Trav­els abroad of­fer risks, re­wards

Fam­i­lies em­brace the ups and downs of months-long no­madic ad­ven­tures



TORONTO — Yvette Duffy’s ad­ven­ture of a life­time be­gan with years of metic­u­lous plan­ning.

The goal was to visit 16 coun­tries in 10 months — an around-the-world ram­ble in which she and her hus­band would in­tro­duce their 10- and 13-year-old kids to an ar­ray of cul­tures, tra­di­tions and in­valu­able life lessons.

A fam­ily gap year, or even a months-long jaunt, can seem like an im­pos­si­ble dream for av­er­age Cana­di­ans. But many fig­ure out a way, de­spite sig­nif­i­cant hur­dles: fi­nances, school­ing, work obli­ga­tions and of course, the kids’ will­ing­ness to go along.

Be­fore their trip, Duffy and her hus­band cur­tailed spend­ing and drafted a list of coun­tries to visit. Duffy de­ferred 20 per cent of her teacher’s salary for four years so they could af­ford a year-long leave. They crunched the num­bers again and again and tweaked their list of dream des­ti­na­tions.

As the trip ap­proached, they sold their car and ar­ranged a home swap for one of the costli­est legs of the trip — three weeks in the south of France.

School was also an is­sue, since their son would es­sen­tially skip Grade 5 while their daugh­ter would ditch Grade 8. So Duffy down­loaded out­lines of their aca­demic re­quire­ments and vowed to home-school on the road.

It was a risky plan, Duffy ac­knowl­edges, but the pay­off was huge.

“Their self-es­teem def­i­nitely in­creased, their sense of in­de­pen­dence in­creased, their knowl­edge of the world def­i­nitely grew,” Duffy says of the im­pact of vis­it­ing lo­cales in­clud­ing Ice­land, north­ern Africa, the Hi­malayas, Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia and Viet­nam.

“They can now speak about places and is­sues in the world with more con­fi­dence and ac­tu­ally rec­og­nize the chal­lenges that are fac­ing the world around poverty, hu­man rights, cli­mate change.”

Micki Kos­man and her hus­band were sea­soned trav­ellers be­fore they had kids, but says hit­ting the road with lit­tle ones threw them for a loop.

Their younger selves had no qualms about book­ing cheaper ho­tels or even sleep­ing in a van — as they did dur­ing a stint in Aus­tralia. But when they took their son Cole on his first big trip at age two to the Philip­pines, their bud­get ho­tel and its lack of air con­di­tion­ing just didn’t cut it with the tod­dler. They’ve learned to upgrade, and stick to short-stay apart­ment rentals to keep things more home­like.

Kos­man also makes a con­certed ef­fort to keep her kids con­nected to friends through Skype, video games and post­cards.

“We kind of mis­tak­enly thought we could kind of just slot kids in that back­packer life. And it’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Kos­man said dur­ing a quick visit to Calgary be­fore re­turn­ing to Belize, where her fam­ily was in the midst of a three-month es­cape.

Any jour­ney now starts with mak­ing sure Cole, 11, and Jor­dan, 8, get plenty of in­put. She and her hus­band hoped their lat­est trip would be longer, for in­stance, but the kids scaled it back to just three months.

She says travel has made her kids more flex­i­ble and self-as­sured. Cole is re­spon­si­ble for his own suit­case and back­pack. Both kids will or­der their own food in a Span­ish­s­peak­ing restau­rant as best they can.

“I think as par­ents we al­ways have a ten­dency to over-pro­tect a lit­tle bit and I’m al­ways sur­prised how com­pe­tent kids can be when you give them au­ton­omy.”

Duffy agrees, adding the caveat that such ad­ven­tures are not for ev­ery­one. If your kids are strug­gling aca­dem­i­cally or you’re not pre­pared to home-school, the Toronto teacher dis­cour­ages pulling them out for lengthy pe­ri­ods.

But it worked for her fam­ily, and Duffy says she doesn’t re­gret it one bit. “Was it hard for those four years on 80 per cent of my salary? For sure, as a fam­ily we had to make some tough de­ci­sions. But at the same time, if I had to go back and do it again, I’d do it again.”


Yvette Duffy, left to right, Scott Mor­son and their chil­dren Matthew and Alexan­dra pose at the An­na­purna base camp in Nepal in this March 2016.

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