This week’s If We Can Do It is with the aptly named Nick Dare, chartered surveyor turned adventurer. He shares my love of South America and I’m very envious of his journey!
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
Way back in 1990, it was a freezing night high in the Bolivian Altiplano. Too cold to sleep on the concrete floor of the train station, a couple in a camper van reluctantly opened their doors to four strangers to give us hot drinks as we waited the 16 hours for a train we couldn’t be sure would ever arrive. The couple were driving around the Americas and I swore there and then that once I obtained my professional exams and before life got in the way, I would drive from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The decision was one of the easiest I have ever made.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
A mixture of disbelief, laughter, envy, misunderstanding and multiple warnings that I would be shot or kidnapped. I found the older generation couldn’t understand why, having just qualified as a chartered surveyor and with a good job, I would resign to go off and do such a thing. Friends didn’t really think I would ever make it to Ushuaia. My mother begged me to promise not to enter Colombo (which she had confused with Colombia) and, having duly put her mind at rest, off I went.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
It took seven months in all and covered 15,000 miles. Starting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where my uncle lived, which served as base camp, I drove north-west up into Canada and to Prudhoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska. After being arrested for trespass (having wanted to dip the jeep’s wheels in the Arctic Ocean), I turned south and zig zagged through Alaska, Canada and the west coast of the US, before zig zagging some more through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
There, the ferry that was to take the jeep and I across to Colombia no longer existed and so I had to bribe a ship to take the jeep and pray that it did in fact turn up in Cartagena. Thankfully, it did. My journey continued through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, up into Bolivia, down into Chile and alternating between Chile and Argentina as I headed further south onto the Tierra del Fuego and to my end goal of Ushuaia. Then I drove some more, up the east coast of Argentina before selling the jeep in Paraguay and flying home from Buenos Aires.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
It was financed through of mix of savings, renting my flat out and not forgetting the cost of travel is less than the amount I was spending in London in a typical week.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
Despite various friends and family saying they would like to join me for certain sections, I decided to travel alone. If I knew I had to be at certain airports at certain dates, I would lose the flexibility of being able to wake up and decide what to do that day and where to go. It also meant I had to try and speak Spanish and chat to locals rather than speaking English to my friend in the corner.
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)
Where possible, I camped. When the weather or location made this difficult, I slept in the back of the jeep and when I needed to stop smelling, I stayed in a hostel or motel with a shower!
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
The vast majority of places I visited I did so on the back of recommendations from locals, some of whom often volunteered to come with me and to show me around. Occasionally I would go on an organised tour but only if I had to.
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
Possibly the best thing is being (hopefully) more mature and appreciative/understanding of the world around us and of other cultures.
9. And were there any downsides?
Yes, coming back! In fact, I found it so difficult I resigned from my new job after a month and headed back to Argentina where I worked for the next two and a half years.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Don’t over think it. Your friends, colleagues and families will think you are mad but many will be secretly envious. The media make it easy to believe anyone who isn’t a “person like us” is out to do you harm but the reality is the vast majority of people you will come across will delight in you showing an interest in the place they call home and just want to go about their everyday lives. There will never be “a right time” to go, so why not do it now?
Nick is also busy planning his next adventure, the Equatorial Challenge, which will see him travelling a distance equivalent to the earth’s circumference by old car, paraglider, running, cycling, sailing and rowing, to name but a few! He’s doing it to raise money for The Stroke Association, so pop over to his site. You can also follow him on Twitter.