I’ve very excited about this week’s If We Can Do It interview as it’s with Megan, one of the original members of the #travelbookclub. I’ve been following her adventures for a while and I loved reading about how her trip has evolved since she left home in 2011.
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?
I’d always wanted to move overseas, but it never felt like the right time. Before university I didn’t have the money and when I graduated I decided to look for a job right away because journalism was competitive and I was pretty keen to get started in the industry. I told myself I’d work for two years and then head off, but I loved my job and opportunities kept coming up and I found it hard to leave. I also bought a house, although I made sure I didn’t over extend myself financially so I could still travel “one day”.
It eventually took my parents inviting me and my sister on a trip to Europe for me to make the move. When they asked if I wanted to come I replied: “Yes, and I’m not coming back”. It was as simple as that. It seemed pointless to travel all that way for a holiday then come back and continue dreaming of one day going for longer.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
I don’t think it surprised many people, except my boss, although I did give six months notice. It was something I talked about a lot so I think everyone was relieved I’d finally decided to do it. For the first few months after I left a lot of friends kept asking when I was going home, but they’ve given up now.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
I left in June 2011 and I haven’t been back to Australia since. I’ve visited 23 countries, mainly in Europe. In that time I’ve spent about nine months actually travelling, the rest has been working. I’m currently in the middle of a five-month trip and after this I’ll move back to Canada to work for a while.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
I’ve fallen into a pattern of travelling for a couple of months, working to restock the bank account and then travelling again. Before I left Australia I got working visas for both Canada and the UK. I spent nine months working in Vancouver, travelled for a bit and then worked in the UK for a year before my visa expired. Even though my house in Australia is rented out I still need money to pay for bills such as insurance and tax. If I didn’t want to work I would have had to save a lot more money before I left, delaying the trip even longer, and wouldn’t have been able to stay away as long as I have.
Aside from some freelance writing here and there, I’ve decided not to work as a journalist overseas. I worked as a waitress in a tea shop in Canada – and put on a lot of weight trying all the delicious cakes! Then I worked in a youth hostel in England’s Lake District National Park and spent a lot of my time hiking. I had such fun jobs and I couldn’t really have done that in Australia without answering some tough questions at future job interviews. When I do go back the whole experience will be written off as a working holiday, so I can get away with not having a “proper” job at the moment.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
For the first month I was in France, Andorra and Spain with my family. We’re big fans of le Tour de France so part of our trip was watching some stages of the race. We also spent a week on a canal boat, which I recommend only doing with people you can handle spending a lot of time with. When my family returned to Australia I stayed in Barcelona and went back to Paris alone. I spent a few weeks travelling solo in the UK and Ireland before flying to New York and eventually moving to Vancouver.
In May 2012 I travelled across Canada by train and met my parents in Italy a month later. I travelled with them for two weeks and we finished up in Prague. They flew home and I went to Belgium to watch le Tour again.
At the moment I’m spending a month with a friend from Australia, but the rest of the time I travel 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)
My travel style has evolved while I’ve been away, but I’m always a budget traveller at heart. The cheaper I can travel, the longer I can travel! But I don’t mind splurging every now and then for something really great, such as visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland or going to the theatre in London. When I started travelling I would always visit the main tourist attractions and turn to Lonely Planet or some guide for inspiration, but now I prefer walking a lot and discovering cool cafes, boutiques, parks or galleries on my own. I absolutely love CouchSurfing. It changed the way I travel. I now feel disconnected from a place if I’m not surfing. I enjoy having someone to introduce me to their city and it’s led to so many adventures that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, such as visiting the World Testicle Cooking Championships in Serbia!
I used to spend only about a week in each country, but I’m trying to slow down. I’ve decided I’d rather get to know a few places well than race through lots of destinations. Australians have a bad habit of “capital hopping” our way through Europe, but many of my favourite places are ones I didn’t know about before I arrived in a country so I’m making sure I have time to explore beyond the usual suspects.
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
I’m a very independent person so the thought of being carted around on an organised tour makes me cringe. I think I meet a lot more people because I’m alone. I seek out people to talk to and also people approach me, which they probably wouldn’t do if I was with someone else. Researching and organising my trip is also part of the fun. But I do occasionally join a walking tour in a new city. My favourites have been a street art tour in Berlin and a tour of the coffee shops in Amsterdam.
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
I really enjoyed my life in Australia, but I found I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue a lot of things that interested me. My extended gap year gave me a chance to strip back my life – I wasn’t as worried about bills or work or social commitments and for the first year all my belongings could fit in a backpack. I still only have a travel-size hairdryer, although I’ve amassed a sizeable book collection thanks to the UK’s second-hand bookshops.
Now I’m pursuing lots of interests in amazing locations. I’ve tried to improve my photography while walking around Istanbul, trained for a half-marathon in the snow in Vancouver and tried new recipes with ingredients from a local market in Barcelona.
It’s taken escaping my “real life” to actually have one.
9. And were there any downsides?
Every now and then I think about what I’ve given up to live the life I have now – I certainly don’t have as much money as I would have if I’d stayed in Australia and I’ve probably missed out on some great career opportunities. But there’s plenty of time for all that down the road. There are few times in my life where I’ll have the freedom and flexibility to do what I’m doing now, so I’m making the most of it.
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
This may be pessimistic but I think it’s important to remember you can always go home. The idea of leaving your current life and job behind can be overwhelming, but in the unlikely event that it sucks, just go home. Just because you tell your friends and family that you’re going travelling for a year doesn’t mean you can’t pack it in after two months if things don’t work out or you’re not enjoying it. I’ve never got to that point but reminding myself that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to go home is like a mental safety net.
If you don’t go there will probably always be part of you wondering what might have happened if you did.