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

NEXT (New Zealand) - - Contents - BY MONIQUE MCKEN­ZIE



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.

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