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Our Family Gap Year Itinerary

Thinking of planning a family gap year? We might be a little biased, but we highly recommend it! Your family gap year itinerary might look completely different from ours, but I hope you’ll find some good inspiration and tips from reading about where we went and what we did!

family gap year itinerary marked on map

Family Gap Year Itinerary

Tips for planning your Family Gap Year Itinerary

If you enjoy lists, spreadsheets, and exhaustive research, congrats — you are the person in your family that gets to plan your family gap year itinerary! Welcome to the club.

If you are set on going, hopefully these tips will help you in your planning. And if you’re still just considering it, hopefully this gets you excited enough to take the plunge!

Tip #1: Ask yourself some important questions

Here are some of the questions you might want to ask as you plan your route:

  • Do you want to explore your own country or travel to other countries?
  • Will you drive or fly?
  • What locations have you always dreamed of visiting?
  • Where are your favorite locations that you’ve been to before?
  • Which historical sites, landmarks, or tourist attractions do you want to see?
  • Are there any events that you’d like to attend?
  • Do you want to be in certain places for certain holidays, seasons, or special days?

Once you answer those questions, your route and itinerary might start to take shape in your head.

Tip #2: Make a dream list.

Make a list of the places you’d love to visit, and have your spouse and any older kids do the same. Compare and plan to visit any places that appear more than once on your lists!

Tip #3: Choose your first few locations and then go in geographical order.

We haven’t been perfect about following a straight route, but the more you can avoid doubling back, the less you’ll spend on gas and hours in the car!

Tip #4: Travel to more expensive places.

Wait, whaaaaat? Yeah I said it. Take advantage of the fact that you’re not tied down with a house payment right now and put that money toward your lodging while you travel. Later on, if you do settle down and have a home base again, that’s the right time to travel to budget locations!

That being said, you can save even more money by not having a home base AND traveling to budget locations, so feel free to ignore me and go wherever you want!

Tip #5: Stay flexible.

Things can always change, so there’s no need to plan out the whole year at once. When we started, we knew where we wanted to end up about 9 months later, so we planned our route with that in mind, but we only booked places about a month in advance.

If you don’t have a long-term destination, you can always just plan out the first few and take it from there!

Despite calling our travels a “family gap year”, it’s really been years, plural, for us! We traveled full-time for four years!

I hope these tips have given you a good start for planning your family gap year itinerary. Read on to learn about the places we visited during our travels!

Don’t miss: How to Take a Family Gap Year

Where we went: 2018

September 2018: Nevada, Idaho, & Washington

We left Arizona and headed for Washington, via Las Vegas and Boise. In Las Vegas, we stopped at my brother’s house for lunch, and in Boise we stopped at the Westside Drive-In for Baked Potato Ice Cream!

baked potato ice cream
Baked Potato ice cream in Boise, Idaho

We spent four weeks on Whidbey Island, taking several field trips into Seattle.

Read about it:
19 Reasons to Visit Whidbey Island
Orca watching in San Juan Islands
24 Hours in Seattle with Kids
Play with Kitties at the Seattle Meowtropolitan Cat Cafe
Visiting Amazon in Seattle
Unique Things to Do in Seattle with Kids

October 2018: Oregon & California

We spent one full day in Portland, then drove to San Francisco via the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park where we walked among the redwood trees.

We drove the Pacific Coast Highway over two days, ending in Santa Monica, and then headed to Anaheim for some time at Disneyland with family. Before leaving California, we stopped in LA and visited Griffith Observatory.

griffith observatory
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California

Read about it:
24 Hours in Portland, Oregon
Where to See Redwood Trees in California
24 Hours in San Francisco: a Family Itinerary
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway: a Road Trip Guide for Families

November 2018: Arizona & Colorado

In November we stayed close to home and spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. We lived in Springerville, AZ for four weeks and enjoyed the local historic one-screen movie theatre, our electric fireplace (it was cold!), and taking bundled-up walks around the neighborhood.

