Reflecting on 1 year off… after 16 years! (March 2018)



New Zealand

Reflections on 1 year off
After two weeks
After 16 years!

I can’t believe it’s been 16 years. Lots of people have written over the years, all asking similar questions. Yes, we still monitor the emails, and do try to respond to everyone.  Here are the typical questions, with our answers. 

How were the kids affected?

It’s hard to say. They are all fine, but I think they would have turned out fine regardless, because they’ve always been good kids. So the question should be: did the trip change them in any way? That’s also difficult to answer.

All three kids advanced with their regular age kids to the next school year. We ended up moving from Toronto to Ottawa so the kids ended up at different schools from where they were pre-trip. They were not left behind to repeat the year they missed, and they didn’t seem to miss much.  Within a few months, they had caught up to their classmates, and they did not have any ‘gaps’ to fill in their knowledge. I’d like to think I covered enough math and science with Mark that he did well. I think all three kids were more well-rounded, culturally aware, and tolerant after seeing so many different cultures over the year.

One advantage to the trip was that we could try so many different things to see where the kids’ interests lay. You’ll remember that Mark and Chloe in particular discovered a joy of climbing in Thailand. They joined the local climbing gym when we got home. Chloe ended up making the Canadian Indoor Climbing team and competed for Canada in the North American championships. Mark qualified for the team, but was attending university and declined. Actually, he broke his ankle vaulting over a bouncy castle during frosh week in first year so couldn’t attend. But that’s a different story. We confirmed Heather’s interest in volunteer work in Deep Griha. She went back to Deep Griha in second year university to volunteer for 6 months, and then continued on her track to medical school. Then a particularly good prof ignited an interest in neuroscience, which she continues to pursue today.

All three kids continue to travel. Mark has done the Mongol Rally, and traveled to Vietnam. He and his girlfriend have been to Indonesia, Iceland, New Zealand and Honduras. Heather did a French exchange in France for one term in high school, went to India to volunteer again. Chloe went to Japan, and to France to visit Clara. In fact, we continue to keep in touch with Clara and her parents and have seen them a number of times since the trip ended.    

Mark is a professional engineer working as a project manager in Calgary.  Heather is completing her PhD in Neuroscience in Geneva Switzerland, and Chloe is a flight attendant. As I said, they’re all good kids and we’re very proud of them.    

When is the right time for a child to travel for a year?

There is probably a maximum age to take a full year off if you don’t want them to miss a year of school. Mark was 13, and I don’t think he could have missed the school year at aged 14: they are simply learning too much foundational knowledge in math and sciences.

I think there is a perfect age to go. It is interesting to talk to the kids about the year off. Mark and Heather remember the cultures, languages, and history. Chloe remembers the colours, sounds and smells. I think this is partly their personalities, but perhaps mostly because of their ages. Chloe remembers the trip as an 8 year old. At age 10/11 and 13, Heather and Mark remember it as young adults.   So, as it turned out, I think we hit the perfect time for the spread of ages in our family.

I don’t think there is a minimum age. Go whenever you’re ready, because the biggest benefit to travel is for the family as a whole, not just the children. You’ll be together as a family for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no cell phone/ work/ TV distractions, during a year where when you discover so much new and interesting stuff.  That’s just good for everyone. 

Now with the kids at ages 24, almost 27, and 29, I realize how short that time is when they are at home.   It is so easy to stay on the corporate treadmill, salute your mortgage on the way to work, and be a good soccer parent. Then the kids are gone and it’s too late.  There is such a small window of opportunity to take a year off as a family, that if the opportunity presents itself and you are at all interested, you should drop everything and go.

What’s next for us parents?

After the year off, we stepped back onto the corporate treadmill and lived quite happily with Sarah involved in Guides, and David involved as a soccer coach. Then the kids grew up and left one by one… and now Sarah and I are close to retirement.  Time really does go by quickly!

As we explain to anyone who asks, for each year in retirement we want to live at the family cottage for 6 months, live in Victoria for 6 months, and travel for 6 months for as long as our health allows.

For travelling, we’d really just like to wander like we did on our year off.  When our health declines, maybe we’ll be limited to the package tours, but I hope that is a number of years off yet. The current thought is to just pick a different area to explore every winter, and invite the kids and their families to join us wherever we are at Christmas or March break.

I look forward to travelling again. Maybe this is not the final chapter: perhaps there’s another blog or travel website in our future?