A Family Sabbatical Planning Diary

Our family set an intention to have a break from our version of ‘normal’ and take the kids on a life-expanding experience that will give them an opportunity to see the world differently. This journey may open up different avenues for them and perhaps affect their future choices as global citizens.

We began planning a family sabbatical, our Grand Adventure, many years ago. You can read our planning story here, including early route ideas. You’ll see the contrast of the building excitement to dealing with the setbacks we faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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On 8 March 2021 a new travel declaration form was published by the UK government. Anyone intending to travel from the UK after this point has to fill in the form clearly stating their reason for travel. Only three reasons to travel are permitted: work, education and volunteering.

A few months ago, at least four weeks before Lockdown 3 began in England back in January, and travel abroad for leisure was no longer allowed, we’d booked to spend some of our time in Costa Rica volunteering. It had always been our intention to find ways to volunteer while we travelled. We came across a company (Working Abroad) who helped us find a suitable organisation in Costa Rica which welcomes children alongside adult volunteers and booked in.

Those two factors together mean that we are able to embark on our family sabbatical in April. With the kids back at school (they returned on 8 March) it’s been a flurry of activity at home as we get our house ready to rent out through AirBnB and sort through our kit. We are transiting via Madrid so a PCR test is needed before flying. We are going to take advantage of the loosening restrictions (after 29 March we expect to be allowed to meet up with one other household in a public outdoor space or private garden) and have planned in garden visits with the grandparents before we go. With increased confidence that our trip is going ahead, we’ve booked a few more elements in Costa Rica including a second stint of volunteering.

What will our grand adventure look like?

Slow travel is the name of the game. We will be starting with two months in Costa Rica during which time we’ll volunteer with two different organisations. When we are not volunteering we’ll be spending as much time outside and in nature as possible. We won’t be crossing borders frequently, focussing instead on spending time in just two or three countries. Much of what lies ahead is unknown, but that’s ok.


As I write this update, at the end of January 2021, our six-month family sabbatical is still on the horizon, though that horizon seems to stretch further into the distance each day.

In October 2020, while we were enjoying a long weekend in the Lake District, we took the time to think about what our family sabbatical might look like while the coronavirus pandemic still held the world in its grip. We decided that travelling to lots of different countries would not only be difficult, but also felt irresponsible, so we created a plan in which we would ‘slow travel’ in just two to three countries: Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. A flight was booked to Costa Rica for mid-February.

New variants have since been identified in England, South Africa and Brazil. England entered a third lockdown on 5 January 2021, with schools closed again. Our borders were shut to travellers from South America (many countries on that continent had already closed their borders to us), South Africa and Portugal. Additional border requirements for a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours has been agreed, and quarantine hotels are now being introduced for arrivals from coronavirus ‘hotspots’. Instead of things getting better, and despite the roll-out of vaccines, it looks like the situation is getting worse. Our flight to Costa Rica has already been pushed back to April.

Life in Lockdown 3.0 in England, January 2021

If we are able to leave the country we still intend to go on our family sabbatical this year. We aren’t going travelling to escape the virus. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting every country in the world. I actively seek out information about the situation in other countries and recently I’ve reached out to Instagram friends to ask them to contribute to a blog about life in Latin America during the coronavirus pandemic. We intend to travel responsibly and follow the rules in whichever country we find ourselves in, wearing our masks and practicing social distancing. Much as we did during our summer road trip around Devon and Cornwall in August 2020, we will live our lives outdoors as much as possible and seek out experiences in nature. Travelling during these times will be different. We won’t be immersing ourselves in busy markets and homestays, sadly, are likely to be out of the question. We look forward to taking in the beauty, nature and wildlife of the countries we visit and, at the same time, supporting those communities who’ve been hit hard by the lack of tourism during the pandemic.

Living our best outdoors life on a campervan roadtrip, Devon


The world has changed since my last update in January 2020. In those heady days early this year the excitement of our trip was mounting. Prep mode was in full swing – booking elements while researching and planning others. We had a long list of mundane jobs to do, stopping direct debits, prepping the house, putting a kit list together. All that came to a juddering halt as the reality of how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting countries around the world hit. We watched as infection and death rates rose first in China, then South Korea, Italy, Spain and then the UK. We watched as the virus spread swiftly around the world and as countries went into lockdown and closed their borders.

In March we remained hopeful that travel in July would still be possible. In April we realised that, however flexible we felt we could be, our six-month trip would not be possible. After the Easter weekend we pulled the plug, confirming with family and work that we would not be flying out of the UK on 5 July.

On one of our daily ‘permitted exercise’ walks in early May 2020

So what happens now? We are holding onto our dream of travelling for six months with our children before our eldest starts secondary school in September 2022. We have identified three new departure dates – plan B, C and D. If we manage to leave on those dates, we’ll travel for six months as originally planned. Plan E is to design a series of six-week holidays (using the money we’d been saving for our six-month travel) to experience some travelling, probably within one country or small region, during the school summer holidays.

Pushing back our departure date meant we had to take a close look at our original route. The plan had been to travel from Canada in July and finish in Patagonia in January, summer to summer. Plan B is to leave in February 2021, so our route will need to be reversed.