Before heading to our next long-term stay, we spent one weekend in Denver, where I had never been! We stopped at Four Points on the way and stood in four different states at once.

Read about it:
Stand in four states at once at Four Corners Monument

December 2018: Texas & Louisiana

When deciding where to spend December, my husband scrolled alllll the way to the bottom of the country, and we found South Padre Island, Texas. It was a good choice — we had plenty of beach weather there, even in December!

little girl in the surf
Melody on the beach on South Padre Island, Texas

After our four-week stay, we headed east, stopping in Louisiana to celebrate New Year’s Eve with muffalettas and beignets.

Read about it:
29 Reasons to Visit South Padre Island, Texas
Things to do in New Orleans with Teens

Where we went: 2019

January 2019: Florida

In the new year, we spent a couple of weeks with my parents in Clermont, near Orlando, and then we headed to an Airbnb we booked in Crescent City, Florida.

Read about it:
Your guide to all the rides at Universal Studios Orlando
Your guide to all the rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
More theme park posts

February 2019: Tennessee

We spent two weeks in two gorgeous homes, deep in the woods of Tennessee — emerging on the weekends to explore Nashville.

lodge in Tennessee woods
Our lodge outside Nashville

March 2019: Georgia & West Virginia

In March, we spent two weeks just outside of Atlanta, Georgia and two weeks in West Virginia, where we hiked part of the Appalachian Trail.

Read about it:
22 fun things to do in Atlanta with teens
Plan the perfect family outing in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

April 2019: Virginia

For the month of April, we booked a condo right on the Virginia Beach boardwalk and enjoyed falling asleep and waking up to the sound of waves crashing.

May 2019: Washington D.C. & South Carolina

The first week of May was spent in Washington D.C. with many hours spent exploring the Smithsonian museums, monuments, memorials, the National Zoo, and touring all three branches of government, including the White House!

family in front of Washington monument
Dad selfie at the Washington Monument

Then, we headed back south for four weeks of sun and sand, just south of Myrtle Beach in Surfside Beach, South Carolina.

Read about it:
40+ fun things to do in Myrtle Beach in winter
Things to do in Myrtle Beach in fall
Best brunch in Myrtle Beach

June 2019: New York

In June, we headed north for an exciting month-long stay in Brooklyn, with almost daily trips into Manhattan for Broadway shows and other fun activities. I even worked from my company’s office on 5th Avenue!

July 2019: Maine & South Dakota

When we started traveling, getting to Maine in July 2019 was part of our ultimate plan. I grew up in Maine, and we love to spend summers there. We spent three glorious weeks in a cottage near the beach, and then stopped by both Niagara Falls and Mount Rushmore on our way back west.

kids in front of Mount Rushmore
Kids at Mount Rushmore

August 2019: Arizona

We returned to Arizona in August because my husband wanted to see his family, and I had a surgery planned in Scottsdale. We enjoyed our time visiting family and the surgery went smoothly!

September 2019: Arizona

We decided to stay close to my medical team in September, for follow-up visits, so we booked a gorgeous condo in Tucson and enjoyed visiting our favorite Tucson places.

October 2019: New Mexico & Texas

After our first year of traveling went so well, we decided we wanted to take our adventures overseas. But because of my surgery, my sister’s upcoming wedding in the spring, and our desire to go to Europe during the warmer part of the year, we decided to keep traveling the states through the winter and head overseas after the wedding.

So, we decided to revisit some of our favorite destinations, starting with South Padre Island, Texas. The timing worked out perfectly to stop by the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the way, which was a big bucket list item!

hot air balloon
Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico

November 2019: Florida

When we visited Florida in January, we got annual passes for Universal Studios, which were still active in November! So we took the same route and went from Texas to Florida and stayed in Kissimmee for the second half of November and first half of December, and enjoyed lots of days at the theme parks!

