This week’s If We Can Do It interview is with Michael Parker from Life As Vagabonds. Be warned, you are going to be very jealous of the trip he is currently on with his girlfriend Kirsty!
1. Why did you decide to take your grown up gap year/trip? Was it a difficult decision to make?
Travelling through South America was something that I’d always wanted to do. I work in construction and the flats we were building in London were coming to an end, there weren’t many prospects out there so we decided that the summer of 2013 was as good a time as any to fulfill the dream!
2. What were other people’s reactions when you told them your plans?
I have never been told by friends, co-workers and family that they are jealous of me as much. The only difficult part has been with my parents. My dad was very sick and the decision to leave him behind not knowing what might happen has been the hardest of my life. But thankfully so far he has been fine.
3. How long did your trip take and where did you go?
Well, we’re still in the middle of it. We’ve been on the road for five months, having started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, spending six weeks in Brazil, then moving briefly into Uruguay for a week, Argentina for four weeks, four weeks in Chile, then we’ve been in Bolivia for over two months now. As you can probably tell, I’ve fallen a bit in love with Bolivia. The country is so diverse, interesting and friendly.
We still have approximately six months to get to Mexico. So we head up to Peru, Ecuador and Columbia next, then into Central America. Our flights pass through LA so we are planning a road trip from LA to San Francisco, maybe going to San Diego and Vegas too! We have two weeks relaxing in Tahiti before going over to drive around New Zealand before settling in Australia for maybe a year. We need to find work in Australia to pay for a flight home.
4. How did you finance your grown up gap year?
The majority of the finance came from a year at home of working incredibly hard, getting all the overtime I could, spending as little as possible and basically living like a hermit. In addition we are volunteering along the way, helping out in hostels, eco-farms etc, in exchange for free rooms and food.
5. Did you go alone or with family/friends?
I am travelling with my girlfriend, Kirsty. I expected a lot of arguments, fighting over where to go and basically a bit of stress! But it hasn’t turned out that way at all. I think we are both so laid back that it’s made the journey relatively simple and even more enjoyable.
6. 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 are definitely the budget hostel and cook-our-own-meals type of travellers. Until we arrived in Bolivia we were living on a budget of £30/$45 a day. This meant a lot of cooking cheap meals (mainly pasta with garlic, chilli and oil or rice and a tomato sauce) in the hostel. We would eat out maybe two dinners and three to four lunches a week. In Bolivia however we have halved our budget and are still able to eat every single meal out.
We do not have an end date to the trip. Our flights are changeable, so we have become lazy. Although we see every sight a city had to offer, plus some most tourists may not know about, we manage to spend probably 50% of our time ‘relaxing’. This means lying in bed, swinging in hostel hammocks, reading in parks or sunbathing on the beach. We have all the time in the world, money is our driving factor so the slower we travel, the more of an adventure this will be!
7. Do you go for tours or do it alone?
Both. We have met a lot of travellers who shun the tourist sites and won’t go on any pre-arranged tours. Frankly I think this is stupid. It’s impossible to visit Machu Picchu or cycle down Death Road (both of which we’ve done in the last two weeks) without going through a tour company). And they have turned out to be two of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Sometimes however it is nice to find the hidden gems, we like to eat out mainly in backstreet restaurants or markets. We try to talk to as many local and indigenous people as we can. I love meeting residents who are more than willing, and usually very keen, to show off the secret joys of their city.
8. What is the best thing about taking a grown up gap year?
That is a hard question. I don’t know whether to say seeing so many new cultures, visiting sites that I’ve only previously seen on TV, learning a new way of life and new languages, eating exotic food, or the lack of work and stresses (I no longer know the feeling of a Sunday night / Monday morning!) But the biggest advantage is probably meeting so many new people from all walks of life; not only the locals in South America, but also other travellers. I’ve learnt so much about almost every country in the world because it’s amazing how proud most locals and travellers are of their own country and how much we all boast and talk about our homes.
9. And were there any downsides?
The downsides are definitely missing people from home. I miss my family and friends enormously even though I speak to them all frequently. Because we are away for so long, we are also missing a lot of big events: births of friends’ first children, weddings of our family and also, unfortunately, Kirsty’s grandfather’s funeral.
Although leaving our family was hard, Kirsty has just told me that the thing she misses the most is sleeping with two pillows. We have yet to find a hostel that gives you enough pillows!
10. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting off on their own grown up gap year?
Do it. Quit your job, sell your house, leave everything behind and forget about any worries for a year. I did it and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
I always remember a quote from Jack Kerouac: “Because in the end you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”