Reflections on Taking a Year off to Travel

Taking a year off to travel has been one of the best decisions of my life.  In 2022, I hit pause on my life, and took an entire year off to travel.  Unlike many long-term travelers – who travel the world on a gap year out of school or university; I was in my late-30s and mid-career.  Many would consider this an unusual time to just leave for a year – but I was determined to have this time to myself – and it paid off. 


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Where I Went:

In my year abroad, I travelled from my home country of Canada to 17 different countries around the world:

I did not follow a set itinerary for my year abroad. There were a few things I knew I wanted to check off my bucket list, but planning-wise, all I started out with was a one-way plane ticket out of Canada.  I mostly chose my itinerary one destination at a time, based on what I heard from other travellers; proximity to my last destination, or to one of my bucket list destinations; and costs of flights/transportation.

I started off in Costa Rica, where I surfed in Playa Jaco; hiked to hidden beaches in Manuel Antonio; visited cloud forests in Monteverde; relaxed in hot spring rivers and rappelled down waterfalls in La Fortuna; before heading to Costa Rica’s beautiful Caribbean Coast.  From Costa Rica, I travelled overland to Panama, where I enjoyed island-hopping in Bocas del Toro.  From Panama, I took a flight down to Colombia where I visited the coffee region of Salento, before taking a flight to the beautiful Colombian island of San Andres for some world-class diving and snorkeling.

Jens was able to join me part-way through my travels in Colombia.  We met up in El Rodadero (near Santa Marta) and hiked the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) together.  After trekking the Ciudad Perdida, we went on to visit Tayrona National Park, before heading to Minca, and completing our Colombian trip on Isla Grande in the stunning Rosario island chain in Colombia’s Caribbean region.

I travelled north to Chiapas, Mexico, after my travels in Colombia, and continued on to visit the Lacandon Jungle.  From Chiapas, I travelled to Mexico’s East Coast first, to the stunning Caribbean lake of Bacalar, and then onwards to dreamy Isla Mujeres.

After flying back to Canada for a few weeks to attend my brother’s wedding and to do a short road trip with Jens; I first headed down to the United States to visit a friend in Florida for a week, before taking a flight down to Peru for a 3 week adventure.  After landing in Lima, I travelled overland first to Paracas, before heading to Huacachina – Latin America’s only desert oasis – to engage in some epic sand-dune adventures in the Atacama desert.

I next travelled overland on to Arequipa, from where I headed to the Colca Canyon for a trekking adventure.  After trekking the Colca Canyon, I headed towards Puno, where I had an incredible homestay with an indigenous family in Lake Titicaca.  From Puno, I headed to the UNESCO heritage site: the City of Cusco, which was my base before trekking the Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu.  I finished off my amazing trip in Peru in Huaraz, where I immersed myself hiking around Peru’s beautiful Cordillera Blanca mountain region.

From Peru, I landed in Huatulco in Oaxaca, Mexico intending a lovely 1 week trip with Jens – only to have landed unknowingly in to the direct path of Hurricane Agatha the day before she was to make landfall in – you guessed it: Oaxaca, Mexico. 

After surviving Hurricane Agatha, I headed over to Spain to walk the 1000KM from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean on the Camino de Santiago.  I next headed over to Germany and Austria to spend time with Jens and his family.  From Germany, I flew into Zanzibar in Tanzania before continuing on to Moshi on the Tanzanian mainland in order to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Post-Kilimanjaro, went on Safari in the Serengeti before ending my adventure in Tanzania in the capital of Arusha.

I headed to Southeast Asia after my adventures in Africa first to Northern Thailand, before travelling overland to Laos.  After Laos, I travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam where Jens joined me for a 3 week adventure in North and Central Vietnam.

I travelled to Bangkok, Thailand after Vietnam, as it was cheaper to get a flight to the Middle East from Thailand rather than Vietnam.  Not wanting to waste the opportunity to explore Thailand further, I spent 1 week on the beautiful island of Koh Chang, before taking my flight into Tel Aviv.  I had an unexpected visit to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia – enroute from Bangkok to Tel Aviv – as it turns out that Ethiopian Airlines arranges for visas, transport, and hotels in Addis Ababa – all at no cost – for customers who have a longer than 8 hour layover in the city.  So, I unexpectedly got a free visit to Addis Ababa, and crossed Ethiopia off my list of countries visited.  

After my travels in the Middle East, I arranged a series of flights to gradually move me back to North America.  I flew first from Tel Aviv into France where I visited a friend in Paris, before taking a transatlantic flight to San Francisco, where I was able to catch a flight to the last stop of my sabbatical year: French Polynesia.

I travelled solo for most of the year, but was never alone.  Jens was able to join me, or I was able to join him where he was in the world for 1-3 weeks every 2-3 months during my trip, and staying in hostels most of the year made it very easy to find other people to travel and socialize with.  If you’re over 30+ and think your hostel days are over – I implore you not to think that way! Staying at hostels helped me meet a lot of amazing people I otherwise would not have met – some of whom I remain friends with years after we first met in some random corner of the world.  