December 2019: South Carolina

In December, we decided to hit another favorite spot and headed up to South Carolina. This time we stayed in a condo right on the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach. It was a little cooler this time around (compared with May!) but we still had plenty of nice weather.

Where we went: 2020

January 2020: Alabama

We needed to be in Denver for my sister’s wedding in April, so we headed west again, this time via some new cities and states! We spent January on Dauphin Island in Alabama and had a great month bicycling around the island, visiting the beach, taking the ferry to Gulf Shores, and enjoying all the Mardi Gras parades!

February 2020: Arkansas & Oklahoma

In February, we made a couple of quicker visits, spending a few days in Bentonville, Arkansas and a few more in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

March 2020: Arizona

We spent March in Arizona, planning to head to Denver near the end of the month for the wedding festivities. While in Arizona, we took an RV trip to the Grand Canyon and also visited the Route 66 Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ.

wigwam hotel
Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona

Read about it:
RV Trip to the Grand Canyon

April 2020: Arizona

April was supposed to start with my sister’s wedding in Denver and end with us flying to London to start our overseas adventures. Coronavirus had other plans. Everything got canceled, and we quarantined at my mother-in-law’s house for the whole month. A bummer, but a huge blessing that we had such a welcoming and comfortable place to stay.

May 2020: Florida & South Carolina

In May, we were itching to hit the road again, and things were looking up, so we drove 30 hours across the country to surprise my parents in Florida! We spent a week with them, and then went back to Surfside Beach, South Carolina and stayed in the same house we stayed in the year before, for almost the same exact dates!

June 2020: North Carolina & Kentucky

In June, we wanted to hit a few states that we hadn’t really experienced yet. We spent a week in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then stayed for four weeks in Louisville, Kentucky, with a day trip to Indianapolis, Indiana.

louisville sluggers
Louisville Slugger Factory

July 2020: Epic Road Trip!

Instead of booking a long-term stay for July, we decided to make our way west via an absolutely epic, 3-week road trip that would take us through several new states and cities.

In week 1, we visited Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We walked the boardwalks in Rehoboth Beach and Atlantic City, stayed at Caesar’s Palace for the full casino experience, and visited historic places in Philadelphia.

Week 2 took us to Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. We visited the Motown Museum and did the Coney Dog Challenge in Detroit, stopped in Chicago for a quick visit to the Bean and to eat some Chicago dogs, ate cheese at the Milwaukee Public Market, explored the Bridges of Madison County in Des Moines, and went to the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

In our final week, we drove across North Dakota, into Montana, then headed south through Wyoming, Utah, and into Arizona. We saw the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, drove the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, watched Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone National Park, and drove through the red rocks in Zion National Park.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

August 2020: Arizona

In August, we spent three weeks in Maricopa before heading to see family in Payson, because ONE of us (*me*) tested positive for Covid. How the other five members of the family tested negative after three weeks of all six of us hanging out in hotel rooms together, I’ll never know. We enjoyed hot walks around the neighborhood and getting food from our beloved Eegees. Then we headed to Payson for family time, plus a bonus visit to Sedona.

September 2020: Arizona, Kansas, & Nebraska

In September, we drove Route 66 in Arizona, then headed up to Colorado via Kansas and Nebraska. My mother-in-law asked us cheekily if we’d ever seen a map. Haha! Well, none of us had ever visited Kansas or Nebraska, so we took a slight detour.

In Kansas, we went 650 feet underground to explore a salt mine, and in Nebraska we had dinner in Omaha’s old town and then visited Chimney Rock on our way to Colorado.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

October 2020: Colorado & Arizona

We spent two weeks in Colorado in October, attending my sister’s wedding, exploring the Garden of the Gods, and hanging out with my family. Then we headed back to Arizona to prep for another cross-country journey.

