How and why one Colorado family left it all behind and found what mattered most.
All while traveling "Children Class".
There are two classes of travel: First class, and with children.
- Robert Benchley
He's right, you know; there is no posh, no pamper, no true relaxation when traveling with children.
When we grownups travel or walk into an office or a sit in a pew or stand in an elevator looking anywhere but at someone else, it is because we have been trained how to behave in certain situations or settings. Children, haven't a clue. And so when traveling they are as exasperating, frustrating, entertaining, and exhausting as any other day of their lives.
What is different with travel is that we grownups finally have the time to be properly trained by them. For example, when children take a break from study or chores or other responsibilities, they do not seek out a hammock with a Mai Tai Kool-Aid with a wee umbrella sitting close by. No, they seek play, which is really just work with a different purpose. We grownups tend to think that proper relaxing is the complete cessation of all physical exertion (save for waving down the pool boy for just one more Mai Tai). Relaxation, our children continually try to teach us, is not rest but the freedom to pursue your own purpose.
Children couldn't care less about physical rest, and when they do, they usually settle down to something calm yet mentally engaging and creative, like drawing or building (or for boys, wrecking). And when children are active, there is no relaxing for parents (until after that second Mai Tai).
In order to put into practice, then, what our children have been trying to teach us all these years, my wife, Diana, and I decided to take a 14-month family sabbatical in Ecuador, to travel Children Class. We quit our jobs, stored our stuff, rented our house, and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador. The kids attended local school, we all learned Spanish, and we spent much of our non-school time traveling and discovering Ecuador and its people. We played and learned. We engaged and studied (Salsa lessons, Internet marketing, Ecuadorian cooking).
That's the short version.
We have since returned home but have not returned to our old jobs. Diana is now an independent marketing and communications consultant. I am writing and have also started a website to inspire and help other families to take their own sabbaticals. Everything we do now is designed to remain independent, flexible, and mobile. Our time away not only inspired that life change, it gave us the time to learn how to do it. (By the way, here's how to do it—just do it! We've discovered all the important learning comes after you've begun anyway. Everything before that is just to give you the confidence to do it.)
So here are 10 reasons to take your own family sabbatical:
1. Spend more and better time together as a family.
2. Get to know yourself and your world by leaving the life you know for a bit and viewing it from the outside.
3. Give your children a rare and valuable education beyond the school walls and their usual borders.
4. The chance to reinvent yourself. Find a new and better career, income, or skill. Learn guitar, painting, or cooking.
5. Looks great on a resume (if you ever need one again). Creatively reference the skills you needed or learned—creativity, improvisation, bold action, planning, budgeting and financial management, independence, self-sufficiency, flexibility, list making.
6. It's a down economy; why struggle to make money? Go live somewhere less expensive and come back when the money hose turns back on.
7. Learn another language.
9. Liberate your life from stuff.
There is no perfect age for the kids to do this. It will not get easier if you wait. It is not as difficult as you imagine. But, it is more amazing than you imagine.
And the Buddhists might be wrong—this may be the only life you get.
Matt Scherr is the editor of Radical Family Sabbatical and is married to Diana Scherr.
Together, they parent two world wanderers, Piper and Duncan.
Lately, I have been thinking about and discussing with friends, family, and colleagues, the delicate balance we seek when managing risk, fear, preparation, wisdom, loss, knowledge and exploration.
Perhaps our formula is different when the situation involves our children.
With opportunities from Montana to Malawi, there is a volunteer vacation to suit every family. Here are five organizations to consider when planning your next family voluntourism trip.
Help build a house in Mexico, save the turtles in Costa Rica or teach young children to read in Malawi. More than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours to volunteerism, according to a recent report from the Corporation for National & Community Service. And now Americans are increasingly taking their charity on the road.
Voluntourism, the concept of doing good while having a good time, is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.During a recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon region, my school-aged sons and I, along with two family friends, traveled 90 miles by speedboat deep within the jungle. There we delivered much-needed school supplies to several communities along the river. In return, we enjoyed the students’ songs, dances and original poetry. Their creativity and energy were among the most memorable aspects of our adventure.
I-to-I offers volunteer vacation experiences in Honduras, India and Costa Rica working with sustainable, locally run community, educational and environmental projects. Its travel advisors will provide specific information about each country and project so that you can make the best decision for your family. Tel. 800-985-4852, www.i-to-i.com.
Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers offers short- and long-term opportunities in more than 20 countries. Popular family projects include working with the Blackfeet Indians in Montana, teaching conversational English, assisting in orphanages and working on building projects in Costa Rica. www.globalvolunteers.org
Craft your own family volunteer vacation from hundreds of opportunities provided on this Web site. You’ll find connections to projects and causes around the world. www.GiveSpot.com
Students gather for a group picture with their host families from the Tanzanian village of Itete.
American Hiking Society
On an American Hiking Society volunteer vacation, family members visit stunning backcountry locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters. You’ll meet other volunteers while exploring and restoring some of the most beautiful outdoor places in America. American Hiking Society members qualify for discounts. www.americanhiking.org
Amazonia Expeditions subscribes to the philosophy that tourism companies have an obligation to invest in the well-being of the environment as well as native people. Dolores Arevalo Shapiama de Beaver, a native of the Amazon and the owner of a wilderness lodge, has worked to identify individuals with special needs who could benefit from medical or educational intervention. Visitors can provide and help distribute school and medical supplies, as well as clothing, while learning about the native people, conservation and the rainforest habitat.