This week’s If We Can Do It is a very special one, because Jonny Blair from Don’t Stop Living didn’t just decide to take a grown up gap year, he completely changed his lifestyle. Here he explains his journey to becoming a nomad.
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
It wasn’t so much a plan for a “gap year” with me, it was more of a three step process to becoming a nomad! Firstly I just packed my bags and left my homeland of Northern Ireland in 2003 to live in England where I studied and worked. Over the next four years I went backpacking round Europe while based in England. Then in 2007 I headed to China and backpacked round the world. By 2009 I had become a nomad and now base myself in Hong Kong. In the last ten years my “gap decade” has taken me to over 70 countries across all seven continents. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make at all. I grew up in Northern Ireland and needed a break from local politics and a repetitive lifestyle.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
Nobody around me was that surprised when I left back in 2003. The biggest surprise was that I didn’t actually ever return to my homeland to live. Even I didn’t expect that! I was expecting to complete a degree, work in London for a while, backpack round South America and maybe return to Belfast. Things just changed when I got out into the big world…
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
My first backpacking trips were all short “holidays” when I had time off work. I went to places like Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Then they became trips of a few months, and finally it has just become one long, long “gap year” which I never want to end! So far I have visited all seven continents on my travels, the highlights of which have been a two-week tour of Antarctica, backpacking in Taiwan, over 15 trips to China and doing the Inca Trail in Peru.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t really have much savings at the start. I have worked along the way, kept myself busy and have had over 50 jobs in the process. My jobs on my travels have included some absolutely bizarre and quirky jobs. I have been a UK PR rep for Apple, worked as an English teacher, harvested broccoli, milked cows, worked in bars, worked in a theatre, worked on car ferries, sold ice cream, planted pyrethrum, welcomed guests to events…the list is endless. I cover a different job from my travels in my “Working Wednesdays series”.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
At the start I did it with friends quite a lot as we planned short holidays. Then I went alone and just did my own thing. These days I mix it up – I normally travel with my girlfriend, but sometimes with friends too and sometimes alone. I have also managed to meet my family a few times in the last four years, but I don’t see them enough.
6. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)
I’m a cheapskate so I’m always looking at the really cheap options. Budget hostels are my forte and these days I’ll gladly have 13 days in hostels for one decent night in a good hotel with a good bed. But I prefer the social aspect of hostels, the staff are always more helpful and there is more information on sightseeing when you stay in hostels. I see hotels as there only to make money, but hostels offer a lot more than that.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
I always try to go alone as I just prefer doing my own thing and don’t like to be tied down or on a set schedule. However there are some times when I have had to join a tour as that was the only way to see the places I wanted to see (e.g. the DMZ border between South and North Korea, the Inca Trail, Antarctica)
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
The freedom to do what you want, go where you want and live your own life. I’ve now designed my lifestyle around travel and I love it.
9. And were there any downsides?
Of course there are! Gap years, travelling and backpacking are just like any other activity in the world – they have their ups and downs. Getting ill on the road and being attacked are two of the negative things that I’ve experienced. But missing my friends and family is the biggest downside. I really need to make more effort to see them, but this is the life I have chosen at present.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Don’t even think about it – just DO IT! Get your flight booked and off you go into the sunset. As soon as you get off that plane you will see a totally different lifestyle. But be warned, your gap “year” could turns into “years” and be never ending the way mine has panned out!
If you want to find out more about Jonny Blair then head to his one man, seven continents travel blog Don’t Stop Living which has been going since 2007. You can also follow his adventures on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.