If We Can Do It, So Can You, with Alexandra Sheehan

If the bank holiday weekend had you dreaming of an escape from the 9 till 5 then get some inspiration from Alex Sheehan who spent over a year backpacking around the world. I love her advice for anyone thinking about setting off on their own grown up gap year!

1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?

It was not a difficult decision at all. I had gone on a spring break study abroad trip during my final year of college. I didn’t know anyone on the trip and we went to Jordan and Dubai. This was my first time going abroad, so it was super nerve-wracking. It was an amazing experience and when I came back I was bitten by the travel bug as they say. The economy was also a large factor of my decision. I knew a bunch of friends who had graduated the year before me and were stuck hopping around with temp work or at a soul-sucking job, so I wanted to avoid that. In fact, that was scarier to me than a trip alone.

2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?

People at first didn’t believe me, and many of them thought I was crazy. It really was a mix of reactions though. Some friends and family thought it was super cool and told me: “I wish I had the guts to do that.” Others, like my parents in particular, were really worried about my safety and what I’d be doing. They were also scared that I would meet a guy and never come back. I told them that if I never came back it wouldn’t have anything to do with me meeting someone!

3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?

Originally my trip was planned for New Zealand for eight months, followed by two months around Australia. However, that changed to ten months in New Zealand with short trips to Sydney and Fiji. After New Zealand I spent three months in Turkey, one month in Singapore and one month in Thailand.

4. Did you go alone or with family/friends?

I went everywhere alone. A friend of mine visited me for a week in Turkey, which was awesome, because I was feeling a bit homesick at the time. I met up with another friend from home in Thailand for just a night; our schedules didn’t coincide unfortunately. Along the way I also made plenty of friends, who I would travel with in spurts and then part ways. Such is life on the road I guess!

5. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)

My travel style is definitely long-term, with the goal of immersing myself in the culture as much as possible. Ideally, I like to either work or volunteer during my travels so I get a real feel for what daily life is like. I always stick to a strict budget, which is especially easy when working and travelling for long periods of time.

6. Do you go for tours or do it alone?

It is an extreme rarity that I will do tours. Sometimes, if I am in a time crunch or don’t have the patience to organise transportation and sightseeing myself, I will opt for a tour. However, I find they are very touristy and inauthentic. They also cost more than they are worth. I have found that my best experiences also happen to be the ones with the least amount of frills and costs.

7. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?

The best thing about taking a grown up gap year is personal development. I have been pushed well outside my comfort zone and learned things about myself that I never knew before. I have developed new skill sets that would have been impossible to obtain without my international experiences. You learn so much about yourself, people and the world around you when you travel, more so than when you are stuck in the comfort of your daily routines.

8. And were there any downsides?

To be completely honest, I cannot think of a single downside out of all of my travels. Every unpleasant experience has been so extremely valuable to me, be it a lesson learned or a memory made.

9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?

My advice would be to just do it. The more you think about it, the more you try to talk yourself out of it. As soon as the idea pops into your head, book that flight. Planning is a necessary step to travel, but most people overestimate how much planning needs to be done. In my opinion, make sure your visas, immunizations and insurance are covered and you can figure out the rest along the way. Also, try to get involved with the local community. Couchsurfing is a great resource to find trustworthy locals to show you the ropes of your travel destination, their home.

If you’d like to catch up with Alex’s adventures then check out her blog, like her page on Facebook or say hi on Twitter.

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