A Gap Year, Round-the-World Trip, or Year Away … Is It Right for Me?
When we announced to our friends and family that we planning to quit our jobs, leave home for a year, and travel the world, a few of them inevitably thought we had gone crazy. Some were envious. Some were inspired to do the same. Others lived vicariously through us. But what was really apparent was that some of them thought they’d love to do something similar, but they just weren’t sure … was it right for them?
Whether it be a traditional “gap year” after university, a long-term round-the-world trip, or a year away, I’ll give you some balanced, impartial guidance on whether spending a lengthy time away is right for you.
- To Gap Year or Not to Gap Year?
In my final year at uni, a travel company gathered us into a lecture theatre and sold us the wonders of a gap year. What better way to top off three years studying than with a year away before the real world forced you to get a job?! I was sold. But … I had nobody to go with. The prospect of going on my own was not inviting, so I shelved the idea and leapt into the world of employment, never quite forgetting my wanderlust.
After a few years, I met my now-husband, whose wanderlust was even stronger than mine, and we decided to have an extended year-long honeymoon travelling the world. Although I had to wait almost ten years after graduating, it was worth it. By 28, I had someone to travel with that I wanted to spend a lengthy amount of time with, and so I appreciated the experience a lot more than I would have at 21.
So when you’re deciding whether to go on a gap year or not, don’t view it as a “now or never” situation, because it’s not. If you can’t you afford it, don’t have anyone to go with, or just aren’t sure, then consider the idea for the future instead. Save up, wait till you meet a travel buddy, wait till the time is right. It’s better to leave it till later and have a better time than go now and not fully enjoy it.
- Go it alone?
This begs the question … Do you go it alone? I could very well have gone on a gap year by myself, but I’m a social animal so I didn’t fancy the idea. Not to state the obvious, but if you like close relationships, going it alone isn’t advisable; whereas if you’re naturally a lone wolf, you may as well ride solo.
If you do decide to go on your own, take extra safety precautions such as carrying an alarm, avoiding dangerous areas, and informing someone where you’re going if you’re off adventuring. If you’re staying with strangers, for example, couchsurfing, check their references first.
If you decide to go with someone, I can’t stress enough that you need to get on extremely well with the person. Spending a year with one person can make or break a relationship, so your travel buddy needs to be someone you’re happy to spend oodles of time with. Often they’ll be all you have, and you’ll rely on each other. Remember, you’re a team and you need to work together.
Choosing the wrong person could ruin your trip of a lifetime, as happened to one friend of mine.
- Being away from your loved ones.
Both Nick and I are very close to our family and friends (not to mention pets), so leaving them all behind for a year was difficult. If you’re someone who relies on seeing people you know every day, spending a year away will be hard, but it’s not impossible. If you decide to do it, download Skype and utilise free WiFi to video chat and keep in contact regularly.
If possible, get your friends and family to coincide their holidays with yours and meet you somewhere on your trip. We managed to catch up with friends who had emigrated, meet family friends we’d never met before, see two of our friends on their holidays, and spend time with three family members.
A slightly out-there tip is find surrogate friends and family while you’re away. For us, that meant watching the entire 9 seasons of The Big Bang Theory in order and collecting a group of teddies. Sounds odd, but it works.
- Not knowing.
Not knowing is a massive aspect of travel that most people don’t consider when they’re planning a year away. Before you leave, you plan meticulously—you know where you’re going and when. We knew what countries we were visiting, we had the flights booked, and we had our initial accommodation booked.
But in reality, when we got there, there was a ton of not knowing. Often, we didn’t know where we’d be sleeping that night, where we were heading next, or what it would be like. I’d stringently planned our budget in advance, but we still didn’t know whether the budget would make it round the world because you can’t plan for everything. We ended up changing flights and dates, and visiting three more countries than anticipated.
You just have to roll with it. So if you’re not comfortable not knowing what’s happening next, a gap year or year away can be very stressful.
- Princesses need not apply.
That sounds a little harsh, but unless you have the luxury of a massive budget (which most people on gap year don’t), then you have to sacrifice some of the finer things in life.
Lugging a suitcase around is hard work, so get used to carrying a rucksack. Likewise, you don’t want to be dragging something heavy around, so pack light. A capsule wardrobe of 20 items should be sufficient, but does involve wearing the same items most days and hand-washing, or spending time in launderettes. (See my packing page for tips.)
Similarly, hair dryers and straighteners certainly weigh you down, and you often don’t know when your next shower is coming, so if you’re someone who likes to wash your hair every day and blow dry it, this type of trip is not for you. Instead, you might be washing in rivers, the sea, or cold camp showers. Imagine staying at a festival … but for a year.
- Living on less.
Again, unless you have a ton of money squirrelled away, you’ll probably be living on a tight budget. So you need to be comfortable with basic food and drink, and finding the cheaper option where you can, such as camping on free land rather than in campsites. You also need to be able to budget and monitor what you’re spending so your money doesn’t run out. Before you go, try living to a £5 a day budget to get an idea of what it might be like.
- Taking risks.
Spending a year away is a big risk. Whether you’ve sacrificed getting a graduate job, quit your current job, or are worried about a gap on your CV, you’ve got to be willing to take the risk. We took the risk and quit our jobs. We returned to find that austerity measures meant we couldn’t return to our jobs for some time, so Nick would need to retrain and I would need to freelance full-time. But the risk was worth it, as the year away was incredible, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Some of this might sound scary, but for me, the most important quality you need to travel the world is courage. This might sound cheesy, but it’s absolutely true. You need courage that you can roll with the tide and weather any (literal) storm, because things will go wrong, things won’t go as planned, you’ll be forced to change your plans and think on your feet. As long as you’ve got the courage to keep going, you’ll always find your feet.