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How to Budget for a Family Gap Year

Our family of six has been traveling full-time for over two years and we’ve never been happier. We planned a family gap year…and then just kept going! Traveling the world is something so many families long to do, but how hard is it to travel the world with kids? 

I’m going to share exactly how we took a family gap year with our kids, including the specifics of our family gap year budget, to show how you can afford to travel the world. If we can do it, so can you! 

how to afford a family gap year

What is a Family Gap Year?

A “gap year” traditionally refers to a young adult taking a year of travel between high school and college. A “family gap year” is a new trend where the whole family sets aside their normal life and activities for an entire year and takes an extended trip around the world, enjoying family time and exploring new places.

In the past year, our family of six has traveled all around the United States (our home country), and now we have our eye on world travel, planning a trip to Europe and Asia.

Why should you take a family gap year?

If you’ve landed on this post, you probably already have your own reasons in mind for taking your family on a world trip, or at least you are interested in learning more. Here are some of our reasons (I’d love to hear yours, too!):

7 compelling reasons to take a gap year with your family

  1. It’s a big wide world out there.

YOLO, am I right? There’s so much to see and experience, and you owe it to yourself and your family to get the most out of life!

  1. Some areas are disappearing.

See the world before it’s too late. A lot of the natural landscapes are changing and disappearing, cities are gentrifying, and if you wait, you might miss out. Learn how you can be part of the solution while on your travels!

  1. You can’t get this kind of education anywhere else.

Worried about your kids missing out on school? Don’t. They can do lots of traditional learning while traveling with the vast number of educational resources now available online. And they’ll get an incredible real-life education, learning about other cultures and lots of life skills along the way. The lasting effect will be kids who are ready and prepared to take on the world as adults!

  1. You’ll learn what’s really important.

While it might be difficult at first to untangle yourself from your regular commitments and activities, you’ll realize how little you miss them. OR you’ll identify those things that you do actually miss and be able to better prioritize when you return home!

  1. You’ll expand your worldview, learn about other cultures, and appreciate what you have.

It’s easy to get stuck in our own small worldview, but traveling can open our minds and hearts to new thoughts, experiences, and opportunities. Who knows, you might find an entirely new country that you fall in love with and want to move to!

  1. You’ll get closer to your family.

While spending 24/7 with our family can have its challenges, we’ve never been closer or appreciated one another more. Life goes quickly and kids grow up before you know it. Seize the opportunity to spend extended quality time with your children and spouse.

  1. You’ll get a clearer view of what you want in life

Removing yourself from your routine and exploring the world will help you get a better idea of who you are, what you want, and what direction you want the rest of your life to take (literally and figuratively)!

Why now is the perfect time for full-time family travel

Melody with her backpack
Just a cool, travelin’ kid!

It can be hard to decide on the best time to head out on a family gap year. The reality is that there probably will never be a perfect time, so why not now?

Traveling full-time has never been more accessible, with the resources that are available on the internet, instant maps at our fingertips, and innovations like Airbnb. Family travel is possible with a hefty dose of research, a little creativity, and plenty of patience.

We got started in 2018, but with the global pandemic causing shutdowns of our regular daily life in 2020, now might be the perfect time to try something new! Don’t forget that you get to decide how long you travel. This doesn’t have to be a permanent way of life — it can be a fun distraction for a while!

How do you get started planning a family gap year?

There are a lot of things to consider when you start to plan a year of travel. But it’s manageable! You need to decide:

  • where you’ll go
  • how you’ll get there
  • where you’ll stay
  • how your finances will work
  • what to bring
  • what to do with what you leave behind

First steps to plan a family gap year

Where to begin? Here’s our advice for people planning a gap year:

  1. Make a list of your dream destinations and what you’d want to see and do in each location
  2. Figure out if you can save up enough money to take time off work for traveling or if you can take your job on the road with you (more about this in the next section!)
  3. Talk to your whole family, share your reasons for wanting to take this trip, and see if you can get everyone on board with taking a family sabbatical!
  4. Start to pare down your belongings. Purge, purge, purge! Even if you don’t end up traveling, you’ll be much happier with less clutter in your life. If you do travel and end up selling your house, you can put everything that you’re not bringing into a storage unit.

Check out this post for a good overview of all the things to consider when taking a family gap year.

The big question for most people is how do you afford a family gap year, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on in the next section. Find out exactly how much a family gap year costs and how to budget for it!

How to budget for a family gap year

Foreign currency

How can anyone find the money to travel full-time? There are a couple of ways to do it.

Option #1: You’re going to save up money ahead of time and basically take a year-long vacation. This obviously requires you to make enough money to cover your current lifestyle, plus put enough money away to travel and NOT be earning money next year. You will likely need to sell or rent out your home while you travel, since the idea is to replace your mortgage payment with paying for lodging while you travel. In addition, you have to be comfortable with leaving your job for a year, usually without the guarantee of being hired back when you return!

Option #2: You’ll be working on the road. The trick here is that, of course, you have to have a job where you can work remotely. Luckily, these days those kinds of jobs are in high supply. Again, you will likely need to sell or rent out your home, and then you are basically just swapping a mortgage or rent payment for paying for your lodging while on the road.

