We are five months into being jobless, five months into leaving our surfboards and apartment behind in New York City, and five months into backpacking around the world. I figured soon after setting out that I would feel irresponsible for ending a consistent job or stressed about what's next. But that hasn't been the case. All I can think about is where we are now, where we want to go next, and how we're getting there. It's a refreshing feeling to get caught up in travel.
After a few years of working for the same company, commuting to the same office, I gradually realized it was time for a new environment. Luckily, my boyfriend had a break in his career and was eager to travel, so we grabbed the opportunity before life got any more rooted. In my late 20s and his early 30s we are taking this very rare, and therefore sacred, eight month window of availability (between weddings at home) to travel.
We jotted down wish lists, read travel blogs, and got tips from friends. The more we researched, the more places we had to get to, and our list continued to grow! We were still adjusting and trying to hone down our itinerary up until we booked our tickets two weeks pre-departure. We cut out the locations that we can easily access later on - this is our opportunity to travel far. We had a few set dates for volunteer programs, meeting up with family, and organized treks that anchored our plan and gave us some structure to work around. Our general route is four months in South America, two in southern Africa, and two in Southeast Asia, with lots of movement in between (our route here).
Since we are on a multi-continent trip the around-the-world tickets via airline partnerships did not seem to work for us. Instead, we worked with a travel agency, AirTreks, which specializes in booking complex itineraries and offers customer care along the way. We booked our major flights in advance, knowing that we would have some flexibility in completing the shorter distances however we saw fit (flight, bus, or pirogue?). For travel insurance, we opted for a plan through World Nomads, which covers surfing, scuba, and shark cage diving, among an endless list of other extreme sports.
At this point, we have been to 11 countries and slept in 79 places (beds and tents included) and the trip continues! We have become accustomed to living out of our backpacks and are constantly assessing what we really need and what we are willing to carry. While we're keeping costs as low as possible, we indulge in a nice meal, hotel, or guided outing every now and then out of respect to our relationship and to maintain some personal comforts. With this balance, we have come to appreciate both the simple experiences (like no electricity and bathing in the ocean in Madagascar), and the luxurious ones (like a nice vineyard-side lunch in Cape Town). Lonely Planet guides, which we download onto our Kindles, Trip Advisor, and Hostelworld have been key in helping us find a route within our budget.
Travel has helped us realize how lucky we are to travel. Quitting a job and dipping out of normal life for a year is not possible for everyone. In the developing countries we've visited, it's clear that if you have a job, you keep it. We've learned that money, limited job opportunities, and an obligation to support family are the main limiting factors for many. A 20-something Galapagueno, who warmly invited us to surf the local spot with him, has never left the islands, but plans to when he saves up enough. On the other hand, we've met others (notably a Maasai Mara guide and a Malagasy woman) that save money specifically to travel, but have a hard time getting visas to other countries. We are more aware than ever of the opportunities we have at home, and are endlessly appreciative of the luxury of taking time off!
This has been a valuable time to disconnect with what was keeping us busy and to reconnect with what is important to us. Instead of wandering on an open-ended soul searching journey, we are proactively seeking out experiences that align with what we want to to next, career wise and lifestyle wise. We spent three weeks helping maintain a future national park in Chilean Patagonia (Conservacion Patagonica) and two weeks giving kids swimming and surfing lessons in Lobitos, Peru (Waves for Development). In the long run, this trip will probably shift our course (if even just slightly) and what we pursue. At the very least, we will have stories to tell and an expanded network of friends around the world.
We meet many Europeans and Australians on one or two year adventures, but very few Americans on extended travels. I hope and think that the concept of long-term travel will become more common in America, especially in the form of high school to college gap years and breaks in careers, when reassessing and adjusting course is essential. And as companies continue to reevaluate the work-life balance, maybe, just maybe there will be more vacation time floating around. But don't wait, make moves now!
If you're considering a career gap year visit our blog wavesgoodbye.com for travel anecdotes and tips. Feel free to reach out to either of us through the site if you have any questions.