Since we decided to take our trip (and now that we are on it), we've been asked a lot of questions about what, how, and why we are taking a year off to travel, plus a number of logistical questions. It seems people are interested in the nitty gritty about our trip and I'm happy to share. I hope that some of it will be helpful should you ever plan a similar adventure.
How did you decide to take extended time off to travel? Had you been planning this for a long time? We made our decision to take a year off to travel in one evening. Rob was planning to accept a job offer the next morning and we put Blythe to bed, had a strong IPA, and chatted about his potential new job, what it would mean for our family, etc. I was in a frustrating spot at work relating to the culture of my company and realizing that what I wanted to change was never going to; thus, I needed to take action. We have dreamed of traveling but one of us has always been so happy with work that the timing was never right, but now we found ourselves with each at a crossroads. At the same time, Blythe isn't in school yet and the Denver real estate market is strong so we knew we could rent our house. It seemed the pieces were fitting together and instead of asking why we shouldn't go, we started to talk about why we should. The next day, I learned of the death of my dear friend, Chelsey. It was a huge reminder of the fragility of life and it confirmed that this was a chance to take a leap of faith and have an adventure. We did sleep on the idea for a few days, floated with a few friends and family members, and then committed.
How soon did you tell your employers you were leaving? Rob was already planning to leave his job, which his employer knew, so this wasn't a big deal for him. After much discussion, I decided to tell mine sooner rather than later and gave them more than three months' notice. We are a small group (four attorneys) and one other attorney had just left the company so losing half a department in a matter of months is a big transition. I thought the odds were very low they would ask me to leave immediately, so I was upfront about our plans. The conversation could not have gone better and my boss was incredibly encouraging (and appreciated the notice). I did interview some of my potential replacements, which was a bizarre experience...
What are you doing with your home? Our house is available for short-term rental through AirBnB and VRBO. We hired a property manager who takes care of everything (cleaning, posting the house, guest services, repair work). In return, the property manager takes 25% of the revenue we earn on the house. Rob did all the research for this aspect of our trip and we considered a number of options (and each property manager had a different approach to how they get paid). In the end, we went with the company we felt the most comfortable with and which seemed reputable. We considered long-term renters, but short-term (1) affords us greater flexibility to come home, (2) means the house gets cleaned with regularity and gets less wear and tear, and (3) should generate more income. If you are passing through Denver and want to stay in a well-located, child-friendly house, please let me know!
We moved everything out of the house that we care about. This includes all of our clothes, decor, furniture, rugs, kitchen appliances, dishes, etc. that has any value, sentimental or otherwise. We were already planning to re-carpet, so we'll do that, paint, and buy some new furniture and mattresses when we return. We had to buy a fold-out couch for our study and a bed for Blythe's room, plus cheap dishes, throw blankets, etc. The property management company handles all of the linens and takes care of things like lawn maintenance, shoveling, trash, and other household tasks.
Truthfully, this aspect of our trip makes me incredibly anxious. I'm not sure if it is because I'm an only child and I don't like people using my things (truth) or that I love our house and don't like the idea of other people being in it, but I fret about people being in our house much more than I should. The irony is that we rent houses everywhere we go and hopefully people treat our home the way we treat those in which we stay. In any event, I've asked Rob to not tell me if/when people are staying. Before we come home, the house will get a thorough cleaning (or four), new carpet, paint, furniture, etc. and it will be just fine.... right?
How are you paying for your trip? I've actually had a few people ask me this directly but most people are too tactful to do so. We are using savings. We aren't borrowing money, using credit cards, using our 401ks, spending Blythe's college savings, or going into debt in any fashion.
How does your phone work abroad? We both switched from Verizon to T-Mobile, which offers a flat-rate international plan of $20 per month per line for unlimited data and text outside the United States (plus the cost of a basic phone plan). Phone call costs vary by country (for example, they are $0.20/minute in Australia) and we can make phone calls for free on WiFi. So far we've had internet that is readily accessible, which we've needed for making plans and wrapping up things at home. We'll see how things go when we are driving around New Zealand where I assume we'll have less access to the internet and will need to play more in advance (or be more spontaneous).
How and what did you pack? Oh, man. We packed as lightly as we could knowing that after our time in Hawaii we could send things back and anticipating that we will mostly be in warm climates. We each have a bag (Rob has this REI bag and this Patagonia bag is for me and Blythe). I used these packing cubes for Blythe's clothing and mine. After weighing the pros and cons of schlepping a BOB stroller around the world, we purchased the Babyzen YoYo Plus stroller, which I cannot recommend enough if you travel a lot (it folds up to fit in an overhead compartment!) (thanks to Lauren for the recommendation). We are, of course, traveling with a monster carseat (brutal), which we carry in this backpack. Blythe is still in a travel crib, the best one I've used to date: Phil & Ted Traveller Crib. We had a Pack n' Play at one point and have been using the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib (which is great, but isn't that small when folded). The Phil & Ted's crib is shockingly light and small when folded and somehow is still plenty long for Blythe who is 2 and in the 95th percentile for height. I wish I had just bought this travel crib in the first place (and thankfully, someone gave this to us). The final piece of "gear" we are toting along is our Osprey Poco Premium hiking backpack, which is a must if Rob and I want to get any adventuring done. I highly recommend this pack if you want to hike with your little one.
