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This is a guest post by Andrea from Inspiring Travellers
Being a childless thirtysomething couple has its advantages.
Freedom for one thing.
No matter what you’re doing, nothing is holding you back from making your proverbial dreams come true.
Whether that’s starting a business or deciding to change careers or taking a risk of another kind, as long as you support each other, anything seems possible.
Some of us choose to settle into a routine and comfortable life, keep chipping away at that mortgage, climbing the rungs of the career ladder or working hard at perfecting a craft.
And some of us choose to do something a little different…like travel.
Last year we spent just under 12 months travelling around the world. It was easy for us to decide where we wanted to go because we had a checklist of things to do before we start a family.
So we enjoyed time in New Zealand, South America, Europe, the Middle East and then a couple of weeks back in Australia at the end.
The travel was fast-paced and action-packed, a huge departure of our usual nomadic M.O. which is to be expats working and living in a new country for months or years at a time.
My husband and I are an international couple, meaning we held different citizenships from each other when we met while travelling several years ago.
Because of this, deciding to take a year off to travel together was a little less daunting than perhaps it is for people who have never been overseas before or never thought about doing anything so unconventional.
But there was always that niggling question of whether or not it was the right decision, whether or not we would regret it when it was all over.
Taking a year (or even six months) off from work was a huge decision. We faced not only the tangible costs of the trip, but also the opportunity costs of our forgone income and an extra year of work experience.
We risked having a bad time and being forced to just keep on going anyway because we’d made our bed. While most of the people in our lives were supportive, not everyone was convinced we weren’t insane when we first started out.
So what did we gain from this little experiment in madness?
Sure, we think all the time in our regular life. We would think about what to do on the weekend and what we thought about this issue in the news or that personal relationship that was bothering us.
We’d think about the chores we needed to do and where to take our next holiday and whether or not the other one had paid the bills that month.
I’m sure you’ve gathered that isn’t the kind of thinking I’m talking about.
Physically removing ourselves from our routine gave us more time for real reflection. We could sit around and talk about our lives and different possibilities withouth the stresses and mundane interruptions of our regular lives.
Our conversations turned to the more important things in life, the big things, the things you forget about when you’re going about your day to day.
Each day brought fresh experiences, which helped us to put everything else in our lives in perspective. Or sometimes we’d just see a really great sunset and think about how wonderful that was.
Life was somehow simple again.
In between these periods of thinking and talking came another wonderful thing: an incubation period for ideas. Talking and thinking can only get you so far. Your mind needs time to process everything, to take it all in, to rest. The most creative people are those who are exposed to a wide variety of things.
Taking a travel sabbatical was just the thing for injecting novel ideas into our lives. Some brilliant gems would come to me in that hazy half hour as I was waking up in the morning. I don’t have that kind of luxury in my usual working day.
We also had the opportunity to learn more about and develop our relationships with ourselves.
I love lots of things about myself and am really proud of them. But a few things that I don’t like came out this year as well. I don’t feel sad about these, I’m just relieved to have had the opportunity to realize those and make improvements.
Being together 24/7 is an interesting proposition. You do most things together, solve problems together, get stuck in the muck together.
It’s a make it or break it situation.
I’m not sure that all couples are cut out for full-time long-term travel together but I’m really glad to know that we are. And how else would I know this if we hadn’t done the experiment?
All that thinking and talking and time together led to a few things. First of all, we established what wasn’t working for us in our pre-travel life.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in your routine life and feel the unpleasant side effects of things but it can be so difficult to actually see the causes. You’re too close, too focused on the negative by-products of the seemingly invisible crap that surrounds you.
Getting away and out into the world gives you a bit of perspective and a chance to identify what’s causing your unhappiness.
Another thing we gained was a plan. We now have a better understanding of what we want to do with the rest of our lives, an overall clarity of purpose, if you will.
We try not to plan specific things too far in advance but we have a rough idea of what we want our lives to look like in five or ten years time and what we need to do to get there.
Once you’re focused on something it’s much easier to develop tunnel vision and put your efforts specifically into achieving those goals.
I really believe that special people come into our lives at just the time that we’re most ready for them. I love making new friends and exposing myself to many different people all the time.
When I stay in one place so long that I’ve stopped meeting anyone new I feel stagnant and frustrated. Getting out there in the world presented so many opportunities to get to know new people and this was also helped along by our travel blog.
Last year we met so many people, including several I now call friends.
Part of our new understanding of ourselves involves surrounding ourselves with supportive people who aren’t afraid to dream big like we do, who share a similar outlook on life and get excited about the same things.
For the last few years I’ve been focusing more on the relationships in my life that are positive and less on the ones I’ve outgrown. It can be harder to make new friends at home or in a life where patterns are firmly established.This year was incredible for meeting new people and having awesome conversations.
It’s amazing to see who comes into your life when you’re open and ready for them, and getting out into the world gives you a tremendous opportunity to bring new energy into your life.
We also made a few realizations this year about our travel style. We don’t want to travel full-time forever. We prefer to immerse ourselves into one culture and location and take shorter trips from a home base.
We realized how important travel is for us as well. Even when we start a family we’ll make plenty of time for travel. Breaks rejuvenate us and help us develop fresh ideas and thoughts, aside from the enjoyment we get from the travel itself.
We also got more perspective on different destinations because we actually got to go there and see how other people live.
It’s fun to talk about wanting to live away from it all on a ranch in Patagonia, for example, but going there and actually seeing what that life would be like was eye-opening.
I’ve always believed in the saying,
‘People don’t change their minds, they make new decisions based on new information.’
So the short answer is no, we’re the same people we were when we left. But I can’t help but feel that we’re somehow more awakened, more knowledgeable and better versions of ourselves.
I think a gap year is beneficial at any stage in a person’s life. Take more than one. It will affect you in different ways at different times. Just make sure you do it – it’s a wonderful gift to yourself and the benefits more than outweigh the costs.
Bio: Andrea Spirov is one half of the duo blogging at Inspiring Travellers . She’s a writer, media specialist and entrepreneur by trade but you can also find her in the kitchen or trying new beers with her husband, John. You can follow along on their latest adventures on Facebook as they become expats in Norway and explore Europe a bit more.
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