If you’ve decided to take the plunge and take a family gap year and travel longer-term with your family, one of the most fun pieces is deciding exactly where you’re going to visit.
When the world is literally your oyster it can be hard narrowing down exactly where to travel.
Every family also has different interests, tolerances for how far off the beaten track they’re wanting to go, and style of travel.
Destinations that you may have travelled to in your 20’s might not be suitable for visiting with your young kids in tow. But for others there aren’t many destinations that are off-limits. So there’s definitely not one size fits all!
Here are some of the key considerations when putting together your family gap year itinerary.
There are some destinations that you may want to avoid when it is super hot (for example parts of India and the Middle East can reach almost 50 degrees in summer), super cold (parts of Northern Europe, Canada and Russia can reach minus 30 degrees Celcius in winter), or raining (much of Asia experiences monsoon rains at certain times of the year).
So it pays to do your research and factor that in if you have your heart set on a particular destination.
Also take into account atmospheric conditions. Many parts of South East Asia are subject to the ‘haze’ or burning season, where farmers conduct mass scale burnoffs to get their fields ready for the upcoming rainy season. This varies in time – in Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar it is January-March, for parts of Indonesia and Malaysia it’s September.
It’s definitely worth factoring this into your trip planning. We were hoping to travel to Chiang Mai in Thailand during April a few years ago, however it was the worst haze year on record thanks to more burning than usual and a drought, and air pollution levels were dangerously high and hazardous according to World Health Organisation limits. Climate change is definitely affecting weather patterns worldwide so be prepared!
Depending on which country you are a passport holder of, you may need to get visas either in advance of your arrival (often via an e-visa process), or on arrival.
If you’re looking to obtain a long-stay visa particularly in the Schengen areas of Europe for non-EU citizens, then you need to plan well in advance. You can ONLY apply from your home country for many of these visas so it’s impossible to organise while on the road.
Many also have stipulations such as entering the country within three months of your visa issue.
It’s really important to check requirements before you travel to avoid denial of entry, particularly in the case of USA and Canada ESTAs which need to be issued 72 hours before your departure.
You will often need passport photos to accompany your visa entries so it’s a good idea to have these on you.
Check also the currency accepted for visas issued on arrival. For example, the visa entry into Cambodia can only be paid in USD$ that you will need to have pre-organised.
Although we’ve never needed birth certificates, some countries require that you carry these for any accompanying children travelling with you (South Africa is one example we know of.)
If you plan to travel solo with your children at any point (particularly males) you may need to carry birth certificates and a signed letter from your partner authorising that they’ve given permission for the children to travel with that adult, potentially signed by a JP, notarie, or lawyer.
For absolutely accurate information regarding visas, it always pays to check directly with the embassy concerned.
Unless you are from a high altitude environment already, you may want to think twice about taking your kids to places based at high altitude. The risk of altitude sickness in little ones is very real and can be life-threatening.
Unlike adults, they may not always show symptoms and be able to communicate when something is wrong. We had an incredible time in the Andes mountains in Argentina and Bolivia in our 30’s and although I would love to take the kids there, it just isn’t worth it until they are older in my personal opinion. However I do know of other families that have travelled there and to other high altitude destinations with no issues!
If you decide to travel there, then we would highly advise consulting with an experienced travel doctor before you travel, and carry medication such as Diamox with you (unfortunately it’s not recommended though for under 18’s).
Of course we all now know about Covid-19 and the precautions that need to be taken when travelling, including availability of healthcare should you suffer a non-Covid related illness or injury in an area where the health system is overrun with cases.
However, there are still many other diseases and illnesses that you need to be aware of and provide risk mitigations when taking a family gap year.
Apart from the obvious things like avoiding areas with an Ebola outbreak (!), you need to consider diseases which may be a danger to small kids, particularly mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and malaria.
It’s worth noting that in certain areas there is a lower risk of these diseases at certain times of the year, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that these destinations are on the no-go list.
For example, we’ve travelled to many places in South East Asia where these diseases exist but have been careful to take expert medical advice from our travel doctor, visit outside of the rainy season, obtaining vaccinations when recommended, making sure we take precautions such as using repellant and covering up at night and always carry malaria test kits and prophylactics in case of an emergency.
If you do choose to go to a malaria-prone area, please see expert medical advice on appropriate prophylactics to use as mosquito resistance can vary by country.
Civil unrest and ‘no go’ areas
When planning your itinerary, it pays to check your local government’s Safe Travel advisories to see where they advise not to travel or exercise extreme caution.
It’s every individual’s choice whether they travel with their family to an area with risk, and sometimes this needs to be taken with a grain of salt – our worldview is that we still chose to visit London and Paris even though the terrorist threat was deemed high and there had been incidents in the past. We feel you need to get on with life and not let the threat of terrorism stop you.
However, you do need to check the warning levels for travel insurance purposes as you may not be covered if your government deems a destination a no go or high-risk area.
Similarly, if anything does happen and you have ignored these warnings, there’s no guarantee that your government consular staff will be able to help you.
This is particularly relevant in the Covid era. Many travel insurances are deeming cover null and void if you choose to travel internationally to a red zone country (or in our case in New Zealand any country at all right now!) It’s more important than ever to carefully read the fine print to ensure your travel plans comply,
It also pays to do this BEFORE you book anything – we made a costly mistake booking non refundable plane tickets to a part of Borneo we had no idea was deemed ‘dangerous’ by our government until we checked the Safe Travel website. Unfortunately we wouldn’t have been covered by travel insurance or consular assistance if we had decided to travel there.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some food for thought and consideration when planning your family gap year adventures. Bad stuff can happen anywhere, so don’t be put off by any means at some of this information! It’s just about awareness, being prepared and implementing risk mitigation where you can – and you’ll be good to go!