Is a family gap year a good idea?
If you’re even sort of, maybe, contemplating ditching your cosy life and heading off in to the wild blue yonder with small kids in tow then…you’re entirely nuts…but in exactly the right way. We did it. We jacked in our jobs and disappeared off to Mexico with our two kids, then four and two. You can read about why we did it here. Suffice to say, taking a family gap year was absolutely the best freaking decision we have ever made.
If you need to ask ‘why?’ then this, my friends, is the list for you. Here is a bunch of reasons to make you see the error of your ways in not already being on your family gap year…
- Who doesn’t love an adventure?
We often find ourselves, as a family, yelling ‘we love adventures’ whilst doing something silly. Just this weekend we were on a massive bouncy pillow at Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk yelling exactly that. It was freezing cold, no one else was outside with us and the four of us were having a great time, relishing being together and being silly. Perfect.
- Kids are at home as long as they’re with their parents
Yes, kids can be very attached to their home and their bed and their toys but they are generally more attached to their family than to any toy. My son loves his bed and is always really happy to get back to it when we’ve been away somewhere but this is never mentioned until we are almost home.
- It’s an opportunity to escape consumerist society and teach the kids about what really matters in life.
My kids have never seen tv adverts (they do watch tv, we’re not that mean) but they still somehow know what they want/need/covet. Taking them away from London definitely quieted the constant ‘can I have?’s.
- Shared Memories
We have been home about nine months now (sob) and we love remembering things that happened to us whilst away. Our three year old still recounts how she got to have a birthday party at school and have the biggest cake she had ever seen. Our son is more focused on the interesting places he got to swim (90m deep cenote, anyone?)
Nothing screams ‘bonding’ like early shared memories, especially when they’re incredible memories.
- As long as the kids are with you then whatever they’re doing is their ‘normal’.
I promise this is true. If your kids trust you and you’re positive about what you’re doing then anything can be normal to them. How do they know that what they’re doing is special when they don’t know any different? We went on a quick half term trip to Greece recently. Our three year old demanded to know when she’d see her new school. She can’t get her head around flying somewhere that doesn’t involve a new school or not seeing home for a long, long time!
- Confidence grows
We didn’t know if we’d make or break our small boy. ‘Skittish’ is probably the best adjective for him but in so very many ways, travelling together, as a family, brought out the absolute best in him. Teachers comment on how he speaks to adults as an equal and how capable he is. Whilst away, both kids would happily be sent off to order things or as questions in restaurants in Spanish, something they weren’t even keen to do in English before we left home.
- You get to be the value and priority setter
For me this is one of the absolute winning points to travelling with kids. We spent six months of real, quality time, shaping our kids’ world view. Obviously this didn’t stop when we got home but we were actively ensuring they were thinking about what they were seeing and we were able to direct that thinking. One concrete example that springs to mind is when I asked our son to compare the local zoo in Merida with London Zoo. He was four and he very quickly worked out that in Merida the animals looked unhappy and didn’t have nice spaces in which to live.
- Kids open up cultures in a way nothing else can
When we were studying Spanish in Tulum, Mexico, in class one day the others were complaining that locals weren’t very friendly. I was shocked because we had been welcomed everywhere we went. It hadn’t occurred to us that our cute little blondies were opening doors for us! We had just assumed everyone was friendly because we were lovely people. Nope. I mean, we are but it was more likely that people liked our kids than they gave a damn about us. There was one really kind old woman who worked in a supermarket in down town Tulum. Every time we went to the store she would put her own money in the little ride outside for them. I can guarantee she would never have even glanced at us if they kids hadn’t been with us but through them we got to chat. First of all, we sent the kids in to say thank you and it blossomed from there. We never became best buddies (!) but she would always smile and wave when we walked by. We had similar experiences in the markets in Oaxaca where stall owners were blown away by my blonde, grasshopper eating two year old. Everyone wanted to chat to us or give the kids things to try. We also got to take part in a Oaxacan Day of the Dead celebration because the kids were in school there. While other tourists stood and watched, we were right in the thick of it.
(But don’t forget to prepare your kids for the cultural differences they’re sure to encounter. Find my tips on how to do this, here)
Work those little ones, people. Make them sing for their supper…literally, why not?
I don’t know if this final one is truly a positive side to taking time to travel with your kids but let’s put it out there and see what you think:
8.5 You get to spend loads and loads of time with your kids
See what I mean?
Sometimes I just don’t want to be around my kids very much. Sometimes they’re really, really annoying. I just don’t want to talk about Ghostbusters, or Starwars or Spiderman or Paw Fucking Patrol that much. I also don’t enjoy the accidental beatings they seem so skilled at delivering. I generally prefer to be able to eat a meal in a restaurant without spending half of it (or more?) yelling at someone to sit down and just fucking eat.
But, that said, actually, for me, spending loads and loads of time with my kids whilst having a family adventure was absolutely incredible. Watching my kids whoop with joy as they climbed around ancient ruins (where permitted, obv) and holding their hands as we jumped, as a family, in to a massive cenote will always feature in my memories of travelling with my kids. Turns out they’re not just amazing when they’re asleep
I assume that by now you’re already making plans to go and find your own family adventure. Why not check out GoFamGo’s article on what to pack and… let me know where you go…