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Many people spend their lives working at jobs that don’t fulfill them, dreaming of being someplace else. 

Travel always seems to be a saving grace. Every year, for a week or two, employees can take some time off. Usually, they head for the sun to enjoy a relaxing all-inclusive by the beach. However, for some, a week isn’t enough. For some, anything less than the dream just won’t do.    

“Everyone talks about doing it when they retire, but why wait. I wasn’t sure when I would retire. I thought, I’m young now, so why not?” said Andrea Henry.

In 2011, Henry took the chance that many people only dream of. She traded in her stable job and jetted off on a year-long trip around the world with her partner, Dwayne Sparks.

Dwayne Sparks and Andrea Henry at Machu Picchu after completing the Inca Trail.

“I liked to travel with work, and there were a lot of places I wanted to go and see, but I had never travelled for a year before. I didn’t know if I would like it,” said Sparks. “That year flew by. I’d go again in a heart-beat.” 

Henry and Sparks are both geologists in Calgary, Alberta. They weren’t new to the experience of travel. Both enjoyed being people of the world, but a year away was different. They were abandoning the comfort of their home and turning their back on the security of routine. They were opening themselves up to a foreign world with unknown possibilities on the road ahead. 

With anxious excitement, Henry and Sparks waved goodbye to the familiarity of Calgary, following the sun as they began their year abroad. 

“Once we had decided that we were going to do this big trip, we started writing down all the places we wanted to see,” said Henry. “I wanted to hike in Patagonia. I wanted to go to Russia and see Lenin.” 

Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, Russia (Photo by Andrea Henry)

Henry recalls being in sixth grade. She was the new kid in class, and the teacher had just returned from a trip to Russia, bringing back souvenirs for each of the kids. Being the new kid, Henry didn’t expect to get a souvenir. However, the teacher didn’t pass her desk empty-handed. Just like the other kids, the teacher handed Henry a bookmark from Russia.  

“I was so happy she acknowledged me. I sat wide-eyed and attentive for the entire length of class as my teacher talked about her trip. Ever since then, I knew I needed to go to Russia,” said Henry. 

With a few more major pins created, Henry and Sparks had an idea of what their trip would look like. 

However, travel is freeing. It’s liberating. Travelling is an opportunity to meet new people from different cultures and countries. It’s an opportunity to experience bizarre moments and make unique memories. 

A trip meant to illicit freedom could not be planned from start to finish. So, with a few specific dates and destinations plugged into the plan, Henry and Sparks spent much of their time wandering.

“We’d wake up in the morning and say, ‘Do you want to go to Poland today?’ and then we would hop on a train to Poland,” said Sparks. 

Although the goal was to minimize their exposure to winter, Henry and Sparks did make an exception to the snow and ice just once. They boarded a vessel heading south, passed the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn, anchoring off the frozen tundra of the seventh continent: Antarctica. 

The glaciers of Antarctica (Photo by Andrea Henry)

“Antarctica is such a different environment: geologically, biologically,” said Sparks. “It’s a place not many people go, which is what made it so exciting.” 

The two share a laugh while reminiscing about the curious penguins who would peck at the tourists for attention. 

Curious penguins coming to say hello to Dwayne Sparks (Photo by Andrea Henry)

“Antarctica was probably my favourite destination on our trip because of the uniqueness, but the most important part of our trip was our visit to Auschwitz,” said Sparks. 

When choosing to travel the world, Sparks and Henry knew that their trip wouldn’t be complete without reflection. The world has a long history of dark and gruesome times. No matter the country, there were struggles, and today there remain important reminders.

“There’s an old quote about history that says those who don’t remember their past are condemned to repeat it,” added Sparks. “Everyone should see Auschwitz, so it’s real to them.” 

The somber site of Auschwitz (Photo by Andrea Henry)

Henry and Sparks also toured many of the battlefields from the first and second World Wars. 

Among the battlefields they visited was Vimy Ridge, where Henry’s grandfather was seriously wounded. After Henry learned that she was the only one her grandfather shared his war stories with, she vowed to visit the battlefield to honour him. 

Memorial at Vimy Ridge (Photo by Andrea Henry)

Henry and Sparks also visited Passchendaele, where many Canadians lost their lives and St. Julien, where the first gas attack happened. As well as the Bény-Sur-Mer Canadian war cemetery, they visited the battlefields of Omaha and Juno and other war memorials around western Europe. 

“These were places where mostly young men gave their lives so that we may live free. That is something many people do not understand,” said Henry. “Freedom is not a right, but a privilege that people take for granted without the knowledge of what was sacrificed to have it.” 

Travelling the world and experiencing both the beautiful and tragic parts of a country’s history give a sense of perspective and appreciation.

“The best thing to come out of our trip was my appreciation for being Canadian. We saw so much of the world, and that made me realize how lucky I am to be born a Canadian. At the same time, I was able to appreciate the cultural differences around the world,” said Henry. 

The idea of quitting a stable job, selling possessions that represent roots, and risking normalcy to explore the unknown is overwhelming. 

The first step – deciding to go – is the hardest, followed very closely by the last step – returning home. 

When the year came to a close, Henry and Sparks returned home with a new love of the world, and a photo album full of sensational memories and experiences.

Dwayne and Andrea after their first surf lesson in Australia

Although Sparks and Henry haven’t taken off on such a long-haul trip since, the dream of going again is not too far off. 

“We are not done yet. Not only are there places we haven’t gone, but there are places I’d like to go back to,” said Henry.

“It really is an infection,” added Sparks. 

When the pair returned home, they commemorated their year with a map of the world, placing pins in each city they visited along the way. On the map sits a golden plaque with the words that they choose to live by, and the words that pushed them to take a life-changing trip: 

Work is overrated. 

Story by Emily Meyer

Featured Image: Plaque that hangs on Dwayne and Andrea’s pinned map of the world at their home in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo by Emily Meyer)

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Emily Meyer

Hi! I'm Emily Meyer. I live to travel! I have been to 46 countries, and have plans to visit many more! My favourite part about travelling is the food and the people!
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