Planning & organising a GAP YEAR

Let’s take a year off work, he said.

Mmmm…OK, I said.

When we started discussing taking a gap year in Central and South America, hubby and I thought it sounded like a great idea, imagining all of the amazing places we would see and the many experiences we might enjoy.

Planning and organising a gap year soon sapped our excitement for our expedition. Closing down our lives in rural England would require lots of thought, planning and organisation.

We decided on a do-it-yourself gap year, without a structured itinerary. We would land in Mexico City and head south when we were ready, moving from town to town, then country and country for about 12 months.

We allowed six months to save some money and organise ourselves. After choosing a departure date and buying our tickets, we started to think about what else might be required. There was soon a whole pile of decisions to be made. Choices were not as simple as we might have hoped.

Money – looking for information about daily budgets for travellers in Central and South America was fruitless. Books and websites had out-of-date information. We decided on saving as money much as we could (just in case) and set about shutting down regular and wasteful expenses. Goodbye Netflix, Kindle Unlimited and Starbucks.

Guide books – there are so many guide books available that we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Budget travel? Air-free? Camping? Volunteering? In the end we just looked for information about distances between cities and tried to get a feel for how to travel safely.

Packing – deciding on essentials was difficult as we sat in our living room in Sussex. All of the things we thought might be essential – sleeping bags, wet weather gear, tin plates and cups – were rarely used while travelling. It turned out that camping was unsafe so we stayed in hostels where bedding and kitchenware was available. We visited museums on rainy days. Unused equipment was eventually given to people we met along the way.

Clothing – we had one backpack each, so deciding on clothing for four seasons on an unfamiliar continent proved difficult. How may T-shirts? Trousers or shorts? Spare shoes? Toiletries? Cosmetics? We decided to pack for every eventuality but then had to dispose of heavy toiletries, books and food as soon as we arrived at the airport because our bags were overweight.

Paper-free – moving towards a paper-free existence was time consuming. Sorting and scanning documents and old photographs. organising on-line billing for utilities. Cancelling subscriptions.

Health – making appointments and allowing time for delays and follow-ups took more time than expected. Some travel jabs were available from our GP, but others were available only from a specialist travel clinic. Dental appointments for check-ups and then treatments – hygienist and fillings for me. Repeat prescriptions for one year. Haircuts.

Household bills – after bills were moved online they had to be finalised when we were ready to leave. Some utilities needing more of a notice period than others. So many bills – landline, gas, electricity, council tax, TV licence, changing mobiles to pay-as-you-go, organising to automatically pay the credit card minimum payment each month. Refunds and final bills that weren’t paper-free had to be posted to our friend’s house.

Storage – Next up was deciding how much storage space we would need for our belongings. Would we want our couch and dining table on our return? Probably. Bed? Yes. Bicycles? Yes. Kitchenware? Some of it. Books? Don’t make me decide! Whatever did not fit into the storage locker we rented would have to be discarded. The arguments were long. The decisions were not easy. In the end it came down to costs. Storage for a year was not cheap, so minimal storage space would be available…about half of our furniture and half of our clothes and books went to charity.

Moving – our rented flat had to be emptied and cleaned to a standard that made our landlord happy. A moving truck was required to move our belongings into storage, involving telephone calls, quotes and identifying convenient dates.

With so much to think about we were glad that we had six months to get organised. In the end we managed it all in a relatively stress-free manner. ‘Relatively’ because there will always be some stress when making radical changes.

Our planning and organisation enabled us to enjoy our gap year without having to think too much about the life that we had left behind. Wi-Fi access throughout Central and South America allowed us to take care of just a few things that had to be attended to as we travelled.

The experience of planning and undertaking a gap year started my journey towards minimalism. I appreciated the travel experience and began to understand that I did not need ‘things’ to be content. I am now far more grateful for the opportunity to travel than the opportunity to buy things.

As we start to plan another long trip I am reminded of the long To-Do list, but since we have done it before we know that we can do it again.

©SD Wheelock

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