It started as a casual conversation on the couch one night. I was talking with my husband about a possible family trip to visit our friends in Madrid. They had recently moved away so we were thinking ahead to when we could see them again. As we started mapping out a summer trip, we found ourselves adding more and more destinations. We began to think, what if we went for longer? What if we explored more of Spain? What if, we took the whole summer off and traveled around Europe as a family? Our kids – at ages 8, 10, and 13 – had never been to Europe, and they were in a sweet spot of being fairly independent, able to walk and hike decent distances and still interested in spending time with us (well, most of the time anyway).
After the pandemic years, we were craving some time away from our computers and the churn of everyday life. And we wanted to broaden our kids’ perspectives, to help them appreciate other cultures and experience the benefits of seeing new places and trying new things. We were dreaming about a chance to spend the summer together as a family, exploring the world and being present in the moment.
We talked about it on our own, and then started talking about it with our friends and family. We went with the theory that if you talk about something enough, it feels more real. But the reality of both being able to step away from our jobs (and have them waiting for us) was daunting. Could we really pull this off?
Given the agency planning cycle, I wanted to make the request for a leave of absence in November, before budgets and goals were set. That left us plenty of time to start travel planning. I caught JPA’s CEO by phone one quiet afternoon and gave her my pitch (palms sweating and bulleted notes in front of me). Her response, without hesitation: “Absolutely and sounds fantastic!” Amazing, right?
On top of the genuine support from JPA leadership, my team and colleagues around the agency were incredibly supportive – from stepping in to cover my work to offering many helpful travel tips. It was hard to leave them with an extra workload, and I cannot express my appreciation enough for the extra effort they put in to allow me this chance.
So, in June 2023, after many, many months of planning, the big moment arrived – we packed our bags, closed up our house and set off for eight weeks in Europe. Our trip took us all over Spain, from the major cities to all the coasts to the Spanish Pyrenees. Then we spent a week in France between Provence and Paris, and we closed the trip with two weeks across Scotland and England.
Top three things I learned from this experience:
- Take moments to acknowledge and appreciate it when you have an employer that supports you personally and professionally. At JPA, we talk a lot about our flexibility and how it goes both ways. After three plus years at the agency, and during a strange and stressful pandemic time, JPA was extraordinarily flexible with me for this significant request. And in turn, I tried to be flexible and considerate with giving plenty of notice, how to transition the work and how my team could reach me if needed over the summer.
- Being truly in the moment is incredible. We hiked awe-inspiring mountains, snorkeled in island coves, enjoyed warm chocolate crepes at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, ate A LOT of gelato and croissants, met up with friends and family, read books, went to museums, explored Harry Potter movie sets, played on the beach and more.
- Find moments to integrate the activities that bring joy and peace into everyday life. I rediscovered how much I enjoy reading for relaxation, so I have made it a priority to actually read more regularly. I also really enjoy hanging out with my kids when I’m not multitasking. Making the time to just be together can be hard but is a good carryover from the summer.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this trip, be with my family, and step away from work and normal life for a while. We have been back now for as long as we were away, but hopefully we can keep the spirit of the trip going and we’ve sparked a sense of curiosity and adventure in our kids that will last them a lifetime.