How To Deal With Unsupportive Reactions To Your Gap Year.

Gap Year Tips

Deciding to go backpacking is one of the best decisions you can ever make for yourself, but unfortunately you will find that once you have decided to go, the decision won’t be popular with everyone.

There are generally three types of response you get when you declare you are taking a substantial amount of time out of your life to travel the world. Okay, four if you count a hysterical overprotective mother. In general your family, friends and acquaintances will either be happy for you but otherwise completely disinterested as they wrap themselves up in their own lives, outwardly happy but a little jealous as they call you ‘really lucky’, seeth into their pint and wish that they could do the same, or they will declare you insane and start listing off all the reasons why you shouldn’t go.

These final types are the worst. Don’t listen to them. Resist the doom merchants. Life is absolutely full of them and they all have different reasons for being that way.

These are the people who are trapped into the set paradigm that society has laid out for them, stuck in the endless mundane cycle of life. School, work, family, mortgage, bills, retirement, death. Most of them will never escape from that mindset. Choosing to go backpacking takes courage, it takes guts, not for the act itself, but to drag yourself away from the norm, to do something different with your life. Taking that step is difficult, and people don’t like difficult, they like easy. People will generally always take the path of least resistance.

So when you declare that you are doing something different, something difficult, something far outside of their comfort zones, they don’t get it.

To be fair some of these doom merchants are that way out of a genuine concern for your wellbeing, and that’s okay to an extent. They are worried about you, and it is nice to have people who care for you like that. But others come from a worse place, they are jealous or bitter or think that you succeeding will somehow make them look and feel worse or inferior. Yes, there really are people like this.

But either way it doesn’t matter. Listen to those who are genuinely concerned about you, but then explain to the best of your ability all the reasons why their fears are unfounded and then follow your dreams regardless! Yes it may not be easy, yes things may go wrong and you are bound to make a mistake or two, but so what? These are the things that help you grow, that make the achievements in life worthwhile!

So follow your dreams and don’t give them up for the doom merchants.

The same is true when you get back off your life changing round the world adventure. You may have had an earth shattering epiphany on top of mount Kilimanjaro or a life changing moment in the middle of the Sahara, or have a thousand and one amusing and engaging stories from your misadventures on the banana pancake trail, but you will find that when you get back and want to share your amazing experiences, the reality is no one cares. You can see it in their dulled expression or their glazed eyes when you even start to mention a story from your travels, because no matter how fantastical it is, how amazing the story or the experience, it just doesn’t fit into the tiny ideological bubble of their perception. What happened on the latest tedious reality show last night or who is gossiping about who on Facebook is far more inside the monotonous comfort zone of their safe little bubbles than any tale of wonder and adventure around the world that you may have.

Once you have been backpacking, the experience changes you, you won’t be the same person you were when you set off. Once you have grown intellectually and spiritually, it is almost impossible to squeeze yourself back in to the limited form you used to occupy, and the people that you used to surround yourself with may not be a good fit for you anymore either. You may want to try and slip back into your old life, your old job, your old social circle, but it isn’t always that easy. Your values, your paradigms, your way of looking at things will be too different, too changed. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s one that you may just have to come to terms with.

The truth is, most people just don’t understand.

Most people will just think you are weird for travelling, they will never understand your motivations for going or the experiences you can gain along the way. But don’t worry about it. Let them get on with their lives inside that tiny little bubble they live in and instead embrace the new world and the new people you are discovering by becoming a backpacker!

You don’t need the approval of anyone else to go backpacking around the world and you shouldn’t seek it either. Just be thankful for those few people who will genuinely miss you and care about your wellbeing while you are away and be gracious in your attitude to those who will never understand or reap the benefits of world travel. You are the one who will reap all the rewards after all.

What about you? Have you ever had any negative reactions when you told family and friends about your gap year? Maybe your experiences were positive? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Related Articldes

How To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock After Your Gap Year.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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8 comments on “How To Deal With Unsupportive Reactions To Your Gap Year.
  1. Forrest says:

    I agree 100,000 %. But in fairness my idea of backpacking is vastly different from yours: hiking into the mountains, finding places to camp, exploring the world where the community of life is untrampled and humans are but visitors. That said, most of this applies in spades. Especially the idea that most people live their lives in the space that society creates for them, and can’t fathom people stepping outside that comfort zone.

    • Thank you for the reply Forrest. I’m glad you agree. I think there’s a little bit of cultural difference between the American meaning of backpacking – which we call camping – and the British meaning, which is more about independent world travel. But saying that I still enjoy camping in various locations around the world, the Sahara, Borneo ,,,

      You are right though, people just can’t get there heads around people stepping outside their comfort zones.

      • Forrest says:

        Just curious, and this is a tangent, but do you distinguish between driving out to the country and pitching a tent next to your car (or driving into a campground and walking 100 meters) versus hiking several miles into the wilderness with your tent in your backpack? On my side of the pond we think of them both as camping, but we backpackers look down on the car campers with a sense of pity. ;)

  2. bandnath says:

    I’ve not heard more true words recently. Ever since our first backpacking trip we’ve been growing further and further away from what we used to be. You should see the reactions once you’ve had a child! I can’t count how many times we got told that your travelling days are over, bub’s only 14 months old and already spent over 3 months abroad!

    • Thank you. Don’t worry about those reactions! The people who give them will never understand the benefits you and your family are getting from backpacking. I have met so many people travelling the world with babies and young children. Backpacking certainly doesn’t have to end when you have a baby. I think it is one of the best gifts you can ever give to a child and can be a wonderful bonding experience for you all. It is becoming increasingly common too, backpackers aren’t just students on a gap year anymore! Keep it up!

  3. Erin says:

    I’m getting ready for a 7 month trek over to SE Asia (by myself, leaving the boyfriend behind – but he made the push for me to finally do it – hopefully I don’t end up as one of THOSE ‘female backpackers’ :) and this is so helpful to read. I do get a lot of quizzical looks and “oh my god you’re going to die”s – but I can’t imagine NOT wanting to do this. I’m scared and excited, so thank you for all of your helpful posts.

    • You are very welcome Erin, I’m really happy you find them helpful. There will be a lot more to come! Enjoy that scared excitement, it’s all part of the fun of backpacking for the first time! And don’t worry, you will be perfectly safe so ignore those quizzical looks and thank your boyfriend! You will have one of the best times of your life!

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