Holy cow. Since we had kids, these last few years have gone by FAST.

And slowly. Painfully slowly at times. It’s said that when you have children, the days can drag on but the years fly by. So true!

If you have children, I know you can relate.

But sandwiched between the routine of rushing them out the door for school, long hours at work, moaning about homework and struggling them into bed in each evening are moments of fun, joy, completely unscheduled time to just hang out and have a great time together.

What, there are? When are those moments?

When you’re on vacation.

Oh, yeah. That’s good quality time.

But for some of us that’s only two weeks per year. Two weeks out of 52. The only time we get to put the pressures of life aside and really be relaxed and present with our family is a mere 3.84 percent of the year.

Actually, 2.56 percent, if you take sleeping into account.

Do you want more vacation and less coming home just before the kids go to bed? At least, while they’re still young enough to want to hang out with you?

Us too. So we saved up for five years to take a year off to travel with our kids.

The natural first question: how’d we afford take a year-long break? Nope, no trust fund. We cover how we funded our year off in these posts:

– The Best Vacation Savings Account for Our Year of Family Travel

– Saving Up Money for Travel – 57 Easy Ways To Cut Costs

– Is Selling on Etsy Worth It? How I Helped Fund our Family Sabbatical by Selling Vintage Craft Supplies

Our Family Sabbatical Gone Wrong

We bought a small motorhome and planned to ship it from Canada to Europe, to spend the year toodling around looking at castles and vineyards and museums and playing and eating good food and drinking local craft beer.

A white Class C RV
Harvey. He’s a 2002 Class C RV, 26 feet (8 m) long.

We hoped to sleep in parking lots (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say), people’s driveways, and assorted municipally-owned free camping spots, and to spend our days touring quaint villages on our bicycles or watching our kids play on the beach.

While the idea of campervanning around Europe is nothing new, what I couldn’t find online (or anywhere else) was much information about how to take a motorhome from North America to Europe for an extended trip.

That might be because it’s a terrible idea. We don’t know! And that’s how this blog started – it was supposed to be where we wrote about our experience, in order to help other people thinking of taking an RV to Europe.

If you read the first few posts in this blog you’ll see that we made it as far as depature: we quit our jobs, rented out our house, bought our boat tickets, and in May 2019 we left Ontario and headed for the port in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Unfortunately, three weeks later, just as we were about to load our RV onto the boat bound for Belgium, Wandering Family Man’s mom emailed to say she had been diagnosed with cancer.

We canceled Europe and headed for home. Along with other things, this blog came to a screeching halt.

Lemons Turn Into Lemonade

I’m writing this a year later, and looking back we can see that the cancellation of our family sabbatical was definitely for the best.

First, we spent the summer of 2019 slowly RVing through eastern Canada and Quebec, and had a wonderful time. The special time with our kids we were hoping to have in Europe, we had in a country that arguably makes for better travel with littles – Canada is blessed with abundant, accessible nature, interesting child-friendly museums and attractions, easy boondocking (free camping) for RVers, and public playgrounds and beaches. Our original summer adventure can be seen on our Facebook page.

We arrived home for Wandering Family Man’s mom’s surgery and, having no jobs, were able to devote our next few months supporting her through treatment. Six months later, she was in complete remission and remains so, thank goodness!

Knowing that after her chemo we would no longer have enough savings to go to Europe, we used the remainder of our trip fund as a down payment on a house. Then we started to turn our minds to finding jobs. As luck would have it, within a few weeks both Wandering Family Man and I secured jobs that were for the most part, remote.

A few weeks later, Covid-19 hit the world, Canada shut its borders, and our employers moved to fully remote work arrangements. As is true for everyone, the pandemic has been hard, but we’ve been lucky to have both been able to keep our jobs, so far.

If our original family sabbatical plan had worked out, when Covid hit we would have been caught in Europe with no quick way to get our Canadian RV back to Canada, and would have had no jobs and no home, nearing the end of our savings. I routinely thank my mother-in-law for getting cancer and saving us from what would have been an awful situation! She takes my jokes in stride.

