Lee-Rowlands plans gap year to travel through 7 South American countries


It’s four years of high school, then four more of college, right?

Not for senior Graeme Lee-Rowlands, who will travel around South America for nine months before attending Quest University in Canada in 2014.

Lee-Rowlands decided his sophomore year to take a break after high school, and has since developed a comprehensive plan that will take him through more than seven South American countries.

This gap year will allow Lee-Rowlands to explore the world and prepare himself for college, he said.

“By taking time off to relax, explore, and have some adventures, I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do when I get there,” he said.

Lee-Rowlands will travel solo, using a website called couchsurfing.org to coordinate his stays.

“Basically everyone has a couch and you can see the reviews of the past people they’ve stayed with or hosted,” he said. “And you can find people to stay with and make sure that they’re not sketchy. It verifies that people you will stay with aren’t axe murderers.”

While not hopping from couch to couch, Lee-Rowlands will backpack and volunteer at national parks, such as Patagonia National Park in Chile, where he will help construct and maintain trails for a month.

Next, he will make his way through the Peruvian Andes, climbing the Inca trail to the Machu Picchu ruins. He will then travel through the delta to the sea.

“I want to take boats all the way down the Amazon River, pretty much from the source to the sea,” he said. “And then I’m going to follow the Brazilian coast down to Rio for the [2014 World Cup] finals. That’s the plan.”

Lee-Rowlands scheduled his trip loosely to maintain flexibility, he said.

“I have a few things I definitely want to do and I have a rough plan of a route that I could take,” he said. “If I want to spend more time somewhere, I don’t want to have to keep following the schedule, keep following the route. I’m not committing myself to a certain timeline.”

Such flexibility will allow Lee-Rowlands to travel with people he meets en route.

Fortunately, Lee-Rowlands feels confident in his Spanish, having spent the majority of the summer after his freshman year in Argentina.

“My Spanish is pretty solid,” he said. “I’m hoping that after speaking it pretty much exclusively for eight months, I’ll have it down for life.”

To raise money for his trip, he has been working part-time since sophomore year. From graduation until Thanksgiving, when he leaves for Argentina, Lee-Rowlands will work full-time at the Piedmont Community Pool to cover the costs.

Despite his trip, Lee-Rowlands applied to universities like any other college-bound senior. He will then accept and defer a year, ensuring him a spot in the Class of the 2018.