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Gap Year 14/15: Honeymoon Edition

Gap Year 14/15: Honeymoon Edition

This Friday is my last day of work for a year. Bruno and I will spend a couple of weeks preparing our unit for rental, but after that, we’re off overseas for a yearlong honeymoon. It’s simultaneously exciting and surreal. How much can – or can’t – you do with twelve whole months?

Our first stop is Hong Kong for ten days. We scored some cheap Air Asia flights and will be visiting family and friends, plus having some belated wedding celebrations. After that, we have one-way tickets to Santiago and an open road ahead of us.

Bruno’s family is being kind enough to lend us a car, so we’re heading south on a 10,000km+ round trip, weaving back and forth between Chile and Argentina with plenty of incredible scenery along the way. South America really is quite a long continent, and although we’re starting roughly halfway down (and therefore not revisiting the deserts, salt flats or jungles of the north), we’ll still cover a wide range of terrains – volcanoes, lakes, mountains, glaciers. If my previous weeks in the region are any indication, there’ll be plenty of moments when the sights leave me breathless with awe.

Incredible skies

Patagonian skies

As for living arrangements, most nights will simply be spent in a tent at a national park or in the backseat of the car. Part of me isn’t too sure how that will turn out – I’m do like my comfort, and while I’ve done weeklong hikes and slept in tents, we’re being fairly ambitious in both our tent-to-hostel ratio and our hostel-to-hotel ratio. Hostels should generally be okay as we visited plenty of those in our backpacking days and during our more recent trip to Tibet / Nepal, but tents aren’t particularly fun in sour weather.

That said, it’s all part of the adventure, right? My stubborn side is determined to prove to myself that corporate life hasn’t made me “soft”, and that I can handle less luxurious conditions while still having a good time. There are things I find easy, such as eating basic food and (ahem) not showering on long hikes, but it takes me a while to adjust to being wet, cold and tired, and I don’t doubt we’ll face all three. Still, those are also the experiences I tend to find memorable, and I usually itch to step out of my comfort zone after being comfortable for a while. Given our budget, I’d rather spend two months on the road than a week at a five-star hotel – though I wouldn’t say “no” to both if we won the lotto!

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

The actual itinerary will depend significantly on weather and what catches our eye, but we do have a few stops in mind, including some old haunts in the Patagonian region. I’ve been waiting to return to Puerto Natales and do the full “O” trail at Torres del Paine NP for five years now – and I haven’t yet been to its Argentine cousin, Fitzroy, so that’s on the list too. Between various short stops, long drives and multi-day hikes, we expect to spend a month or two on the drive south.

Eventually, we should end up in Ushuaia by December or so. As the southernmost city in Argentina, it’s a bit of a tourist hub because it’s the port for most of the world’s Antarctic cruises. With crisp temperatures, almost 24h of daylight in summer and many nearby hikes at the foot of the Andes, it’s a great stopover while we try our luck at cruises with last-minute discounts. Last time we were there, we were offered an incredible deal at 70% off – which made the expensive venture far more affordable – but we already had non-refundable flights out of the city. This time, we’re giving ourselves some time and very flexible conditions. Fingers crossed!

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Perito Moreno

Regardless, we’ll return to Santiago in early 2015 via a somewhat different route, then spend a few months living in the Andes. I love mountains and am indescribably excited to actually live in altitude for a while, with craggy peaks visible from our window and hikes literally starting from our doorstep. When I close my eyes, I can already taste fresh mountain air and picture the spectacular sunrises.

It’s also important to me to spend a few months without actively travelling, because that’s the part that gives me the space to do something important – discover what kind of lifestyle I settle into when I’m well-rested and free to do almost anything I want. Will I get up early or sleep in each day? Will I be spontaneous or routine-driven? How much will I go outdoors when I have such gorgeous scenery right outside my door? Will I be happy in relative isolation or crave social interaction? Will I rediscover hobbies like cooking and writing and photography, or will I just kill time online or watching TV? Will I get bored, start new projects or (gasp) miss going to work each day?