We had planned to show our children some of our beautiful world, and to share with them our love of traveling. Instead, we were able to demonstrate even more important things: how to pivot when things don’t go according to plan, even when that plan is a Big plan. How it’s important to let things unfold and not to assume in advance that what’s going to happen can’t possibly be as good as the plan you had to give up. How being there for family when they need you is of critical importance.

Our backstory

Wandering Family Man and I were fun before we had kids. Or at least that’s what we tell one another whenever we turn down an invitation to something because it starts after 9 pm.

When Wandering Family Man and I met I had already traveled to 20 different countries. I’d lived in four different Canadian provinces as well as in Connecticut. I’d attended five universities and switched careers twice.

(Okay, that might not sound fun to you, but I loved it!)

For his part, Wandering Family Man was in a band that regularly stuffed itself into a rented van to play gigs across Canada and Europe. When he wasn’t playing trumpet and ukulele banjo he was hard at work as a freelance web developer or taking something apart with intentions of putting it back together.

We met, fell in love, and so as you do we got full-time jobs in a city, bought a house and had a baby. And then, just to make absolutely sure we had no remaining time and energy to be fun, we had a second one.

For the past five years, excitement in our lives has meant finding a good kids-eat-free restaurant or having the water main under our house burst. 

Perhaps, like us, you’ve locked into a job, a house, and a daily routine that consists of yelling to get the kids out the door on time for school, working all day at a job you may or may not enjoy, struggling to get the littles to and from piano/practice/whatever, putting together some sort of supper and wrangling the kids into bed…so that you can drop into bed exhausted and frustrated.

Picture of a person sleeping under the covers in bed with only one arm out

Family living is both amazing and really hard. But in my view it’s not hard because kids. It’s hard because full-time work doesn’t jive with raising kids.

We realized this pretty quickly after having Wandering Family Boy. But our realization didn’t mean things stopped costing money. Most people have to work. So do we.

We can’t retire, but that doesn’t mean we can’t save up and carve out just a little block of dedicated time to spend together.

For us, it’s a year. We’re know we’re really fortunate. But even a month, two months, six months would be a gift. A month to just relax and look at your kid and your life and re-realize how great they are.

We started saving for a family sabbatical. We figured that a good time for a family gap year would be when Wandering Family Boy is seven. That gave us five years to save and plan.

In the interim we welcomed Wandering Family Girl into our family. Where Wandering Family Boy is our chill, smiley jokester, Wandering Family Girl is our adorable Evel Keinevel, only happy if she’s throwing herself off of something at height.

Through these last five years of parenting, Wandering Family Man switching to freelance work, me nearly burning out at work, and waiting for the last season of Game of Thrones to finally start, we kept socking our “Big Trip” savings away. Now we’re ecstatic to say…

Our family gap year starts in June, 2019!

and also

Look Mom! I’m actually executing a five-year plan!

We bought a small, old RV, named it Harvey, and put solar panels on him. We’ve booked him a boat ticket to Europe. The tenants have just moved into our house.  I’ve given notice at work. Wandering Family boy is seven, and Wandering Family Girl is just about to turn two.

About this blog

I love blogs. I find other people’s accounts of unusual things they’ve done to be really helpful and inspiring.

We got the idea to take a year off from a blog. We got ideas about what to do with our year off from blogs.

We’re writing our blog for two main reasons. The first is to help others by adding to the scant online resources about a) how to take a motorhome to Europe and b) family-friendly destinations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The second is to make sure that we chronicle our experience so that we can point our children to it whenever they complain in future that we suck as parents and don’t do anything for them.

(Without public accountability, I’m an inconsistent journal-keeper at best, and Wandering Family Man only writes in html and other languages I don’t understand. Hopefully this blog is the solution to our deficiencies! At least, those ones.)