An Interview with Gillian of One Giant Step
When Brian and I began dreaming up our RTW trip one of the first things I did was search the internet for other crazy souls who’d gone before us. I found Gillian and Jason from One Giant Step and became an immediate fan. Between 2009 and 2010 Gillian and Jason traveled the world and Gillian chronicled their adventures with a keen eye.
I recently got the opportunity to interview Gillian and ask her everything I’ve always wanted to know about her experience traveling the world.
1. You sold your things, took a leave of absence from your job and traveled the world. Why’d you do it?
I realized that life was living me instead of the other way around. I had always thought that I would travel, or live somewhere else and that I would do something big with my life, and yet I found myself on a path that was not consistent with that. I call it a mid life crisis but, really, it was just a realization that if I was going to do something I better get doing it.
2. You traveled with your partner, Jason, but we don’t hear from him much in your blog. Why does he stay behind the scenes?
Because I have him imprisoned back there. No, seriously, when I first started OneGiantStep neither one of us had done any kind of public writing. Turns out I love it and he…not so much. He is involved but, like you said, it’s behind the scenes.
3. What is your most distinct memory from the trip? Is there a moment or experience you return to in your mind?
There is a picture in my mind from the bus trip between Lima and Cusco during the first week of our trip. I wrote a little bit about it in one of my first posts from Peru but I didn’t realize the significance of that image until much, much later.
We had been on the bus for almost 17 hours; the road was windy and hilly and even though it was the middle of the night, sleep was impossible for me. Dawn was finally breaking and, as the sun rose and light filtered onto the landscape, it revealed that we were high in the Peruvian Andes on the altiplano. It was stunning. I peered out the window to see nothing but miles and miles of scrubland punctuated with huts and stone fences penning in llama herds. The smoke from the villagers hearths filled the crisp cold air and the sun glinted off the frost and frozen waterways.
To me this memory is the moment that I realized that we were really ‘out there’. I hope it remains as crisp and feels as deep forever.
4. What was your favorite country and why?
The hardest question and one that, ultimately, is unfair to all the places we visited. I think it’s impossible to compare the wonder, excitement and newness of traveling in Peru (our first country) to the more seasoned, well versed, and experienced traveling we did in Vietnam (next to last). In a year of travel everything changes and the criteria that would make for ‘favorite’ early on change as time goes by and experiences are had. Like children, it is impossible to pick a favorite.
Kim’s note: While I know that most parents would claim that it is impossible to pick a favorite child, I know that my parents would have no such problem. Right Dad? Love, Your Favorite Daughter, Kim.
5. Did the trip change you? Did it change your relationship with Jason?
Did it! At first I said that it hadn’t; that I had taken this Gillian around the world and brought the exact same Gillian back. I had no great epiphanies, didn’t find a god or guru, or decide what to do with the rest of my life. Since being home I can see the changes. I feel powerful, confident, and freer than I ever have before. I feel that I can do anything and that everything is within my reach. My fear of failure, or success, is greatly diminished and I am more willing to take on the unknown.
I wouldn’t say that the trip fundamentally changed my relationship with Jason. I will say that it was the hardest year of our 13 year relationship. We learned a lot about what makes us happy and content and will take those lessons forward in our future travels.
6. What was one item you packed that was completely unnecessary and one you couldn’t have lived without?
There were a few items we sent home; I had packed a pair of ‘cute shoes’ that never saw the light of day, and we gave up running after a couple of months so we sent that stuff home too. I think we used pretty much everything else…I, for one, was not willing to schlep stuff around on my back that I wasn’t going to use!
I’m super glad I brought a small, lightweight sleeping bag. I used it as an extra blanket when needed or in places where the top sheet was nothing more than what looked like a beach towel…seriously! We’re pretty adaptable though and I don’t think there is anything we couldn’t live without or wouldn’t have been able to find wherever we were.
7. If you could move anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
I think I would love to live in Bangkok. I loved it in Thailand and love big cities. The weather, the culture, the food, the pace of life, the difference from here, it’s all appealing.
8. What is your number one piece of advice to future RTW travelers like Brian and I?
Enjoy it. All of it. The good and the bad. It’s all good in the long run. Take care of each other. Be generous in dealing with each other. Talk over possible concerns before you leave and check in with each other often after you leave. Allow room for change.
9. If you could design your future any way you wanted, what would it look like?
Wow, tough question.
Jason and I would be living outside of Canada. My days would be spent partly working and partly exploring my new home. I would be working remotely making enough money through OneGiantStep (or its iterations) to not have to hold down a traditional job. My creative side and technical sides would be in harmony and my potential realized as I push OneGiantStep as far as I can.
10. What’s your favorite quote?
I have two:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt
Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free. Shawshank Redemption
11. What’s your favorite book?
I don’t think I have one…although, really, I can read!
12. Was it hard transitioning back into non-travel life? What was the most difficult part about it?
Yes and no. At times the wanderlust is so strong that it takes my breath away and reduces me to tears instantly, I just so still want to be out there experiencing all the new things all the time. On the other hand we returned knowing that we would be continuing our adventures in some way and have the dreaming and planning of that next adventure to occupy our time.
The most difficult part was coming home and trying to summarize a years worth of adventure and memories into a few sentences because that’s about the average attention span of anyone asking. It sounds trite, but it’s true. I think it’s because people have no frame of reference with which to ask questions and discuss an event like this. I found this to be true when a friend returned from India a few years ago; I hadn’t yet traveled much and he seemed to have returned from this grand adventure, what was I going to ask him that might even seem remotely relevant or thought provoking? I had no clue as to what he had experienced and no idea of how to ask. I try to remember this when I’m talking to people about our trip and try to be generous and help as I believe that people are interested, they just don’t know how to ask.
13. How difficult was it getting around in countries where you didn’t speak the language?
Not hard at all. I found that people all over the world genuinely want to help. Finding a bus, or a room, or a meal is the same all around the world and it all works in a way that you are familiar with. You may sometimes end up eating chicken when you expected soup or the room might not have the private bathroom you were anticipating but, for the most part, you can get what you’re looking for.
Northern Turkey was the hardest for us as there was almost no English and I knew next to no Turkish. I had a phrase book though and wrote out questions such as ‘Do you have a double room available?’ and ‘How much?’. We would negotiate price by simply alternating writing numbers on a piece of paper. Crude, but it worked and I was proud that I figured out a way to make it work.
14. What does the future hold for you? What’s next?
Our Responsibly Irresponsible plan is in full swing. We move to Calgary next week in an effort to keep the momentum going and to start planning the next phase. In Calgary we’ll be challenged by new jobs and have an opportunity to explore an area that we haven’t lived in before. It’s during this time that we’ll start researching what moving out of Canada will look like: where will we go, what will we do, when can we start? I also hope to keep OneGiantStep growing and to keep stretching myself in that direction. My newest motto is to Live Uncomfortably; to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to be successful. I really do believe that it’s all just OneGiantStep away…it’s not that far!
Gillian and Jason traveled to 14 countries between June 2009 and May 2010. Gillian chronicled their adventures at One-Giant-Step.com and continues to write, providing inspiration, advice and know-how to those that are contemplating a Giant Step of their own.