Wrapping Up:  Reflections on Our Gap Year for Grown-ups

E5F2CDE1-79CD-4CDD-AE96-85F377EAE3C0As 2017 came to a close, Lee & I spent the weekend at our cabin in Rangeley, one of our favorite places in the world and a fitting place to close the year – particularly given that’s where we started it!

And while the arctic weather (-17F this morning!) managed to keep us inside a little more than usual, it also give us a chance to reflect on this amazing year and come up with a set of lessons learned – ideas that we both wanted to share and have pledged to keep in our own minds as we plan for our return to “normal” life, and of course, for our next adventures (there’s always a plan!):

  1. Whenever possible, try not to be a tourist: As we approached the planning for our year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we could avoid being “just a tourist” on our trips, wanting both to avoid crowds and hoping to do more than just “look in from the outside”.   We did pretty well at the former (hint: avoid places with large parking lots – or parking lots at all, for that matter!), and somewhat well at the latter.  One key lesson was finding ways to engage in the culture and/or to connect with people in a place.  Our trip to Cuba was a great example: joining the MEDICC trip to learn about their health care system brought us in contact daily with a fascinating group of people in a wide range of health care settings…

… and our one-week bike tour with a Cuban bike guide, Arley, gave us endless opportunities to ask questions about daily Cuban life, culture, and politics – letting us learn about the country in way I can’t imagine we otherwise would have had.

2.   Make it fun: While this one hardly needs saying (what’s more fun than having a year off?!), we thought it was important to acknowledge that in the span of a years’ travels, there were definitely times when things that dldn’t go exactly as planned (rhymes with “rain”!).  While I’ll admit that there were occasions when we may have given in to the natural urge to get grumpy, we learned it’s far better to go with the flow and make the best of the situation – especially since there’s no changing it!

3. When in Rome… (aka, the answer is always yes): It didn’t take long to recognize that most of our stops along way during the year could well be the one and only time we would be there – i.e. while each spot was wonderful, we realized that there’s so much more of the world to see that we may well not be back.   That realization did a lot to drive us to “do it now”, whether that was going for the crazy mountain bike ride in the mud along the Queen Charlotte Track, swimming with dolphins, jumping into the rapids in Grand Canyon, floating through the glow worm caves, or (you guessed it), enjoying the free fall from 13,000 ft. over Fox Glacier.

  1. The world is a big and fascinating place (though also small): An obvious benefit of traveling to so many places was to break out of small-town Maine and see this great big world of ours from many perspectives – from above, on, and even under the ground!

Getting away helped us get a new perspective on so many of our local concerns – be they work, local, or national political challenges – that can get us bogged down – especially this past year!  And while we were frequently awed at the wide array of landscapes, cultures, and perspectives across the globe, we were also amazed at the number of times that the world “shrank” – usually through the connection of meeting people from Maine, people who knew friends, etc.

  1. There’s a lot to learn from other countries: And along the line of new perspectives, we were frequently struck by how much we as Americans could learn from other countries.  Whether the amazing ability of Cubans to create an equitable culture with access to free education and health care for all (aka, a country where no one has much, but everyone has enough!)…

…or the thriving middle class and small business, and commitment to culture and slowing down the pace in Germany…

… or the energy and efficiency of the Nordic culture in Oso…

… we realized we clearly have a lot to learn – if we’re willing to look!

  1. People are friendly, especially when you’re open to it: We were repeatedly struck by how incredibly friendly and open people were during our travels, and how much more we enjoyed our trips when we were willing to engage with them.  Whether hanging out with old friends…

…or with new friends in Villcabamba, Ecuador…

… our fellow shipmates on the Beluga in the Galapagos…

… or friends we met along the West Highland Way…

…we were delighted and amazed by how much those conversations and friendships added to our trip.

