This week’s If We Can Do It interview is with Martin Hatchuel who used his gap year to travel in his own country and concentrate on his health, with amazing results…
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
I manifested bipolar disorder in my early twenties, and bounced off the walls for about 15 years; I was finally diagnosed in my mid-30s, and for spent eight months almost every day as an outpatient in a state psychiatric hospital. When I was finally stable enough, I left the hospital and started a bird-watching tour business with the help of friends. I managed to arrange a concession from South African National Parks to run these tours in the then Wilderness National Park, which has now been incorporated into the Garden Route National Park. The business thrived until November 1996, when we were hit by floods. The river on which I ran my boat was silted and I was forced to close. At the same time I inherited a small amount of money and I decided to spend it on a gap year, during which I would concentrate on my health.
It was the easiest and best decision I’ve ever made. Also, I thought I had enough money for six months but it lasted for 18.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
I don’t recall ever telling anyone my plans – I just did it. I know afterwards that a number of people were shocked that I hadn’t invested the money in property or a new business. I think I invested it in the wisest way possible. That gap year (and a half) laid the foundations for me to – finally – live an adult life.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
I was living in Wilderness (the Garden Route) one of the most beautiful and environmentally rich areas of South Africa so I decided to take my gap year at home.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year? (Ie. Did you work along the way? Use savings?)
Although I used every penny of my inheritance, I also substituted my income with a bit of handyman work, which I love. I built a fence or two here and there. I drove past Palms Guest House in Wilderness just recently and my fence is still there.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
I did the trip 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)
Although I didn’t actually travel, I tried to do as little as possible. I also used the time to learn to surf and did a lot of reading and writing. This was the period in which I realised that I was born to be a writer. After it was over, I started writing professionally and I do so to this day.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
In my mid to late 30s, I was far better equipped to redefine my life and its priorities – under the circumstances I couldn’t have done this earlier.
9. And were there any downsides?
Not that I can think of. I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
I prefer not to give advice. But I will say this: it defined me, it left me with two important skills – writing and surfing. Also, through surfing, I met a young boy who, after two years, asked me to foster him. With the approval of one of the social workers of the local Child Welfare, I took him on and now he’s married and he’s given me my wonderful grandson. Here’s a picture of us taken as I recover from a back operation: