3 Big Things That Changed After Our First Family Sabbatical

April 24, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Meet WSE Members

Our First Family Sabbatical

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life:

“Maybe you’re a little bit like we were, where you sit down at the end of a long, busy day and think, ‘What the heck is this life for? Will I ever get a chance to do the things I want to do in life? To live my own dreams?’ After our parents died in 2010, we felt like time began to slip away. Months melted from the calendar, one by one…

Something was missing.


Family SabaticalLike so many others in the fast-paced culture of the United States, we followed along with the flow and unwittingly resigned ourselves to a ‘normal’ life that included working until retirement age, raising kids who would have a resume of activities and sports accomplishments before they applied for college, and taking a yearly vacation… Everything looked good, on the surface.

But looking only at the surface stuff gives us fleeting pleasure. Yes, we have a nice home. Yes, we have appropriately beige cars and appropriately green grass. We have friends and family in town and an appropriately-sized list of friends on Facebook. Life was good. Right?”

I wrote this memoir-style book during our first family sabbatical to Belize, where we lived for six months in 2012-13.

In short, the rhetorical question, “Life was good, right?” can be answered: “Yes, but it can be much better than good.”

Fast-forward four years. (Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been FOUR years!) Our family looks very different these days. The catalyst for the change…?

That trip. Hands down, it was that amazing, scary, soulful, frustrating, life-changing trip to Belize that turned the line on our life’s happiness graph from ‘good’ to ‘thriving.’

That trip marked the time in our lives when we stopped doing the things we didn’t want to do and started doing the things that made our hearts sing.

Dropped out of school1) First, we dropped out of school.

Our kids were drop-outs at age 12, 11, and 8, and our current 6-year-old has never gone to traditional school (unless you count the pre-school in Costa Rica).

After four years of homeschooling, our idea of education is now flipped on its head. Instead of seeing learning as a forced responsibility, we now see it as a beautiful opportunity.

“Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.” — Ken Robinson


2) We stopped saying ‘ok’ and started saying ‘YES!’

Start saying yesAll those times we were faced with volunteer opportunities, sign up forms, and polite invitations to cocktail parties, we said, “Ok, why not?” None of these things were bad, in and of themselves. But they weren’t for us.

We just didn’t know how to say “no.” Or even, “not right now.”

So we said “ok, sure” and became so busy that we didn’t have time to do the things we really wanted to do.

When we got back from Belize, our life was a clean slate. We’d been away long enough that we now felt anything was possible. We stopped mindlessly signing up.

And, guess what? That left plenty of time to do the things we DID want to do. All of a sudden, time opened up and we shouted “YES!” to the universe, to our long-held dreams and desires, to the joy we’d been looking for all of our lives!


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs

3) We started traveling more.

Started travelling moreSince Belize, we’ve filled our life with more of what we love, including big, messy, mistake-filled, beautiful travel escapes with our kids.

We started our first academic year homeschooling with an insanely stressful 2-month, 10,000-mile road trip across the U.S., towing a 32-foot travel trailer.

After that, we embarked on a bunch of big trips (to Florida, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, and Italy) and a bunch of smaller trips (to Toronto, Quebec City, Gettysburg, Lancaster, and Philadelphia).

We can now safely say that travel has become an integral part of our family’s life.

Since 2013, we’ve scooted out of our ‘normal’ life so many times to see new places that, when we bump into old friends, the first question they ask is, “So, where are you going next?”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

Our first family sabbatical to Belize changed our life. We’re not ‘normal,’ but we’re happy being weird!

Domini Hedderman is the free-thinking mother of four behind the blog, Exit Normal. She loves meditation, books, and asking challenging questions. Her favorite color is green and she believes everything is better when the sun is shining. Look her up on Facebook or Instagram. You can buy Domini’s book on Amazon: