A Travellerspoint blog

June 2008

Mind... The Gap

Oh my, what ARE we doing?

semi-overcast 26 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

Mind... the gap. Mind... the gap.

For anyone who has been to London, those words instantly evoke the world of the Underground -- "the Tube" in local slang, or the subway as we would call it in the States. You are standing on the platform waiting, and suddenly a strong breeze begins to flow from the tunnel in front of you. A light appears, followed by the train wooshing from its hole like a giant metal earthworm on a severe caffeine trip. It slows and then stops, the door inevitably closer to someone else than you, and as you step aboard you hear it: the oh-so-proper recorded voice in perfect Queen's English, emotionlessly intoning, "Mind... the gap. Mind... the gap."

This is, of course, the very polite and very British way of gently reminding you of the mild danger that you might conceivably get your toe stuck in the "gap" between the platform and the train car. In New York, if they bothered with such a warning at all, it would probably be, "Hey stoopid -- don' stick yer foot in der!"

For Brits and other members of the Commonwealth, "gap" has another connotation: a year between major phases of life, most notably between school and becoming a productive member of working society. Many do a "gap year," sometimes volunteering with a charitable organization, but most often just traveling. And they do it for a whole year -- sometimes more. For some (often Australians, it seems) it would be more accurate to talk about the time that they are at home working as the "gap," since they seem to spend their entire lives in an endless cycle of travel and saving up for travel.

Not a bad life if you can swing it, really. One English gal we met in Mexico was on the tail end of a three-year-long trip that started in Australia and took her through Asia and Latin America. Whenever she ran out of money, she just stopped and worked for a few months -- being a nurse, she could get away with it. I have always longed to be able to lead that kind of life.

I don't know how I got bit by the travel bug as severely as I did; probably had something to do with chronic over-exposure to public television as a kid. When I was four, my parents left me with my grandparents for the first time and went to Detroit for the weekend. When they got back and told me where they had been, I was crushed. "You went to the Henry Ford Museum and Dearborn Village without me?" I wailed. I had seen the promos between Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, I guess; I still have a vague mental image of the fronts of big old steam train engines. My parents were stunned that I knew what they had gone to see without their telling me! Guess that was the embryo of my "amateur travel guide" alter-ego coming out.

They lovingly nutured my addiction with trips throughout the United States while I was growing up, and then to Europe following high school. But it was studying at Harlaxton College in England that really ignited the traveller in me. My semester there included such adventures as hitchhiking in Wales, coaxing a barely-operational Renault 4 through the Alps in Yugoslavia (on an alleged ski trip that featured no snow), and trading black marketeers jeans for military clothing in the Soviet Union. But it was the following two months spent bumming around the Continent with a backpack, guidebook and Eurail pass that solidified who I am today as a traveller.

Lynn and I have taken almost a dozen trips together through various countries in Europe, as well as Mexico, since we got married. But the limitations of work schedules have always prevented anything longer than a few weeks, and that drive to spend a significant chunk of time on the road has remained bubbling under the surface. So when we decided to move from Milwaukee, where we have spent most of our lives, to Houston, we decided that it was time. For the first and possibly only time in our lives, we will have no job schedules, no house, and no responsibilities. We will probably never have another chance like this while we are still young enough for our bodies to handle months on the road living out of a backpack.

It is, without question, time for us to "mind the gap."

And so, we are embarking on a four-and-a-half month, ten-country trip through Asia. We leave Milwaukee on August 1st and drive to Houston, where will be storing our stuff and leaving our car. Then we fly out on August 6th and will spend (more or less) August in Indonesia and Malaysia, September in Japan, Korea and China, October in Vietnam and Cambodia, November in Thailand and India, and the beginning of December in Nepal. We arrive back in the States (after about 36 hours flying Kathmandu-Bangkok-Taipei-Los Angeles-Houston) on December 14th, find a place to live, drive back to Milwaukee for Christmas and to pick up the last of our stuff, and drive back to Houston.

"Why Asia?" I hear you cry. Well, the cultures and history have always really fascinated me, especially Japan and India; it's so radically different from here. My uncle and his family have lived in Indonesia for years. But from a practical standpoint, there's also the time and cost factor: since it takes so long to get there, being the other side of the world, it's harder to do short trips, so it makes sense to try to see as much as possible in one long trip. And, because the cost of living is so cheap in most of those places (Japan being the notable exception), once you're there it's really reasonable -- higher ratio of travel thrills to the dollar than just about anywhere else.

A few people have asked how we can afford to do this. Well, it's a pretty significant expenditure, I confess, but not as much as one might think. And we have made it a priority to make it happen. We've chosen to live simply to save money for travel because it's what's important to us, and I have a strong conviction that we only have one life that is our gift from God, and it's our responsibility to live it joyfully and with abandon. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing what it takes to do it.

Are we scared? No; maybe a little nervous about Lynn finding things to eat in cultures that seem to want to throw a little fish into everything, up to and possibly including ice cream. And we are definitely stressed about getting everything done that needs doing before we leave. The logistics of packing up your life are huge, the logistics of travelling through ten countries in four-and-a-half months equally so. Last night was another of those all-too-frequent nights when we don't sleep well.

But progress is being made. Our house goes on the market this weekend. All our tickets are bought. We have places to stay lined up for most of the first couple of months. And now this blog is up and running; look for continuing updates through the coming month before we leave, and then frequently during our trip. I hope to offer some interesting and amusing thoughts and observations, more than just "Today we saw the Great Wall of China..."

Because even though we are going to be half-way around the world from you, our friends and family, that gap will be minded as well.

Posted by Bwinky 12:05 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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