(In case you needed any?)
For those that don’t know, I’m currently on work sabbatical on the big island of Hawaii dong what I have coined our family gap year trial lap. The idea was conceived on a freezing, dark, and depressing day at the end of January about 10-months ago. We were under about 2-feet of fresh snow and while my husband was eating powder in the backcountry, I was staring out a white-washed window during a rare and cherished synchronized nap (of a baby and 3-year old) thinking, “I’m going to lose my shit if I don’t get out of this winter soon….”
Sometimes the simple act of planning a trip can elicit the warming effect of sunbaked sand and the soaring feeling of an airplane on the ascent. So I picked up my laptop and soon enough had sent my husband a scrolling text list of flight itineraries.
When he slogged through the door in his post-powder ecstasy (it’s all about timing), he started with: “Babe, what’s up with the hundred text messages….what’s this about Hawaii…”
And from my 12th Chrome tab, I looked up and responded: “You know our family gap year….”
Him: “Yeah, you’ve started throwing that phrase out a lot lately. Maybe we should talk about what you mean when you say that…”
Me: “Yeah. Sure. So I’m thinking we should do a TRIAL lap of our family gap year first. You know, like 2 or 3 weeks somewhere there’s a time zone difference for us to navigate to see if it’s feasible for working remotely. Right? Maybe just 3 or 4 weeks somewhere to sort out the logistics of renting out our house to help us with the expenses of living abroad. Yeah? Maybe just like 5 or 6 weeks to figure out how much I’ll want to work and how much time I’ll want to spend with the kids. Doesn’t that make sense? Somewhere you can surf every morning before and after work. Doesn’t that sound good?”
(You see what I did there.)
(My husband is no dummy. He did too, of course.)
Him: “Hum.” (That was for the surfing.) “Babe. You realize I have a new firm and team of six people right? I’m not sure I’m just going to be able to tell them I’m going to work from Hawaii for 6-weeks….”
Me: “That’s okay. You can just come for two weeks. I’ll bring my best friend. And my mom. Or some kind of combo like that to help me for the rest of the weeks. Sound good? We’ll use miles to book the flights and we’ll rent out our house to recover the costs. It’ll work out…”
So here’s a travel tip:
Get a life partner who can get on your travel-shenanigan-wagon. Then write that commitment into your vows. (The travel and global citizenship bit.) Then frame your vows on the bedroom wall. And point to them as needed.
A few weeks after this conversation I overheard my husband saying to his mother…
“…I know it sounds crazy. But apparently I married into it….”
Two months later, we’re living in the basement of our in-laws place and Airbnb-ing our mountain home (near a ski resort) to save money for the fall ’16 gap year trial lap. My husband’s ticket to the Big Island is booked for 4-weeks. My best friend’s is booked for 5-weeks. My mom’s is booked for 10-days.
Now on week 5 of our family gap year trial lap, while the lessons are as fresh as the Mahi at Da Fish House (at the end of our street), I want to post my top 10 reasons (for how to convince your partner?) to do a family gap year trial lap:
To test-drive/learn how to work remotely.
Okay, maybe there are people out there who can take a year off to travel funded by savings. Not us. We’re both full-time working professionals with careers we can neither financially afford, nor want, to abandon. But we are (exceptionally) privileged enough that we are both in remote-work-friendly industries: travel education and web design. That being said, I’ve been watching many of my friends turn their office jobs into home jobs and I think the time is super ripe to test the limits. If you haven’t already, ask your boss what it would take to make part-time remote work possible for you. Be sure the timing is right and be prepared to put out a detailed proposal that preemptively addresses any concerns and questions. I’m pretty sure that if there is a time and place to off-road your career with remote work, it’s now. But best to rev up with some practice rounds of domestic remote work to build up your rapport before making an international leap. (I’ve been working remotely for 6 years.)
To experiment with new family:work ratios.
A family month abroad (or gap year trial lap) is the perfect time to renegotiate the life balance variables. Keep in mind that the family playtime might be hard. Not tough hard. But rich, intense and constant hard; or a (Jeep) tank-of-gas-every-3-days hard. We typically had no less than two excursions a day. Sometimes we did 3-4. An example of a typical Saturday might include: 1. off-road into a secret beach 2. head inland to hike into a volcano 3. snorkel or boogie board at a kid friendly beach 4. sunset happy hour at another beach with bar. I would estimate that our “family time” more than doubled on the island. Even though my husband was still working 40-hour weeks. I’m unsure of how that math can add up, but sometimes living away from home just does that: pulls additional hours out of a black top hat. Some credit-worthy variables: We all had less screen time. We all went to bed earlier. We all woke up earlier. Work time zones aligned in family-time favor. And I think we just had less (none?) of our normal social obligations: no birthday parties, no school, no in-law dinners, no hockey practice, no baby showers, no couples’ happy hours, no girls-nights, no work trips, no nothing. All of that was replaced with (mostly) nuclear family excursion time. And yes, that dug some stuff up. So be prepared for the unearthing of conversations normally buried in domesticity. Sometimes uncomfortable stuff. But good stuff. The sticky stuff that binds partners and families together.
To relieve stress and take a breather on career.
