If We Can Do It, So Can You – Interview with Tracey Pedersen from lifechangingyear.com

Monday morning blues? Wondering how the weekend flew by so quickly and you’re already back at your desk? And are you still thinking about taking that dream trip but not sure whether you can make the leap?

I know how hard it is to make the decision to give up your job, leave behind your friends and your home and take off on a trip. But I also know that taking my grown up gap year is the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d recommend anyone who’s thinking about doing the same to go for it.

But I know you’re probably sick of hearing it from me, so that’s why I’ve decided to add a new section to my site called “If we can do it, so can you”. Every Monday I’ll feature interviews with other travellers who have made the decision to take their own grown up gap year. Although they’ll all have very different stories, left different lives behind and have taken different trips, they’ll all have one thing in common: they took the chance.

I hope that their stories will inspire you and it won’t be long before I’m featuring you on here!

My first interview is with the brilliant Tracey Pedersen who took her family on a big Life Changing Year adventure. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?

It was an almost instant decision. I was on a work trip and got stranded by the ash cloud from a Chilean volcano eruption (in hindsight I think it was a sign from the universe!) I bought a couple of books at the airport – The Four Hour Work Week and How To Retire In 12 Months. I read chunks of both at the airport for the whole day, on the airplane and over the next day or so I was finished them both and desperate to do something different. Late one night I wondered why we couldn’t take the kids and travel. I posted on Facebook kind of in jest and about 25 people answered that it was a great idea, including my husband (from another state) and my kids (who should have been asleep). A day or two later we decided to sell our stuff and go! From our actual decision date to getting on the plane I think it was about six months selling our stuff and saving!

2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?

We were lucky – we had no negative reactions at all. My mum and Gert’s mum live overseas and my dad lives interstate. So we were really only leaving jobs and friends. A couple of workmates marvelled that we were prepared to give up our well-paid jobs but our friends were all excited for us. My best friend, who could have gone all mental when I told her we were leaving for a year, chose to go the supportive route. She was obviously sad, but even a few weeks before we left when I was worrying that we had just destroyed our lives by chucking in our jobs she reminded me that we would get new jobs or could come back to the old ones. I’ll forever be grateful for her support – she was the only one I panicked about telling!

3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?

Our trip was meant to be 12 months in the USA in an RV.  Due to visa restrictions it became an odyssey taking us through 16 countries! We spent three months in South East Asia, three months in the USA, three months in Europe, a month in Egypt and are just now finishing off in South East Asia again before we head home to Australia.

4. Did you go alone or with family/friends?

I dragged the family along of course! There was me, my husband Gert, our daughters Brittney (17) and Kate (14) and our son Jono (10). Those were their ages when we set off in January 2012.

5. What is your travel style? (Ie. Budget hostels/Mid-range hotels/Luxury travel – less is more, travelling slowly/pack in as much as possible)

We’ve always been kind of frugal travellers but we had no idea we could travel overseas so cheaply. We are definitely converted budget travellers from here on in. We’d never stayed in a hostel before this trip but now we love them. As long as we don’t spend more than two or three nights in a shared dorm because no-one is getting any sleep in those rooms!

We managed to stay in some cool places around the world. We’ve stayed in The Tent in Munich with 100 others – no sleep, but AMAZING atmosphere! We had an apartment from a friend in Paris for 15 euros a night. There was 5 star time-share accommodation in Vegas for $119 for the week, as well as hostels on the beach in Malaysia and an RV for $1 per day in Texas. We also camped our way across the US staying in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks and even slept half the night outside in France when we missed the motel check-in by 2 minutes. Luckily it was a hot night!

Not to mention around 60 nights of free accommodation, where we stayed with family in Europe or online friends in the USA. How cool to meet someone for the first time when they have opened their home to you? I love our online friends!

We carry a 75 litre backpack each with a 15 litre daypack each. Plus we have two small security shoulder bags – one for ipads and one for money and passports. We had everything we needed for Europe as it started to get cold, snow in the USA and the sweltering heat of Egypt and South East Asia.

6. Do you go for tours or do it alone?

We try to avoid tours, mostly because of the expense.  We did do a one day tour in Chiang Mai where we rode elephants and white water rafted but it was really reasonably priced. We paid for a guide in Luxor, Egypt, to try to learn a little more but we spent the time trying to get rid of him as he wouldn’t shut up and we just wanted to take pictures!

We really like places that have lots of signs where we can read about the history or any required information. We like to go at our own pace. We’ve become extremely independent.

We do keep getting sucked into ghost tours though! Even before this trip we would cough up for a ghost tour. We now have a family pact to avoid the spooky outings. We’ve realised that the scariest thing on those tours is us. We tickle the kids ears (one swore there was a ghost for months afterwards) and pretend we’ve seen something. When the guide tells scary stuff we start to giggle and roll our eyes. Sceptics probably shouldn’t take them! Don’t worry – we don’t ruin it for the others on the tour, but we entertain ourselves more than any guide ever could!

We make all our travel and accommodation bookings ourselves with budget carriers and hostels. We look on Wikipedia to find who the budget carriers are for each country when we are starting to search for bargains.

7. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?

There are a couple of bests actually. When you remove work, shopping, bill paying, weekend running around and all the other things we busy ourselves with, it is so easy to be with your kids all the time. I remember joking that I went to work to get away from them and sneaking off to have dinner alone with my husband. Now we spend every day together and every meal and it’s surprisingly great. Once the stress of everyday living is removed they don’t annoy you at all! Who knew?

Another one is seeing the change in our kids. They’ve become so confident – they barter, ask for directions, will hail a cab or book a hostel room. They were pretty independent and capable at home but this trip has just made them able to cope with so much. After the squat toilets we’ve experienced in Asia and Egypt, nothing will ever seem dirty to them again!

And for me personally, I’ve learned how to say no, without feeling bad or mean. I’ve always been a ‘yes’ person. But being harassed by sales people, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, tuk tuk drivers, men wanting to buy my daughter for camels, foot massagers, border crossing scammers and every other manner of street salesman/woman makes you able to brightly say ‘no thanks’ and keep walking. And this carries over into your life. I feel more like myself, able to do what I want instead of what someone else wants. I’m excited to see what a different person I am when I get home and if anyone except me notices!

8. And were there any downsides?

The only downside is going home! We are different people, our children have changed so much and we expect to be a lot less materialistic when we return to the world. How do you go back to a society that expects you to always be in clean clothes and showered? Lol!

If we had planned better (and been able to convince a 14 year old that she didn’t really want to return to school in 2013) we would have gone for two years or even permanently. We have loads of online friends that are permanent travellers.

Oh, and it’s a bit hard to get Vegemite around the world – that is definitely a downside for Aussies suffering withdrawals!

9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?

GO, GO, GO, GO, GO!!!!  Don’t put it off; you will have an AMAZING time.

Sell your stuff, make a very loose plan of the countries you will visit, save your money and go. If you are freaking out book your airline ticket to the first country for six months from now and worry about the details once you have that date set.

Don’t be scared to visit far flung places. A long period of time amongst people from other countries makes you realise we are all exactly the same. Even that guy in Egypt who offered us a million camels for our daughter!

The Pedersen family

You can connect with Tracey and her family at http://lifechangingyear.com, add them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LifeChangingYear or follow them on Twitter @lifechangingyr.

If you would like your grown up gap year to feature on If We Can Do It So Can You, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email at emilyann.elliott@gmail.com.