Radical Family Sabbatical | Give Your Family The World


Families Afoot: The Stambaughs

RFS September 19, 2012

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
- Marcel Proust

Man, sometimes you wonder just what kinda crazy it takes for seemingly sane people to leave successful careers, enviable lives, and the comfort of home to pack it all up for “an experience”. Meet the Crazy Stambaughs (not their real names…at least, not the “crazy” part). Bo was gainfully employed by Crested Butte Resort in one of the stinkin’ cutest towns in America. Jamie was happily teaching America’s best and brightest (the subset of school children in Crested Butte, anyway). And they left…why!? Jamie explains:

Where did you go?
South America: We began in Ecuador and spent 5 months there attending school and learning about the local culture and language. Then, off to Colombia where we spent a week in the mountain town of Popayán before heading down to the coast for what we thought would be another week or two. One of our precepts while traveling was that if we reached a spot and didn’t like it, we had no obligation to stay for as long as we’d planned, and likewise, if we stumbled across a gem and loved it, we simply set up house and stay as long as we’d like. So, our one to two weeks on the coast turned into one week in Cartagena and one month in a small fishing village called Taganga. Didn’t plan that one or see it coming in any way, and yet so far it has been one of the biggest highlights of this trip. A fantastic surprise. After that it was off to Bolivia, where we had a horrible, awful, wretched, and not to be wished upon anyone set of experiences that ultimately led to us skipping out as soon as we could and heading for Argentina. We are now enjoying the big city life of Buenos Aires and like it so much here, have just rented an apartment for 7 weeks.

How long was your sabbatical?
One year. Well, we’re not quite done yet [they return October 2012] so saying “the end” is too hard! I can say that the length of our sabbatical will be determined by the amount of savings we decided we felt comfortable returning with. We sold our home and belongings and my husband quit his job, so setting aside a “start new careers and rebuild a homelife” buffer was an important part of our plan. We made an educated guess at an amount of time away, but this is all uncharted ground for the most part and we’ve really only held firm to the time being determined by that restart amount we’d agreed on before we left.

What were you thinking (why did you do it)?
It is hard to pinpoint one moment or event that inspired our sabbatical. Travel was always high on our list of priorities as individuals, and sharing it as a married couple has been a true gift. I remember conversations from early early on in our relationship about wanting to live abroad as a family someday, when we had kids. Our belief that the interconnectedness of the world would play a vital role not just in our lives, but certainly in our children’s lives as well was one reason. Equally important though was the thought, one that became a larger and larger piece of the pie once the children were actually born and Parenthood set in, was that there is a cacophony of voices and calls and information and requests for all of our time and attention at all hours of each day, so to forcibly set aside a chunk just for us felt urgent. To be us. To get to know us. To learn to trust us. To really establish an us, before the rest came a knockin’ and pulling each individual off in their personally tailored, albeit separate, directions.


What has been your greatest lesson or experience?
This is nearly impossible to answer in anything less than all the books it would take to fill all the remaining decades of my life. Partly because of all the lessons, and partly because I expect a lot of the education comes spread out, over time, in the thinking on it and remembering. There are some broad strokes of insight, for sure, but this experience is above all intensely personal, and I hope that if you are reading this you are either nodding you head in agreement or booking flights in another window ready to find out for yourself. Here are just a few of the “broad strokes” we’ve picked up so far:

  1. This has been a lot harder than we expected it to be but entertaining the idea of never having done it at all is, unthinkable.
  2. Use guide books as a guide and traveler’s stories for insight but don’t expect them to fit your family perfectly. Leave lots of room for figuring out your own rules and preferences.
  3. Foreign environments are, foreign, so learn to embrace becoming a new student again for every bus schedule you read and every grocery run you make and every map you pick up and it will all work much more smoothly. Permission to Learn, instead of Know, is a great great thing.
  4. Spending money on select experiences that your family will remember doing together every day of their lives is excellent investment protocol.
  5. There is actually no such thing as “too much togetherness”. Truly. Try it.

See more of the Stambaugh’s journey on their awesome blog, Finding Foreign (don’t miss the Bolivia misadventure).

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