A one year sabbatical was such a success that this Madison, Wisconsin family decided to extend theirs an extra year.
Jed, his wife, and their twin boys, ages 10, left home at the end of the summer of 2014 to take a sabbatical in Granada, Spain. They rented an apartment and the boys started school. There was still so much to learn, enjoy and explore that after first year, they extended another year.
I first found Jed’s personal finance (and now family travel) blog, “Bucking the Trend,” when I was researching how to get a long-term visa for Spain. (He’s got a great set of entries on their Spain visa process.)
Jed and his wife's decision to leave their jobs and take a sabbatical as a family really impressed me. I took a sabbatical as a single 30-something and I know it takes a lot of planning and courage even without kids!
Jed and his wife have made foreign language and cultural experiences part of their family philosophy -- and they are definitely living it.
I wanted to learn more about what went into their decision to take a sabbatical and what it's led to.
Jed generously shared their story.
What inspired you to take a family sabbatical?
Jed: Despite my German heritage, when it came time in high school to choose a foreign language I elected Spanish and ended up liking it. Later I got married, had kids, and my wife and I agreed that it was important that our twins learn another language. We place high value on being able to speak a foreign language - right up there with learning math and other core subjects. Our public schooling system offered a bilingual option with Spanish so they started with it in Kindergarten.
What was your decision process like? Was it a gradual thing, or did something prompt you to take immediate action?
Jed: The idea itself to pick up and move abroad kind of came to me like a lightning bolt, but only as a result of a culmination of several things that lined up beforehand.
We had settled in to a pretty normal, cushy and comfortable lifestyle back in the States. There were a lot of set routines and life was just whizzing by. Not in a bad way by any stretch. But I did feel like “there has got to be more out there than this” and the need to shake things up.
At this same point, our boys had been in their dual-language program for three years and were getting pretty good at their Spanish. Couple this with the fact that my wife and I had always wanted to live abroad, especially before kids and then it hit me…”We have to move to a Spanish-speaking country, and now!”
What were some of the biggest fears you had to face in making this decision? How did you handle them?
Jed: Oh, lots of fears or at least anxiety. How are we going to do with the language? How will our boys handle school? What type of school do we look for? Will school be any good? Will they be able to make any friends or will they be subjected to daily wedgies by the local bully? Will my wife and I be able to make friends? Will we miss home? Will something happen while we're gone? What if we hate it? What if we love it?
In hindsight, this is kind of stuff that we (well at least I) was looking for when we signed up for this kind of thing. What better way to change things up than to put yourself in unknown and uncomfortable situations? If I've learned anything from this experience it is that getting out of your comfort zone is where the most growth occurs.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d offer to families that are considering a sabbatical?
Jed: Do it. Do it. DO IT! I've met dozens of families in person that have taken a sabbatical (and even more online) and not one has regretted their experience. I know it probably isn't for everyone (although I do think everyone should live abroad at some point in their life) and there inevitably will be some low points. But if you are sitting there reading this and feel that little tug or inner voice that suggests this is something you need to do, I think you owe it to yourself to make it happen.
What’s the biggest insight you’ve had from this experience about how you want to live your life going forward?
Jed: There are a bunch of things but the main one will be to live more spontaneously and inclusively. One of my favorite things about living in Andalusia is that very few plans are made more than a day in advance and those plans usually involve the children (even if that means going to dinner at 10pm). Or you have impromptu visitors that arrive just before mealtime? Invite them to lunch despite knowing you don’t have enough food. There is a sense here that it just doesn’t matter - everyone will make it work and you’ll have a great time regardless.
Oh, and I'd rather not ever need to own a car again if I can make that possible.
What have you learned about yourself with this experience?
Jed: I think my entire family has learned that we're more resilient and resourceful than we would have previously given ourselves credit. We’ve been able to navigate and incorporate ourselves into a new culture and community to the point where this very much feels like home. I also feel that our boys will come out of this experience with a greater confidence and ability to navigate obstacles that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
I really admire that you posted your personal bucket list on your blog for all the world to see. What difference has doing that made for you?
Jed: I get modest traffic on my site but there is definitely a sense of accountability with doing so. It’s an interesting exercise to put something like that together. The list isn’t overly refined, but it keeps me focused and accountable on what I think is important (and fun).
What dream are you going after next?
Jed: We're going to enjoy this last school year of ours in Spain and then focus on reintegrating ourselves back to the United States. We will have had over two years straight of dreaming, traveling, and eventful sabbatical life that it will be good to get back to familiar surrounds, family, and friends. Without question, though, we’re already talking about how we can take advantage of future summer vacations to keep up our Spanish!
Jed and I did this interview as a blog swap, and I had the pleasure of filling out his ABCs of Travel: Twenty-six questions about some of my best, worst and most memorable travel experiences. You can find those over at his website!