Last year, my husband and I made everyone we know jealous by announcing that we were moving to Hawaii. The punchline is that we only moved there for a month.
Many of us assume that travel falls into a couple of categories: a week of vacation time or a quit-your-job-and-travel-the-world adventure, a trend that’s increasingly splashed across social media. I’m not the first to discover an appealing middle ground, however: For those with established careers or children (or both), a month is long enough to offer a deeper experience than a weeklong getaway (let’s face it—it takes three days just to disconnect and decompress) and short enough to avoid upending your entire life back at home.
And, indeed, this is what I discovered with our Hawaii move, when my family (including my husband and two young daughters) enjoyed a fantastic month full of novel experiences and ample quality time on the North Shore of Oahu. So, if you’re looking to make some extraordinary travel memories during 2018, read on for tips on how to plan a one-month mini sabbatical for your family.
Where To and When?
It’s fun to unfurl the world map and dream big, but plan some serious discussions with your travel companions about your destination. Be sure to factor in cost (places where the dollar is strong might be more appealing), the feasibility of securing housing (forget about most beach destinations in Europe during the summer), and what kind of a place you want to live (city or country, or a combination of both?). Perhaps you want to practice a language you studied in college or volunteer or introduce your children to a new culture. Anchoring your choice to some personal goals can help whittle the world down to a more manageable field of choices. Be sure to include your kids in these conversations: If they’re old enough to weigh in on the discussions, even better.
My husband and I based our decision on a few factors. We wanted to move somewhere that we’d not yet been that also had good access to medical care (this due to a health scare while traveling in rural Mexico with our then-9-month-old) and ample family-friendly opportunities for the little ones. Hawaii checked these boxes, and soon after we made our decision, we dug deep into planning.
In addition, the timing of your planned trip is important. There are naturally busier times at work, and in general, the summer is a safe bet because it’s when many people take vacations and kids are out of school.
How to Work Things Out With Work
The first barrier to taking time off is often financial. If you don’t work for a company like Netflix that offers unlimited vacation to its employees, you may have to do some negotiating. Luckily, employers are starting to see the benefits of offering extended time off to their workers. Research shows that sabbaticals allow people much-needed time to recharge, which leads to higher job satisfaction and better employee retention.
If you do need to negotiate your time off, set a meeting with your supervisor and create a list of solid reasons that demonstrate why it will benefit the company to grant you a sabbatical and how you’ll manage and/or delegate your duties while away. You’ll need to figure out whether you’ll be doing part-time work, will continue your full-time duties, or take the entire time off.
My husband works for state government and put together a plan with his boss that combined accrued time off and remote work. If it makes sense for your position, working remotely is an excellent way to stay on top of projects while getting to spend time out of the office.
Since I run my own business, "the boss" was already on board, but I did have to strategize how much I planned to work while we were away and alert my clients about my plans. We learned a lesson in Hawaii that a combination of beautiful weather on an island with unlimited activities and small children underfoot was not a recipe for productivity. Be realistic with how many hours you can put in while away and make sure to savor your experience.
Homeowners may feel an additional barrier to striking out on a sabbatical is the house they leave behind while traveling. Thankfully, the sharing economy has a few solutions that can offset the costs of your time away.
Companies HomeExchange and LoveHomeSwap allow you to do a straight exchange with a family in your destination. Depending on the agreement, you may even be able to exchange cars. Prospective swappers can Skype to get to know each other before committing, which can help if you are nervous about letting strangers stay in your home.
If the stars don’t align for an exchange, then renting your home is another great solution through a service like Airbnb or VRBO. You’ll want to designate someone you trust to be a point of contact for your renters, in the event they have an issue (like a leaky pipe) while you are away.
Since our home in Vermont was a hard sell during "stick season" (the unfortunate time of year after the leaves fall from the trees but before the snow flies), we decided to go the route of getting a house sitter. Housesitting doesn’t usually provide homeowners any income (it’s more common to pay the house sitter, in fact), but it does give you peace of mind that your home will not sit vacant while you are away. Our house sitter was a family friend who needed a place to stay, so it worked out for all parties.
From Toys to Sitters: Caring for the Kids
When my husband and I traveled the world for 10 months in our pre-kid days, we carried two 55L backpacks that held all our worldly possessions. This time, we had to plan for an extra two beings who require an inversely proportional amount of things in relation to their size. Ultimately, we pared down, planned ahead, and sometimes went without.
Many kid items you can buy or rent in your destination. Companies that rent baby items have sprung up all over the world, which can save you a lot of hassle but can be pricey. We opted to buy items we needed like bikes and a bike trailer on Craigslist. The last day we were in Hawaii we sold them to a new family and made back almost all our money. We also purchased some small toys at garage sales and Goodwill and donated them back at the end of the month.
Another important consideration: childcare. If you are planning to work remotely or want some time to explore alone with your partner, then you’ll need help with your kids. We are fans of Care.com and used the search functionality to identify babysitters in our new-to-us neighborhood. We ended up finding a fantastic woman who took care of our daughters when we had to work or wanted a date night. You can also research drop-in daycares or playgroups in your destination as additional options.
Enjoying Your Temporary Home
As an enthusiastic planner, I spent a lot of time researching and reading about Oahu so we could hit the ground running once we arrived. Whether you are like me and thrive in a spreadsheet of activity ideas or prefer to figure things out on the ground, I recommend these tactics to jump into life as a local in your destination:
Study the culture and language (if applicable) ahead of time. It takes time to learn the ropes of a new place, and doing your homework ahead of time will help you assimilate faster. It will also help you avoid embarrassing faux pas with new friends!
Facebook’s "Events Near Me" function is invaluable for finding public events and gatherings. I found a community potluck on an organic farm, a local playgroup, and family events at the library by using this tool.
Hang out in the local park. We chose our apartment based on its proximity to a beach park. Not only did we have a great default activity for the kids, but we learned a lot about the area from conversations with local parents while the kids played on the jungle gym.
Most important of all: Don’t just dream it, do it! Start planning now, and by year’s end you too will have priceless memories to tide you over until your next great adventure.