I really identified with Grant’s story this week, as I also packed my bags and left Brighton to do my round-the-world trip in 2011. The route he is taking is also very similar to mine, so it’s brought back lots of memories! I think Grant gives some great advice about travelling slowly and budgeting. If you’re thinking about doing a trip, it’s a must-read!
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
I’d wanted to go since 2000 (I took a three week break to meet friends in Hawaii who were doing their own grown up gap year) but just never got round to it. I did travel quite a bit in the interim though – three weeks in Vietnam, the same in Peru, a month in India, a few weeks bussing across Mexico etc
And then my father and brother died within six months of each other in 2012 and it made me re-evaluate my life, especially as my 40th birthday was also coming up at the end of 2013! Within a year I’d left a job that I mostly enjoyed, where I was earning the highest salary of my life. I don’t think it ever stops being a difficult decision – even now I often wonder “What on earth am I doing?!”
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
There has been quite a lot of “Wow, that’s great, I’m really jealous”… followed a few minutes later by “Did you quit your job? What are you going to do when you come back?”
I think coming from Brighton really helps – it’s a very transient town, lots of people go travelling and most people can’t afford to buy property. Brighton is fairly unique in the UK, attracting all sorts of non conformers – this is a relatively mild compared to what some of them get up to!
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
I’m about six months into it now, so halfway through.
We’ve been to Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina – overlanding on buses from Cusco right down to Tierra del Fuego, up to Buenos Aires and then over to Santiago. We then crossed the dateline to New Zealand on my 40th birthday – thereby avoiding it altogether, it never happened!! After a month in New Zealand we flew to Sydney to catch up with friends and then spent seven weeks in Thailand. I’m writing this from Cambodia where we are intending to spend a month before crossing into Laos. After that it’s Vietnam and the Philippines where we are meeting friends from the UK in April.
No plans beyond that but probably heading into Borneo. This trip was always going to be mostly about Asia – South America was a late minute addition when we found very cheap round-the-world tickets!
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
I’m spending some of the deposit I was saving for a house! Financially, it’s not the soundest decision I will ever make but sometimes you have to scare yourself a little to remind yourself you’re alive (or that’s what I keep telling myself!).
We won’t be working for money as we go around but we may do some volunteering, that’s if I can find a project I’m passionate about that isn’t taking a job away from a local.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
I’m travelling with my partner. We’ve managed to catch up with friends in Sydney and Thailand, and another friend is coming out to spend three weeks with us in the Philippines in April.
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)
Everyone has their limits of what they will and won’t countenance – a tolerance threshold – and for me dorms are a step too far. Consequently in six months we’ve only had to do it once!
Most of the time we settle on basic private rooms with a private bathroom. It’s easier that there’s two of us. In some countries – Argentina, Chile and New Zealand – we had to do shared bathrooms which was okay. I just don’t sleep well with strangers in the room so I’d rather scrimp on something else. There have been a lot of cold water showers in Asia!
1) Slow travel is cheap travel. If you can slow down your route you will reduce your expenses and sometimes we stay put for a few days just to help the budget out.
2) Stay on top of that budget at all times. We use the app Trail Wallet but there are a few around. Likewise consider doing the most expensive countries first. In SE Asia it’s tempting to say “Oh it’s so cheap, if I go £5 over budget I’ll get a palace” – don’t! In places like Chile you may need to go £5 over just to find a bed for the night.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
Depends how difficult it is and where. I have a degree in Spanish and am reasonably fluent, so in South America it was easier to go it alone; Asia has required a bit more effort. I’ve only ever once done a multi-day tour that’s taken me right across a country – Kenya – a few years back. We certainly haven’t done one this year so far and I can’t see a need for it with where we are going. We’ve travelled independently through India and Mexico previously so why would we need someone to ferry us across SE Asia? It bewilders me that some perfectly able people feel the need; it’s really not that difficult. That probably sounds harsh but people worry too much – you might get ripped off a few times travelling independently but it’s still likely to be cheaper than touring.
That said, we will get a travel agent to book a transfer by minibus if it looks easier than doing a train, occasionally we might pay for a guide and often we do an organised daytrip somewhere if public transport looks like a headache. We are quite independent travellers – rigid itineraries and all inclusive resorts scare me!
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
For the first time since leaving university I feel truly in control of my life and I have options, rather than being at the beck and call of someone else. I think as you get older you tend to get more tied down and consequently less in control, sucked into being on a path you may or may not want to be on.
9. And were there any downsides?
The doubts and worries – there aren’t many days when I don’t think about what life will be like when I return to the UK – how long will it take me to get a job, where will I live? When you are younger you have more time to recoup the money it will cost.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
I don’t think it’s ever too late but it’s definitely easier the earlier you do it. Time isn’t waiting for you and each day that passes it’s only going to get more difficult.