A gap year is still seen as a privilege of youth, as an indulgence of time and lack of responsibility that only those just graduating from university or still in their early twenties can afford. At no time as that ever been more wrong than it is today.
The demographics of a gap year has changed drastically over the last few years, with people of all ages and backgrounds now setting off on their own round the world adventure. But despite the growing number of parents, families, professionals, retirees and people of all ages, creeds and backgrounds taking a gap year now, the typical backpacker is still very much stereotyped as young and just finishing up college or university.
Don’t get me wrong the majority of backpackers do tend to be of that traditional coming of age demographic, but things have changed so much now that the gap year can no longer be seen as solely for young student age travellers, despite all the advertising from the gap year industry.
The gap year itself is still seen as an indulgence of youth, a year out of ‘real life’ that only the young and responsibility free can afford to take.
With that stereotype still burning bright, and with the increasing stresses of responsibility, careers, mortgages and families that growing older inevitably brings, many people simply dismiss the very idea of a gap year once they get past their early twenties.
This is when the excuses start coming out. ‘I’m too old for all of that’, ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘I don’t have the money’, ‘I have too many responsibilities at home’, ‘work can’t manage without me’!
Yeah right. They are making a huge mistake.
A gap year – or any time out to travel for that matter – can not only be taken at any time, it can be extremely beneficial to take one at different times in your life for different reasons. There are many stages in life and many life events where taking a gap year is an absolutely perfect idea, and no one should be put off just because of their age or position in life.
Before and after College or University.
The stereotypical age to take a year off and head off around the world on one long party filled adventure is ideal, and not just because of the idea that partying, fun, adventure and members of the opposite sex – or same, depending on your tastes – are on your mind and within your grasp. Although that is a good bonus too. This is the age were you are getting your first taste of independence, your first taste of what the world is like beyond your immediate environment, and it is intoxicating! Travel at this age allows young, formative minds to explore the world around them, to expose themselves to new cultures, new languages and new ways of thinking to bolster or even change the paradigms that formal education is – or has – given them. It is the ideal age to fit into most working holiday visa restrictions too, so that means getting a bit of experience on the CV or funds in the pocket to keep your travels going longer is a lot easier.
You may feel like the oldest kid in the hostel and crave a few more creature comforts in a private room a bit more often, but there are huge advantages to travelling the world when you are just a little bit older and wiser than your teenage self.
For starters a lot of the naivety of youth is disappearing, and you are more confident in yourself and in your surroundings, and that means you can get a whole lot more out of your experiences. You can slow down a little, do the things that really matter to you because you are starting to know and understand yourself a little more.
It really is a whole different experience.
A professional career break.
The amount of professionals in their mid twenties to late thirties taking a gap year has absolutely exploded over the last decade or so. Ten to fifteen years ago you may have seen a handful out on the road, now these professionals are one of the largest groups out there!
Having a career is in no way a barrier to living your life, and many people are starting to realise that now and are demanding more time off, unpaid as well as paid leave, full on sabbaticals or even quitting entirely knowing they can resume their career when they get back!
And the benefits are immense. Having a career in modern society is hard, it’s stressful, perhaps more so than at any other time. Stress levels and burnout in many careers are as high as they have ever been.
Travel helps with that. It allows you to live your life, enjoy life, destress and decompress so you can heal your mind and body from the strains of modern society, but it can actually help with your career too.
Experiences abroad can give your CV an edge that others simply don’t have. It can make you stand out from the crowd with soft and hard skills that employers are increasingly recognising as being useful in the workplace, and it can not only help you retain your career, but it can help you up the ladder too!
When you have a family.
Many people think that once they meet that perfect someone and the little sprog comes along to ruin all the fun you were having, then that is the end of that. It’s not true. So many travellers now are backpackers who have met their other halves on the road, had a family and simply never stopped! Sure, there are a lot more logistical problems to work out, and carrying nappies, colouring books and toys in your pack means you have a bigger – and heavier – pack than you are used to, but it isn’t impossible.
And the best thing about doing this is?
That’s right, your kid will grow up exposed to the wonder of a variety of different cultures, countries, languages and ideas. They will grow up with their mum and dad right by their side in a close knit family unit. And they will grow up much, much better for it.
The mid life crisis!
Okay, you’re starting to get old and some part of your brain has hit the panic button and changed the lightbulb to red! I get it.
Put the brochure for that stereotypical sports car down for a minute and let me tell you about a gap year instead. You’ve worked your backside off your whole life, you’ve done the responsibility thing and you’ve rocked it.
Now it’s time for you.
You’ll (hopefully) have a little bit more money to travel with, so you can afford those private rooms and extra creature comforts. You can take it easy and live life exactly how it is supposed to be lived, catering to every one of your whims and fancies. You want to relax on a tropical beach? Do it! You want to take your time exploring a city you’ve always wanted to see? Do it! Want to reconnect with your partner or loved one and spend some quality time together? Do it! This is your time and your time alone. You’ve earned this gap year!
There really is no delicate way to put this, but as a nurse I have seen far too many people reach the end and pass away thinking ‘I wish I had’. Don’t be one of those people. Don’t live your life and reach the end wishing you had filled every single moment with as much travel and adventure as you could have done.
Many baby boomers are now selling up, packing up and heading off on a grand farewell tour! They are starting to realise that retiring from work should be the start of a whole new adventure, not simply the beginning of a slow decline of endless daytime TV reruns and a bathroom that looks like a pharmacy’s stock cupboard, and they are realising blowing all their hard earned money on seeing the world is infinitely preferable to the government stealing it to pay for their inevitable care needs! Who cares if it is selfish, you’re old and you’ve earned it!
Still think a gap year is just for the young?
It is completely understandable that so many people feel trapped by societal norms and pressures. The conveyor belt mentality of leaving school, getting a job, settling down with kids then paying bills until you die is not just depressing as hell, it is the daily reality that most people have forced upon them. It’s what ‘real life’ is like, right? It’s what everyone else does!
This is the yoke that societal norms forces onto people. Everyone is just expected to conform and stay in that narrow little rut that society puts them in, and deviating from that plan can be scary. I get that.
But it can be done! I’m living proof of that!
I have taken a whole bunch of separate gap years, numerous snap years and shorter trips and even travelled without any time limit or plans to return at one point. I have also gained two degrees and forged a successful career as a charge nurse too, and I have done all of this whilst having the exact same pressures, bills, responsibilities and mortgage repayments as everyone else.
As I have said countless times though, there isn’t anything special at all about me. I just opened my eyes and my mind to see more than what society had planned for me. I chose my own path.
And there is absolutely nothing stopping each and every one of you from doing the same thing!
If you have dreams of travelling the world or taking a gap year, then go and do it! It can be done at any time in your life, and it doesn’t have to be a one shot deal either! Already taken a gap year but have a job now? Who cares? Take another one! Have a family? Take them with you! Have a career? It will still be there when you get back, hell, your gap year may even make your CV impressive enough to get a promotion!
Life is what you make it. And no matter what age you are, what career you have or what responsibilities you think are holding you back, there is no better time to travel than right now.
In the immortal words of Ferris Beuller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
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