That's Dumb. Let's Do it!
Emily Larson Great Outdoor Store
The phrase “gap year” is not one that existed in my vocabulary until just recently. After all, what gain is there in taking an entire year to blow through your savings account? A year of not working, not logging internship hours, not putting your hard earned major to good use?! The phrase “gap year” finally did make it into my vocabulary, however, and I haven’t looked back since.
Thoughts of travel, of countries and cities and people unknown have been tumbling around my mind for a few years now. With my college graduation approaching, my life post-school seemed vibrant with every unfulfilled dream I’d dreamt up to that point. So, I began to search. I knew that I wanted to really settle into a place, get to know some locals and experience day-to-day life outside the tourist traps so common in well-known cities. I had always loved the idea of a host family, and at this point I wasn’t certain I’d be able to find a travel companion which made a host set-up seem even more attractive. With these parameters in mind, I did a Google search for “gap year programs” and began to sift my way through the results. There were plenty of programs that took care of the planning, the activities, the locations. There were groups to be joined, guides to be hired, you name it and it exists! I rejected these programs with the idea that I could spend less money and have more control over my itinerary. Finally, I stumbled on a program called WorkAway. This is a volunteer based program, where the general premise is that a traveler does volunteer work in exchange for a free place to stay and coverage of some/all of their meals. The site contains a huge variety of hosts, locations, and work choices. This was my sweetspot! WorkAway is a cultural exchange program, allowing travelers to stay longer periods of time for less money, all while swapping knowledge and experiences.
I was thrilled to find a program that so beautifully fulfilled my hopes for my gap year, and by this point my roommate had signed on for a few months of shenanigans with me. We began to message hosts furiously! The messages we got in return were hit or miss at best. I think the program is geared less towards long-term planning, with hosts uncertain of what their lives will look like 6 months out. In spite of this, we secured two host arrangements in Scotland and Spain, and we roughed out the plan around these two month-long commitments. In Scotland, our host runs a “glamping” establishment in the Highlands. He rents pods, tents, and other forms of real beds to campers desiring a slightly more glamorous outdoor experience. In Spain, a bed and breakfast in the rural Andalucía area, full of adopted animals and olive groves. The final plan has us beginning with our Scottish host, spending time with a close friend and his family in England, completing a big loop of Ireland, heading for Spain, taking a week long stop in Italy, then ending the trip in Portugal where we walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago.
With most all of the trip planned, we then turned our attention to actually securing plane tickets so we could attend our own trip. We signed up to receive emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights and poured over SkyScanner, Trivago, Kayak, and many other cheap flight websites. We bought our plane tickets about 4 months out during a huge Europe sale (Scott’s Cheap Flights for the win!!!) and saved a couple hundred dollars. I think I screamed for an hour after making that purchase. And then we began to ask questions. People began to show up in our lives who had been to the places we were going, they’d done the things we wanted to do. And people have been so generous with their experiences, sharing freely with us what they’d learned. We picked backpacks that were large enough to hold a few outfits and some toiletries, but small enough to carry on a plane. We tested out our rain gear and our hiking boots during a beautiful spring storm. We bought sleeping bags that packed down to be no bigger than a hammock, and merino baselayers to last us for days when washing machines would be scarce. We read forums about the Camino and blogs about the weather and the hostels and MOST IMPORTANTLY the food. Currently, we vacillate between excitement and dread, feeling ready and completely unprepared. Last night, I panic ordered maps of the Portuguese Camino, absolutely sure we haven’t planned enough for that portion of the trip and that everything will go awry. Like it or not, though, time has marched on and our departure is imminent (Monday).
I remember hearing people speak of trips like these and thinking they were so incredible. Incredible traveling people who backpack and make new friends in new countries and are so adventurous and interesting. Now that I’m living on the other side of that reality, I know none of that is true. We’re not more interesting, or more stylish, or more prepared. We’re just two girls who thought, “If not now, when?” and a fair amount of, “That’s dumb. Let’s do it.”