Taking a gap year is a huge decision with a lot of positive benefits, but not everyone around you will see it that way. Here are some of the ways you can prepare for and deal with some of the unsupportive reactions to your gap year.
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.
The dreaded response.
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 the screaming and recriminations from 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’, seethe into their pint and wish that they could do the same, or …
- They will instantly declare you insane and start listing off all the reasons why you shouldn’t go.
These final two 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. Parents will always be overprotective and they will always have concerns about their beloved son or daughter going on a gap year. They are worried about you and it is nice to have people who care for you like that.
That’s fine, there are ways to sit down with those who are genuinely worried about you and go through how many ways this will be a safe, beneficial thing for you to do. Talk to them, make them understand that their fears are generally overblown and they can help you have a world changing experience.
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!
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 that no one cares about your awesome gap year.
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 own lives. It just doesn’t fit neatly into their perception of the world.
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.
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