Family Time Out: A Gap Year – Part II

Family life rarely affords the time and money it takes for meaningful down time. Yet, we know the importance of family time outs whether it is for a day, a week or a whole year. Read part two about how the Sharples family of seven gave themselves permission to step out of the fast lane and take a family gap year to travel around the world.

Once you decide to put your life on hold and travel the world for a year, it feels like you could go anywhere… But in reality, the world is a REALLY big place, and a year is only 365 days. In addition, we had to factor in the kids’ educations, and how their curriculum would fit with the overall itinerary and flow of the trip. A gap year is not considered a vacation, and indeed, we do not perceive our journey as a vacation. Rather, it is an opportunity to live abroad in multiple cultures and geographies, experiencing and connecting with the world together as a family, while also moving forward education and career.Sharples family

The original concept for our gap year was to select four locations that we would live in for three months each. Colored by our extraordinary experience living in an apartment in the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam for several months in 2009 when we adopted our twins, Tuck and Jones, we thought it would be great to absorb a smaller set of destinations and live as dedicated tourists, if not locals. It seemed good on paper, but once we started horse-trading on a minuscule four locations, and looked at all the enticing, exotic destinations that surrounded each of them, we realized we were going to have to broaden the list.

We landed, at least at this point, on 14 countries, averaging about a month in most of the countries, with the shortest stay being a little over a week (Portugal) to the longest stay lasting two months (Bali). Several factors went into the decision process such as: each family member was given a say in their number one choice; there were mandated sacred cows (Oia, Greece and Ubud, Bali); we all wanted to return to our family’s other “home” cultures of China and Vietnam; countries we had visited in the past also went into the mix. Sequencing, optimizing for weather and finding the best times to visit given the chosen places helped the rubrik’s cube fall into place. You can view the itinerary as it stands today here.lichtenstein

As for the curriculum and education for the kids, I could go on and on. Each grade level is different. For our eldest son Wescott, missing sophomore year of high school is a pretty big deal, so ensuring that he not only continues with his subjects, but also gets the proper credit, is essential. We chose the University of Nebraska’s virtual high school program because of its reputation, course alignment with Mercer Island High School, and a track record of MIHS taking the credits so he will have a graded transcript. For our middle school kids Yve (seventh grade) and Otto (sixth grade), the school recommended following the math curriculum with the textbooks as really the only required work. English would be more than covered by our family blog posts, of which everyone in the family has their day of the week to publish, a family requirement of writing a book over the course of the year that will be published on Amazon’s digital Kindle platform upon return to the United States, and our family book club, where we read selected titles together and then discuss over a meal. World history and science are also more than covered, as we take experiential learning to a whole new level! For our two would-be first graders, homeschooling from the five if us seems to be sufficing!sharples restaurant

As I write this, we are two and a half months into our adventure, and it’s simply amazing. We’re well into our European tour, a week away from hopping over to Africa. We’ve learned to cook a mean ravioli and perfectly stuffed grape leaves together, surfed in Greece and Spain, met several European entrepreneurs, painted graffiti with a Spanish urban street artist, seen heart-stopping architecture, enjoyed the sublime Mediterranean and connected with some amazing people so far. We invite you to come along on our blog – ProjectEquator: A Family Gap Year – where all of us give our own take on the experiences, sites and places we travel to.

Cliff Sharples

November 21, 2013


  1. This is so inspiring! Now I keep trying to figure out how I could do this…or something like this.

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