How One Family Makes a 30-Month Sabbatical a Reality

June 3, 2008

In June, the Vogel family will leave Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on bicycle. Some 30 months later, they’ll arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina. Along they way, kids Davy and Daryl will be awarded the title of “Youngest Person to Cycle the Pan-American Highway” by Guinness World Records.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this. I asked Nancy Sathre-Vogel if she’d share some insights into what’s required – mentally and logistically – to pull off an escape of this magnitude.

Q: How are you dealing with jobs/careers/work?

Jobs? Are you implying that a responsible, logical parent would consider their job in all this? Yes, I suppose that would be the wise thing to do, but I’m not sure we fit in that category.

The short answer is that we feel life is too short to not take advantage of it. Our boys will never be ten years old again. We are (relatively) healthy right now, but we all know how quickly that can change. In other words – bag the job and live life.

OK, I happen to have a career where I know I can always find a job (I’m a Special Education teacher). That makes the decision a whole lot easier!

Q: What’s your budget for the trip, and how are you funding it?

The financial aspect of an extended journey will always be the most difficult one. That being said, traveling by bike is a relatively cheap method of travel – especially with gas prices the way they are today! In 2006-07 we spent twelve months cycling around the USA and Mexico, and found that our monthly expenses on the road were $1000-1500. We expect food prices to be slightly higher due to gas prices, but should be approximately in the same range.

We have also sought out insurance for expats and will be able to pick up an insurance plan for much less than we paid on our last trip. This policy will have a high deductible, therefore will only cover major incidents. We’ll plan on paying the small stuff out of our pocket.

So – all total, we are planning for a monthly budget of around $2000 or approximately $60,000 – 70,000 for the entire 2 ½ years.

To pay for it, we will take money out of our retirement account if need be. Yes, we will have less money when we’re old and decrepit, but we’ll have memories like nobody else! That said, we are hoping we won’t have to take much out.

  • We own our house outright, and will rent it out while we’re on the road. Anything over the expenses of maintaining the house (taxes, insurance, and maintenance) will be used to pay our daily expenses.
  • We are also hoping to have our website be a valuable educational resource for teachers and homeschooling families. We will be writing up a series of photo essays about the various places we pass through and are hoping educators will use them to help kids learn. We have a map posted where we will link to the various essays. I know the map is pretty empty and forlorn right now, but we’re hoping to start getting info in there as soon as we start pedaling! We’re hoping to get a small amount of money from ads and donations from that.
  • Another possibility for raising a bit of money is with John’s website design. We will have a computer with us on the journey, and he will (hopefully) find a few clients who are impressed enough with our website to want him to design one for them.
  • I will also try to write a few articles for magazines and get a small amount of income that way.

Basically – the game plan is to get a lot of ‘little bits’ and hope they add up to enough. Or at least close to enough.

Q: You have a great deal of travel experience. What would be your top advice for a family that’s dreaming of getting away for the first time?

Just do it. There are a million reasons not to go, and that’s what most people tend to focus on. There will never be ‘enough’ money and there will always be job demands. The time and money for a family adventure will never just fall in your lap out of the clear blue sky. You simply have to make the decision to go, and DO IT!

I’ve got blog entry that could relate to this topic perfectly called “One More Pedal Stroke“. Although I’ve likened my experience of climbing a hill to life in general, I think it also pertains to setting off on an extended journey. If you look at the preparations of the journey as a whole, it seems insurmountable. But once you’ve made the decision to tackle it, just take it one step at a time until you reach the eve of departure. That’s really all there is to it.

Q: How are you dealing with school for the kids?

Basically, we will allow Mother Nature and our journey itself to be the boys’ teacher. Our daily lives will be filled with learning – although that learning will be far from predictable. As we pedal alongside the Alaska pipeline, we will learn about oil production and the permafrost. When we see wildlife on the side of the road, we will learn about bears and moose. Our boys will see Aztec and Incan cultural relics and gain an understanding of how people in those cultures lived. They’ll experience various political and economic environments. All those sights, sounds, smells, and tastes will be their teacher.

I’ve written a blog entry about our approach to “roadschooling” – you can read it here.

Q: What about playmates, besides each other?

Our boys have an uncanny ability to seek out other kids to play with. At campgrounds, they stay at the playground until darkness drives them away and they somehow manage to find all kinds of kids everywhere we go.

It is true that they will not have the chance to develop long-term friendships, but we feel the advantages of a journey like this far outweigh the disadvantages.

Q: For many families, safety is one of the first things that comes to mind when they consider traveling with kids. Any words for those who would like to try a family adventure, but are scared off by the thought of international travel?

I think we live with an illusion of security in our own home. My home is Boise, so I feel Boise is ‘safe’. Carlos lives in Bogota, so he feels it’s ‘safe’. Galya lives in Israel, so Jeruselem seems safe to her, and Cairo feels safe to Wallah. Why would Gitanjeli’s home in India be any less safe for me than it is for her? I’ve written a blog entry to address this issue.

Thanks to Nancy for sharing the details of their sabbatical. You can support this educational trip via their website at http://familyonbikes.org/, and by subscribing to their blog at http://familyonbikes.org/blog. We’ll be checking in with Nancy and the family later in their escape. Good luck!

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Comments

5 Responses to “How One Family Makes a 30-Month Sabbatical a Reality”

  1. Mark on June 19th, 2008 12:44 pm

    Hi Dan – nice interview!! Just wanted to wish the family well on their journey and I look forward to following them via their blog.

  2. Dan on June 19th, 2008 1:12 pm

    Thanks, Mark!

  3. soultravelers3 on September 25th, 2008 3:32 pm

    Great interview Dan! I agree with much that has been said. You do not have to be on bikes to travel cheaply either, I think slow travel is the key. We are starting our 3rd year of an open-ended world tour & although we have been on 4 continents, 24 countries so far, we have been mostly in Europe. Still, we live large on just 25K a year for a family of three…total expenses.

    We find we can live cheaper traveling the world than living at home. Also with slow travel kids can meet others along the way, but we return to a small 15th century village and my child has made long term friends there and will always keep them.

    There are always ways around any of the challenges that may come up and the rewards are unbelievable for the child/ren and the family. Life is meant to be lived freely and there is not a better way for a global education to prepare a child for the 21st century!!

  4. Shahnaz on November 21st, 2008 11:25 am

    Great post! I agree completely , just do it while you have your health because things can quickly change.

  5. Rebecca on December 31st, 2008 11:37 am

    I agree about the health issue. I got a chronic illness 4 years ago at age 25. I never thought at that age I wouldn’t have more time to do adventurous, physically-challenging things. But now I can’t do them, and I long for the days when I could. Do it while you can. Tomorrow might never come.

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