The importance of gap year travel

June 16, 2015

No 1 Son and I are currently having a debate about what he should do during his gap year; I want him to travel, experience the world and life (after he’s worked to save up for it, of course), while he is more focused on just working.

It may seem bizarre that I’m encouraging him to do what some might regard as frittering away money on an extended holiday, but I actually think that gap year travel is as important for development and maturity as travel is for expanding young minds. I also think gap year travel makes you more employable – if I’m interviewing someone I’d much rather they have had some actual life experience and shown a bit of initiative.

Of course you could argue that gap year travel can only be the preserve of those from privileged backgrounds, but I don’t believe in going to the Bank of Mum and Dad to bankroll gap year travel. The fact is that if you work for a few months (or six, or however long it takes) and save up for your flight, hostels and spending money you will appreciate the experience of gap year travel even more – plus it’s tremendously satisfying to take a trip you’ve saved up for and paid for yourself. Believe me, I worked all sorts of crappy jobs to pay for my air ticket and spending money so I could go travelling, as did my friends. I didn’t ask my mum for money once when I was backpacking across the US and I would expect No 1 Son to pay his own way, too (although of course I’d step in if I absolutely had to, just in case he’s reading this). Plus you can always work as you travel – another thing to put on your CV.

Me backpackingSo, just to prove I haven’t *always* turned left instead of right, here I am during my bout of gap year travel. This photo was taken at a hostel in Key West, Florida, when I was backpacking across the US, and it amazes me that I managed to fit everything I needed for three months in that back pack. Some of my friends chose to travel around India; some bought a round-the-world ticket and then decided they didn’t really want to leave Australia and stayed for a year. But all of us who went – and we were all from different backgrounds, as were the backpackers we met along the way – returned with tales of adventure, and frankly were much richer (spiritually and emotionally) for it. We were also more employable, not less.

Of course, gap year travel isn’t without its risks; I don’t mean getting arrested for flashing on a mountain in Malaysia like the unfortunate/daft Eleanor Hawkins. I mean natural, unpredictable disasters, like the Nepal earthquake, or like a girl we knew at uni, who was killed during her gap year in Africa when a car she was in flipped over.

But no travel is without risk, really. And even though my heart would be in my mouth the whole time No 1 Son was travelling, I know that it would be the making of him; it would enrich his life, give him new and different experiences, teach him to be completely self-sufficient and independent and prepare him for the great adventure he has ahead. It’s his life, and I’ll support him whatever he decides to do; but secretly I’m hoping he’ll take the road less travelled.

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  • Cathy (MummyTravels) June 16, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I agree – I never took a gap year myself, as there always seemed to be something lined up (uni, postgrad, trainee scheme/job) and I always wonder what I missed.

    I did try to fit in lots of travel in smaller chunks, including solo travel, so I got a taste for it (and started a passion for travel) but I think there’s a difference between a long self-funded trip and a holiday. But if, like me, he takes the work route then the world will always be waiting…