Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Embracing Liberation: My Midlife Gap Year - A Thrilling Odyssey That Defied Conventions and Enriched My Soul

Embracing Liberation: My Midlife Gap Year - A Thrilling Odyssey That Defied Conventions and Enriched My Soul
Sunday, 28 January 2024 10:22

Defying Conventions: How a Midlife Gap Year Redefined Our Lives and Careers

When you think of a gap year, images of carefree teenagers and adventurous post-grads likely come to mind. Yet, for Iris and Dave De Herdt, a midlife gap year became the transformative journey of a lifetime. At 40 and 42 years old, respectively, Iris, a sustainability officer, and Dave, an engineer, decided to break free from the conventional constraints of jobs, mortgage payments, and routine commitments.

Their decision was not only fueled by a desire to explore the world but also intertwined with a conscious choice to forgo parenthood. The untimely passing of Dave's father at 56 served as a poignant reminder that life's clock doesn't always align with retirement plans. With a sense of freedom and a willingness to invest in their own experiences, the couple embarked on a daring adventure in mid-2018.

Leaving behind their lives in Antwerp, Belgium, Iris and Dave set out on a round-the-world cycling expedition. Their journey took them from the scenic landscapes of Nepal to the vibrant cultures of Southeast Asia, before venturing into the breathtaking terrains of New Zealand and traversing the vast expanse of the Pacific to South America.

Iris took an unpaid sabbatical, while Dave, armed with an engineering background, bid farewell to his job, confident of opportunities upon their return. The planning phase spanned a year, during which the couple meticulously assessed their finances, establishing a budget that allowed them to sustain their adventure without the need for employment abroad.

We did a lot of research to see how much this was all going to cost. It really depends on where you want to go, your expectations, and your comfort level," Iris reflects. The couple opted to bring their bicycles and camping gear, enabling them to keep expenses in check. Their comprehensive budget included a €10,000 flight allocation and a daily spending cap of €50, a target they managed to surpass only slightly, reaching €55.

The journey unfolded as a tapestry of experiences, balancing the pricier destinations like New Zealand with the more budget-friendly locales such as Laos. Beyond the exploration of diverse landscapes, the midlife gap year became a profound exploration of self, reshaping not just their perspectives on life but also influencing the trajectory of their careers.

Iris and Dave's story challenges the notion that a gap year is exclusively reserved for the young. It serves as an inspiration for those who dare to defy expectations, proving that sometimes, the most enriching chapters of life unfold when you decide to take a leap of faith into the unknown.

Beyond Borders: Navigating the Unseen Costs of a Midlife Gap Year

Embarking on a midlife gap year wasn't just about the thrill of exploration for Iris and Dave De Herdt. As they prepared for their transformative journey, the couple faced a myriad of practical considerations that extended beyond the excitement of planning their route. The complexities of what would happen to their home, the need for new equipment, vaccinations, and the decision to rent out their house were just a few of the logistical puzzles they had to solve.

While adhering to relatively strict budgets, Iris reflects on the fact that she and Dave never felt deprived or financially strained during their year-long adventure. "We never felt like we had to be prudent," she shares. Traveling with bicycles proved to be cost-effective, facilitating easy navigation to non-touristy and more budget-friendly destinations. The couple's camping gear allowed them to embrace spontaneity, camping wherever their journey took them.

I've realized life can be cheaper traveling in South America than just staying at home and working. Life can be so expensive in western Europe," Iris observes, highlighting the economic contrast between a nomadic lifestyle and the routine costs of living in their home country.

Yet, the exhilarating experiences in new countries came with their own set of challenges. While Iris describes it as the best year of her life, she acknowledges the struggle of not having a place to call home and the constant novelty of meeting new people every day. The return home brought a mix of emotions, with the comfort of familiar surroundings juxtaposed against the monotony of routine.

For Iris and Dave, the lasting impact of their journey became evident as they reentered the familiar rhythms of work and daily life. The generosity witnessed in the poorer countries they explored served as a stark reminder of the discontent often found in more affluent societies. "Why is everyone in a bad mood here?" Iris wonders, contrasting the warm hospitality of those with fewer material possessions.

The experience prompted a significant career change for Dave. Transitioning from engineering to a role as a lifeguard and swim instructor, he seeks a shift in perspective. Despite the financial implications of halving his salary, the allure of a fulfilling and meaningful career outweighs traditional notions of success.

Their midlife gap year wasn't just a break from routine; it became a catalyst for reevaluating priorities, challenging societal norms, and embracing a richer, more authentic way of living.

In conclusion, Iris and Dave De Herdt's midlife gap year transcended the boundaries of a conventional adventure. As they grappled with the intricacies of preparing for a year-long journey, navigating through financial considerations, and adapting to the challenges of life on the road, their experience became a profound exploration of self and a catalyst for lasting change.

The couple's ability to adhere to strict budgets while savoring every moment of their global exploration reflects the economic feasibility of such an unconventional lifestyle. Iris's revelation that life can be more affordable in South America than in the comfort of their home in western Europe challenges societal norms and underscores the transformative power of embracing a nomadic existence.

Upon their return, the reintegration into familiar surroundings brought both joy and a sense of monotony. The contrast between the warm generosity of people in less affluent countries and the discontent in more prosperous societies prompted a reassessment of values.

Dave's decision to embark on a full career change, despite the financial implications, embodies the profound impact of their journey. Choosing fulfillment over financial gains, he sets a powerful example of prioritizing personal satisfaction and meaningful experiences.

In essence, the midlife gap year became more than just a temporary escape from routine; it became a paradigm shift. Iris and Dave's story challenges preconceived notions about the timing and purpose of transformative journeys, inspiring others to reconsider their own paths and embrace the richness of life beyond the confines of traditional expectations.


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