Your Family Sabbatical Awaits

Your Family Sabbatical Awaits

As I write this, I am watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, palm trees swaying in the wind, salty air on my skin. Our children are playing in the waves as the sky transforms, a moving painting of swirling colours. We are literally living in paradise.

Our family sabbatical to Puerto Escondido, Mexico began in December 2017 and will soon be coming to an end in April 2018. It was born of a breakdown (mine!), one that led us to take this intentional time together as a family.

What we didn’t know, is that this adventure would transform us. We are closer than ever as a family. Our daughters, ages four and six, are thriving and learning Spanish. Our view of the world has changed, and more importantly, we have clarity on the life that we want to design for ourselves.

I am excited to share these five simple steps that will help you take a family sabbatical of your own!

Step 1: Align with Your Partner

This is by far the most important step of them all! Get clear with your partner on your desires and goals.

The goal of our sabbatical was to have more time as a family. My partner felt like he was missing out on our children’s early years because of his 9-5 job. I felt like I was carrying the domestic and caregiving load, and longed to share those duties (and privileges!) with him.  We also wanted to escape the winter and to be near the ocean.

This conversation took place over many weeks, so be prepared to be patient with the process. Take the time to truly listen to each other. This is the foundation of your vision and will have you working together towards the same goal. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Questions: What does your family need right now? What do your children need? What do you each need as individuals? What is the goal of this sabbatical? 

Step 2: Budget

Now that you and your partner are on the same page, it’s time to look at your finances.  Sit down together and look at your monthly costs in detail: your mortgage (or rent), car payments, insurance, utilities, phone bills, RRSP contributions (or any investments), daycare, extracurricular expenses, groceries, and entertainment.

For us, our monthly costs to live in Toronto were $5000.

If my partner was going to take a leave from work, we would need to maintain these costs. This is where we had to start thinking outside of the box. How could we use the skills and objects already in our possession to increase our income?

We currently had $1200 income from our basement tenant, so if we could rent the main living space for $3000, our mortgage and utilities would be covered AND we would have some income left over!

As a psychotherapist, I could continue to see clients virtually. We did an estimation of how much income this would provide.

We had been putting money aside for a few years, so had $10,000 to put towards our trip.

Now that we were clear on our budget, we could start exploring destinations and the cost of living in other parts of the world.

Questions: What are your monthly expenses? How much money can you save each month? Do you have savings that you can use? Will you be able to work remotely? Can you rent out your home as income?

Step 3: Choose Your Destination

Take a look at your family goals and your budget and this will lead you towards the destination that is right for you!

Since we knew that we wanted to be near the ocean, in a warm climate, we researched the costs of flights to various beach destinations. Assessing the age and characters of our children, we knew that we didn’t want to be on a long plane ride.  This helped to narrow the search, as well as asking friends and family about their experiences travelling south.

In terms of accommodations, paying monthly will always be more affordable then nightly or even weekly rates. Exploring Air Bnb,, HomeAway or VRBO is a good place to start. If you have any personal connections – ask! Local rates will be more affordable than online rates. 

Here in Puerto Escondido, we rent a modest two-bedroom apartment with an outdoor terrace. Our monthly rent ranges from $800 to $1000, depending on high/low season rates. For our family of four to eat out costs from $12 to $40 per meal. We spend approximately $300 per month on groceries.

Questions: When/where do we want to travel? How much/how long are flights? Could we drive? What language is spoken? Do we have family/friends overseas? What is the cost of living? Do we need a kitchen? Do we want to camp?

Step 4: What To Do With Your House & Your Stuff

Minimize, minimize, MINIMIZE!

I know. This is a tough one for many – including me! The secret to minimizing is to be consistent. Small actions have a big impact. Try posting three items a week to sell on various FB groups. Fill up one box a week for donation drop-off. Once you get going, you will find momentum and get more motivated. It feels good to lighten your load! 

We took 8 months to minimize our belongings in order for our house to be ready to rent. We made $1000 selling things we had forgotten about: baby carriers, clothing, bike parts, shoes, furniture and many other items that were in good condition.  Everything else that was not well-loved, practical, or too sentimental, was donated.

We rented our home fully furnished and managed to store our remaining personal effects in vacuum-packed bags and Tupperware containers in our basement cellar and garage. Our car has been parked in my parent’s driveway, awaiting our return.

Questions: What items bring me joy/weigh me down? What items can I let go of? What items bring value to my life? How can I make purging/donating a part of my everyday life? How can I get the whole family involved in this process?

Step 5: Embrace Discomfort

You are about to experience the trip of a lifetime!

Living in a new place, exploring new cultures, and finding your own routine is what a family sabbatical is all about.  These experiences will be fulfilling and challenging, all at once. Each person will have their own emotional journey as they find their way, so be prepared to make space for those feelings.

We have experienced it all, here in Mexico: the honeymoon stage, the home-sick stage, the finding our flow stage, and now, the mixed-feelings of returning home stage. This process is where the growth happens. The internal-shifting and soul-searching that changes us, as people.

You are taking a bold, brave step. It is scary to step into the unknown. But what is on the other side will create lasting family memories.

Your adventure awaits!


Allison Villa is a Registered Psychotherapist and the co-creator of House and Hook, a website dedicated to intentional living, thriving parents, and family travel. Allison enjoys cycling to farmer's markets, eating kettle chips, and busting out in family dance parties. From Toronto, Allison and her family are currently on a four-month sabbatical in Mexico. Her online course Family Sabbatical 101 launches in May 2018. Get 10% off, by signing up here.


Emma Rohmann

Love this blog entry! One of my favs to date!

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