This week’s If We Can Do It perfectly encapsulates the idea of a “grown up gap year”. Mary and her husband Andrew left behind their jobs and their home to take time out to travel and catch up with family and friends. It sounds like they’re on an amazing adventure!
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?
It was the perfect scenario for my husband and I to take a grown up gap year. Both in our early 30s without kids, we were working and commuting long hours and felt married to our jobs almost as much as we were married to each other. Also felt a little stagnant after living in Seattle for several years. We were renting a home in Seattle, and our landlords sold the place and gave us a year notice that we would need to vacate the home. That got the wheels spinning to figure out our next move. After much discussion and deliberation, we decided to pack it all up and take 10 months off to travel, spend time with family, and just enjoy life. It was not a difficult decision to me. Settling down and buying a house did not feel like the right move and I was ready to leave my job (after six and a half years at the same company). It felt like the opportunity was at the moment in our lives where we could best seize it.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
Funny – nearly every single person we told had the same three-part response. It went like this: “Oh no, I’m sad to see you leave (work/Seattle/neighborhood/USA) but so happy for you and Andrew. And I am incredibly jealous you are doing this.” Andrew’s parents were a little concerned for us to leave secure jobs and income, but especially since we get to spend a good amount of time with them, they are thrilled for us and thrilled to have us stay with them for an extended period of time. Everyone we told has been so incredibly supportive and happy for us.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
The trip is scheduled to be 10 months or until we run out of money 🙂 The adventure began September 1, departing Seattle in my little two-door Honda Civic to drive across the country all the way to New York. We took a month and a half of driving and visiting cities along the way. We drove through 16 states, camping along much of the west coast, staying in hotels in the southern US and then staying with my family on the East Coast. We ditched the car in NY and took the train to Boston where we are spending a few days before flying to London. We will be in the UK until the end of June if we can stretch our money, while visiting Paris, southern France, Italy and some other spots in Europe still to be decided.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year? (Ie. Did you work along the way? Use savings?)
Savings! My husband has been saving up quite a bit over the past several years and when the travel plans began, we had a magic number to reach ($40k USD) and saved $1,000 per month each January to August 2013 to reach that goal. Neither of us intends to work during this gap year.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
We are travelling alone, but spending time with family and friends along the way which is saving us loads of money and allowing us to live this life for nearly an entire year. I grew up in New York State; Andrew grew up in Hertfordshire, UK, so living in Seattle meant being away from our families. Spending time with both families was a big part of wanting to take a break from life and work in Seattle to spend more than one or two weeks a year with them.
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)
As mentioned, we did camp in a tent along the west coast which was good on the budget. When we need lodging, it is generally in a mid-range hotel or apartment rental like through airbnb (we did this in Austin and will do this in Paris in February). We may stay in some hostels around Europe. Staying with family and friends is always budget friendly as well!
Our travel style varies with location. Sometimes we try and pack in as much as possible, and sometimes we just like to just relax. In San Diego, we decided to relax on the beach each day instead of trying to see all the sites. We didn’t fall in love with New Orleans, so we relaxed in our hotel room quite a bit. Alternatively, in Austin we tried to see as much as possible. We have three weeks in Paris coming up early next year, which will give us time to see and do a lot but also enough time to relax. We do what feels best in each location and try not to pressure ourselves otherwise.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
Thus far no tours, just doing it alone. Since we are a pair, we often just do things on our own instead of tours. We love to walk everywhere and get to know each city by walking it and asking locals for recommendations. And of course we get information from websites like Trip Advisor, Twitter, other bloggers, magazines, etc.
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
Gosh, I think I will have a better answer once it is finished! Lots of people work so hard and save up for retirement and don’t really enjoy their lives along the way. I have the mentality of ‘why not live for now and make the choice to work hard and make good decisions about my future, but also take a break to enjoy life?’ You learn so much about yourself when you are faced with being out of your comfort zone, and if you are travelling with a spouse as I am, you make some beautiful memories together while strengthening the relationship.
9. And were there any downsides?
Spending much of our savings and trying to live somewhat on a budget can be tough to swallow some days when we just want to splurge. But it is well worth the sacrifice. There will always be jobs to return to. Also trying to balance doing as much travel as possible while we have this opportunity, but not coming back to the USA without any money left is tricky but not necessarily a downside. Travelling with a spouse means we are together every day, so finding time to myself and communication are so critical to avoid a meltdown.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Live for today and live the life you want if it includes travel or a gap year. It is never too late to go for it, and it will be far more worth it than you can imagine. “Whenever possible, choose adventure.”