Backpacking around the world is one of those ideas that instantly gets you fired up, excited for the future and passionately overwhelmed at all the possibilities that are spreading out in front of you. Until you tell your parents that is and they suck all of that joy out of your gap year plans. It is understandable that parents and loved ones are often apprehensive or nervous about you taking such a big step, so here is a quick guide to help you reassure them that taking a gap year is actually one of the best things you will ever do.
I’m sure most people who have gone backpacking or taken a gap year will have had that moment where they have told their parents what their plans were. And I’ll bet that the majority of the time the responses from those parents weren’t overly positive, at first anyway. All of a sudden the energetic frenzy that was fuelling your plans like an unstoppable steam train comes to a screeching halt and derails off the track altogether as you are faced with a wall of pessimism, fear, paranoid stereotypes and a long list of out of date nonsense about how every country you are planning to go to is suddenly akin to a war zone.
And that’s before you even mention hooking up with a guy called Tarquin who has dreadlocks, a guitar and is likely going to be the father of your baby! (Go on, do that and watch your dad’s face go every shade of purple!)
Now to be fair it’s hardly surprising that parents will have a negative image of backpacking or gap years when they hear of idiot tourists stripping off on a Malaysian mountain in the mass media and all they see is stereotypical nonsense from the gap year industry itself.
To be fair on them some of the concern is understandable, you are after all their child, their loved one, and this is most likely going to be the first time you are away from them in an uncontrolled environment where you are quite literally and figuratively going to be fending for yourself, (your dad can’t come and pick you up at 3am like he can when you are at uni a few cities away!)
And that is a scary thing for them.
Add that to the preconceptions they have of the big wide world after listening to the overblown safety advice from the government and the mass media news reports of all hell breaking loose everywhere (again). Most of that is utter nonsense of course, but it makes the fear a little bit understandable, even if it is misplaced.
Don’t worry, most parents come round to the idea of your gap year eventually. A lot of it is all about how you approach them.
Do a lot of your research beforehand about the specifics of your trip. Know how much you will have to budget, what visas, insurance and tickets you need, what vaccinations you will have to get and all the other logistical things that are necessary to get your plans off the ground. If you are prepared you will be able to answer the majority of their immediate quick fire questions with solid, grounded answers. This will show them that you are serious about your trip and go a long way to persuading them that this is actually a sensible, well thought out plan.
But involve them in the planning too.
If you set out your plans for your gap year, ask your parents for their input and involve them in things like route planning and destination research, they are much more likely to get on board with your plans. You never know, they may even have some good suggestions!
Show them your savings plan.
In the same vein as being prepared, showing your parents that you have a well thought out, realistic and viable savings plan (especially if you have already started it) will show them that you are serious, that your head is screwed on and you know what you are doing. We both know that you do of course, but there is no harm in driving home the point to your parents who are generally biased in their judgement.
Show them the value of a gap year.
It may be a good idea to downplay the full moon parties and endless island hopping you will be doing at this point. We all know gap years are supposed to be about having fun too, no one is denying that or saying that you shouldn’t go out there with the intention of doing so, but if you can talk to your parents and explain to them that you will be exploring the cultural aspects of the countries you are visiting, plan to learn a little of the language or maybe even doing a little volunteering (responsibly and with an ethical NGO of course), then you can show them how this can be of huge benefit not only to your personal growth but also to your CV, which you plan to use to further your career or studies when you get back.
Read some of this site with them.
Alongside this article there are tons of other posts on this site that will not only help you plan your own gap year, but work hard to address any concerns or worries that you or your parents may have too. Articles on solo female backpacker safety tips, how to deal with common scams or even what to do in medical emergencies abroad are all there not to scare anyone about the potential dangers that are out there, but to reassure and help you gain the knowledge you need to deal with any bad situation on the very small chance they do occur. By going through all this with your parents, you will go a long way to reassuring them that you will be fine.
Be realistic and talk about the safety aspects.
Let’s be honest, your parents are going to be worried about your safety. It’s pretty much a given. And whilst it is important to downplay a lot of the crazy and paranoid safety concerns, it is also essential that you confront the genuine ones and talk realistically about them.
It can often be helpful at this point to talk to an expert, someone who has actually been there and done that and come back to tell the tale. If you are booking your RTW plane ticket through a company such as STA travel or any other physical gap year provider, then it can be a good idea to take your parents along and they can ask any questions they have to the staff there.
The Bemused Backpacker Gap Year Safety Consultation was set up with this in mind too. This online service specialises in expert safety advice and information for anyone who is about to embark on their gap year or backpacking trip, with advice and experience gleaned from ex military experience, expertise in self defence and 15 years of independent world travel. It can be done on a one to one basis, or equally a consultation can involve you and your parents, where you can all ask as many questions as you wish in the time slot, get experienced, professional safety advice and have every single safety concern addressed by an expert.
Having a consultation or a discussion like this together is an excellent way for your parents to address any safety concerns they have with you and get more on board with your travel plans.
Plan for regular contact.
This is so much easier now than it was when I first started backpacking. When I took my first gap year mobile phones were only just becoming the standard norm, and to ring home involved finding an IDD booth (usually at the back of an internet cafe) or actually just finding an internet cafe at all if you wanted to send an email! (Yes, there was no such thing as wifi then kids!)
But now there is social media, everyone has a tablet or a smartphone loaded with communication apps surgically attached to their hands and communicating over wifi with apps like WhatsApp is free and easy.
If your parents are unaware of these apps, tell them about them. Set the home computer up with Skype and set everything up as much as possible to make it easier for you both to stay in regular contact. This will really ease a lot of fears on your parents behalf.
Remember, this is a big deal for your parents too.
As excited as you are for setting off on your very first round the world adventure, your parents won’t always see it like that. Part of them will of course be happy and excited for you, but they will also be really nervous. They were sending you off to school with a packed lunch not five minutes ago! So by including them in the process like this and talking out your plans thoroughly, you will show a lot of maturity and responsibility, and will ease their fears a lot. More importantly, you will show them that your gap year plans are actually a really good idea and will get them on board with it!
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