Around this time of year, when exam results are revealed to nervous students and the media start talking about gap year options, I think back fondly on the 9 life-changing months I spent circling the globe. I may have set off 6 years ago (showing my age now!) but I remember it like it was yesterday. For anyone thinking of taking a gap year or career break, here are some of the lessons I learnt by taking the time out.
Taking a terrifying plunge on my gap year
1. I can save for something I really want
I am ashamedly terrible with money – the woman most likely to live beyond her means. Having calculated I needed to save 10k to realise my dream trip around the world, I made changes and worked hard to do so. It took almost a year, but with a goal as golden as 9 months travelling, the incentive was enough to keep me on track.
I also learnt I can budget when I need to. Saving the money was only half the battle; I then had to make it stretch for the 9 months I would be travelling. By knowing I would end up going home early if I wasn’t careful with money, I was able to keep my spending in check.
2. Home is a changeable concept
I’m always amazed at the adaptability of people, not least myself, who is used to her duck feather pillows and M&S meals. For after only 2 nights in a singular destination it can begin to feel like home. Surrounded by my possessions and instigating some form of routine; I found even the more unusual accommodations gained a feeling of familiarity.
I spent my birthday camping on Fraser Island
3. You will never get this time again
Some of us may be liquid and lucky enough to take more than one career break but the likelihood of you having the savings and free time to take a second chunk of time out is slim. I skipped out sights in certain places on the premise I could come back; 6 years later and the chance hasn’t arisen yet. Savour every minute of your gap year and make the most of the opportunities it affords you whilst you can. And remember even if you do get the chance to relive the past, it will never be the same again.
4. You may be unhappy in beautiful places
An idyllic setting and sparkling sunshine do not guarantee a matching mood. There may be time on your travels when you miss home or don’t feel the way you think you should. This is normal. Allow yourself to mope and then move on.
Christmas in Sydney
5. People don’t have to be in boxes
Although I had studied in London for 3 years before I took my gap year I still knew little of the wider world and the people who inhabit it. On my travels I learnt that people don’t have to be defined by the school they went to or village they were raised in, not even me.
6. Life is a balance of careful planning and flexibility
Travel, as in life, works best when you combine careful planning with periods of free styling. Allow yourself the flexibility to go with the flow when the situation requires it.
7. The people you meet will affect how you feel about a place
Travel is often not about the destination but the people you meet in it. A good (or bad) experience with others will effect the way you feel about a place, just as the good times you share with new friends you meet will shape your memories for years to come.
Christmas dinner with new friends in Sydney
8. Those that travel together stay together
If your friendship can survive the ups and down of life on the road, it is likely to last forever. My closest friends are the girls I shared that journey with in 2007, as well as the ones I met on the way. Similarly, if you can travel long term with a man and still love him at the end, he’s probably a keeper!
9. Employers have never questioned my time out
If I have ever been questioned about the gap year on my CV it is only with interest and admiration. My time spent navigating the world has never caused concern to potential employers, in fact it led to the career I have now.
With my bestest friends in the world
10. Travel will always be an important part of my life
The biggest lesson I took away from my travels was that, if I wanted to sustain the level of contentment it had awarded me, travel needed to be an important part of my life. My gap year changed my career path. It led me away from law school and towards a life that had travel at its centre. This will not be the route that everyone wants to take, but its something I’ve never looked back on.
Have you taken a gap year? What did you learn from it?