I took a sabbatical and went round the world with my family! Is it time to swap the office for Oz?

Rory Monroe turned a tragedy into a silver lining when he took a sabbatical and took his family around the world to explore Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Choosing to leave work and all that was familiar wasn’t easy, but the time away proved invaluable. Rory tells High50 about his family sabbatical…

Taking a sabbatical

Taking long holidays was something other people did. As a court manager at the Ministry of Justice in London, and with 25 judges and 150 people to manage, life was so hectic that taking one week off during the summer was a struggle.

Then a very close friend became terminally ill. It was devastating. I was suddenly confronted with how fragile life was and it put a lot of things into focus, not least the pressures of work and how unhappy I was.

The first stop was Thailand and its stunning islands
The first stop was Thailand and its stunning islands

Before she passed away, my friend told me to take a break and do something with my family. I didn’t really listen a the time, but when she passed I again felt the need to be with my family more. We later discovered she had left us some money in her will. I decided there and then that we would use it to travel with my wife and three daughters.

We made a list of places we wanted to visit and friends we wanted to see and started joining up the dots.

Our first stop was Thailand. We flew to Koh Samui, Thailand and stayed right on the beach. We spent our time by the pool, touring the islands, snorkelling and kayaking. The kids loved it so much they didn’t want to leave.

Australia_Sydney_harbour view-2-620
Photo by Hamilton Lund, Destination NSW

From there, we flew to Melbourne and travelled across to Sydney and then to Byron Bay. It was our children’s first time to Australia and it was amazing to be able to share it with them, rather than send them off on a gap year and never have any of these shared experiences.

As we travelled we began to see what an enriching experience this was for them. They were seeing countries and experiencing a new way of life first-hand, rather than reading about it.

Australia and New Zealand with the family

The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef

The trip definitely brought us closer as a family and the kids got to spend time with us as people, not just protectors or those old people who dole out the chores!

My oldest daughter Beth and I even did a sky dive together. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got out of the plane without her egging me on. We talk about it to this day and it’s one of those things we can always look back on.

It is fairly unusual to take a sabbatical and head off abroad at my age and at the time I was worried about whether it was the right thing to do but my friend’s death had taught me that life is too short and I was glad to be able to spend time with my children while we were still relatively young.

Digital detox with the family

By the time we hit Queensland and the magical Great Barrier Reef we had settled into our nomadic lifestyle.

My wife and I were so much more relaxed. With no hectic schedules to adhere to and the weight of the working world no longer on our shoulders we had more time for each other and more time for the kids.

We read books, swapped music, took up new (week-long) hobbies such as paddleboarding or kayaking and… talked. About all sorts. There’s nothing like long journeys to find out about the people your kids are becoming.

It all sounds a bit Waltons – so I’ll tell you now, there were still arguments at airports and cross words, but sunshine helps with family meltdowns and we just had a lot of fun.

New Zealand

We flew to Auckland and met up with our friends who lived an hour outside the city. We stayed on the North Island and drove to Lake Rotorua and spent a few days exploring the hot springs, waterfalls and glow worm caves. The country was absolutely breathtaking and so peaceful compared to London and the UK.

I have a sneaking suspicion one day we will be back.

Bay of Dolphins off the coast of the North Island
Bay of Dolphins off the coast of the North Island

All too soon it was time for our final leg. Our ‘grown-up gap months’ were coming to an  end.

We flew to California and spent a few weeks checking out Los Angeles and San Diego before driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco.

This was proper road trip country. We stopped in the woods to see the famous sequoias, visited Monterrey and Santa Barbara, surfed along the coast, enjoyed amazing food and had a great time.

The combination of city stops, beaches and parks worked really well for the family as a whole. My eldest daughter loved San Francisco and can’t wait to go back.

The family toured the famous Pacific Coast Highway in California
Rory and his family toured the famous Pacific Coast Highway in California
The Golden Gate Bridge at dawn
The Golden Gate Bridge at dawn
A gap year with your family

Our family sabbatical was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I felt re-energised. None of us had a clue what it was going to be like to travel for that length of time together but after a few weeks we got into a groove. The kids enjoyed a freedom they didn’t have in the UK and it really bonded us as a family.

No one knows what the future holds and once they’re in their 20s my children will be off on their own adventures.

I spent a year of my retirement early when I was young enough to do things I probably wouldn’t be able to do when I actually retire and still have no regrets.