Gap Year Planning

“(L)et them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches — that is the right and privilege of any free American.” Edward Abby 1968.
Ok, maybe not eaten by bears and buried by avalanches but certainly, let them get tried and tested. Gap year here we come!

It was Vivian’s idea. She didn’t have a strong direction for college after COVID high school these past 2 years. When asked what she wanted to do after graduation she had a look of waking from a dream not knowing the day. Oh boy, we aren’t ready to launch.

After thinking a bunch, she proposed a gap year. A gap year of travel. A gap year traveling with us. Oh! Well, I accept this challenge.

Mike retired 12/31/21 after a very involved career as a Groundwater Engineer at Pioneer Technical Services (love). I have a fantastic nursing job at SWMTCHC (great place to work) and have been told it’s probable I can return after the gap year. He and I had geared our investments for this kind of opportunity. We had planned for the ability to be adaptable.

Honest, it’s very surprising how the seeds planted a decade ago have come to fruition. We spent many nights together going over excel spreadsheets to determine how and when to invest. We used a “pay yourself first” budget which takes your planned savings out before your bills and well before your fun spending.

The money I never saw wasn’t missed unless my mind was pulled into the violence of comparison. You know the kind that makes you jealous of someone’s new kitchen or wonder if you shouldn’t just buy a new car. Middle class is full of financial pitfalls that are completely self-induced.

Luckily, Butte, Montana is a very casual town. Our kids didn’t mind Goodwill treasures. We may have felt that saving and investing aggressively was too much suffering in another town. Plus, we have great friends who tend not to judge. The best kind.

So, we will launch soon by driving/camping from Butte, Montana to Houston, Texas. We will put the truck campers into a 40 foot shipping container. After they are loaded, we fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Bogota, Columbia. The stop in Columbia will allow us to break the flight up for the dog and do a Spanish intensive before the truck campers arrive by shipping container in Argentina.

Here is a fun book to read if you just had the impulse to say “Don’t go there, you will die, it’s not safe”

I’ve been listening to this book while getting ready for this trip. Fantastic information and inspiration.

Once we are done in Columbia, we go to Argentina to find our vehicles and start the journey North. El Norte! We have been asked if we will drive all the way back.

It’s possible to travel by land all the way back to Butte, except for that pesky Darien Gap which requires shipping the trucks from Columbia to Panama. The gap is not a gap in land but rather a gap in passable road. The land connecting Panama and Columbia is watershed jungle that has been deemed to environmentally fragile to allow roads.

Also, it’s really the place people are told not to go because it’s not safe and you will die. They are told this by the people who live on either side,so sounds legit. So, we would ship around that gap.

Preparing Our House for Our Gap Year

A large part of our make ready for our gap year is getting our house ready to rent in Butte, Montana. We have lived in our house for 5 years with now three teenagers so, we just have a lot of stuff. There is also deferred maintenance that wouldn’t be tolerated by a renter. Like a glitchy light switch, a slow a drain, a lock that needs a battery, peeling trim paint and the dirt… the dirt.

6 months prior to our leave date I started a “get house ready” list. We use Trello for these kind of lists and a white board in the kitchen for daily goals to keep it in our face.

All of the small repairs, cleaning and decluttering got put on a list. I was a little panicked about how the list grew as we moved forward. That darn list did not start to shrink until recently, one month before our departure. And it wasn’t for lack of doing.

Most of the first work was purging. We made a goal of taking a truck of stuff away from the house weekly. In reality, we average about two truckloads a month. We held items and tried to imagine who actually needed them. We gave away bikes, clothes, furniture, art, and gear. I had fleeting ideas of getting organized enough to photograph and market items but found that “it did not give me joy”. Giving away stuff definitely did.

Decluttered Circle Bedroom

Luckily, one of our daughters needed to set up her first apartment and it felt great to get her established with the extra kitchen gear and furniture we had. How did we live with so much stuff?

And there is still more. I looked into heated storage in town and got an estimate for a 10×17 unit, $187/mo. Whoa, no. Plus my husband recently had hernia surgery. We would move all the stuff in a truck we don’t have only to repeat when we returned.

The question became “Do we really have to move all of our furniture?” Why not offer our place furnished to save on:

  1. moving our stuff,

2. wear and tear of renters moving their stuff into and out of our place

3. save close to $200/month on storage and

4. lock a couple of rooms up and the garage as off limits to store personal belongings.

We spoke with a property management company which manages our apartments in town. They didn’t think furnished would be a good fit for their market. The estimate for our place unfinished per month was $2000, with renters covering utilities. The income through AirBnb makes sense even with us paying utilities and offering long stays of greater than a month.

We have experience with month or longer rents through AirBnb with our bungalow in the back. So, we decided to do month or longer stays listed on that sight. Shorter stays would not be compliant with the city/county laws without a permit for short term. Plus, coordinating the clean out flips and maintenance of short stays sounds intimidating from afar.

Leaving our furniture in place doesn’t come without work. I mean, take a photo of your living room without decluttering, would you post it in an Airbnb listing and expect people to reserve? There is a lot of decorating and planning spaces for guests that goes into changing your living space to be a functional furnished rental.

For us, this has meant painting, touching up furniture, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. We’ve changed out family photos for some art that sat in closets for years waiting for a place on the wall.

We love that by not offering the whole house empty, we can lock two rooms downstairs with our personal stuff and not effect the value of the home as a rental. 5 bedroom homes on Airbnb do not rent higher than 3-4 bedrooms in our area.

Plus, we do not plan to empty the garage as we would have needed to do if offering the place for the year through a traditional property management company. We will ask our renters to park in front of the garage doors.

Creating the listing was easy because I had done it before for the bungalow. Marketing on short-term rental platforms is all about the photos. Because we are living in the space there was a lot of shuffling of boxes from one room to another as each room became ready for photos.

As of writing this article, I only have two of the bedrooms photographed and uploaded. This does not seem to have affected reservations as the house is already reserved for 2 months. Renters like that we are “superhosts” on Airbnb and trust that the rest of the house will be as nice as the photos of just a few of the rooms.

Want to see the 2 listings?

Warm and Cheerful 4 Bedroom Home

and Cozy Garden Bungalow:

Jane Goodall’s Speech Takeaway

Mike and I charged up to Missoula from Butte to catch Jane Goodall speak at the Montana University of Missoula. Jane is 88, straight backed, calm, clear spoken. She has the presence of a person who meditates regularly and doesn’t suffer fools.

Driving to see Jane it turns out wasn’t necessary as her speech was available through a Zoom link and recorded. To people interested in hearing an intelligent elder speak some sense, here is the recording:

My main takeaway is Jane’s trifecta for her work’s focus: people, animals and environment. Destroy habitat, you have too much contact with animals and spread of disease. Destroy habitat and you find you cannot sustain yourself and your family in food and shelter. People in poverty or industry who destroy habitat end up without a next step to sustain themselves eventually. Etc, etc.

Mike and my family are traveling through South America this next year. We have been looking for a focus to help us sort the many experiences we can steer towards. Thanks, Jane, for this focus.