Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries
Married Baby Boomers, Marianne and Joe Bohr, left Washington, DC to travel Europe for a year-long sabbatical — a midlife Gap Year abroad — in September 2011. They unloaded the house, sold the cars, quit their jobs and said goodbye to the US in search of adventure for 12 months. They start and end in their beloved France with adventures across the continent in between.
This absorbing travel memoir recounts what can happen in midlife when you dare to take a risk, walk away from your comfortable life and jump off the proverbial cliff to follow a dream. As the narrative follows the intrepid travelers through France and on their trek across Europe, it transcends the experience it recounts to tie into the universal human themes of escape, adventure, freedom, discovery and life reimagined. Marianne left her position as a publishing executive and when she returned, radically changed careers to teach middle school French.
The book recounts details of their longing to get the trip underway during the year prior to departure and the experiences, epiphanies, highs, lows, struggles, surprises and lessons learned on their journey as independent travelers on a budget in an endearing, entertaining way. Readers follow the itinerant Baby Boomers from Paris (where they ran the Paris marathon) to the Loire Valley and southwest France; through the Pyrenees to Spain and Portugal; across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco; back across the Mediterranean to Italy; up the continent from Austria to the Netherlands; back south along the Adriatic and Aegean to Greece, Croatia and Turkey; up and over the Alps of Switzerland (including a 7-day hike of the Tour du Mont Blanc); and finally, as they retreat to Provence for the summer and head back to Paris. Did they find what they were searching for? Was it the experience of a lifetime they had envisioned?
Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Perhaps what Fitzgerald was expressing was that American lives tend not to have middle acts, when the fruits of our youthful efforts can be enjoyed and appreciated before the inevitable decline of our waning years. And De Toqueville observed that happiness appears to always lie just beyond the reach of Americans as they cling to their material possessions and strive for yet more. But some, like Marianne and Joe, lighten their ownership load, write and then enjoy a middle act – a time for reflection and taking stock while pursuing adventure.
Multiple travel narratives have been written about find-yourself quests and solo extensive travel. While this Gap Year voyage is not unique, it is one of a handful told from the perspective of a married couple: two 55-year-old empty nesters who, though far from millionaires, scrimped, sacrificed and planned methodically, always with an eye on the Gap Year prize, in order to realize their travel vision. Budget conscious every step of the way, the itinerant Baby Boomers stay in inexpensive, often out-of-the-way lodgings and eat meals on the fly and then reward themselves with multiple, well-timed splurges: staying in castle hotels, skiing in the Dolomites, enjoying a spectacular Riad in Morocco and dining in multiply starred restaurants.
The daunting emotional, financial and logistical barriers on the path to dropping everything to head for the horizon are substantial. But those who make the journey with the Bohrs will become aware of the hurdles and be inspired to surmount them on their own terms.
In addition to the standard travel destinations of European capitals, Gap Year Girl includes visits to out of the way places such as Carcassonne, France; Andorra; Fez, Morocco; Agrigento, Sicily; Malta; the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos; Split, Croatia; and Butrint, Albania. The reader cannot help but vicariously savor the food of southwestern France, sample the spices of Morocco, sip the wines of Italy and hike the Mont Blanc circuit from Chamonix, France through Courmayeur, Italy and Champex, Switzerland. But the book also gives a realistic look at the downside of extended independent travel in foreign lands by relating those periods when very real blues descend and loneliness and the longing for contact with family and friends weigh heavily.
Millions harbor the fantasy but few have the perseverance to tenaciously plan for and the courage to follow it: kiss your jobs goodbye, pack your bags and take off on a quest for adventure. Gap Year Girl encourages those who have long yearned to follow their bliss for a year to do just that. Readers quickly find themselves immersed in a reality tale of leaving it all behind for medieval villages, the lights of European cities, unimaginable culinary pleasures, hikes in the Alps and along Mediterranean coasts and the wildly entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) characters they meet along the way. Vicarious pleasures unfold on a peripatetic, past the-blush-of-youth journey.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, thousands of Baby Boomers strapped a pack to their back and flocked to Europe on missions of self-discovery. They wandered the continent during their college years or post-graduation to explore what the world had to offer. These very same Boomers dream of “going back” — of once again cutting free to revisit the places they encountered in their youth, recapturing what was, discovering new haunts and creating fresh memories along the way.
Marianne and Joe Bohr were two of the thousands. And they did indeed “go back” after 30-plus years to discover what happens when you do.
Who doesn’t yearn for inspiration, crave creativity and ache for adventure? Adults are working longer nowadays, often postponing retirement for many years past the traditional retirement age of 65, and the prospect of putting work on hold temporarily – of taking a full year off to pursue a long-held dream – is most appealing. Whether it’s extended travel, volunteering for a cherished cause or living in a far-off land, embarking on a Gap Year sabbatical is no longer the exclusive privilege of the young. It is a very real aspiration of many overworked Baby Boomers (or will be once they read this book). Gap Year Girl is a must-read for not only those actually planning to set out on an extended stay in a foreign country but also for those who have imagined striking out on their own but never thought it could become reality.
Readers will bond with Marianne and Joe, relate to what they feel and experience and imagine themselves in their hiking boots, sore, middle-aged muscles dragging their luggage behind them. They will be pulled along vicariously with the Bohrs on their extended stay in France and subsequent trek through Europe, their devotion to each other and the children they left behind apparent on every page. Sure to inspire readers to put their “regular” lives on hold, Gap Year Girl will have Baby Boomers telling their bosses au revoir, hasta la vista and ciao, packing their bags, exploring the world and reclaiming healthy doses of adventure and spontaneity. And for those unable or unwilling to take a year off, readers will share in the adventure from the comfort of an overstuffed chair.
Armchair travel is a long-loved genre whose readers include adventurous souls who have traveled extensively, as well as sedentary dreamers with no intention of leaving home. Readers, be they aspiring members of the “Senior” Year Abroad crowd or those simply looking for a taste of European travel overall, will squeeze into Marianne and Joe’s duffels and travel along with them on their European trek. It will also motivate those with extended travel aspirations to put a realistic Gap Year plan into action. The Bohrs met many on two-week European holidays during their adventure who told them they were inspired to consider following them in their footsteps.
Gap Year Girl will also appeal to book clubs looking for a title members can relate to personally and that will catalyze serious, lively conversation about what members would do and where they would go if they could manage a full year away.
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