Taking a Family Gap Year: A Life Changing Year

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Gert & Tracey Pedersen took the plunge in 2012 adventuring around the world with three of their children. The trip changed their lives… for the better! This is their story:

2012 changed our life. I know everyone says they’ve been through life changing events and generally that refers to something negative. For us, our travel around the world that year was life changing in so many good ways. We even named our blog Life Changing Year, and that was before we realized how accurate that name would turn out to be.

A Normal Family

Picture us: A normal suburban family, Mum in a corporate job working sixty hours a week and raising the three kids still at home. A decent salary and a company car are firmly in her grasp. Dad is an interstate truck driver and has been for fourteen years. He’s lucky to be home one night a week and when he is, the family is usually off doing something they’d planned weeks ago, leaving him at home to catch up on laundry and sleep.

The kids do well in school. They work hard and have weekend jobs. They’re pushed to excel and make sure they have a decent career path with university the goal for each of them. Both high school students do extra certificate study during their final year to give them a head start on everyone else. Every single minute is taken up with work, grocery shopping, bill paying, housework, school, sport and socializing. The term ‘mum’s taxi’ is thrown around regularly, and mum is getting mighty tired of being the go-to girl for everyone.

In hindsight, though we would have argued it at the time, our life wasn’t very family oriented. We didn’t spend much time together, unless it was in the car heading for our next stop. Our family motto was ‘work first, play later’. ‘Nuff said.

Taking a Family Gap Year

When I first had my brilliant idea to take us away for a year, I thought we would be the only ones to have ever done such a daring thing.

Then I Googled.

My search showed dozens of families were either doing what we planned, or planning their own adventure for the future. I was floored (and secretly relieved!) We could totally do this!

Forty-eight hours later my husband was on board. Within six months we’d sold everything except our household furniture, quit our jobs and taken the kids out of school. Our friends and colleagues were in shock.

We couldn’t have predicted just how much we would change during that year away.

What We Learned

School is Just One Way (of many) to Educate a Child

Converting currency, learning about nature, bartering in markets, hailing taxis, looking after sick adults and working out foreign bus timetables are all incredible life skills. Our children know they are capable of so much more now. Travel gave them that. This is actually my most precious takeaway from our whole adventure and is obvious when they now spend time with their peers.

We Can Take Risks

Traveling with your kids in the back of a moving vehicle not fitted with seat belts soon becomes normal. Arriving in an unfamiliar town without accommodation booked or taking that felucca ride down the Nile with the man you met on the street are all risky but rewarding in the end.

We Learned to Trust Our Kids

They made smart decisions when we empowered them to do so. We gave them each a daily food budget and they stuck to it. To see them bartering with each other when one wanted something more expensive to eat was heartwarming. We let them go to theme parks on their own and they made it home, even without mobile phones.

That was a revelation to us and to them.

They socialized with young backpackers in Munich, played table tennis in Vietnam with strangers as well as staying home alone on days they didn’t feel like exploring. Our sixteen year old daughter endured a lot of sexual interest in Egypt with a smile and a laugh. They shared the weight of their luggage on moving days.

Our kids learned a lot about us.

Seeing us identify a scam and politely walking away was important for them. To know that everything doesn’t have to be solved with raised voices is important for kids to see. To understand cultural differences around creating a scene in public is worthwhile too.

They saw us work out how to get to the next town when the bus abandoned us. They watched us stand our ground instead of being bullied into paying extra at border crossings. They even witnessed an almighty argument early on that we managed to get through!

We were traveling on a very strict budget and stayed mostly in hostel accommodation. We met some amazing people that we’re still in contact with today. If we’d been locked away in a hotel, those relationships would never have been formed. Whether it was other backpackers, hostel owners, future travelers we’d met online or our very first Airbnb host, we treasure the memories of those people. Spending time with locals in communities who thrive without the latest Apple product on hand is a life changing event to tech-addicted teens.

A Family Gap Year Improved Our Relationships

Our yearlong trip has cemented our family relationships with the three children who came with us. My husband calls them when he is interstate now. They call him. We all make time to see each other and there’s barely a day that goes by when we don’t talk on Facebook. We live in different states now since the kids are older. If we hadn’t taken that year away I shudder to think what we might be like now.

Dare I share the last thing? Our sex life has improved! We were in a rut before we traveled, always tired, always too busy. We made a pact, though. We’d have ‘special cuddles’ at least once in every new country. On our return home we laughed that we’d had more intimate time in 16 countries in one year than we’d had in the last three years! We’ve kept it up!

Our Lives Have Changed

It’s nearly four years since we returned home as completely different people than the ones who boarded that plane in January 2012.

  • We took another year with our youngest child in 2014.
  • We’re planning a year around Australia in 2020 when he finishes school.
  • We moved to a new state.
  • I’ve taken up fiction writing full time.

These are things we would never have dared to do if we hadn’t made that first leap into the unknown.

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