November & December 2020: Florida

With a quick visit to New Orleans on the way, we drove to Florida to finish out the year. We spent many days at our favorite theme parks and celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Where we went: 2021

January 2021: Florida & Alabama

We started off 2021 with a trip to southern Florida: Miami and Key West. We got our fill of Cuban food and mojitos before heading to Gulf Shores, Alabama where we stayed right on the beach. It was too cold to do much outside, but we enjoyed visiting the Photo Op Shop and The Yard Milkshake Bar.

kids on unicorn
The Photo Op Shop in Gulf Shores, Alabama

February 2021: Texas & Arizona

Partway through our Gulf Shores stay, Daniel flew back home to Arizona to help take care of his mom, so when our time was up in Gulf Shores, I drove the kids to Galveston, Texas. We spent a week there, and Daniel flew back to join us and help me drive the rest of the way to Arizona.

March 2021: Arizona

In March we enjoyed a fairly quiet month, being with family and doing things around Daniel’s mom’s house, where we stayed. But in April we were ready to be on the move again.

April 2021: Louisiana, Alabama, & Florida

At the beginning of April, we went east to Florida again, stopping in New Orleans (this is becoming a tradition) and Gulf Shores to show Daniel some of the cool things we found there since he had to leave early.

May 2021: Florida

May in Florida was full of theme park visits and trying all of the Mardi Gras food at Universal Studios. Daniel, Carter, and I also got to attend the passholder preview of the Velocicoaster at Islands of Adventure and ride it before it officially opened!

Velocicoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

June 2021: North Carolina

We wanted to do another epic road trip in July like the summer before (this time in the northeast), so we found a place about halfway up the coast to spend June. The house we booked was about an hour east of Raleigh, so we drove into the city a few times to explore some museums and parks and eat great BBQ.

It was in June that we finally booked our plane tickets overseas and our first European Airbnb in London, for September!

July 2021: Northeastern Tour!

In July, we spent time in New York City, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine. I was the only one who had been to Rhode Island before, and we had only driven through Connecticut, so we visited the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT and walked the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI.

Newport Rhode Island Cliff Walk
Rhode Island’s Cliff Walk

In Massachusetts, we stopped by the Public Gardens to say hi to the Make Way for Ducklings statues, and we visited the first Tenney grave in America. Then it was on to Maine for a week of fun in my hometown, Old Orchard Beach.

Read about it:
Best Bed and Breakfasts in Newport, RI

August 2021: North Carolina & Florida

In August, we drove back down the coast, staying for one week in North Carolina, then moving on to Florida for a couple of weeks. We stayed with my family and also spent a few days at Universal’s Dockside Inn & Suites. At the end of the month, Carter turned 13! We had a teenager!

September 2021: Arizona & California

September was time to prep to head overseas. We drove back to Arizona and got ready. We put as much stuff as we could into our storage unit and left our van at our relatives’ house. We also fit in a quick trip to Anaheim to visit California Adventure for Carter and his “twin” cousin’s 13th birthdays.

On September 20th, we grabbed our passports and one backpack each, got on a shuttle which took us to the Phoenix airport, flew to Calgary and made a connection flight, and then flew overnight to London, England. It was finally time for our European adventures!

October 2021: London & Liverpool, England

We spent October seeing all of the things around London, including the London Eye, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Harry Potter Studio Tour, Abbey Road, and so on and so on!

Tower Bridge
Kids at Tower Bridge

At the end of the month, we spent a week in Liverpool, right on Penny Lane, and visited some iconic sites from Beatles history.

Read about it:
Experience the best of London in 5 days
Fun things to do in Liverpool for kids

November 2021: Paris, France

We took an overnight bus and arrived in Paris, France on Halloween. We spent November eating baguettes, croissants, macarons, and creme brulee, and visiting the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, Montmarte, and Disneyland Paris!

Melody at Musee Louvre
Melody at the Louvre

December 2021: Rome, Italy

In December, we flew to Rome, Italy where we toured the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Vatican Museums. We visited the Circus Maximus, put our hands in the Mouth of Truth, and climbed Aventine Hill to look through the keyhole at St. Peter’s Basilica. We ate lots of great pasta, even making some ourselves, and celebrated Christmas.

