Planning a year abroad with a family as an entrepreneurJan 23, 2024
We have arrived. I'm writing this blog from our hotel in Vancouver.
Yesterday, we left Australia and will be gone for almost a year. We plan to spend five months in Canada and another four months in Costa Rica, with some time travelling between.
A sabbatical or a year abroad has been a dream of mine for at least a decade, and I know others share similar hopes.
I don't want to rub it in, so I will temper my excitement as I write this article. I plan to break down exactly what I did to transform this dream into a reality, and I'm sharing my planning tool.
As you can imagine, moving a family of four overseas for a year takes some doing. There are many small and big things to consider and tasks to work through.
13 months out: Deciding to move overseas for a year.
My husband, Dave, and I have loosely chatted about spending some time overseas over the last ten years. When the COVID pandemic happened, our conversations became more serious, especially as he was entitled to long service leave from the Army, where he is serving as a helicopter pilot.
I'm an idea girl, but I'm also very good at getting shit done. This is my superpower in business; I don't just dream about it; I do it.
So, we started thinking seriously about a timeline and destinations.
We decided on 2024; this would be when Dave's most recent posting would end, and our children would be 9 and 6 (starting grades 2 and 4). This would mean our kid are old enough to remember the experience but young enough that a year abroad wouldn't mess too much with their schooling.
There were lots of factors to consider:
• Cost of living
• Safety and security
We decided to learn a new language (but only one), and since I speak Greek, French and English, we chose Spanish.
I'm of Greek heritage, so we have made several trips to Greece and will make more in the future. The year abroad was an opportunity to go somewhere new.
We live in Darwin, where it is suffocatingly hot for nine months of the year. So, we wanted the polar opposite of that. We both ski but don't have any opportunity for that in the Tropics.
We decided on Canada for five months, at least a month in the US travelling south and then Costa Rica for another four months. As both countries are in the northern hemisphere, it would mean winter in one location and summer in the other.
The decision was made around Dec 2022, and that's when I told Emily, my only other employee in the business. We had one year to plan how the business would run in 2024 and for Emily to take a bigger role.
9 months to go: Putting my strategic marketing and campaign skills to good use.
Canva released a new tool: a dynamic website builder that was mobile responsive. I decided to try it out by building a website for our Darwin home, which we planned to rent out fully furnished. Since we had leased our house previously, I had professional images of the home, so it only took two hours to create a visually appealing and informative website.
I purchased the domain www.homeinthetropics.com.au and published the website. I then shared it with my networks.
6 months to go: from idea to execution.
2023 was a hugely successful and busy year for the business, so when August rolled around, I realised I had not planned anything for the trip abroad apart from the website, and it was time to pull my finger out.
I booked flights, applied, and received an eTA (Visa requirement) with 6 months to go.
We narrowed down that we would spend five months in Calgary, Canada's Alberta region. Vancouver is too big and expensive a city for us, and most recommendations were for Banff. We wanted to send our kids to a local school versus home-schooling, so Calgary meant we were 1 hour from Banff but in a city the size of Brisbane with many schooling options.
Given we would be starting halfway through the Canadian school year, we decided a Montessori-style pedagogy would be the best fit for the year we had planned. We have been interested in this style of education, so this year allows us to try it out and see if it's right for our family.
In August, I researched and contacted around six shortlisted schools, and we were offered places at Calgary Changemaker School, which was our first choice. We are paying a pretty penny in school and international student fees, but we believe this is a worthwhile investment for our children.
I booked an Airbnb for the first two and a half weeks after we arrived. We chose a condo close to the city, as we wouldn't have a car immediately.
I did some research about travel cards and discovered Wise. Opening an account cost me $10, and they offered a far more favourable exchange rate than major banks. I opened an account and started monitoring the exchange rate most days. When the rate would hit over .90 CAD, I would exchange AUD.
So, after no progress for months, I had planned most of the trip within August.
3 months to go: Working harder, not smarter
We had put feelers out about our house in Darwin, and in September, we arranged that a family of close friends would rent our Darwin house fully furnished for a year.
We gave them discounted rent in exchange for our friends storing our two cars, bikes and boxes in their shed.
Most weekends since September were spent decluttering or working on our garden so that it was in an excellent state for our tenants.
