Dereham couple take a ‘gap year’ exploring America, Australia and Malaysia.

While most of us just dream of packing up and heading off into the sunset, a Dereham couple did just that, joining the growing number of 'grey nomads' trekking around the world.

Proving gap years are not just for teenagers and twenty-somethings, John and Jane Richardson pulled on their backpacks and spent eight months exploring America, Australia and Malaysia.

'Gap years are for older people as well,' said Mr Richardson, a retired engineer. 'When you get to our age, often you don't have a mortgage and are financially sound, so you have got the finances to do it in a much better way.

'A lot of students on gap years will go to lots of different places without really seeing them. We wanted to focus on three countries and really experience them.'

The pair have travelled extensively over the last 25 years, taking a couple of breaks abroad each year, but had never been away for longer than three weeks.

They knew Mrs Richardson, who works for Waitrose in Wymondham, would be given six-month's paid leave once she served 25 years with the company and spent two years planning the trip.

'We booked one flight through a travel agent, but the rest we organised ourselves,' Mr Richardson, 62 said. 'We met lots of older people on the road and 'grey nomad' is a term used fairly often in Australia. Every morning I would wake up and wonder what we would see that day, who we would meet.'

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Calling themselves the 'Grey Nomads', the couple sent regular emails home detailing their adventures and soon developed something of a following.

People they met along the way, including a couple from America, wanted to be added to the mailing list while friends and family at home started sharing the message.

'They were emailing back asking when the next one was coming,' Mr Richardson said. 'It grew into something really big. I'm thinking of compiling the emails into a book.'

During the trip, the intrepid duo tried to use as many different modes of transport as possible, catching trains, planes and boats as well as cycling and hiring cars.

Rather than staying in hotel after hotel, the couple also experimented with different types of accommodation staying in rented apartments and bungalows, in a campervan and in motels along the way.

To stay as healthy as possible, they also shopped for their own food and self-catered a lot of the time.

'Going to supermarkets abroad is always more interesting,' Mrs Richardson, 54, said. 'Part of experiencing the country is eating the food. We would watch the local news and read local newspapers. We got into the way of life.'

Their first destination was the Rocky Mountains where they rented a log cabin for a month on Yellowstone Park and immersed themselves in nature, seeing bears and wolves. They travelled around the country, driving through the Appalachian Mountains during the autumn and travelling right across America by train.

'It took 26 hours, but it was brilliant. It was like a social event, we met so many people,' Mr Richardson said.

During their time in the US, the couple also visited Washington, Charleston, Savannah, and Chicago, before flying from Las Vegas to Sydney and then to Darwin.

Mr and Mrs Richardson then hired a 4x4 campervan and set off into the remote outback, often driving for up to 80 miles without seeing a soul. While they were driving, the weather turned and torrential rain closed several roads, forcing them to alter their route and head south sooner than planned.

After spending Christmas on the beach – 'singing carols in shorts' – the couple travelled on to Brisbane and left for New South Wales just before the worst of the floods hit.

'We watched the news and it was scary to see places where we had walked totally devastated,' Mrs Richardson said.

They then spent three weeks in Sydney before jetting off to Malaysia and hopping aboard the 'Jungle Railway'.

The train, serving the eastern states, stopped at a number of otherwise inaccessible villages and the couple enjoyed chatting to other passengers while heading north.

Mr and Mrs Richardson only returned to the UK in March, but they already have itchy feet and plan to go on another adventure this year. They hope to fly to Moscow, Russia, and then travel east by train, taking in Uzbekistan, Kazbekistan and Singapore.

Mr Richardson hopes to share his experiences with local groups and is happy to offer advice to other travellers. Email him at

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