The third option is to put everything onto a credit card and go into debt for your travels, but that’s probably not the best idea!

My goal is to show you how we were able to travel full-time with our family, so I’m going to focus on option #2 and share all of our family travel budget tips!

How do you travel with kids on a budget?

  1. Work remotely

You may already have a job that you can take on the road — even if you don’t know it! Think about everything you do and whether or not you could do it from afar. Never hurts to ask if you can take your show on the road!

If that’s a definite no, then you might need to find something new. With the internet at your fingertips, there are so many remote job options! You can be a freelance writer or photographer, a virtual assistant, online customer service, and so much more. There are one-off, part-time, and even full-time jobs that can be performed completely online, so spend some time browsing and see what you can find.

Be aware of scams. If something sounds too good to be true (“We’ll send you a sign-on bonus check and all the computer equipment you’ll need.”), it’s probably a scam.

Sign up for alerts from a few different job posting sites and see what comes your way!

  1. Sell or rent out your house

Traveling full-time can mean giving up the security of having a house to go back to. Most people can’t afford a mortgage or rent payment, plus paying for lodging on the road. If you want to go back to your home at the end of the year, renting is a great option.

Once you no longer have a monthly house payment, you’ll also no longer have house-related bills such as: water, electricity, cable, internet, HOA, housecleaning, pest control, repairs, and the list goes on. You may have local memberships, such as to a gym, that you’ll be canceling. Once the house went, most of our bills went along with it!

And while I’m speaking of bills that disappeared…think of all the little things you’re paying for all year long while your kids are in school. Field trip fees, book fair money, school pictures, class parties, club fees, fundraisers, etc! ALL GONE! Of course you’ll still buy school supplies, books, and whatever else they need, but you only have to buy what you want!

  1. Get your finances in order

Before you can decide how much you can spend, you have to know what you are making! If you’re freelancing, this can be a little tricky, and you may have to adjust month-by-month. If you have a steady income, then you know what you have to work with.

I already had a job that could be done remotely, and my husband took on part-time remote work with another company. We decided to use the income from my remote job to budget with, and his income was reserved for fun extras and covering any overages.

If you have the flexibility, it’s nice to not budget every bit of your money. If you have a second income or side hustle that you can use as-needed, that will help you to stress less!

  1. Plan for your expenses

Fixed Expenses

Once you know how much money you have to budget with, it’s time to look at what your expenses will be. First, look at anything that is a fixed expense.

For us, after eliminating the majority of our bills with the sale of our house, what remained was our cell phone bill, car insurance, the monthly fee for our storage unit where we stored our belongings, medical prescriptions, and the ever-important Netflix and Hulu subscriptions! These totaled about $400.

Living Expenses

Next, figure out how much you need for living expenses. This basically means food and maybe gas, if you’re driving around. We budget a very modest $200 per week (and often go over- these kids are eating more and more!). This is why it’s good to have that extra, unbudgeted income- we do like to dine out, and that doesn’t usually fit into our living expenses budget!

Lodging

Once you have your fixed expenses and living expenses covered, what’s left will inform how much you can spend on lodging! You may also want to set some aside for gas/transportation to new locations or further-away trips.

Read also: Where do you stay on a family gap year?

There are a few different accomodation options for a family gap year. We primarily stay in Airbnbs for longer stays and hotels for shorter stays.

Hotel rooms and Airbnb costs can range widely, so once you know how much you can spend on lodging each month, then you can choose your stays! We usually look for something around $1500-$1800 for four weeks, but occasionally we find great deals that are under $1000 for four weeks, and occasionally we spend more, usually when booking a more popular location during a popular time (such as New York in June and Maine in July).

How much does it cost to travel the world with a family?

Harry on the beach

We’ve covered some of the theoretical, but now let’s talk real numbers. If you did the steps in the last section, you probably have a good idea of what you could afford, but is it enough?

Probably. Remember that everything is a balance and you may have to sacrifice in one or more of the following areas: location, price, or size/quality. But if our family of six can do it, you probably can too!

Our Family Gap Year Budget

When we first started traveling, we were budgeting with two part-time jobs and managing to scrape by. But after the first couple of months, I started a great full-time job that really made a difference in our budget. My husband still works part-time, but we save that income for extras and fun stuff. So I’ll show you how we could budget on one full-time income.

Monthly income: ~$4,200

Fixed expenses: ~$500/month

Car insurance: $60
Cell phone bill: $135
Storage unit: $130
Subscriptions: $75
Misc: $100

Living expenses: ~$800/month

Lodging expenses: ~$1200-$2200/month

Savings/unplanned expenses: ~$700-$1700

A few money-saving travel tips

I go more in-depth about these tips in this post, but I think they are worth a mention here as well.

  1. Use credit card rewards

Our credit card points count twice as much toward travel-related expenses than if we redeemed them for cash! If you can trust yourself to pay it off each month, use your credit card for all of your purchases and reap the benefits! At least use it for your big expenses, like your Airbnbs, so you get lots of reward points!

  1. Use the same hotel booking site

I always use hotels.com when booking hotel rooms, because you get a free night for every 10 that you book!

