I was an education assistant, not a bad job but I am bad at routine. Some people thrive. I watched the clock, counted the days to the weekend and the weeks to a long weekend and to the next vacation. I ate way too much cake in the staff room.
A gap year is the year in between graduating from high-school and whatever commitment people make after. It is the opportunity to step away from the hamster wheel and take a peek at something unfamiliar. After 20 years of single parenting I took one. Who was I now and what else was out there? I sold my home and my furniture, borrowed some storage space and QUIT my job of 11 years. It was suggested I just take a leave of absence. NO! I wanted change!
Schedule a gap year in between when your kids are launched and your retirement.
All the gurus say if you make space something will show up. A purpose, a place or a person would fill that space and I would know, without doubt, exactly where I belonged. Not so much. I found a little of all those things but none came without a new set of challenges. The world is more complicated than that. Now I belong to a tribe of people who are still figuring out where they belong. But I had amazing experiences and the GAP system of working a while and “gapping” for a bit has become a lifestyle that I try to sustain.
Here are a few takeaways on the experience.
FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY. I had a loose idea of places to go based on a ever-growing bucket list. Bali was my first destination because paradise is a good place to start. If you are trying to escape the 9 to 5 don’t get attached to itinerary. You will miss the happy accidents that show up.
-Bali + Borneo + Malaysia + Thailand + Spain + Italy + home (BC)+ Santa Fe + Taiwan + Australia + Vietnam + Cambodia + Lao + home + Santa Fe + Nicaragua + Costa Rica + BC. = 3 year gap.
GO DEEPER, NOT FARTHER. It isn’t how MANY places you go. I didn’t always sink into a place the way I could of. I got caught-up in not lingering in some places because I thought I had to get to the next one in case I never get to do this again. Kind of a travel buck- fever. Slow down. There is everything to learn and nothing to prove. Some people were out to conquer the world. Not my agenda.
Travelling is hard work! Its not a vacation. You need a vacation from what travel requires of you. It is hard for every transaction to be made with someone without common language. Gestures and pointing and making smiley smiley faces is charming at first but wears you out day after day. Booking seats and waiting in sometimes sketchy places that is known for pick-pockets for a night bus so you can avoid the cost of a room is exhausting after week 3. Find a sunny spot and hide with a book. Who knows what taking yourself off the trajectory will bring. REFLECT AND REST!
WAIT FOR THE PLANE, THE TRAIN, THE BUS; BUT DON’T WAIT FOR PERMISSION OR THE PERFECT TIME. It is NEVER going to be perfect. A hostel room shared with 3 twenty something girls with blow dryers and cell phones that never once acknowledged my presence was not Eat Pray Love. It was rare to meet people my own age doing what I was; traveling on a low budget, alone.
you are going alone?
There were people that traveled in two’s. Lucky them and lucky me for having experiences and connections that wouldn’t have happened if I had someone else with me. In the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia I met the same strangers every night to have a drink and watch the sunset. I took a cooking class in a tropical grove in Cambodia with people that have since visited me at home. I made pasta in small town Tuscany with lovely British women followed by a patio dinner with the locals. I survived bed bugs in Rome with a dorm friend that I still keep in touch with. (tip: copious amounts of gelato helps one forget bedbugs.) I could go on.
There were times I was really annoyed to not have the 1/2 cost benefit that is available to people traveling in two’s. Oh well, I could be still eating cake in a staff room waiting for the bell to ring.
I had the naive perception that comes under the “we are all one” umbrella. I expected to meet people from these countries and be friends. We didn’t share a language, a similar level of education, or similar level of wealth. What did I think we would have to talk about? Most of these exchanges was about me, a wealthy enough to travel older woman from a western country buying something from that person. I’m the weirdo for being away from my family sans husband. There was genuine hospitality but we don’t keep in touch. The people I had connections with were travelers and there was some keepers for sure. Thats ok.
And on the flip side we all share a deep love for our children and want to be safe and fed. That makes us more alike than different and should unite us across the planet.
Observe and understand but don’t judge other cultures. If you were working in a cafe in Cambodia for 12$ a month and a western man offered you the equivalent of a year’s income for a “date” would you not consider it? Even if those western men are really old, obese, and not necessarily kind. I don’t like what I see. Polarities of difference. Don’t judge. (I might judge those men, ok I definitely do. I’m not THAT spiritual.)
I learned that most of the time I make good decisions. When I made mistakes, like trusting a certain taxi driver in Thailand I call it a stupidity tax. Paid in full. There was 5 good experiences for every one that didn’t live up to my expectations. And there were things that I didn’t expect that blew my mind, like riding the Ho Chi Minh trail on the back of the motorcycle… like the monkey break and enter chaos in Borneo… like watching the lights of people collecting snails on the riverbank at night in Laos. I could go on. Weirdly, I have had more scary negative experiences on Canadian turf, like when the two guys in Tofino who were peeing right behind and towards my van while I was sleeping in it when I was parked on the waterfront. Grrr.
Any adventure comes in three parts, anticipation, the actual experience, and lastly revisiting the experience. Anticipation is exciting, maybe scary. Doing it requires presence of mind; be here now. The revisit is full of lessons and growth, gratitude, and maybe some “I should have done that different.” There is no doubt that you are bigger with experience and self knowledge for having stepped out of your comfort zone.
Most important!!!! Remember that while you are out experiencing everywhere, you are part of the out there that others are experiencing.
DON’T WAIT FOR RECESS. RING YOUR OWN BELL.
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