7. Time is a gift (and sleep is a bonus!): Given the hectic nature of life before our trip, I’ll admit that my that my goals for having more time during Gap Year were pretty low (something along the lines of no longer brushing my teeth while in the shower).  I’m happy to report that having the gift of time was even greater than we anticipated, and – while clearly not at the top of the “exciting” list – was truly one of the best gifts of the year.  We didn’t realize it last January, but we definitely came to appreciate the joys of not having to rush from place to place, going to bed when we were tired (vs. staying up to answer that extended list of overdue e-mails), and – perhaps the best – getting up without an alarm clock.  Getting the “recommended” 8 hours of sleep nightly was also an amazing revelation and a definite goal to carry into our post-Gap Year life.IMG_2676

8. Love the place you live – i.e. Maine is a great destination: We were incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to see a phenomenal number of beautiful places around the globe over the past 12 months, though also realized each time we came back from a trip that we are tremendously fortunate to live in a beautiful place.  Whether enjoying the beautiful views of Back Cove or Casco Bay just a few blocks from our home on Munjoy Hill..IMG_1990

… the peaceful vistas of Saddleback Lake and mountains from our cabin in Rangeley…

…or one of the many other beautiful spots elsewhere in Maine…

… we realized that traveling is great, but coming back home is also pretty darned good.  We encourage our fellow Mainers to get out and enjoy this beautiful state of ours that is so often a destination from many others from around the world.  And for all you non-Mainers, please book your visit with us ASAP! (though you might want to wait for it to warm up a bit… July is even more lovely!).

9. Be grateful – and appreciate everyone: Given the incredible wealth of scenery, adventures, and friendships that we were privileged to experience through the year, it wasn’t hard to remember the lesson of gratitude over these past 12 months.  In addition to a general sense of gratitude, we also realized how important it is to be specifically grateful for (and to!) the people we met along the way, from our amazing guides on trips such as our Cuba bike trip, Galapagos island tour, and Inca Trail hike…

… to the unnamed but just as important people who helped us at every step along the way – e.g. the numerous airline staff and luggage handlers that helped make every flight possible; the restaurant kitchen and wait staff who served all those meals; the countless hotel staff, taxi and bus drivers; and the innumerable others who supported us in visible and invisible ways along our travels.  Given my unfortunate tendency towards impatience (shocking, I know!), I’m committed to carrying forward that lesson of individual gratitude into the new year, and trying to remember the importance of a smile and a thank you – every day.

10. Just do it: As many of our friends know (i.e. the ones who have heard my endless litany of “20 good years left…”!), one of the key drivers of our decision to take this Gap Year was to have physical adventures while we still can.  We recognize that we are incredibly fortunate to have had both the resources and good health to have done just that, and were saddened to learn over the course of the year about at least three friends who died unexpectedly.  So with hopes that our adventures may have inspired you and/or trigged some latent wanderlust, our last bit of advice, of course, is to find a way to create your own adventures – whether for a week, a month, a year, or otherwise.   It’s time – just do it!IMG_4632

And with thanks again to all our faithful friends that have followed our travels over the past year, I’ll let you know as I sign off that I’m working on one last blog post – 10 Tips for Planning Your Own Gap Year.  So stay tuned – it might just help you get started with #10! (did I mention?  Just do it!)

5 thoughts on “Wrapping Up:  Reflections on Our Gap Year for Grown-ups

  1. Yes, yes, yes! You have put to words many of the reasons we have embarked on this crazy life we lead. Our motivation also includes so that we can enjoy the process with our kids and see the world through their eyes too. And, much like you, we hope that others can see that it is possible to travel for extended periods – even when you have kids in tow.

    We were mentored by a couple who were our landlords when we were first married. They regaled us with stories of having driven a station wagon from Lebanon to France during the 1960s or early 70s with their three young kids, of having paddled across the Nile to go visit the pyramids, and many more. They gave us the courage to think beyond what is “normal”. Congratulations to you two for having the courage to think beyond the comforts of home and being willing to challenge expectations! Kudos!

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  2. Richard Perry

    Well done Lisa. Haven’t changed my mind that you have a gift for expressing as well as formulating excellent thoughts. From my time living abroad as well as my subsequent travels, these lessons are so important. My most profound lessons were that the world doesn’t revolve around USA #5 and that engaging other people is where it’s at(smiles are universal)~#6. Its the latter that propelled me to med school- and A very satisfying career indeed. Happy new year, Richard

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Jim Leonard

    Thank you for taking the time over the year to share your experiences. I’m sure you’ve inspired many to get out there and enjoy the gifts of life, you’ve certainly inspired me. Looking forward to more inspiration from you and Lee. Hope you keep the writing going. Jim

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  4. Beth Schoellkopf

    Lisa and Lee, I am thrilled that you indeed pulled this off. And wow, you really embraced every corner of what was possible! I loved reading your blog and really happy to have another entry! But keep writing.. I will be very curious to learn how this will impact your health and wellness as you both get back to work. I am so happy for you both! You’ve inspired me!
    Love, Beth PS – see you soon!

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