Sabbatical with a Child – or Are We Crazy?

sabbatical with a child

You Must Be Crazy!

When our son was three years old we decided to take him on a six months trip that took us from our home in California to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, to southern India, to Andalucía, the southern-most state of Spain, Tuscany in northern Italy, Germany, and Austria. A lot of people declared us crazy when they heard about this sabbatical with a child.

How and when exactly we came up with this plan to take this trip neither one of us remembers. We had talked about taking a “big trip” like one talks about things one would like to do someday without actually believing that we would ever actually do it. It was a nice enough dream – until we somehow crossed the line between dream and concrete plan.

Looking back I realize that a number of things contributed to us wanting and being able to take this trip of a life time the most important ones were:

We love to travel

Both my husband and I love to travel and experience different cultures. Homesickness is but a remote and incomprehensible concept to us. All our lives we both suffered from the opposite: wanderlust.  At three we didn’t quite know whether our son had inherited our travel-genes but he had shown the ability to tolerate long air travel to and from Europe even at a very young age. We decided that that was good enough.

We are frugal

Both of us are from modest European backgrounds and are used to living within our means, some might call it frugally. Even before we made the decision we had started to prepare financially for our sabbatical by doing what we had always done: not replacing a perfectly good TV because a larger model hits the stores, not buying new cars every few years, avoiding expensive designer clothing and furniture, and postponing a few nice to have renovation projects to the future. Our house is downright tiny by McMansion standards. It is amazing how much money one can save that way.

We are self-employed

My husband worked on a project base at the time with a major project coming to an end and I was working a job, I didn’t like and couldn’t wait to leave. There was a bit of luck involved in the timing working out as well as it did and there was always the risk that he would come back to no clients – that was a risk we were willing to take.

We ignored the Nay-Sayers

We listened to the yeah-sayers among our friends and acquaintances, not the nay-sayers and got reasonable professional advice. One of the first people I talked to about our plans was my son’s pediatrician. Had she told me that this was a bad idea, this trip would have never happened. But the opposite was the case, she encouraged us, said he was old enough to enjoy it and would probably remember at least some of his travel experiences.

She had known my son since he was less than a day old and her recommendation carried a lot more weight than the incredulous stares of other mothers on the play-ground who told me that they would never, ever subject their children to such a dangerous, selfish and frivolous adventure. Some people pretty much openly declared us crazy, but that really didn’t faze me at all.

We were realistic

I am not saying the whole trip was all fun and games from beginning to end but we knew that and were prepared. Planning the trip took a lot of time and energy and was frustrating at times. We knew that we would have to make a number of compromises along the way and that there would be times when we would ask ourselves “What were we thinking? Where we completely out of our minds doing this?”

All of that actually happened but still: it was very much worth it. It was the trip of a life time, an adventure we’ll never forget and hopefully one that inspires others to do the same.   I wouldn’t want to miss a minute and would do it again, without even thinking about it.

Sabbatical with a Child – A Summary

On this website, I am summarizing our experiences and advice for those who are toying with the idea to take a trip like this or a shorter trip to a place they haven’t been before with a small child.

I am writing this with years of hindsight: the small boy is now a teen and we have taken several more long trips to Europe and Mexico. I can say, some things have gotten easier since then. We didn’t have iPads then, so the entertainment program during long flights was one of us parents or a small DVD player that ran out of battery after 2 hours. Also renting houses has gotten a lot easier with many different sites now available to rent homes easily. However, the real challenges remain the same: planning a trip that every member of your family enjoys and you’ll talk about for years to come.

If you are still dreaming of a sabbatical I suggest you start by pondering these questions – and be brutally honest with yourself!

Our basic rules for a successful sabbatical are summarized here.

Our tips for traveling with a child can be found here.