  1. Utilize long-term stay discounts

This is a huge one! If you’re wondering, “How can I travel the world for cheap,” Airbnb is your answer!

A lot of Airbnb renters will discount their rates when you stay for a week, and even more when you stay for at least 28 nights. Often these discounts can be as high as 50-80%! This fact alone has been the reason why we could afford to travel full-time for a year!

  1. Eat at home

Seems obvious, but it’s amazing how much you can save. I can feed our family of 6 for as low as a couple of dollars on pasta night, whereas it can easily cost over $100 for us to eat out for one meal.

  1. Just explore

Take advantage of free activities like visiting parks and playgrounds, the beach, wandering around a new town, window-shopping, people-watching, taking long walks, using the hotel pool if there is one… As my mom says, “free entertainment is everywhere!”

Family gap year ideas: where should you go?

With your budget in place, one question remains. Where do you want to go? There are so many options and a ton of places you could choose from, so the sky is truly the limit!

Plan your route

Take your list of must-visit destinations that you created and start plotting a route! You’ll need to decide how much time you want to spend in each location, based on how much you want to see and do there.

We’ve had a lot of success in staying for four weeks at a time in some places, while visiting other places for just a few days, while traveling in between longer stays.

Where are the best places to travel with kids?

where to travel with kids on a family gap year

With the exception of adult-only resorts and some unstable countries that might not be safe for anyone, any place is a good place to travel with kids! Most cities and small towns have kid-friendly activities the whole family can enjoy. 

And don’t forget — traveling full-time means you aren’t always in vacation mode. Most days are pretty normal, with work, school, making meals, doing chores — just in a new place. You can supplement your daily tasks with local activities like doing a nature or cultural walk, visiting a local historical site, or attending a local event.

Our favorite destinations

We are obviously biased toward the places we’ve visited already, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Whidbey Island, Washington
  • San Francisco, California
  • South Padre Island, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Surfside Beach, South Carolina
  • Washington D.C.
  • Brooklyn, New York
  • Old Orchard Beach, Maine
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Dauphin Island, Alabama

And we can’t wait to add in international destinations soon!

Check out our full family gap year itinerary here!

Should you take a family gap year with your kids?

Well, our answer would be an enthusiastic YES! Any hesitations we had about taking this leap and living an unconventional lifestyle (even temporarily) were dashed as soon as we realized what an incredible opportunity it was to see the world while spending time with our family.

We wish the same for you, especially if it’s something you are longing to do, and we hope to see you out on the road!

Ready to take the trip of a lifetime with your kids?

I hope this post has convinced you that you can afford to take a family gap year! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

Want to learn more about how to take your family on a family gap year? We teach you absolutely everything you need to know, step-by-step, to travel full-time with your family and have the adventure of a lifetime. Check it out in the Family Gap Year Academy!

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6 Comments

  1. Hello,

    My name is Elijah Wallace and my family and I are looking into doing a gap year, to see if we want to change our lifestyle permanently. I have a year until it could happen because I’m under contract with the military. If we did make this idea a permanent lifestyle, what would be a good solution to still save for a retirement?

    Thank you for your time,

    Elijah

    1. Hi Elijah! That’s a great question. Some of that would depend on what kind of employment you have and if your employer offers any kind of retirement options. When my husband left his job, his retirement stopped accruing but is still in his account ready to eventually be paid out. We got in touch to find out exactly what we could expect if we took out the balance now versus taking withdrawals later on, and we decided to wait. My employer offers a 401k plan which I take advantage of, and we are about to open a Roth IRA to have a third account that will start accruing. That will not be connected to our employers, so we’ll manually add to it or set up an automatic transfer. I hope that helps, and best of luck on your gap year adventures! I can’t wait to hear more!

      1. Megan,

        Thank you for your quick response. That makes sense. I have a retirement in the military I could leave active. What do you think about doing this with really young kids? We have two daughters who are 2 and 1, and we have another one due in June/July time frame.

        Elijah

        1. There are some definite pros to having small kids – they require less space, sleep easily in the car, etc! Our youngest turned two on the day after we left on our travels. On the other hand, we often lament that our little one won’t remember all of the amazing things we’ve done. But yes, it can be done!

  2. Please help us with a starting point! We want to leave in March next year for 6 months. We have 3 children currently under 10. We don’t mind where we go (as long as it’s away from the UK). How do we decide where to go & how to travel? Cheap & stress free are our aims! Thank you 🙏

    1. Hi Alex – how exciting! I’m sure you’re going to have an incredible time. 😀 One way to decide where to go is to have everyone in the family make a list of places they’d like to visit and then compare and start with the places that were most popular. Our expertise is in the US (so far), and one benefit here is that you can travel such a huge area by car and experience lots of different climates and landscapes, not to mention cities and cultures! Having a car to travel in is definitely my comfort zone (versus relying on public transportation), so that’s one stress-free idea. With the kids being so young, you can probably get away with 2-bedroom Airbnbs or single hotel rooms, which should save you some money. Our course is an awesome resource for absolutely everything you need to know about traveling long-term with the family: course.familygapyearguide.com – hope to see you in there!

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