about if there is anything that they could improve before you leave that would help them stay safer (and have more fun!) while traveling.
Consider which medicines you will want to carry with you. Ideally, when your kids are sick, you want something that you trust, that you know they have had before.
We carry these chewable Advil tablets– junior strength, approved for ages 2+. If one of the kids gets a fever while we are out and about these do the trick until we can get them tucked into bed.
Plan carefully for any prescription medications- some that are legal in the US are prohibited in other countries. Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia are particularly strict. Talk to your doctor about switching to alternatives if possible, and plan for refills on the road.
10. Tackle Other Logistics
There are a few other (not so fun) things to consider before you head out for a Family Gap Year or Family Year Out.
Doctors and Dentists
Get your check-ups! A month into your trip is not the time to wonder if you should have gotten that mole checked.
Estate Planning and Life Insurance
Are your wills, health care directives, and life insurance policies all in order? These items can take months to get drafted and approved.
Make sure your family is protected in all situations before you leave. These documents need to be reviewed every ten years, or when you move states.
Also note, that life insurance companies may want to know of any upcoming trips that you have planned, so best to do this early, while you are still in the brainstorming phase of travel.
Pay your Taxes
You will need to file taxes while on the road. Make sure you have scanned all the documents you will need, or have a plan to get them sent to you digitally while you are away.
Store Important Documents
Figure out where to store important and original documents (like birth certificates) while you are gone. That might be a safe deposit box or a trusted family member, but do not put them into a storage unit.
11. Prepare the Kids
When you plan a Family Year Out, don’t forget the kids! They will need time to process all the changes that are coming and ask all sorts of questions. Here are a few ways to prepare the kids for this big family adventure.
Share your Excitement
Are you excited to plan a Family Year Out? Share that excitement with the kids! Let them see how excited you are to spend this time with them, your excitement will be contagious!
Share the Planning
Involve the kids as you plan. Let the kids make age-appropriate decisions, or ask them what they think of some choices. They may have places they are really excited to visit or landmarks they are excited to see.
Older kids can do some of the research for you. Let them research hikes at certain destinations, or suggest restaurants or tours at others. Keep them updated as plans evolve so they feel like part of the process.
Focus on the Positive
Change can be scary- focus on the positive, and all the good things to come from this change, while acknowledging the things you may be missing.
Help the kids to solve the problem. If they are sad to be missing Christmas with Grandma, ask them to help plan a different kind of celebration that they can be excited about. If they are worried about missing friends, help them brainstorm ways they can keep in touch after you leave.
Get Input on Gear and Clothing
This is all part of making the kids feel like part of the process. When they get to choose the red or blue flashlight, or which pattern swimsuit, they feel more ownership over the trip. And you’ll spend less time returning things they don’t like.
Travel Themed Books & Movies
Books and movies are great ways to introduce kids to new cultures and get them excited to visit new places.
Our girls have subscriptions to Little Passports– we highly recommend them, both girls love their packages. The destinations they have read about in the “Scooter Stories” as a part of this, are at the top of their “must-see” lists!
Look for books or movies about the specific destinations you will be visiting to start conversations about the history and culture of these places.
Continue the Conversation
Make sure you are continually checking in to see how the kids are adjusting to the idea of this adventure. Over time different questions or concerns will arise from “Will our fridge go with us?” to “Where will we sleep”?
Practice Small Adventures
Everything takes practice. From long car trips to hiking, smaller adventures will help you all be more prepared and build your skills as a family for the larger adventures.
12. Set a Start Date
This is happening, set a date for departure! It’s exciting and stressful all at once- now you can calculate just how much time you have to get everything done!
Make a Timetable
Create a timetable based on your start date. Work backward from your date of departure to fill in due dates for everything you still have to complete to be ready to leave.
Book the First Leg of the Trip
Make plans and reservations for the first leg of your trip. You want to plan ahead enough that you can enjoy the trip without constantly planning the next step, but not get too far ahead of yourself in case you want to change direction or change your pace.
This could be anywhere from one month to three months depending on your preference.
Update: We are currently only planning one country ahead, with an idea of the next destination, as in 2022 borders and safety continue to shift very rapidly.
