“So this one time on my gap year…..”
We have all heard the gap year cliches. Everyone who is British and of a certain age with remember the iconic ‘Gap Yahhhhhhh’ video–
But what actually is the truth about gap years?
Do you have to literally be in Burma chundering everywheeeerrrrrreeee?
Are they worth the hype?
Is it a rite of passage?
Or is it just pissing around for a year?
I have a confession…..
I am a gap year kid (sacré bleu!). Because of the embarassment of being compared to Tarquin above I have always referred to it as a year out. But 2019 is the year to live your truth and I am out here living it baby!
I decided to take a gap year even before I had applied to go to university (the academic motivation was real!). To be quite honest I didn’t know much about what I wanted but I knew I needed to get out and sharpish.
Going to university felt like such a big and permenant decision (with a 3-4 degree and over £40,000 of university debt). And after being in an exam blurred education bubble for the past 5 years I knew I was in no way fit to make a decision like that properly. Maybe that sounds childish, but looking back as an older (and hopefully wiser) version of myself, that was a really mature and sensible choice.
But enough about me, I want to help you!
So, should you go on a gap year?
YES- reasons you should go on a gap year
It’s a break from the education bubble
In the UK we start school at 5 years old and stay there (typically) till we are 18. This means 13 years of standardized testing, 8-hour days (plus endless homework), not to mention exam stress! Being honest I hated it. As soon as I had the chance to leave I grabbed it.
That’s not to say I didn’t/don’t enjoy education, actually the opposite is true, but rather school was not the ideal enviroment or circumstances for me to learn in. Its sad to think about how burnt out I was at 18 and how desperately I needed a break. I remember being so stressed I even began developing multiple ulcers in my mouth due to stress frequently. The thought of going straight into university (or even going to university at all at this point) just made me so miserable and to be honest made me question what the point of all of this (life) was.
Without doubt giving yourself a break out from exams and studying is a good idea and quite frankly essential self care (or atleast it was for me). IMHO teenagers are worked so hard these days they really deserve and need the mental break.
Also, taking a break from academics gives us perspective on life and the bigger picture. I can’t help but feel academics makes us all a bit introspective and at times selfish. When our entire focus is on OUR own grades, OUR own success and how I can improve, it makes us lose perspective not only of those around us but also of the world in general. The world after all cannot be found in a book alone.
Open your window, go outside and explore!
You can finally do what you want
After 18 years of having very little choice over what you do with your time, a gap year gives you the time to do exactly what you want.
Want to boogie the night away? Go ahead! Always imagined working on a farm? Go work on one!* Dreamt of spending your days on a thai beach? You go Glen Coco! The world truly is your oyster.
But much more than being able to do exactly what you want, now you have the time to sit down and think without any exterior pressure…. what do I actually want?
Life is trial and error. I’ve always thought it worth trying everything you are curious about to see what you actually love. Maybe you try out that kitesurfing you have been thinking about for ages and you hate it. So what! Atleast now you know what you don’t want to do. You never know maybe something will surprise you and you love that yoga class so much you become a full-on yogi. Who knows? Life is a surprise!
*true story I did end up working on a farm temporarily in my gap year
It’s a great time to do it
As an adult you have to explain gaps in your CV or even just explain to your befuddled friends as to why you want to see yet more strange countries. A gap year is a universally accepted concept, so embrace it. There are very few opportunities in life where it is socially acceptable to basically have fun for an entire year. How can you turn that down?
Also, as you get older life gets in the way. You can do what you want now without children, without a mortgage, without a full-on adult job to get back to. The only person you need to answer to is yourself. That is incredible freedom, use it.
Or maybe you’ll say I’ll go travelling when I’m 50 and rolling in the wonga. But when you are 50 sleeping on a overnight train will be uncomfortable and hurt your back. Maybe you won’t fancy going out partying with barefoot backpackers. Or maybe but that point you will have completely removed backpacking from your list of possibilities.
There is the saying “youth is wasted on the young”- don’t prove that right.
You can see the world
At 18 I had spent my entire life living in my home town and had never travelled beyond Europe. Now I had the entire year to go wherever I wanted!
We are so lucky to be able to travel to exciting far-flung places, afterall travel is a priviledge. I remember in Nicaragua it was so rare for people to have even been to the otherside of their own country let alone to the next country over (travellable by a $30 bus ticket). The fact in Europe we can grab a £30 flight (the cost of half a days work) to another country is wild!
