“In the United States, the practice of taking a “year off” remains the exception. Taking a year out has recently become slightly more common for Americans, with prevailing reasons as a feeling of being burned out of classroom education and a desire to understand oneself better…” -Wikipedia.

I missed my gap year after high school when I shipped off to boot camp in California at age 17. When my enlistment ended nearly six years later I missed another chance for a year off by immediately enrolling in college back in Utah. By the time I graduated with my degree in 2009 I had already landed full time job with the employer I still work for nearly five years later.

So when this idea of OneWorldOneYear was first brought up by my wife Britnee, my first thought was that I’d missed my chance to really enjoy it, that I was too old for such a trip. Not old in the grand scheme of life, just older compared to the more youthful 24-year-old Mark I wished had got to it a decade sooner. I made some attempts back then but wandering Europe solo for five weeks hardly satisfied when I was inspired by fictional characters such as Richard from Danny Boyle’s film The Beach.

When in Rome, 2006.

In Rome, 2006. Photo by random tourist in a time before “selfies.”

I spent my 20s wearing blinders, rushing through school, landing internships and finding full-time work, never realizing how lucky I was having no obligations to hold me back from experiencing an adventure of my own. Years later I do feel some regret for not acting sooner as I begin feeling a little older and slower, (but no less active, it just hurts more). By this age maybe I should have more obligations holding me back from making such a life change, but in this case I’ll consider myself lucky that I don’t.

Britnee and I have had some fun vacations since we first met, (road trips in the U.S. and vacations abroad in Finland and Vietnam), but none of them required me to quit my job or pack all our furniture and belongings into a 10′ x 15′ storage unit. So as you can imagine, there were plenty of doubts swimming about in my head when we agreed on this year-long trip and began the early stages of preparation.

Despite all the wonders we might see, all the opportunities this trip might offer, I couldn’t help but worry: Can we afford this? Will we find work when we return? Shouldn’t I be more concentrated on advancing my career? Wouldn’t this money be better spent investing in a home? Am I too old for this?

Marble Mountain, Vietnam. Photo by Mark Johnston

Then I came across some words of wisdom:

“The time to do a Grand Tour was now, when you’d made some mistakes, gotten some scars, some battle damage from life, and you could think about all that stuff out there.”

I read it just recently in The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brendan Leonard, in which he seemed to be asking many of the same questions I’d been asking myself. And here was the answer, clear as day: despite the social norms of Utah and much of the U.S., (where being in your 30s means being responsible, having a steady job, maybe a house payment and a couple of kids), some of us just need to escape it all for a little bit longer.

Britnee and I have a comfortable life in a nice apartment, plenty of furniture, matching dishware, gym memberships and a couple of cars, but it satisfies less each time we return from a rushed vacation still longing for the open road. And while I worked hard for the job I have, I can now admit it’s a job that’s going nowhere and change is coming one way or another. Better that I decide on my own future now than drag it out any longer.

Now more than ever do I need the gap year I never had, a year off to “understand oneself better.” I know now that seeing the world through “older” eyes will make me appreciate it all the more at 33-going-on-34, sore knees, receding hairline and all.

Fast forward to the conclusion to see how I fared. 

About The Author

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Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

16 Responses

  1. Freya

    You’re never to old to travel. Wishing you guys an awesome year !

  2. Linda

    Love this post and just want to say I am so happy for you guys! So many people get stuck and think it’s too late or worry about what should be but you just have to go for it and do what makes you happy! My boyfriend and I just got back from 15 months of traveling and are so glad we did it. Now we’re home and putting the pieces back together but we feel refreshed and inspired and know it’ll all work out as everything always does. All the best!

    • Britnee Johnston

      I’ve wondered what it would be like to come back from all the traveling. It’s good to hear you’re refreshed! Good luck to you and your boyfriend with your future endeavors!

      • NZ Muse

        Refreshed is probably the best way to describe it! That and ‘enriched’. We’ve been home for nearly a year ourselves.

  3. Lana

    Good for you. My parents think I throw money down the toilet traveling – but man, they just don’t understand the feel of the road. I also consider travel education, and that somehow makes the money seem less. At 20K each, that’s not more than a masters degree, and you will only learn more!

    • Mark Johnston

      Thanks Lana, I completely agree. Not to mention the amount of confidence one gains from planning and experiencing foreign travel by themselves. Here’s to learning a lot… outside the classroom!

    • Britnee Johnston

      Thanks Lana! I totally agree. I actually was enrolled in a Master’s program a few years ago, but only stayed for two weeks before dropping out. It just didn’t feel like the right fit for me at the time. I chose to work full-time instead so I could start earning money to go travel in the future. Now that the time is here I am so grateful for my decision even though sometimes I questioned it in the past. I definitely believe that traveling is just as valuable a formal graduate education.

  4. Angelina H. Cortés

    Wow, that’s awesome! I can relate to this, I will be 30 the time I start my travel to Japan, I (hopefully) will go to Kyoto to study Japanese. It’s just because I love Japan, I could go to study something else, as long as it is Japan. What worries me is that I’m not getting any younger, I’m a woman, all my female “friends” from college are married and with children, I’m the kind of person who has no friends, goes nowhere, does no party. I’m just afraid, I wish these were my 20s travel, not my “welcome 30s” travel. All the people who studied with me at College now have families and dream jobs (or their own companies).
    But, after reading this, I don’t feel that bad for turning 30 in 2015 and making my own one year travel. Thanks, A LOT!

  5. Mark

    Mark- you are an excellent writer. That was honest and insightful. Hard to find stuff like that in a sea of internet blogs these days. Sarah and I are 7 months out from leaving our cozy lives in Denver and shooting off for our 1 year trip. We are getting the jitters/major excited. This is comforting to read. Seems like you have no regrets. Best to you
    Mark

    • Mark Johnston

      Thanks Mark. You’re absolutely right. No regrets, it was the best decision we ever made. Only two years out from the next trip. 😉 Enjoy the journey man and be sure to share the stoke yourself because it’s super rewarding to read stuff like this from others.

  6. ron

    you would think they would ve visited at least one country in Africa.. the biggest continent on Earth with so much beauty.

    #ohhsorryweforgot

    conformist rac*$# f$%!
    wh***+as*** = racism ^power10

    • Mark Johnston

      Easy Ron, pump your brakes. We’d have loved to visit Africa and while we didn’t have the budget this time around, there’s definitely plans to make a trip in future.

      • Will

        Britnee/Mark:

        Late to the party here, but my wife and I took a similar trip, also in our mid-30s, and also mid-career professionals. We shared your concerns about our careers, and prospects upon coming home, etc. We knew we could do this trip in 20 or 30 years, but it’s that would be an entirely different trip. The worse part of going home is knowing that I knew I wanted to still be out there.

        Thanks for sharing your trip, great photos, and awesome blog. Best of luck to you guys.

      • Mark Johnston

        Hey Will, you hit the nail on the head. 20 or 30 years from now it’ll still be possible to travel, but both us and the world will be very different by then. Glad we fit in so much in our “youth” and here’s to many more years of explore this wonderful world.