Ann Clairmont longed for the semester abroad that she had never taken, so she planned a global sabbatical for her and her daughter that spanned Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Organizing the journey to coincide with the seventh grade syllabus of her daughter, the duo toured 19 countries and returned home with a fascination for modern world history and a lifetime of memories.
How did you come up with this idea?
About five years ago, in the midst of our hectic, rollercoaster life with five children, I realized that I’d become so immersed in the day-to-day that I’d lost sight of the big picture. In one of those rare moments of clarity, I figured out that the only person keeping me from taking a semester abroad was myself. It occurred to me that I could do it if I could find a way to bring our youngest, middle-school-aged daughter with me.
What were the major roadblocks you faced in making this journey happen? My biggest roadblock was my fear of getting approval from our daughter’s school for her to leave for a semester. Thankfully, her school embraced the concept wholeheartedly. They immediately understood the benefits of experiential learning and worked together with us to find the most intelligent way to take her out of the classroom without having her fall behind academically.
Did your family embrace the idea?
At first they thought that I had lost my mind, but as the plans evolved, they were extremely supportive and excited. My husband joined us for as much of the journey as he could (two and a half months in total). Looking back, he wishes that he’d found a way to go on the whole trip with us!
How was Indagare most helpful?
This adventure would simply not have been possible without the experts at Indagare. I had an idea of where I wanted to travel and when (for example, I wanted to visit Japan during cherry blossom season), but I never could have found the charming boutique hotels and knowledgeable guides that Indagare arranged for us. The team not only mapped out our extensive, five-and-a-half month itinerary in just a few months (including flights, guides and hotels), but also organized many special experiences for us, like an incredible balloon ride over Cappodocia at dawn. During our sabbatical, Indagare was just a phone call away, which we found very reassuring. The team was able to make almost instantaneous hotel and itinerary adjustments and handled every bump (of which there were few) with ease.
How did you decide on where to go?
My fantasy was to go “far far away” and stay there, keeping the sabbatical on the far side of the globe. On our five-and-a-half month journey we traveled to four continents and visited 19 countries! We shaped our semester around the study topics that were being covered in our daughter’s 7th grade classroom, so we traveled to countries on the Silk Road and stayed in an apartment in Spain to study Spanish.
Were there any trip highlights that stand out in your mind?
There were so many that it’s hard to decide on just one, but I think the most amazing highlight would have to be our unexpected private tour of the Vatican! Also, watching our 13-year-old daughter walk with a full-grown male cheetah through the Zimbabwean veldt left me speechless.
What were some of the unexpected aspects of your stay?
In addition to the extraordinary people that we met everywhere, in almost every country that we traveled, to we became fascinated with learning about the modern history of those nations. More readily familiar with a country’s ancient history, we felt our eyes opening to a present day reality that we had felt so sheltered from at home.
Related: On the Road With…Teens
Were there unforeseen results back home?
We have become much more avid listeners of international news. We felt, for example, an overwhelming sense of joy when Aung San Suu Kyi became the “unelected” popular leader of Myanmar despite the military’s wishes.
What were some of your favorite rituals?
Writing in our journals.
Do you have any advice for others contemplating a similar journey?
Pack lightly and bring layers. We wore the same things over and over. We also suggest taking a Kindle and subscribing to Kindle Unlimited, which gives you a wide range of books, including travel guidebooks, for free.
Would you do this again?
Absolutely. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience we feel extraordinarily lucky to have had, and we recommend it adamantly! We will treasure the memories from this journey as long as we live. Now that we’ve been so “far far away”, we are enjoying taking shorter journeys to places closer to home in South America and North America!
Read our Black Book Magazine featuring Summer Family Travel.