Taking a Gap Year in My Forties

Sitting here in a Super 8 motel in Fruita, Colorado, I have to pinch myself. It’s September 2018 and I have been on a “gap year” for the whole of 2018. This time last year I was living in a beautiful apartment in Siem Reap, Cambodia, earning good money and enjoying the simplicity of the local life. I had a wonderful job working for a luxury travel company that required only 16 hours of work a week. I was in my element. I foresaw this as my future for the next ten years.

But the Tinder swipe happened and I fell in love with a nomadic Norwegian who temporarily stopped his travels and moved in with me after a few short months of dating. We bought a map of the world and started planning the 2018 adventure.

The first difficult step was to hand in my notice for a job I adored — but I could not pass up the chance to see the world and experience it with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It really was a case of Carpe Diem.

I should state at this point that I had a piggy bank that allowed me to make this decision, from five years of tour leading without any real costs. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have anything holding me back. Not really. I mean, you can always tell yourself that you can’t do this and you can’t do that, for a myriad of reasons that are actually only barriers you put up to stop yourself from jumping in with both feet.

So I “carped” my “diem” and left Cambodia on the last day of 2017, flying straight to Vietnam, a place I had lived and worked in for five years as a Tour Leader. I caught up with friends and revisited my favourite coffee shops, restaurants and massage places. I had missed the rich culture and wonderful food of Vietnam so much — I’d even missed the crazy traffic.

It was only when we left Vietnam that it truly dawned on me that there was no going back — it was now just me and the Viking. No more friends and colleagues nearby. No familiar cafes, bars and restaurants, or the local gym with the broken sauna and terrible music that I adored. It was just the two of us from here on in and that scared the living hell out of me.

We then headed to Bali — staying in Canggu. There is something quite calming and captivating about Bali. The local people are wonderful, the community of expats is warm and welcoming and the food is super healthy (if that’s what you are looking for). Don’t worry, you can still find a greasy burger if you are really craving.

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Old Man’s Beach, Bali

After Bali, we went to Georgetown in Malaysia — way more expensive and urban. The Muslim alcohol restriction means that if you do want to drink, you pay a hefty price for it. I discovered the phenomenal street art and spent hours walking around the town finding incredible pieces on the main streets, down alleyways and throughout the Indian, Chinese and Armenian Quarters. I was mesmerised — and I took hundreds of photos as I walked.

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Street Art, Georgetown, Malaysia

We moved to Chiang Mai after that to settle into more of a routine. We rented a studio flat with a kitchenette — and I spent my days meeting ladies from the local digital nomads FB group. We lunched every Wednesday at a local restaurant and I made some wonderful connections with women of all ages and backgrounds. It was a fantastic experience for me — to just turn up on my own every week and immerse myself into conversations with people who were all on different paths — some finding it easily than others, but all much happier to have stepped off the hamster wheel of everyday life. I am still in touch with several of these incredible women and we update each other on where we are and what we are doing.

We moved on to Portugal, Croatia, UK and Norway after that — finding it hard to adjust to European pace and prices. Each trip to a restaurant left us horrified at the cost of the food. The trips we did were wonderful — especially being on Korcula Island in Croatia — but it hurt our savings account and we won’t be returning to these beautiful places for a while. It’s a shame, but I know that after seven years in Asia, the comparison was always going to be a bit of a shock. Even the pace of London life, my home for 36 years, left me rather stressed and anxious — each trip home makes me feel more and more like a stranger.

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There is a sign like this in every Mexican town visited so far — brilliant!

And now it’s November and I am in Mexico for the first time. The 35-day road trip of the US that we just completed was immense, intense and taught me a lot about being in a car with someone for over a month. If that’s not a way to test the strength of a relationship, I don’t know what is.

But I will leave that episode for another time.

What have I learned from my gap year? Well, in a nutshell, I know that I need the company of people more than I realised. I have doubted myself, my choice to quit my job, and to leave Cambodia. I have panicked and stressed and worried more than I thought I would. But I have also learned that a gap year is so good for the soul — for my mental wellbeing and my need to stop looking at a watch and wondering what day of the week it is. It’s made me very grateful for the freedom I have to travel — that I have savings that make it possible for me to try this — and that my sense of adventure was stronger than the fear that ran through my veins. I am absolutely aware that few people get the chance to just pack up and go travelling for a year.

If you get the chance to have a gap year at any point in your life, I say GO FOR IT!!! Don’t wait until retirement — because let’s face it, your knees won’t thank you for it.

If you fancy seeing more photos from my travels, check out my Instagram account — @travelnik

Nomadic Traveller with a film and music obsession. Insta: @travelnik

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