Seeing other parts of the world really opens your eyes to how other people and hopefully yourself. Going to countries that challenge your own perceptions about life (and what is the correct way to live it) is incredibly eye opening. Travel is more than beaches and flip-flops. It is a learning experience every step of the way.
An opportunity to become more mature
Though ‘finding yourself’ is such a travelling cliché there is a fair amount of truth to it. Travelling (especially solo) is such a self-exploratory process and it teaches you a lot about yourself.
What do you like to do? What scares you? How do you react in new situations? How do you interact with strangers? Can you survive travellers diarrhea? The important questions!
And most importantly what happens (and what do you do) when everything goes completely wrong. Personally I have never learnt more than when I have been in total despair in a foreign country. It has given me this weird sense of calm in almost all situations in ‘normal’ life. Whoops my glasses have broken… well atleast I’m not temporarilly homeless in Nicaragua (true story– don’t worry it sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually is)
You can travel all you like, you will never escape yourself. So you might as well become well acquainted!
You can learn new skills
Though it is easy to write a gap year off as a massive party don’t let anyone tell you that a gap year is a waste of time or detrimental to your future. In fact it is a really good opportunity to learn life skills and improve your CV.
I chose to work and volunteer in my gap year, and this made it so much easier to get a job when I went to uni. Interested in teaching- why not take a TEFL qualification? Love animals- why not volunteer at an animal sanctuary? Always dreamt of writing- why not set up a travel blog? Depending on what you chose to do a gap year can become a constructive year!
Even small things like talking to strangers in a backpackers hostel could be really useful for being confident at future job interviews or making new friends at university. Don’t be fooled into thinking formal education is the only learning available- learning opportunities are everywhere you just need to see them!
No! Reasons not to go on a gap year-
It’s a distraction that can make you lose motivation
The main reason my friends didn’t take a gap year was because they thought it would cause them to lose all motivation. This is a very valid thought. The thought of returning home to do a degree when you’re partying on beach is at best dull as shit and at worst horrifying.
But if you’re motivation is strong enough this won’t be as much of an issue. In my case working full time in retail made me more determined than ever to get a degree so I would never have to do that job again. Plus by the end of a year of having fun you’ll probably want some purpose to your life or some sort of routine.
Time to address the elephant in the room…. Taking a year out to travel is super expensive! And to be honest there is not a lot of ways around this. Personally, I chose to work for half the year and travel for the rest and this gave me both good work experience and a fun year. As well as having a plan for saving money I also tried to make the travelling as cheap as possible. For example, I travelled a lot using ‘Workaway’ or to less far-flung places (but cheap travel hacks is a blog post for another time!)
Lets be honest….gap year people can be really annoying
“Oh that is soooo similiar to my gap yahhh” “It’s like this one time in Thailand….”
There is a reason the gap yah video was so popular…… gap yah kids like that are unfortunately common. Yes everyone who is so ‘awarhhh’ (aware) because they went travelling with their parents money and insisted on saying how great England is the whole time are annoying. Some of the comments I have heard!
But just because there is a stereotype that doesn’t mean you have to conform. You do you boo. Travel where you want to travel and do what you want to do (sustainable tourism aside). Just (maybe) people in university won’t care to listen about your life-changing experience in India every other conversation!
It is a bit depressing seeing all your friends having the time of their life in university on Instagram and feeling like you are one step behind everyone else. Hell I graduated a full 2 years after all my friends! The university FOMO is real, especially during freshers week, but don’t worry very soon everyone will be eyeing up your photos in Mexico wishing they could leave rainy england behind!
So, would I recommend a gap year….. Definitely!
The decision to take a gap year was one of the best decisions I took in my academic career (haha) and undoubtably led me onto the path I am on now. I was lucky enough to experience so many incredible moments and memories I hold dear to my heart till this day. It also helped me as a stepping stone to the rest of my adult life. I matured more in that year than I ever would’ve learning to boil eggs at uni (yes I really did live with people who didn’t know how to boil eggs). It was an incredibly important transition period and I wouldnt’ve changed it for the world!
So trust your instinct. If you feel a calling go. If you don’t, don’t. It truly is your life and you are the only one who has to be stuck living with it. So take a chance and follow your heart.
Safe travels xx
Interested in taking a gap year? Why not check out some of my other posts for travel hacks, destination guides, reviews and backpacking information!
I hope the varied travel destination photos in the post have given you some inspiration for possible gap year travel destinations…. if you want some inspiration check out my Instagram-