Staying in hostels is not just helpful to save money – it is an incredible way to meet other people: which is one of the best parts of travel.  If you can’t handle a dorm bed – get a private room at a hostel instead – that way you have your privacy, but you can also socialize with other travellers.  All this being said, at times, I really did crave privacy – so about every few weeks or so, I would splurge, or use hotel points to get a private room for a few days.

Costs to Travel for a Year:

Accommodations*:                                                     $3378.04USD

Transportation**:                                                        $4499.51USD

SIM Cards/Communication:                                       $224.28USD

Misc (Pharmacy, Visas, Baggage fees etc.)           $136.59USD

Food and Dining:                                                         $2717.91USD

Tours and Excursions:                                                 $3938.38USD

Total:                                                                           $14,894.71USD

*Accommodations cost is roughly for 40 weeks – as I did not have to pay for accommodations while travelling in Germany and Austria with Jens and his family; during the time I came back to Canada for my brother’s wedding; and also for many of my multi-day excursions where my accommodations were included in the cost of the excursion (ie: Kilimanjaro, Ciudad Perdida Trek, Salkantay Trek, Colca Canyon Trek, Trekking in Sapa)

**A few of my long-haul flights were covered by points (ie: Canada to Costa Rica, Mexico to Canada, Florida to Peru, and Germany to Tanzania). 

Amazingly, it cost less than $1300USD a month to take a year off to travel all around the world. This is less than it costs me to live in Canada.  I didn’t put myself on a budget; but I traveled on the principle of trying to keep costs down where possible – but never compromise if it was something I really wanted to do or try. 

In my year abroad, I visited 6 of the world’s 7 continents (sorry Antarctica, I’ll get you next time…).  I saw the last visages of the Mayan Civilization in the Lacandon Jungle.  I found the “Lost City” of the Tayrona people in Colombia.  I visited the driest desert of the world – the Atacama – in Peru, and visited the pinnacle of the Incan Civilization at Machu Picchu.  I accidentally faced-off with a Category 3 Hurricane in Mexico.  I completed my very first pilgrimage by walking 1000km across Spain. I summited one of the world’s Seven Summits on Kilimanjaro.  I marvelled at intrepid fisherman fishing at the widest waterfalls in the world – the Khong Phapheng – in Laos.  I visited Holy Lands in the Middle East – a global epicenter for centuries of belief and faith – yet is paradoxically also the center of so much pain and strife.   I finally ended my year-long journey as far away from civilization as possible on a tiny South-Pacific outpost – before finally returning home. 

$15,000.  It’s crazy to think I had all those incredible experiences for what some people drop on a designer purse (ok maybe 2 or 3 purses).  If I could do it over, I would; and I hope to again (and again and again) in the near future.  Interestingly, if you look at my trip cost breakdown, examine where I went; you’ll quickly realize you can actually travel for even less than $15,000 in a year if you travel to fewer continents and do less expensive excursions (Kilimanjaro and going on Safari is not cheap!). Knowing what I know now; I believe you can very easily travel around the world for less than $1000USD month. If you can afford it however, don’t hold back on paying for experiences you really want to try – you only live once, and your years on this beautiful planet are finite!

What I learned from Taking a Year off to Travel:

It was both exciting and scary as the days counted down to my year abroad.  I had planned for this trip for a long time, and made sacrifices – both financial and personal to make it happen.  Thoughts like “What if I hate it?” or “What if everything goes wrong” swirled around my mind as the trip approached.   I have to admit I was a bit of a nervous wreck by time I was headed off for my sabbatical.   I had so many hopes, dreams and expectations pinned on the year ahead – it was unnerving by time it came to get on the plane.

For me, all the 1st world worries melted away within 2 weeks of arriving in my first destination of my sabbatical: Costa Rica.  It’s amazing what can happen to your mindset when there’s nothing but endless “you” time waiting for you on the horizon – the stress, worries, and accumulated mental and physical health issues – that can build up in our not-so-healthy 1st world lives melt away more quickly and thoroughly when there’s not an office desk waiting for you at the end of two weeks – but rather endless possibility. 

After living through a few years of the pandemic, high-stress had been so much the norm, that I hadn’t realized how deeply I was impacted, until 2 weeks into my sabbatical I could literally feel the tension melting away from the top of my body to the bottom.  I hadn’t realized that the stress was literally choking me at my neck, until I felt it disappear from my body. The difference was amazing.  I felt like I breathed differently, more fully, and freely after just two weeks in.  I was a much lighter, healthier (mentally and physically), optimistic and resilient being during my year abroad – and it was life-changing.

Final Thoughts on Taking a Year off to Travel:

Taking a year off to travel changed my life. I returned from my year abroad with a renewed sense of resilience, optimism, general happiness and well-being that I never could have predicted before setting off.  It was one of the best things I could have done for my personal development, my mental health and mindset. 

By time I returned back to Canada, the things that used to bother me before I went off for a year – stopped seeming like problems anymore.  Travel brings you perspective.  Seeing the world beyond your own backyard makes you appreciate how incredible it is to be alive in such a beautiful world.  This experience bathes you in gratitude, not just for the world around you; but also for what you already have at home.  I returned happier not just for the time off – but very grateful for the home and relationships I returned to as well. My round the world trip cost me less than $15,000, but I returned many times a richer woman.

In short: I absolutely recommend taking a year off to travel. It will change your life.

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