What should I do with six months off?

Week of January 1-7, 1998
Guided cycling trips through Europe
Planning a kid-friendly active vacation
What should I do with six months off?
Honeymooning on Fiji and Bora Bora
What should I do with six months off?
Question: I'm 26, quitting my job, and going back to school in the fall. I've saved a bunch of money, and want to do some fun stuff for about six months (from March to August). I love skiing, mountain biking, and pretty much anything else I've ever tried. I've been thinking biking in New Zealand, a NOLS trip to Alaska, whatever. So my questions for you are: Is there anything really exceptional that comes to your mind? And, after you, what are the best resources for researching and planning for this sort of situation? Thanks.

Peter Barkan
Boston, Massachusetts

Adventure Adviser: Great plan. I just have one question: How did you manage to save money? That said, I think the first question you should ask yourself is "What do I want to get out of this six-month time period?" Taking off and traveling around the world is one thing, and taking an intense, outdoor education course is a whole different ball game. As far as structure is concerned, they couldn't be more opposite. World travel is whimsical, and spur-of-the-moment, whereas a NOLS course could be the most structured few months you'll ever experience. Also, in my mind, the two serve an entirely different purpose. World travel will allow you to experience different cultures, whereas a NOLS course would give you an advanced outdoor education which you could draw upon in the future.

Enough preaching from the choir. Either plan sounds great. The unfortunate thing about New Zealand, which would be on the top of my travel list, is that March is the beginning of fall there. Not that fall and winter in New Zealand is such a bad thing. There's plenty of amazing skiing, but you might be limited in your ability to camp out and hike anywhere you desire. The true bonus about New Zealand is that it's a microscopic North America. It features coasts as beautiful as British Columbia, mountains as majestic as the Rockies, and fields as lush as Vermont — all within biking distance from each other. Plus, most people who take bike trips in New Zealand end up staying with local sheep farmers and gain wonderful insight into the country. Before you rule out winter in New Zealand, I'd get in touch with the New Zealand Tourism Board (310-395-7480). The employees there are nicer and more helpful than your average Minnesotan. Plus, most are very tuned in to the outdoor opportunities that their country presents. You may also want to call the following New Zealand-centered adventure outfitters: Outland Adventures (800-411-5724), Black Sheep Touring Company (800-206-8322), Mountain Recreation, in New Zealand (011-64-3-443-7330), and Adrift (011-64-3-442-5458).

Someone swiped my NOLS catalog, so I don't have a list of their courses handy, but I'd recommend looking into their programs, as well as Outward Bound's. NOLS can be reached at 307-332-8800, Outward Bound at 800-243-8520. Before you sign the dotted line for a NOLS or Outward Bound course, be sure to get a list of names of people who have done the course before, and call them with a list of questions. You should know what you're getting into before you commit your dollars.

Two other ideas: I'd consider buying an around-the-world airline ticket. Most major airlines offer them (with the exception of American) by teaming up with partner airlines throughout the world. The bonus to an around-the-world ticket, obviously, is that it would get you to a lot of different countries for a pretty reasonable rate. That way, if you didn't care for, say, Burma, you could hop a jet to Indonesia. The only drawback to this type of travel is that the gear you are able to carry is limited. Also, if you have any interest in geology, archaeology, biology, etc., look into the organization called Earthwatch. They offer travel to exotic places, and give you the opportunity to do some pretty useful and amazing things. Call Earthwatch at 800-776-0188 for their mouth-watering catalog.

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