This week’s grown up gapper is Roy Duffield who, after handing in his last university assignment, jumped on a plane to America. He spent the next year travelling both continents. He now writes for Holiday-n-Adventure.co.uk and is in the process of typing up his Notes from the Road for your reading pleasure. One of these days, he says he’ll do it all again…
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year? Was it a difficult decision to make?
To be honest I can’t remember when I first started planning the big trip. In some ways it’d always been there, waiting to happen, so it’s hard to draw the line in the sand exactly where it started. I feel like I was always waiting to get away, to start my real life, “on the road”. So it wasn’t a difficult decision. It wasn’t even a “decision” at all, really. I had to do it.
Things got serious though when I was at college, when a friend and I first started putting plans on paper. It was still a bit ambitious at that point (I drew up a route that went through every country) and would have to be cut down considerably over the years, but that was definitely the first formal plan of what would later become the big trip.
From there it just sort of took shape, and by the time I was finishing university, I knew exactly where I was going. A few days after my last assessment deadline, I packed up, cleaned my flat and set off. For the next 11 months that was the last time I spent more than two weeks in one place.
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
Better than I’d expected actually. There’s always a mixture of reactions. Some people want to be a part of it, some get jealous, some tell all their friends and some don’t really react at all. My parents seemed pretty proud (especially after I came back, having accomplished it…and not dead). I guess I’m lucky my parents have never really been prescriptive. They generally support the things I choose to do (never financially, but certainly with a nod of approval) and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know a lot of kids whose parents haven’t let them pursue their dreams because they wanted “the best” for them, but it always seems to end up having the opposite effect.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
I ended up being away for a few days shy of a year – exactly as I’d planned to. I arrived at Guayaquil Airport in Ecuador to get my flight home – having just spent my last few dollars in the world on a loaf of bread – and then they hit me with a $30 departure tax. Though I suppose I could’ve checked beforehand. Oh well, that’s what overdrafts are for I guess.
I started my trip in LA, where I have some estranged family, bought a Honda Shadow 1100 motorcycle and spent the next five months riding North America. I drove through deserts and salt-flats, forests and swamplands, snow-capped mountain ranges and dusty canyons, big cities and ghost-towns, native reservations, vast, empty plains, crazy beaches, six-lane interstates and winding back-roads; as far south as Key West and to the northern end of the Alaska Highway.
After riding back down the West Coast, we hopped on a bus into Mexico, before going on to travel Cuba and every country in Central and South America, except Guyana and Suriname.
4. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
My girlfriend came out for the middle four months. I also visited a lot of friends met on other trips, back home or from studying for a semester in Japan. That, combined with plenty of Couchsurfing, helped to perfectly balance the long periods spent travelling alone.
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)
I generally choose the cheapest accommodation, food, etc. Although I try not to kick myself when I get stuck somewhere and there’s only a fancy hotel and pricey restaurant. Sometimes it’s nice to mix it up and live in luxury for a night. During the course of the year I slept in hostels, hotels, motels, tents, under the stars and just about everywhere else you can imagine. I also stayed with a lot of friends and did a fair bit of Couchsurfing.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, I’m a huge proponent of travelling fast. I know I’m in the minority here, but I find it much more exciting and rewarding and have written posts arguing (if not proving) my point – that some times, not matter how paradoxical it may seem, you can see and do more in a place with less time there.
All in all, I’m in it for the experiences, the extremes, so a little bit of everything is the ultimate goal.
6. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
Nope, no tours.
This would be a great time to promote the tour company I now work for, but sadly no, I’m not a tour guy. I’ve always found that you can get things cheaper on the ground, without the packages and the middle-men. Plus I don’t care about “attractions” – I’m interested in the real world. I can see the appeal of tours if you don’t have a lot of time to plan a trip and are afraid of what might happen if you go there without something arranged, but you can pay a lot for that, and at the expense of your trip. Sadly, I’ve noticed people on tours have a way of not seeing what’s right in front of their eyes…or tucked just out of eyeshot.
Oh, actually, saying that, we did the zip-lining thing in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and that was great. I love my forests and I couldn’t see myself rigging up my own zip-line anytime soon, so I guess sometimes you do have to pay for these things…every now and then.
But even something like the Inca trail to Machu Picchu can be done without a tour if you try hard enough. I met a couple of other travellers and we found our own way there, with the aid of some local Peruvians and many an unforgettable experience along the way – too many and too long to recount here.
7. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
I suppose all you can really say you have after a trip like that are the memories. There are many. But my favourite is sailing across the empty desert on the back of the bike, hundreds of miles behind me, hundreds to go. Not a soul in sight. Unadulterated, pure blue sky above; only the open road below. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché, but I’ll take that one to the grave, I’m sure.
8. And were there any downsides?
Oh, of course. You don’t go away for a year and have only good times (though, it has to be said, it often felt like that). From loneliness to rain, cockroaches to corrupt border officials and trigger happy police; breakdowns, crashes, sickness and food poisoning, getting robbed, crazy con-men hostel owners chasing you with knives…I’ve had it all.
But I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. It was still the best year of my life…by such a long way.
9. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Deep down, a big part of me was hoping I’d find something out there and never have to come back. But I’d planned so well, I hadn’t allowed any space for this to happen. The best piece of advice I can give is not necessarily not to plan well, but certainly to know when to ditch the plan if it gets between you and what you want to do, in the here and now.
If you’re serious about a life of travel and are looking for more than just another trip, I strongly advise stopping along the way to work, teach English, WWOOF. There are so many ways to make money while travelling and I really wish I’d known more about them before I left.
With a good travel blog you can get free accommodation from time to time, as well as make money from ads to help fund your trip. All this could help extend a trip indefinitely.
There are so many things. So many lessons learned. But then, the best way to learn is by doing.