The postponement of our trip allowed us some time to reflect on our plan. Mr P and I admitted to each other we were less sure about the Canadian and North American stretch of our trip. We do desperately want to visit these places, especially Vancouver Island and an RV road trip in the Pacific Northwest. However we felt that by travelling on the west coast of the USA in July and August (high season) we’d be spending way above our budget and finding sites very crowded. As for Vancouver Island, we would dearly love to plan a proper three-week holiday, with the budget to do plenty of kayaking and exploring. Trying to squeeze it all into a six-month journey meant that we felt like we were doing both regions a disservice. We have decided to focus our trip on Latin America, trying to overland as much as possible, so no longer skipping out so much of Central America. If we manage to leave in February 2021 we will travel north from Argentina and finish in LA. If the trip is pushed back to next July, we’ll simply reverse it so that we’re not in Patagonia during the winter months.

#POSTPONENOTCANCEL There is some good news from Costa Rica. One of the elements we were most excited about was a travelling 4×4 Land Rover camper for just over a week in Costa Rica booked with Nomad America. We emailed to confirm that we would no longer be there on our planned date, but that we still hoped to do the trip at some point in the future, so postponing, not cancelling. Their response made our day. They let us know that they would be donating our 20% reservation fee to campsites and local families to help them make through the next few months. We’re happy that our decision to postpone, not cancel, has had a direct positive effect on communities in need in Costa Rica.


2020 is here! This is the year that our long-awaited for family sabbatical will actually happen, and we are so excited. We’ve had a busy couple of months booking in a fair few things and making a few more decisions. That said, for now most of South America is relatively unplanned other than a few items on a wish list.

Our RV road trip route (Google Maps)
The Route...so far
Fly into Las Vegas from London + side trip to the Grand Canyon
Fly into Seattle
Boat to Vancouver Island
Explore Vancouver Island for nearly two weeks
Ferry over to Vancouver
Bus to Seattle, pick up the RV
RV roadtrip the Pacific North West for two weeks
Drop off RV in San Francisco
Bus down to LA
Bus all the way down Baja California
Ferry to mainland Mexico
Mexico City
Oaxaca - language school for a week
Fly to Costa Rica
Volunteer with turtles on the Caribbean coast
Land Rover camping
Fly to Columbia (yes, it's back on the list!)
Overland to Ecuador
Side trip to the Amazon
Overland to Peru
Cusco, Machu Picchu
Lake Titicaca
La Paz
Salt Flats, flamingos...Atacama

North America down to Mexico is pretty sorted, other than accommodation in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco. We’d appreciate any top tips of how to stay in those cities on a budget! We have a long to do list of all the boring bits and pieces which need to get sorted before we fly, from visas to vaccines, insurance, schooling. Achieving the behind the scenes tasks is our focus for now.


Changing trains in Cologne, Summer 2019

We survived our Interrail trip around Europe. We spent a total of 29 hours on trains during our two week holiday. I’ve written up our top tips of how to stave off boredom on long journeys. I’ve also written a guide to Interrailing as a family. Our trip taught us some lessons on packing and kit which will help us on our Grand Adventure next year which I’ve shared in my family Interrail post.

After much research I’m sad to say that we are no longer going to go to Alaska on this trip. It will have to stay on our bucket list a while longer. Now, with only 8 months to go until we leave, and knowing that we’re travelling through North America in their high season, we’ve started booking some accommodation and transport. We’re setting ourselves a relatively tight budget. Booking flights and even hire vehicles in advance can save us some pennies. And as I research accommodation to get an idea of what’s available in our budget I’m finding some gems, so we’re going ahead and booking those too!


So we’re committed! 1st flight of our family sabbatical booked. Due to the weird vagaries of airmiles and availability we’re actually flying into Las Vegas to get us Stateside. Now comes the real planning time. We were planning to detour to the Grand Canyon anyway, so now should we start our trip with this natural wonder before flying up north to travel south? Exciting decisions afoot. In the meantime we’re heading off on our summer holiday to Austria and France using our Interrail passes. We’re practicing carrying all our luggage. We’re used to road trips where we throw everything into the back of the car. This could be challenging.


We’ve spent the last month really honing down the timing of our family sabbatical. I’ve even written a blog which sets out our top-line plan. Seeing it written and published on this site makes it all feel very real! In the meantime I’ve been attending Spanish classes. I believe that even though English is widely-spoken, speaking some of the local language is the best way to get to know the people and culture of the country you are travelling in. It also may come in useful getting us out of any sticky situations!

Canoe IMG_20180815_163608
Canoeing on the Dordogne below La Roque-Gageac

We had some lovely holidays in 2018, exploring the North Yorkshire Moors, revisiting the Dordogne and the Lot in France and discovering the Ile de Re (I know, late to the party, right?). We also took the kids on a city-break to Venice which was hugely successful. Can’t go wrong with pizza, pasta and boats.

Heading for the Bridge of Sighs in Venice in October

This year will see us skiing in France again, and in the summer I’m excited to be travelling by train to Austria, and back via Paris. And there will be some camping, but we’re not yet sure where, when or who with!


We are well and truly in the research stage for our family sabbatical, while normal life carries on around us. I’ve had a look at Alaska, the Pacific Coast Highway and our vague plans for Mexico. Off line I’ve been continuing into Central America and even made a start on Ecuador and Peru. Our research has taken on more of a budgeting focus recently, and I’ll write a post up about that soon. Any tips gratefully received!

Meanwhile we continue to go on family holidays, and I’ve been writing some blogs about those too – from skiing to Spain! Travelling with our boys means that every trip feels like an adventure. All good practice for our big trips!

Published by grandadventurestory

I’m Debbie. Together with 'MrP' and our 7 and 9 year old boys every day trip and holiday we take is an adventure of sorts. We’re planning a family sabbatical, our Grand Adventure, but in the meantime we love exploring closer to home

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