Apartment in the Andes

Apartment in the Andes

It can be tricky to figure out what those natural inclinations are when I’m facing various time and other external pressures, but I’ve always been curious about what I’ll find if I take those constraints away. One could argue that it’s a redundant exercise – after all, people change over time, inclinations can be superseded by willpower, and such constraint-free conditions cannot easily be replicated in “the real world” (la di da). My view is that I will still learn or at least confirm some things about myself that I can then use to drive my priorities and lifestyle choices when I return. We’ll see how that turns out.

During that time in the Andes, we’ll be keeping our eyes on flights and finances, with the view of crossing to Europe in early April. We don’t really have time or funds to do what we’d consider a “proper” European trip, especially since we’d ideally want to be there for multiple seasons (and seasonal delicacies) and tackle some extended hikes, so we’ve decided to focus on Scandinavia. Bruno has drawn up a rough itinerary for a month in a campervan, heading to the far north. My geeky side is excited to see all the locations I’ve been learning to recognise in the Scandinavian version of Ticket to Ride.

After that, who knows? We may spend a while longer in Europe or cross to the US if we have funds, but if not, we’ll probably return to Australia and road trip around the country for a few months, in which case we’d likely do a loop from Brisbane involving Uluru, Adelaide and the Blue Mountains. Autumn and winter are the only seasons I’d consider for such a trip, so the timing would fit well. Having our own car and living in a tent also means that our main cost will be in fuel, which makes it more affordable. For a compulsive planner like me, it’s been interesting to decide not to plan many aspects of this trip – we’ll see whether “planned spontaneity” ends up being an oxymoron.

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Laguna Miscanti

We’re looking to begin resettling in Brisbane next August or so, by which point we should be richer in experiences and poorer in finances. I personally expect to be re-energised for my return to work in September and to be more confident in my ability to tackle challenges – but a great deal can happen in a year, and I want to be open to that.

There’s no denying that having some space and distance can change one’s outlook and priorities – and that’s part of the reason we wanted to take extended leave in the first place. It can be easy to “go with the flow” without challenging the status quo, particularly when we’re caught up in the flurry of our everyday lives with its various deadlines and commitments, but I believe it’s helpful to occasionally step away from the familiar day-to-day routine.

It’s quite possible that we’ll realise we’re very happy with how things are and don’t want to change much, but who can say? All I know is that I’d decided as a fresh-faced Graduate that I wanted to be someone who could plan for and taking a year off, despite the costs and the risks, in order to give myself some perspective, clarity and good ol’ fun. I wanted to avoid unknowingly making life choices based on attachment to a comfort zone or fear of the unknown, and while a year away doesn’t remove the need for ongoing mindfulness, it still serves as an effective trigger for re-evaluation. It’s something I’ve held on to for the past five years.

Chile, 2009

Puerto Natales

Whatever happens, it should be a fantastic trip. The phrase “once in a lifetime” gets used quite often but I’d like to think that this won’t be the only extended trip of our lives – there’s already talk and some tentative planning around another year off, probably focusing more on Europe and North America, in another five years or so. We have some professional, financial and personal goals to achieve before that point, but I’m a long-term planner and like big goals – after all, the planning for this particular trip began around five years ago, and I enjoyed the gradual evolution and shaping of our plans and ideas. It meant there was always something to work towards and we plan to continue that.

Still, we both recognise that we’re very lucky to be where we are. Our workplaces and families have been extremely supportive and our circumstances are quite stable, but we can’t be certain that we’ll manage something similar again. With that in mind, we’re going to make the most out of this year – and although we do plan to blog, it’s safe to assume that if you don’t hear from us, we’re out in the wild and having the time of our lives.

Stay tuned for real-time snippits and photos via our Facebook!

One Comment

  1. YAY

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