When travel means moving country

A Gap Year for All!

Given our geographic distance from the rest of the world,  Australians have become accustomed to the concept of a Gap Year – young people taking a year, sometimes more, to explore the world beyond Australia’s shores- however a generational shift is taking place, ushering in a new demographic of gap year enthusiasts.

The gap year has now become the domain of all ages who dare to dream of spending extended periods of time away from home. Increasingly, families and retirees are joining the twenty-somethings in discovering ways to spend a year or more away for the adventure, experience and sheer pleasure of living in another part of the world.

After years of economic recession and a weak currency in the early 1990s (when our treasurer famously coined us a ‘banana republic’), Australians are now wholeheartedly embracing the opportunities associated with a growth economy and a moderately improved currency. With more spending power and work flexibility, they are daring to depart abroad for longer periods of time.

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Leaving the banana republic behind

So what is involved in packing up an established life for a year or more to live on the other side of the world in a new culture, landscape and language?

The most important realisation about this type of travel is that it is not a holiday but a life experience. Acknowledging that a whole year of your life cannot be all highs is the first step. The challenges involved in understanding and adapting to your new host environment allows for a deeper connection to yourself and a place than a ‘fly through’ tourist experience. This is about seeing and experiencing a new environment, warts and all.

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Climbing our own mountains while living abroad for a year

So once you understand the essence of what it means to leave the safety of your home and dive into a new world for a year, how do you choose that one and only place that you want to invest and live in? This is harder than one might think. Putting together an itinerary of all your favourite destinations to travel is relatively simple compared to choosing just one place to commit to and live in. Paralysis of choice comes to mind!

For my family, choosing a place to live in Spain involved identifying the five most important factors to us. This is obviously different for everyone and it certainly took us some time to filter all our hopes and dreams into five core, practical areas. We ended up with the following:

  1. Language: We wanted to learn Castellano not another dialect of Spanish so we narrowed our prospective places to those where Castellano was the local language.
  2. Climate: As Australians, we were not ready to brave a long, cold or wet European winter so we chose a place with a milder climate.
  3. Affordability: Living abroad for a year is expensive and we didn’t want to have to scrimp our way through so we chose a place with affordable living to be able to access more of what was on offer.
  4. Culture:  We wanted to be actively involved in many aspects of the creative culture of a place so chose not to live in a rural village. At the other end of the spectrum, we also wanted to take a break and rest our adrenals from big city living (traffic, crowds, queues) so decided to avoid the major cities. This left a few medium/small cities to choose from.
  5. Education: We wanted our year to be about learning for all of us so we had to live in a place that had educational opportunities. For us that meant Spanish language, culture and history classes, museums, cultural institutions, among others. For our children it meant, finding a local Spanish school that had other diverse cultures within it so there would be openness towards foreigners.

Eventually we decided upon living in Granada in Andalusia. It was as close a match as we could ‘theoretically’ find to our criteria since we didn’t have the opportunity to ‘pop over’ for an advance reconnaissance trip. Luckily it turned out well and we had a great year.

Granada                         Beautiful Granada where we chose to lay our hat for a year

People often assume that having spent a year in Spain means we have visited or explored every corner of the country. Well, perhaps if we had travelled in a camper van for a year we may have seen a lot more. Instead we lived a daily existence in Granada which meant that we learned a lot about one community, city and the surrounding areas. We are yet to visit the many other parts of Spain that beckon us.

We chose to settle in one place to create a sense of home to come back to every time we ventured somewhere. The children really appreciated having their friends and familiar surroundings in Granada. In fact, we generally tried not to travel away from Granada for more than two weeks at a time as it became too disruptive for the children to leave their familiar surrounds. We always felt a sense of relief returning to our home in Granada after our adventures across Europe, the Mediterranean or Andalucía and although we certainly could have visited more parts of Spain, we have no regrets about investing a year of our lives in one little corner of Granada.

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Investing in community before sightseeing

There remain many beautiful places in Spain we still want to visit and yet each time we return to Spain, we keep going back to Granada. One day we may ‘travel’ around Spain as tourists or maybe we will just keep going back to Granada. Who knows?

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2 thoughts on “When travel means moving country

  1. You’re right gap years are for everyone. We took ours after we “retired” and I took a teaching position at a local primary school just 30 minutes by train from London. No new language to learn but a new education system and a different way of life for us. We rented a loft walkup apartment, bought a car and ventured further afield every weekend. As with all experiences it has changed us for life.

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