Who can forget their first international trip?

Nothing replaces that first time you feel like a completely insignificant speck in a random place in a giant world. The first time you walk through streets that look and smell different than anything back home.  The first time you navigate the emotional peaks and valleys of travel – the intensity of the loss of temper that hunger and disorientation can cause, the surreal joy of looking at a stunningly beautiful, perhaps famous, landmark.

And upon coming home, the first time you notice what I call the Travel-Memory Effect – the fact that one remembers their travels in moment-to-moment detail, whereas entire years of normal routine at home can escape recall. 

I took my first solo international backpacking trip after university when I was 23.  I spent 3 months in SouthEast Asia, and I’ve had the travel bug ever since. I met a wonderful range of people, from 18 year old students taking gap years, to a 75 year old hosteller who could hike uphill faster than you or I. 

Hands holding Bangkok Thailand travel guide book with map on the floor

I learned that I could manage alone in completely unfamiliar circumstances, became aware that the narrative presented to us in the West as The Way to Live is unfortunately narrow and often inaccurate, and was the object of some of the best pick-up lines I’ve heard before or since. 

“Oh, you have a boyfriend in Canada? Let me tell you something about your boyfriend in Canada. When you’re here in Bali, and you’re thirsty, do you go home to drink the water? No. You drink the water here in Bali.”

Part of the standard backpacker chat, along with where you are from and what you do back home, is to tell each other how long you’re traveling. When for the first time I met a person traveling for a whole year, I was just amazed – it had never occurred to me that people actually did that! (Incidentally, everyone I met who WAS doing that was male.  And cute. And when they said they were on the road for a year or more, they got even cuter.  But I digress).

The “year of traveling” became the gold standard in my mind, and I thought about it often over the subsequent years, but I never made such a long trip happen for myself. I traveled alone that first trip, and found that traveling solo is both super-fun and heart-stabbingly lonely. Due to the latter, I never had the stomach for a year-long solo trip, and a traveling partner never lined up with an opportunistic time (or the money) to be away for so long.

I settled for taking two to three month trips as often as I could: when I was between schools (and one five week trip while I was attending school – the joy of 100% finals), between school and starting to work, and between jobs.

Now I find myself in my 40s with a husband, two kids, a dog, a steady job, a car….the usual…. and until a few years ago, I hadn’t thought of long-term travel for a long time. Wandering Family Man and I tossed around the idea as something to do early in our retirement, but never got around to seriously discussing it, cuz hey, why would you, that’s a long time off, isn’t it?

Older couple with arms around one another standing on a hill looking at the view
#familygapyear #travel
I don’t want to wait!

…. until, in 2014, I came across the blog www.sixintheworld.com. It was the first time I stumbled across a travel blog by a family taking a gap year with kids. I read through the Andrus’ family’s wonderful adventures from start to finish.  I read about how they came home and started to adjust to regular life again after their trip.

And then I was shocked when the posts revealed that only a few months after they returned home, the family’s mom, Anne, was diagnosed with cancer, and that it took her life a few short years later. I cried reading the last few posts of that blog, and the Andruses stayed with me in my heart for weeks.  

Finally, at supper one evening, I described the Andrus’ story to my husband. Reminded him that life could be shorter than we might want or know. We discussed how blessed the Andruses were to have taken their trip together, during what turned out to be their last opportunity to do so. I told him that I had always wanted to take a year-long trip around the world, looked across the table and asked, “Would you travel around the world with me for a year?”

He shrugged and said, “Sure, sounds great!”

I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

Of course, “it” isn’t that easy.  But the decision to at least look at the possibility can be. 

How to Plan a Family Gap Year Step 1: Decide to Take One
#familygapyear #familysabbatical #escape9to5 #careerbreak #miniretirement
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