Family by Colosseum
Family at the Colosseum

Read about it:
21 BEST Day Trips From Rome By Train You’ll Love
7 Tips for Traveling to Italy with Kids

At the very end of December, we flew to Athens, Greece and celebrated New Year’s Eve there.

Where we went: 2022

January 2022: Athens & Santorini, Greece

In Athens, we explored the Parthenon on the Acropolis and other ancient sites. We waded in the Aegean Sea and took a food tour around the city. We walked through Plaka and the Acropolis Museum. And we ate so. many. gyros!

Then, we flew to Santorini for a few days to see the blue-domed churches and walk the narrow paths along the cave houses in Oia. We stayed in a converted windmill and watched gorgeous sunsets.

Blue domes of Oia
Santorini, Greece

Read about it:
How to find the blue domes in Santorini

February 2022: London & Penzance, England

February saw us back in London for just a week before we took a train to Penzance on the southwestern shore.

We spent a month in the Yellow Blossom Cottage where the kids had fun exploring in the woods, we celebrated Vanessa’s 11th birthday with a karaoke tea party, and we walked across the causeway that’s only available when the tide is out, to tour St. Michael’s Mount island and castle. We ate Cornish pasties, made scones, and generally fell in love with Cornwall and Penzance.

Melody on the rocks by St. Michael's Mount
St. Michael’s Mount

Read about it:
23 things to do in Penzance Cornwall

March 2022: Scotland

In March, we said goodbye to our remote retreat and took an overnight bus from Penzance back to London for a day. Then, we took the Caledonian sleeper train (bucket list!) to Glasgow.

Caledonian Sleeper
Caledonian Sleeper Train

Our Airbnb was in Airdrie, a small town between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The kids and I enjoyed visiting the Glasgow Science Center, and Daniel and I did a chocolate & whiskey tasting at the Clydeside Distillery.

In Edinburgh, we walked the Royal Mile and visited locations that inspired JK Rowling to write Harry Potter.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

We also rented a car and drove to Inverness where we looked for Nessie in Loch Ness, and we took the train to Stirling and toured Stirling Castle.

April 2022: Kenmare & Dublin, Ireland

Next, we visited the Emerald Isle — Ireland! We stayed four weeks in a small town called Kenmare, on the Ring of Kerry. We enjoyed walking into town and trying the restaurants along the main street, touring the Ring of Kerry and Blarney Castle, and of course kissing the Blarney Stone!

Kissing the Blarney Stone
Kissing the Blarney Stone

Before leaving the country, we spent two days in Dublin where we visited Temple Bar, the EPIC Museum, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Jameson Distillery.

May 2022: Barcelona, Spain

In May, we had the fantastic combo of the weather getting warmer AND heading south! We flew from Dublin to Barcelona, Spain, then took a train to our beachfront Airbnb in Segur de Calafell.

We enjoyed lots of beach time and several visits to Barcelona. We admired Gaudi’s unique architecture at Casa Batllo, La Sagrada Familia, and Parc Guell, took the cable car up Montjuic and watched the Magic Fountain, and toured Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona. Oh and we ate our weight in tapas (mmm…patatas bravas)!

Parc Guell
Parc Guell

June 2022: Nice, France & Monaco

From Spain, we took a short flight to Nice, France. Our Airbnb was a short bus ride outside of town, and just two blocks from the beach. We explored Old Nice, especially enjoying the view and waterfall at Parc Colline du Chateau, Parc Phoenix, La Coulee Verte playground, and Musee Matisse.

Megan in Nice
Parc Colline du Chateau

We just happened to be in the area during both the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, and though we couldn’t get tickets to either event, we joined the crowds of onlookers.

July 2022: Lucca, Pisa, Florence, & Venice, Italy; Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; and back to the USA!

Our final long-term stay in Europe was in Lucca, Italy. We stayed in a huge, historic apartment and absolutely loved strolling the streets of Lucca and biking the medieval walls around the city.

