If We Can Do It, So Can You with Lucy Flew

This week’s If We Can Do It interview is with Lucy who, like many of us, took a grown up gap year after working for a number of years first. Her trip sounds amazing!

1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?

I always knew I was going to travel. Family holidays were the highlight of my year growing up and then, once old enough to travel without parental supervision, I was constantly planning my next holiday with friends or the boyfriend. Sometimes even while away I would ask “Where shall we go on our next holiday?”

I had wanted to take a gap year after graduating university but various factors meant this wasn’t an option, not least the huge expense associated with it and finding a travel buddy able to up sticks at the same time. I was also concerned that if I took a gap year without getting solid work experience first I would struggle getting my foot in the door once I returned. I graduated during the recession – it was hard enough getting paid employment as it was!

My love of exploring somewhere new did help me though and led to me working in the travel industry upon leaving university. Working in PR for a tour operator was a fantastic experience and opened my eyes to all sorts of travel I had never considered. It reaffirmed my desire to see the world. It was a great job though, how could I possibly leave to take a gap year?

In the end the decision was made for me. Redundancies hit the company and it was the push I needed to really do what I had dreamed of for years. One month after getting my redundancy letter I was on the plane to Bangkok.

2.   What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?

Envy! I think deep down more people would love to take a gap year but just aren’t in the right situation to do so. A few years ago taking time out of work to travel may have been a bad move career wise but I think attitudes have changed and as long as you spend the time wisely it is often admired. My friends and family were happy for me as it had been something I had always wanted to do.

3.  How long did your trip take and where did you go?

I travelled for ten months, starting in South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore) then on to Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) and South America (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru) before flying home via Miami.

4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?

Knowing a gap year was something I always wanted to do meant I had saved quite a lot over the years towards it. I had also had a mortgage turned down fairly recently so I was able to use the money that would have been spent on a deposit for a house. The redundancy money also helped!

5.  Did you go alone or with family/friends?

Luckily my then boyfriend – now fiancé (we got engaged while travelling!) – is self-employed and had also always dreamed of a gap year so we were able to go together. As independent as I am, I don’t think I would have been happy doing it alone.

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 have to admit I tend to lean towards the luxury end of the market, although my budget doesn’t usually allow for it! When on an annual two-week beach holiday or a European city break I would usually stay in mid-range hotels and choose a nice restaurant to eat at each evening. There is no way I would have been able to travel for so long though if I kept up that level of spending, so compromises on standard had to be made. This meant sleeping in hostels with cold water (the cheapest of which I stayed in was £1.50 per night!), making sandwiches for lunch and eating street food or local restaurants for dinner. It’s all part of the experience though and the street food beat many restaurants I’ve eaten at!

There were other parts of the trip I didn’t want to compromise on. Firstly I used a backpack so had to pack light but I made sure I took a backpack with wheels so I didn’t have to lug it around! Also, we stayed in dormitories a few times but lack of sleep and personal space made me realise it wasn’t for me. Shared bathrooms I could cope with, shared bedrooms I could not!

7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?

We travelled completely independently, often not knowing where we were going to be in two days’ time. We booked a round the world flight ticket to give us a rough route, and booked a few short tours along the way such as a three-day boat trip in Halong Bay and a four day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. The rest was up to us! I’m glad we had this level of flexibility as it meant if we really loved a place we could stay longer or if we were disappointed in somewhere we could move on.

8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?

I’m so pleased I waited until I was old enough to really appreciate the different experiences. I think that doing it too young means there is a danger the only things you see are the hostel common room and the local bar. I certainly saw a lot of youngsters that only really woke up at night to go out drinking and it did make me wonder why they were there – they could do that at home. Of course that’s a generalisation, but I’m glad I can look back on my trip and know that I maximised my time and spent my money on things I consider to be really worthwhile – things I’ll remember for life.

9.  And were there any downsides?

It sounds strange but I didn’t realise how much travel there was involved in travelling! By that I mean the seemingly endless bus journeys, the long waits at train stations and the quite often dangerous driving. After a being stuck at an immigration border for three days, having travelled 24 hours on a bus to get there, and then realising you would have to get the same 24 hour bus back because you can’t cross the border – at that point you do start to get a bit grouchy!

Another downside is the feeling that I have to rebuild my life now I’m back. We sold our car, left our rented flat and our jobs. It can be quite hard to find the motivation to get back to ‘real life’, having had our eyes opened to the world every day for the last ten months. Living with my parents at the age of 27 is not exactly what I had in mind but I don’t regret it for a second!

10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?

Do it. That goes for anything in life – if you want something that much, go for it. It is daunting, there will be times you’re too tired, too hot, too cold, too far from home, but the good times far outweigh the bad as clichéd as it sounds. Will you look back on your life and regret not doing it? If yes, GO!

Another tip – don’t plan too much. You WILL meet people along the way that tell you of the hot new place to go and chances are you won’t have included it in your schedule. Or you may hear that there is a festival in the town next week. Leave enough time, or enough flexibility to go if you want to.

To find out more about Lucy’s life back at home you can follow her on twitter @Lflew.