Ashleigh Evans joined the Navy in 2013 after graduating from college. Her mother was also in the Navy, and Ashleigh grew to love the traveling that came along with being in the military. After spending part of elementary school in Japan and some of her high school years in Spain, she ended up with a JROTC scholarship.

“I joined the Navy after graduating college in 2013 because, where I’m from, that’s what you do,” Ashleigh told Travel Noire. “However, I could never fully settle in the States. I never felt like I 100% fit in or belonged, so traveling was always in the back of my mind.”

Courtesy of Ashleigh Evans

After spending 5 years serving the country, she decided that it was time to go back to school. She turned in her separation papers in 2018 and spent most of the year preparing for her exit from military life.

Until things took a turn.

“Six weeks before school started, we had a very unexpected change in Captains. The new Captain wasn’t comfortable with letting me leave. I was one of three ship drivers onboard, so leaving meant only two would be assigned to the ship. So my terminal leave date was shifted to about three days before school started.”

Luckily Yale, the school she was set to attend, was very understanding and allowed her to defer her start date. But, she was still set to separate from the Navy in only a few days.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Evans

With no job lined up and her school start date pushed back for a year, Ashleigh instead set out to see the world with the money she had been saving.

“I officially had an unexpected gap year,” Ashleigh said.

With things moving very fast and no time to plan, she knew that wherever she went, it would need to be a place that made her soul happy. That place was Africa.

“I put a generic idea together in my head: start in South Africa and work my way up north. I don’t think I followed my plan in any way shape or form.”

She instead started in Johannesburg and after only one night made her way to Livingstone, Zambia. She was there for about 10 days, visiting Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana. During the ten days, she experienced Devil’s Pool and a dinner cruise on the Zambezi, as well as a safari overnight in Chobe.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Evans

From there it was on to Windhoek, Namibia where she stayed another 10 days, visiting Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.  

“I went home for a few weeks to get over a cold I developed, then I flew into Spain and headed to Morocco.”

She hopped around Morocco for 10 days before hitting Europe for a little while and then it was back home to catch up on some much-needed rest.

During her journey, Ashleigh says she had time to do some serious introspection and self-reflection. She realized there were habits and thought patterns that weren’t serving her and ultimately, wouldn’t serve well at Yale.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Evans

“I started working on myself and continue to work on myself to this day,” Ashleigh said. “I realized that God or the Universe had orchestrated this gap year because I needed it to grow. I needed time to close the last chapter of my life in order to successfully open the next.”

While her travels were very unexpected, Ashleigh says that she would 100% do it all again.

“There’s too much of the world I need to see. There’s still so much of myself that’s still out there for me to learn about and discover.”

To catch up with Ashleigh or to see where she will go next, you can find her on Instagram: @JetSetsNQuarterdecks.

Related: Traveler Story: ‘Travel Is A Part Of My Self-Care Routine