How To Deal With Unsupportive Reactions To Your Gap Year.

Leaving on a gap year

Taking a gap year is a huge decision with a lot of positive benefits, but not everyone around you will see it that way. Quite often the announcement of your exciting round the world adventure will be met with concerned looks, terrible advice about how dangerous it might be and questions about your sanity. 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. Not that other’s opinions should affect your decision one way or the other of course, but it can often be difficult to deal with when others don’t share your enthusiasm, especially if they are close to you.

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.

None of these are of course entirely positive but it is perhaps the final type that is 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, but none of them have the right to drag you down with them.

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 around the world takes courage, it takes guts, not so much 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, and they often react negatively.

To be fair some of these doom merchants will be acting 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. Friends who may otherwise be excited for you may just want to make sure you will be okay. I get that. They are worried about you and it is nice to have people who care for you like that.

That reactio, even though it may initially be negative, is 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.

By going through your plans and reassuring them, by including them as part of your plans by including them as part of your emergency contacts or promising to keep them updated with any plan changes, you will negate a lot of the genuine concern they have for you and allow the positive reactions to your plans to surface. This is how you can turn an initially negative reaction into a positive one. These are the people who genuinely care about you.

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. They don’t like to see you do something so awesome and so out of your comfort zone because it reminds them of their own insecurities, their own percieved failures or their own mundane life, and instead of using you as inspiration to change their own circumstances they will offer passive aggrassive bullshit, they will be dismissive, they will denounce you as crazy.

Screw them. These are people you don’t really want in your life anyway so who gives a crap what they think? Do you really need those who don’t have your best interests at heart dictating how you live your life? No.

Either way it doesn’t matter. Other peoples opinions are of course important to an extent, but you are the only one in charge of your own destiny. You are the only one in control of your own life. As much as you may want advice, validation or support from other people, you don’t need it, and only you know what you want and what is best for you.

Listen to those who are genuinely concerned about you of course, 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 Up On Them For The Doom Merchants.

The fact is people’s responses will always be the same, and it is as true after you return from your gap year as much as it is before you leave. You may have been told you are insane for wanting to go in the first place, but you’ll also be told you were mad for going in the first place 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, they’ll look at you as if you were Uncle Albert mentioning the war because 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.

These people are far more concerned about 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 travel has forced you to grow 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.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Related Articldes

A Guide For Settling Into The Backpacking Lifestyle.

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

No Great Story Ever Starts With I Stayed At Home.

No One Wishes They Travelled Less When They Die.

Reassuring Parents About Your Gap Year Plans.

Turn Your Gap Year Dreams Into Reality.

Warning! Reading This Can Be Extremely Hazardous To Your Comfort Zone!

What You Should Consider Before You Start Planning Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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14 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!

  4. Well my backpacker days are a little behind me now, but who knows what the future holds… Your article does ring true even though I am not a backpacker. As an expat wife living in Brazil I hear these things from people regularly. I try to ignore the naysayers. I tend to get a little more annoyed with the people who ask me “what do you do all day?”, and “don’t you get bored?”. I hate having to justify my choice to relocate overseas with my husband and put my career on hold. I also hate explaining that I actually am busy between running a household in a foreign country, writing for our blog, and teaching English. Usually just to be funny I tell people that I sunbathe, daydrink, and go to the beach every day and it’s awesome. Ha ha! Great article and I look forward to reading more!

    • You don’t have to be a backpacker to get the naysayers Elizabeth! I’m with you though! I got so tired of having to justify my lifestyle that I started turning it around on them, why do you get up at stupid o clock every single day just to be a wage slave? Why do you spend a fortune on bills and crap that you don’t need or want? Why do you kill yourself trying to keep up with a life that leaves you exhausted and bored? Why do you put upwith working all year just to have a two week holiday sitting by the pool? I’m the one spending my life hopping round tropical islands and seeing amazing natural and man made wonders! I win! Haha! Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. onemoderncouple says:

    Great post! We decided to make this a life style instead of a gap year. People still ask “when are you coming back from your vacation?” We tell them simply “we are not on vacation”
    They still dont understan and never will. Oh well!! More to see for us lol!

  6. Roger says:

    Great advice. At the end of the day if people don’t support you, what does their opinion matter?

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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