I sold some clothing online and made around $2000 from my efforts. I must say, though, I have never worked so hard for $2K between all the photographing, listing, liaising and trips to the post office.
1 month to go: The devil is in the details.
We ordered school uniforms and joined the parent Facebook group. One of the fellow mums was happy to receive our uniform parcels at her place, and they were waiting for us when we arrived.
We arranged travel and medical insurance, which cost $3700 through Freely. It's a fair sum, but we are away for almost a year, and unlimited medical expenses are covered abroad.
We all went to the dentist as it would be 12 months before a routine visit. I also ordered a three-month supply of contact lenses.
The last week in Darwin was a frenzy of packing up suitcases, trips to the tip and the Salvos and wrapping up the work and school year. We said goodbye to our Darwin friends and headed down south for Christmas.
One week to go: Driving overseas, avoiding unnecessary expenses.
My husband was going through his expenses on his online banking, and I decided to do the same. Thank goodness I did because it encouraged me to pause our private health insurance policy in Australia; we don't need that while we have the international policy.
We also sorted our international driver's licenses at Service NSW (you can do it at RACV, NRMA or your local automobile association.)
We looked at long-term accommodation options but decided to wait until we arrived in Calgary to lock anything in. It's a calculated risk based on how many furnished rentals are within our price range.
Working abroad as an entrepreneur
I will continue to run Campaign Del Mar while away but with a more streamlined offering. My tax residency will stay as Australian, so I didn't get a work visa.
I don't plan to work full-time as Emily Lambourne, our Digital Strategist, will be taking a lead role.
Throughout 2023, Emily stepped more into the spotlight. She appeared as a guest on podcasts, ran many of our group training sessions and created content for social media. We had a photoshoot together in Melbourne a few months ago, so we have plenty of images to use throughout 2024.
We also filmed our soon-to-be-released marketing campaign while we were together.
Flights from Australia to Canada
We flew to Canada with Fiji Airways, Business Class. I did not make a flashy statement about this on social media because my business does not make enough profit to pay for business-class flights for four people. This was a splurge but also a practical choice; my husband is 6'3, so he's uncomfortable sitting in a tiny seat for too long, and we could bring two suitcases each, which we required for both summer and winter gear.
The experience was exceptional; we loved every minute.
We flew from Sydney to Nadi, which came with access to the Qantas Business class lounge. We each had a spacious pod with a 17-inch TV, noise-cancelling headphones and a fully reclining seat. We were served a delicious three-course lunch for the four-hour flight to Nadi. I had a fish entree, vegetable cannelloni and chocolate cake for dessert. Plus, a cheeky Chardonnay.
The Fiji Airways lounge in Nadi felt like a warm blanket. They served chicken broth soup, fresh salads, stir-fried noodles, and delicious vegetables prepared with love.
After three hours in Nadi, we boarded for our flight to Vancouver. After eating nonstop since we left, we opted for the express meal option, an entree and dessert. I had a prawn appetizer and a fruit salad. We were given a card to select our breakfast and coffee options for the following day.
The cabin crew whipped around and made everyone's 'bed'. Sheets, pillows and a duvet appeared from the overhead lockers. I popped on my provided eye mask and slept for 6 hours. When I opened my eyes, the air hostess announced she was off to get my coffee.
Breakfast was superb. I had a cheese omelette with a potato rosti and chicken sausage, a raisin bun, fresh fruit, yoghurt parfait and freshly brewed coffee. The kids had red velvet pancakes and announced they wanted to live on the plane.
I told them to enjoy it but not get used to Business Class; this was an extravagance, not the new normal.
We were still jetlagged when we arrived in Canada, so we didn't manage to avoid that. It's now 2 am local time, and I am wide awake. It's also -11 degrees Celcius, so I am not willing to go for a walk to help me get to sleep.
Now, the real adventure begins. If you have questions about this article, please message me on Instagram. I'm super friendly (unless you are trying to get me to buy Instagram followers.)
If you'd like a copy of the comprehensive planner I created to plan the trip, grab a copy here. It will be helpful if you are considering the digital nomad lifestyle, taking a sabbatical year, or working abroad like me.
Global Marketing Strategist
Global Marketing Strategist