Still processing this, but the time away from a decade of professional grind offered some (desperately?) needed aerial perspective on the corn maze of career. There were some corners I needed to peek around, and circles I didn’t know I was running in, that I needed distance and new perspective to see. Importantly, I also felt myself dusting off a really dingy layer of stress. Underneath? A new clarity of thought and a ringing in my bones that woke me up two hours before sunrise and powered me through the day with more horsepower than the Kona coffee.
To prioritize the family gap year variables.
I’m working on an exact list of all the variables we’ll be taking into consideration as we identify possible locations for our family gap year. But this time on the Big Island has helped me scale the importance of the following already: time zone and differences, access to clean water, access to organic/clean food, proximity to bodies of water and natural element excursions, car commute times, flight travel time, flight travel costs, access to local culture, potential to learn local language(s), access to local schooling & child care options, proximity to reputable hospitals, general safety, level of infrastructure development, warmth and receptivity of local culture to outsiders, speed of internet available, general cost of living, attractiveness to guests whom I might be hosting, proximity to amenities and activities, and accessible depth of cultural immersion. That’s a first-draft list. Final draft will be a full post.
To take a break from tired/bad habits & routines.
I haven’t Amazon-primed (or online purchased) a single thing in 40 days. Embarrassingly, that’s a feat for me. Similarly, my 4-year old didn’t have a single hour of screen time for the first 3-weeks we were on the island (until a sitter inadvertently broke the seal). The thing is, the little guy didn’t even ask for the iPad once in 3-weeks. It was just a new environment where, in his head, there was no circuitry linking the iPad to his (new) daily experience. What a glorious relief for us both to take such a fresh and clean break from the screen. And that — is some real trail magic to take advantage of (with a dozen more applications across the vices of the entire family).
To reevaluate & discover what’s needed (in life, in family gap year).
It took me 10-days after landing on the Big Island before I realized that I hadn’t exercised in as many days. I typically hike an hour every day in Colorado, and I didn’t realize how important that was to my mental health till I started to crack at the cranial seams. It took some out-of-the-box thinking, but I figured out that I could do sprints up the hill outside the house for 30 minutes while my husband made coffee right before the kids woke up. Certainly not my normal routine, but my mental stitching tightened right back up, and the next time I land with my family somewhere foreign, I’ll ensure the physical gears get switched on before the cracks start showing. Similarly (although my #momguilt pushed against it), I learned I need about 10-hours of help with the kids a week to give me the kind of space and silence I need to survive parenthood as an introvert. Falling less into the “need” category but certainly bumped in priority for our family gap year were 1. closer surf access 2. non-negotiable 4-wheel drive 3. a comfortable, lock-off, office with no child sightline and 4. attractiveness to friend & family visitors (but not too many; not too long; and carefully timed) for companionship and also extra hands with the kids on excursions (which, with real littles, includes the supermarket).
To reevaluate and learn what is not needed (in life, in family gap year).
You can see what I didn’t need on my what NOT to pack list (still in draft form), but this applies to greater themes as well. As noted, we are doing quite well with significantly less screen time in our lives, and my bank account is thriving sans the bad Amazon Prime habit. Turns out the kids are quite comforted by the presence of each other in the same bedroom. Outdoor eating and clothing line-drying have also become charming and familiar habits. My island capsule wardrobe packs down into half a 40L duffle bag and I haven’t once wished for a single item in my walk-in closet at home. I’m also not missing my car, freezer, or hairbrush. I am, however, missing my dog. 🙁
To be surprised by the kids.
Delightfully shocking? My two littles sitting at a picnic bench with mouths so full of seaweed salad (ew), the green entrails are escaping down their little chins and chests. Or slowly backing into the ocean preparing to give my 4-year old a first lesson on how to put on a snorkeling mask and turning around to find him already submerged in the sea and yelling a muffled, “FISH! FISH! FISH!” through his snorkel. Or my baby girl old running wildly into head-on collisions with waves while laughing hysterically. Or the same toddler crying for an hour in the crib in my bathroom until I finally tried moving the crib next to the 4-year old’s bed, where she nested in deep and fell right to sleep. Or discovering that she can easily hike a mile on a rocky volcanic path even though she went from crawling to upright only a few months ago. Or running through the evening’s gratitudes and hearing my 4-year old say, “I’m grateful for sunsets and feeling love.” #inserttwobleedingholesintomyheart
To create a new space for fresh and engaging experiences with extended family and friends.
As mentioned, I’m sharing this adventure with a best friend, as well as my mother and sister. The dynamics of hosting while living abroad are complicated; way more complicated that one might expect (which is why I’m going to address the topic with an entire disclaimer). But despite the caveats and compromises (of which there are many), it’s also the stuff of the stickiest memories. It took my shy 1-year old about 10 days to jump ecstatically into the arms of her god-mama. Where and when else in life are they going to have this kind of space for that kind of relationship building? A family gap year is the perfect time to carve it out.
To get EXCITED and commit to a FULL family gap year.
As seen in the opening of this post, my general method of operation is to simply state something with fake authority until it’s real. But nothing commits to a full family gap year like a practice month of family gap year. 😉 Truly, the remodel of this website says all it needs to about the fresh energy and excitement that has festered up in me for our family year abroad next year. I do however, sometimes, wonder if I’m a travel tyrant dragging my poor husband and children into a life rich in memory but poor in savings, routine, and discipline. But my husband went home two weeks before me and just posted a picture on Instagram with the following hashtags:
Wait. Did he just sum up this entire essay in three hashtags?
He always does that.