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Pressing Pause: The Family Gap Year

How did we get here? The call to our Family Gap Year and choosing to press pause. How a little insanity can lead to our most sane choices.

Making friends at Stringray City, Grand Cayman 2018

The Call

“Is this completely nuts or are we really going to do this?”

“Yes and yes. It is completely nuts and we are going to do it!”

Dan and I are staring each other down, each with a mischievous grin, daring the other to blink.

“Okay! Let’s do it!”

It doesn’t matter who instigated it or who made the final decision; we are now in this together. We are going to actually live the fantasy, press pause on real life, and spend the next year living and traveling abroad. The more we talk, the more we are convinced that this is the only right answer.

Since our honeymoon, we have spent most of our marriage fantasizing about where to run off to. Dan has been looking for property in New Zealand since we visited five years ago. I have planned hundreds of vacations we never took. (But still the planning was fun). We have lists of ideas of what to do for our partial-retirement: working in a resort or owning vacation rentals on the Big Island; a Bed & Breakfast in France; a winery in New Zealand. For the past year, I have been particularly restless to leave the US and all the sociopolitical stress behind. But it just isn’t practical: we have a young son. So we wait and dream and wait.

Then one day, Dan wonders aloud, “What if we only go for a year?” Suddenly that sounds slightly less crazy and more doable. “What if we do these adventures with and for Lucas, not just biding our time waiting for him to be gone before we do?”

My eyes well up with tears. Of course! Why have I been waiting to do my favorite things until after my child leaves the nest? Why wasn’t I living every second of these precious days, engaging him with what I love?

“Like a sabbatical.” I immediately begin my Google research and am thrilled to learn it has a name: “The Family Gap Year.” Reminiscent of the gap year teenagers take between high school and college but together, before they’re grown.

The more I read and share with Dan, the more obvious it becomes. Lucas is 11, a 6th grader. We can feel him pulling away—a natural and necessary life phase, not to be stopped. But these remaining years now feel precious and to be treasured. We have organized our lives to be less stressful than the average American, but we are still juggling two careers and multiple extracurricular activities. Too many weekends whiz by, and I miss the fun family game nights we had when he was little. He is also growing up in a more sheltered, less diverse community than we are comfortable with. We don’t want him thinking that this affluent San Diego neighborhood is normal. We are starting to see trappings of entitlement and it scares us. Like most parents, we struggle with how to influence and expand his consciousness. We now have our answer. Even the inevitable travel difficulties will be crucial life lessons he needs. Instead of Lucas being the reason we can’t just pick up and go, he is the very reason that we need to!

With these experience and new perspectives, we can then press play again and return to “normal life.” …But as we all know, it will never be quite the same, there will be transformations. And that's part of the adventure.

The Plan

So we commit to press pause on our busy, disconnected lives and rediscover our family. Dan can take a leave and then come back to the job he loves. I am in the midst of career transitions, so reflection time would be wonderful, and I can work on my writing. Lucas can be homeschooled on the road (“worldschooled”), and as a teacher and curriculum designer, I know I can give him an engaging education from the global classroom.

Where should we go? One place? Travel all over? To decide, we need to crystallize our intentions. What are our intentions for our Family Gap Year? What do we want to get out of this experience? We narrowed it down to:

1. Quality time to bond as a family

2. Time to breathe and pursue our individual passions (or figure out what they are)

3. Escape the business and traffic of Southern California

4. Experience different cultures and the way they view the world

Despite our devotion to Anthony Bourdain, we do not share his fearlessness about the world. We read about other families’ great adventures to developing, remote places in Africa, Asia or South America. We discussed the merits but admitted that they were not that high on our bucket list and we weren’t really up for that. It would satisfy Intentions #3-4 but not really #1-2. Transformational travel is also about knowing your intentions and limits and pushing them just a bit. There’s no reason to try and do it like someone else. What fits best for our family and goals? We admitted that weren’t going to try and hit every continent or break travel records. That sounds more exhausting than our usual life.

We decide for us, we want to go live—settle—in a place to have time to soak up a culture and spend some quiet time together. Boredom sounds like it will do us all some good. If we are collecting a lot stamps in our passports, we would be too busy to get to know each other again.

So where to settle? We handle it democratically. My favorite country? France of course, the south of France would be my preference for long-term. Dan’s dream location? New Zealand. And Lucas? We realized we can probably sell him on this if we throw in staying near his BFF on the Big Island of Hawai'i again. Not technically a foreign country, but definitely a different culture. We review our four goals with each destination. They tick all the boxes.

We are now having fun arranging the other adventures to fill in the gaps: Mexico? Peru? Iceland? Puerto Rico? Costa Rica? There will definitely be other roads to take.

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1 Comment

Delhia Gaynor
Delhia Gaynor
Jul 20, 2019

love this! I can't wait to hear about your family adventures!

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