Okay, so that is the big stuff. But what did we actually put in our bags? As little as possible. We really limited clothing to the bare necessities knowing we could buy things along the way if needed. We also really cut down on shoes - we each have a pair of running/hiking shoes, one "nice" pair (these Quoddy flats for me), sandals, and a pair of casual tennis-type shoes (a version of these Vans). We brought our Chacos to Hawaii, but I plan to send mine home with my parents in New Zealand. We have toiletries and prescription medications, plus a first aid kit with some basic American meds and everything we'd need for Blythe that is available over-the-counter. Packing was really hard for me because I really do love clothes... but a very limited wardrobe makes getting dressed easy. One note on the prescription medications - I take one medication every day and am unsure (despite trying to figure it out online) how I'll get it abroad. My doctor wrote a three-month prescription before we left, which I filled and insurance covered entirely. My parents brought another refill to me in New Zealand and I may have them mail me another re-supply a few months from now (unless I figure out how to get these medications abroad).
Otherwise, we each have a laptop and a phone, an e-reader, and I have a few notebooks. I brought a bunch of paper and hardback books to Hawaii but I only have brought one with me to New Zealand that I'm finishing. We have one packing cube of games and toys for Blythe (mostly for the plane), as well as about 20 small paperback books for her. We have found that she rarely plays with toys in our rental homes, but finds other objects to play with. In Hawaii, it was chopsticks and miso soup spoons. In Queenstown, it is 2 cardboard boxes, a bowl of water on the deck, and the potato masher.
Is your whole itinerary planned? Definitely not. When we left Denver, we had booked our flight from Hawaii to Sydney, our hotel in Sydney, and our flight to Queenstown, but nothing else. When we left Kauai, we had booked the first 4 weeks of New Zealand and sketched out the remaining 3 and had a place in Kyoto for two weeks (during a vacation week in Japan that is thus extremely busy). In order to enter New Zealand, we needed a flight out so we have a flight in early April from Auckland to Tokyo.
We are both planners at heart, but we really want to have flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that arise and to jump at a travel opportunity that comes up or visit a place we hear about from a fellow traveler. Plus, we don't know how we'll do staying put (like we did in Hawaii) versus moving around (like we'll do in New Zealand). We may realize that we need a home base for at least a few weeks for Blythe's (and our) sanity. We have a rough idea of where we'd like to go: Sydney, New Zealand (all over), Japan (all over), the Dolomites, Scandinavia (spending time in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, perhaps using Stockholm as a base for part of the trip), and the Netherlands. This really only takes us through summer / early fall and then we'll see!
What are you doing for health insurance? Ugh. This topic. I've spent so much time figuring out what we need for health insurance and still am not sure I have it right, but here it goes. We have coverage in the United States through COBRA, which is insanely expensive ($1,500/month). It does theoretically cover our costs out-of-country at the out-of-network level, but I was told to gather all of the documentation that I could so we'll see if/when we test this what is actually reimbursed. Importantly for me is the fact that I can still fill prescriptions stateside through my insurance and have them sent to me by my very kind parents. One of my prescriptions costs $3,000/month without insurance - ouch. Furthermore, under the Affordable Care Act, you are required to have health insurance in the United States or you pay a penalty, plus with my medical history, I'm incredibly uncomfortable not being insured. There are caveats to this coverage requirement depending on how long you are traveling outside the U.S. and would have no insurance so it is something to look into in detail. Our U.S. insurance covers costs such as flying us back to the United States, if needed, so we did not take out additional travel insurance, but I did research it extensively. We found that World Nomads came highly recommended, the policies were easy to read and understand, when I reached out to customer service with questions they responded, and it was affordable. If we buy supplemental travel insurance, we'll probably do it through World Nomads. Note that this insurance doesn't cover anything pre-existing or routine - it is meant for emergencies.
What about other insurance for your home and cars? We currently are "renting" from my parents at their home, so we carry a renters insurance policy for ourselves, which covers theft and loss of our possessions while abroad (including laptops, jewelry, camera, and other valuables). Because we are doing short-term rentals in our home, we no longer have homeowner's insurance but instead carry a short-term renters policy on our home. We also carry an umbrella liability policy on our home. We kept both of cars so they are still covered by auto insurance but by a specific policy for cars being stored (a storage policy). Since the cars need to be drive periodically for maintenance reasons, when that occurs my Dad has to call the insurance company, get the car insured for a day, and then remove it. Yes, it is a hassle but this only has to occur about every six weeks (Rob says there are various schools of thought on this topic but this is what we are going with). Rob spent a ton of time figuring all of this out... and hopefully we don't end up needing any of it.
What is happening with your mail? We are having our mail forwarded to my parents who are kindly mailing it to us periodically, scanning us documents we need immediately, and delivering some in person when we see them in New Zealand! There are services that will scan all of your mail to you, but they are pricey and that seemed unnecessary (as much as I love correspondence).
Where is your darling cat, Forest? <sigh> My parents took Forest for us for the year. We miss him and I was very worried about him (my parents have two cats already), but by all accounts he is settling in well. By the time we return, he probably won't want to leave their house.
Were you bored spending six weeks in Kauai? Nope! We had a pretty thorough list of activities to do, beaches to visit, farmer's markets to check out, and books to read, plus we are both learning to surf. Yes, the slower pace of life takes adjusting to and I had moments where I feel adrift, but there is always something to do with a toddler around. Oddly, I don't feel like we have as much free time as I expected because we are with Blythe every day, she has mostly stopped napping, and we have a lot of travel planning to do.
Are you worried you won't find another job? No. That isn't an arrogant statement, but I'm not. Will it take awhile to find a new job that is the right fit? Probably. Do I expect to have a job immediately upon return? Definitely not. But if push comes to shove, I'll find a job.
Are you missing family and friends? Oh, yes. Very much so. I'm a social person and I miss my girlfriends and my parents immensely. We love our neighborhood and the community we have built there, the easy trips to the park where we always see friends, the impromptu dinners, and our neighborhood square. I remind myself that this year will fly by and not that much will have changed when we return. Hopefully our friends will be there (if you are reading, please don't move).