Gap year: Meet intrepid Kiwi families who packed their bags and took the leap
Many of us likely dream about taking a few months out of our usual routine to live or work overseas – and for two families, that’s exactly what they did
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES
Five years ago, 37-year-old Jade Hurst and husband Ben, 40, were at home in Auckland writing strategic plans for each of their businesses when they both had the same thought – if they put just as much effort into planning their personal lives, what else could they achieve? So they went into different rooms and wrote down what it would look like to be living the best life – within means – that they could. Their lists included goals such as wanting their kids to go to good schools, building their dream home, and continuing to live in Auckland. But both were surprised to find they’d written about a desire to live abroad, having not done OEs in a traditional sense.
Although it still felt like “a cute little game” at that point, the couple – parents to Ivy, five, Mickey, three, and Sidney, two – thought 2020 sounded like a great year and kept the date in mind for a sabbatical to the States. But at the end of 2017, Ben sold eight of his South Island childcare centres, with three now remaining in the North Island. At the same time Jade was looking for change after 10 years running her Auckland-based PR agency Raw.
“It felt like the right time to go away,” Jade says. “We were getting a whole bunch off our plates and thought if we don’t do it now, we’ll put things off.”
As you’d imagine, there was lot that needed to be done from ‘We should totally do it,’ to getting on a plane. Jade had a fully functioning agency with
bricks and mortar, staff and retainer clients – so she had a lot of unravelling to do. They decided to swap winter in New Zealand for a summer in California, which narrowed down when they’d go. And as they were only allowed to stay in the US for six months on an extended travel visa, it gave them a timeframe. After setting a date and working back from there – it took them about eight months to go.
Jade says chasing the sunshine of LA wasn’t a hard sell – great beaches and no need to learn a new language. With a bit of jetlag, they arrived at a fully furnished house in April. Jade had made sure groceries were on the doorstep before they arrived, the keys were waiting, and they were going to walk into a house that would feel like home. They settled in Pacific Palisades – a tranquil and safe part of LA, which has both the big city hustle as well as the peaceful nooks, and is a short 10-minute drive from Santa Monica Beach. The couple’s good friend Rosie Gowing, who worked for Jade at Raw, enjoyed a break with the family and helped to rally the three kids. When Ben and Jade wanted some space and to have time on their own, they’d often spend an evening in Hollywood for dinner and sometimes stay the night; with plenty of spectacular restaurants and rooftop pools on offer, they were spoiled for choice.
The only downside was not having day-to-day access to family, although they were only a FaceTime call away. “While it’s been about spending quality time with the close family unit, it was hard not being able to shoot out and catch up with a bunch of your besties and hang out with your mum.”
But the couple had offered themselves up to visitors to fill that void. They had given family and friends plenty of notice and got a place big enough to cater to having a couple of groups stay – with Jade flying to LA twice before their move to secure the right house. “I had a lot of anxiety about where we were going to be,” she admits. “Getting that space right, and in a great community – that’s going to make everything else feel comfortable.”
With daughter Ivy turning five the week they arrived, the couple were able to sell the idea of the LA trip to the children with the promise of celebrating her birthday at Disneyland. “With kids that age, they can’t grasp the enormity of it. They had no idea how far away from home we were, so we definitely didn’t want to overwhelm them with the scale of what we were doing. We broke it down to, ‘How cool, we’re going to spend all day, every day together, this is going to be so much fun.’ It’s all about making sure they’re happy and have things to look forward to. If they said, ‘When am I going to see my friends again?’ we would FaceTime them, write cards, send postcards back and email the mums.” In the US, school term starts in September, after the summer break, so Ivy didn’t begin school when she was “bang-on age five”.
While Jade says it gave the couple “a small amount of anxiety, that possibly she was missing out, in hindsight it was the best thing we did for her and she’s thriving.” Ivy ultimately did spend six weeks at Canyon Charter School in LA, and now back in New Zealand, she’s started at Auckland’s Bayfield School. “She’s absolutely loving school life,” says Jade. “She was ready.”
While Ben ran his childcare business remotely, Jade used the time to study wellness architecture – creating spaces and environments for both residential and commercial spaces that enhance wellbeing – via the International WELL Building Institute, which she’ll finish by March.
For Jade, the trip has been about opening herself up to new opportunities in a place literally bursting with them.
“I’m not inspired to come up with new ideas when I’m in that hustle of kids’ bed, bath and breakfast. As soon as I take myself away and give myself that free time and freedom, ‘What am I going to do next? What are these ideas we’re talking about?’ I found that so incredibly inspiring and empowering to find my own space within a family break to work on me, so I can be a better mum and we can think about our next adventures.”
Having returned to New Zealand in November, Jade says the thing she misses the most about LA is the convenience and flexibility of quick, healthy food and great eateries. “I know America as a whole has a real stigma around terribly fatty, highsugar foods but in the blocks we were in, we were eating the most amazing food. Because of the scale of the city, you can get anything you want within an hour. We got groceries delivered at home because that’s not how I wanted to spend an hour of my day if I was cooking three times. It’s given us all the motivation to eat really well.”
She says she’d love the family to do another sabbatical when the kids are a bit older; perhaps the south of France or Spain. “We’re committed to making this a thing we do as a family. As long as the kids are happy to travel with us we’ll keep doing it. We’re all curious people and that’s such an important thing for us to nurture with our kids; our curiosity for life and for other people.”
‘We’re all curious people and that’s an important thing to nurture with our kids’ ‘I found that so empowering to find my own space within a break to work on me’
From top: Mickey enjoying an ice cream on a trip to Universal Studios; Jade’s mother, Brenda, visited the family in LA.