The great thing about a grown up gap ‘year’ is that it can be as long or as short as you want. I’ve always enjoyed following Susan Shain, aka Travel Junkette’s “extended” gap year and I was thrilled when she agreed to offer some questions about her travels for this week’s If We Can Do It, So Can You. I hope she inspires you to make your own leap!
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
I decided to take my grown up gap year during my senior year of college. I was applying for all these jobs that I didn’t want, just because I thought that’s what I was “supposed” to do. At one interview I walked into a room of stuffy people in suits and thought “I don’t want this job. I don’t want to work with these people.” Turns out I was unprepared for the interview anyway and I completely bombed it. That’s when I came home and told my roommate: “Forget it. I’m moving to Colorado!”
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
Everybody was supportive. I’ve always travelled a lot, so I don’t think anybody was too surprised. My parents’ rule has always been: “As long as you’re being safe and not calling us asking for money, do what you want.” They’re cool, huh?
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
I had already planned to backpack in Peru/Ecuador with my roommate the summer after college. I travelled there and also to Thailand and then I went on a road trip out west to decide which ski town I wanted to move to. I planned to work for one season in Breckenridge, Colorado, which turned into three winters and one summer. I spent my other summers working in Southeast Alaska. I also taught English for a year in South Korea and I’ve travelled to lots of fun countries in between! All in all, it’s been four and a half years that I’ve been working un-grownup seasonal jobs and travelling the world. I guess you could call it a very extended gap year!
4. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
I’ve travelled alone and with friends. I’ve managed to convince friends to join me on various adventures and then I’ve joined other friends on theirs. I love the ability to meet new people when you’re travelling alone, but it’s also very special to share experiences with people you love.
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)
I’m definitely a backpacker. I seek budget opportunities and I try to integrate myself into the local culture as much as possible. I love meeting local people, tasting strange food and appreciating nature. I’m not usually a big museum or sightseeing person. The things I splurge on are really good food and adventurous activities (ie. jungle treks, scuba diving, etc).
6. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
I’ve had quite a bit of international travel experience, so I always travel independently. But I do think tours are a great way for people to get accustomed to international travel.
7. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
You’re never going to regret the fact that you took some time off to go and see the world. It’s much more likely that you’ll regret sitting in an office doing the same thing for the next 30 years. As for the best thing? That’s tough. You’ll meet new people, try amazing food, see beautiful things and have experiences that are beyond most people’s imaginations. I guess I just think about this W. M. Lewis quote often: “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” Don’t wait!
8. And were there any downsides?
There are times that I wish I had a steady job and place to live. And a dog. I REALLY want a dog. Missing holidays and weddings sucks, but celebrating in new places and learning new traditions makes up for it. Occasionally, I worry about getting a job in the future. But what I tell myself is that if someone sees what I’ve done and doesn’t want to hire me, then that’s not somebody I’d want to work for anyway.
9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Just do it already. Taking the first step is hard, but then the rest is easy. Don’t plan too much and be ready for things to go wrong. Have a budget and try to stick to it, but allow room to splurge on things that are important for you. Be open to meeting new people and trying new things. Pack light. You can get almost anything you need on the road. (Except for Pepto-Bismol. Bring lots of that.) And don’t limit yourself to a year!