From Lucca, we took day trips to Pisa and Florence where we saw some of the most impressive buildings and artwork of our entire European adventures.

Florence Duomo
Florence, Italy

Read about it:
We love Lucca: all the best things to do in this Tuscan treasure

Then, it was time to start making our way back to the USA! We found a good deal on tickets from Munich to Phoenix, with a stopover in Atlanta, which meant we got to visit three more cities and two more countries before leaving.

First, we spent a day in Venice. It was hot and crowded, but we had a great time riding a vaporetto along the Grand Canal, visiting St. Mark’s Basilica, and eating some great food!

From Venice, we took a train up to Salzburg, Austria where we had a packed day full of sightseeing. Starting at 6am, we visited several Sound of Music filming locations, saw the Sound of Music gazebo, toured Mozart’s home, experienced the Hellbrunn Palace Trick Fountains, rode the Untersburg cable car to the top of the mountain, and cruised the Salzach, before catching our evening train to Munich.

Salzburg Mirabel Gardens
Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria (the Do-Re-Mi steps from The Sound of Music!)

In Munich, we watched the Marienplatz glockenspiel, ate (and drank) at Hofbrauhaus, and giggled at the surfers riding (but mostly falling into) the endless wave on the Eisbach. We wrapped up our final night in Europe by watching the sunset from the Monopteros Temple in the Englischer Garten.

Read about it:
What to do in Salzburg for a day

The next morning, we caught a train to the airport and boarded our flight to Atlanta. After a 5-hour layover, we took our final flight to Phoenix, and then finally a shuttle van to our relatives’ house in Payson, Arizona (where our van was waiting for us!).

The last few weeks of July were hectic, as we visited family in Arizona, spent a week unloading our storage unit and packing a moving truck, and then driving all the way across the country (Daniel driving the truck and me driving the kids in the van!) to South Carolina. There, we unloaded our things into a new storage unit and immediately drove down to Florida to visit my family.

On July 31st, we drove back to South Carolina from Florida and officially ended our full-time travels. Myrtle Beach is our chosen forever home, and we couldn’t be happier. The kids are in school, we bought a beautiful home, and we’re having fun going to the beach and trying all the local restaurants and activities.

Where we’re going next!

After four years on the road, we’ve hung up our travel backpacks in favor of school backpacks! Are we done traveling? Of course not! We’ll definitely continue exploring places we’ve never been, both near and far. But we’re excited to have a home of our own again, with all of our things, and for the kids to make long-term friends and participate in activities. It’s been an incredible adventure, but we’re ready for the next chapter of our lives!

Back to school!

Planning your own family gap year? Our Family Gap Year Academy teaches absolutely everything you need to know about how to how to take life on the road! Check it out here!

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  1. We are starting to plan our gap year! I see you are visiting Des Moines, Iowa this summer. Feel free to email me for a tour or tips. We’d also be happy to treat you to lunch while you’re here.

    1. Hi Nicole – that is so kind of you!! And thanks for reminding me that I need to update this post. We actually visited Des Moines last July and loved it. I can’t wait to hear all about your gap year plans – please feel free to share or ask if you need any tips for specific locations!

  2. Would you mind sharing the cost of your six months in Europe? We’re thinking of doing this. Deciding between Southeast Asia which is definitely significantly cheaper but the places you went are all places my parents took us in the nineties and a dream for me to take my children.

    1. Hi Brett, while we traveled through Europe, we spent about an average of $2400 on month-long Airbnb stays. Keep in mind there are six of us, so we usually had to find at least a 3-bedroom apartment. I’d say we spent about the same on food as we would have in the US, and paying for travel from place to place varied but we also weren’t spending anything on gas or car maintenance. The other big cost was paying for the touristy experiences, which you can pick and choose from and decide how much you want to budget for that. It really varied from place to place, but since we weren’t paying for a house or utilities while traveling, most of the costs were just a trade-off. Hope that helps!

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