Planes and Lodging
Book the expensive items like plane tickets and lodging first. Focus on destinations that book up fast, then fill in the easier reservations after.
Make sure you book your “must-do” items first, in case you need to revise plans around them.
There are various tourist passes that may be helpful for you. This could be a US National Park Annual Pass, a Scottish Explorer Pass, a Eurorail Pass, or any city pass. Many of these passes – including Eurorail- need to be bought before you arrive in-country.
With reduced capacity at a lot of sites around the world, you will need timed tickets for almost everything. Work down your priority list to book times and adjust as needed.
13. Get Ready to Move Out
Time to think about packing and moving! You’ll need to spend some time getting your home ready to sell or rent and making plans for storage.
Small House Updates
Tackle those small house projects you haven’t gotten around to. Everything from burned-out bulbs or chipped paint to the handprints on the walls. Talk to a realtor about the market in your area before you do any larger projects.
Declutter and Purge
The more you put into storage the, higher your storage bill. Get rid of things you don’t need or that your kids have outgrown.
Be ruthless. A lot of donation centers have been overwhelmed, so it may take some time to donate or find new homes for things.
Sell Larger Items
Sell any larger items you won’t be taking with you. Cars, bikes, boats, lawnmowers, even furniture, can bring in extra cash for your trip.
Plan a few weeks to move these items. If necessary, schedule a tag sale to purge the smaller items as well.
List Your House or Apartment
Decide whether to call a realtor or list your home or apartment yourself. If you are planning to rent make sure you have someone local who can deal with any issues that come up, or hire a property manager.
Make sure to designate a “can’t close before” date so you know when you’ll have to vacate the property.
Figure out where you will store your belongings while you are gone. Reserve a storage unit or storage pod and figure out what help you will need to pack it.
Plan to reserve storage and any moving trucks at least a month in advance. Moving services book up faster in the summer months.
Pack up Belongings
Stock up on boxes, packing paper, shipping tape, and a few moving blankets. Get packing! It’s long and tedious, but think of everything you’ve purged that you no longer need to pack!
File a Change of Address
Don’t forget to file a change of address with the Post Office. You can either use the address of a friend or family member or sign up with a mail forwarding service like Escapees. They will scan your mail and forward it digitally or send you your mail, whichever you choose.
Cancel Utilities and Services
Cancel any subscriptions or services you will no longer be using. Shut off any recurring oil or propane deliveries, notify the electric company, and cancel any internet or cable services.
14. Hit the Road!
It’s a lot, isn’t it! While it may sound overwhelming, it’s totally doable. Take it step-by-step, and make a clear plan for your family year out. Before you know it, you’ll have planned an amazing adventure for your family and navigated a ton of logistics to get there. Hit the road, have some fun, and tell us how it goes!
Wondering what it’s really like to travel full-time with kids? It’s different for everyone, but we’ve shared some of our reality in our 3 month report and our 1 year report. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!
FAO: How to Play a Family Gap Year
A good estimate is 20-25K USD per person, but this can vary widely based on how fast the travel is, and which countries are chosen. Slower travel is cheaper (staying 30 days or more in one location), regardless of location.
There is not best age for a family gap year- go when it works best for you family!
Kids under 5 are often free at attractions, reducing the overall cost of the trip. Kids under 12 are often half price, which also reduces your costs. Kids over 12 generally cost the same as adults (and may eat twice as much).
Some people prefer to travel with older children or teens as they feel that they benefit most from the history and lessons that can be learned from travel than younger kids.
Others feel that the most important lessons are less tangible (tolerance, flexibility) and apply to younger children as well. Older children and teens also tend to have more entrenched social lives and activities (sports, music lessons) that may be hard to leave behind.
We did not use an Around the World Plane Ticket, nor have most of the other families we’ve spoken with who’ve taken Family Gap Years. These plane tickets are quite expensive (3-5K per person) and quite restrictive. We prefer to buy our tickets are we travel, and allow for more flexibility.
There You Have It: How to Plan a Family Gap Year
These are all the (sometimes overwhelming) steps to plan a family gap year! It may seem like a lot, but you can do it, and we promise, it’s totally worth it!
Don’t forget, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, we can help you work through the next steps. Check out the details of our travel coaching!