As pandemic restrictions come to an end and there is a light at the end of the tunnel for travellers wanting to see the world. The gap year is coming back! The return of the gap year is both inevitable and will be monumental, but some things will be slightly different, at least in the short term. This is your complete guide to what that travel landscape will look like and what you will need to know taking a post pandemic gap year.
For many people who have lost almost two years of their lives to restrictions and lockdowns it may feel like they have already had gap years from hell forced upon them, without the travel or experiences that would normally come with it. The absolute strain on peoples mental health, post pandemic stress disorder, the lost opportunities for education, careers, travel and more – especially for those at the formative years of their lives – cannot be understated. With all that collective trauma it may feel strange to many that those restrictions are becoming absolutely unjustifiable and life is starting to return to some sort of balance, and further time out to travel may not be the first thing on everyone’s mind, but perhaps now is the exact time to do just that.
With universities essentially scrapping the traditional university experience in favour of zoom meetings and a standing order to just ‘Google it’, many potential students are questioning whether paying those exorbitant fees are worth it and are deferring their studies to a time when they can get what they are paying for. If it is worth it at all. Many are deciding that perhaps university isn’t for them at all and are at a crossroads at what to do with their life after essentially being in limbo for a year. Many more have had careers put on hold, jobs have been lost and there has been a fundamental societal shift with many workers discovering that they can get a better work life balance by working remotely and companies all over the world are discovering it is not easy to encourage workers back into the office. The life of the digital nomad, once seen as a niche career for those who wanted to post those laptop on the beach pictures on Instagram with ‘today’s office’ captions, is about to undergo a massive surge. The ranks of the unemployed are also facing a tidal wave of those resistant to authoritarian policies of forced ‘no jab no job’ policies, policies that go against all fundamental medical ethics and paradigms of a free society.
The collective trauma we have all been under the last two years as a result of punitive restrictions has led many to reevaluate what is important in their lives. The idea of a work life balance has become all important and many are taking the time to take stock and prioritise experiences over work, to reconnect with themselves as well as their families and loved ones. This means that for many people, there has been no better time to travel the world and take a gap year.
The forced lockdowns we have all been under for the better part of the last two years has meant that travel has been almost non existent. The urge to travel has not gone away, it has simply been supressed, and now that restrictions are being eased and the collective covid19 hysteria is at least starting to die down that wanderlust is going to return with a vengeance. With the sheer amount of people at a crossroads in their lives after a collective trauma and the urge to travel at an all time supressed high, we have a perfect storm for the return of the gap year.
But what will the future of the gap year look like? Will travel ever be the same again? It is almost certain we will in the short term at least still face some restrictions and changes in the way we travel just as we did with extra security protocols after 9/11, so how will travellers navigate those changes? The good news is the gap year will not fundamentally change all that much, it will still be an epic adventure exploring the world and in many ways people may learn to cherish the experiences and the connections they make with other people, cultures and the planet even more. But there are going to be some changes and extra considerations, and this is your guide to taking a post pandemic gap year.
Dealing With Continued Restrictions.
It is likely that over the course of the next year or two things will settle down and countries will open up fully again, but for the moment – mostly out of fear and ill advised protectionism rather than any clinical reason – the fact remains that there are going to be a lot of restrictions to travel, and that does mean a lot more planning for your gap year.
Many countries are continuing to essentially make up rules as they go along based on arbitrary data and absolutely zero cohesion or reason. Some countries like the US are closing off its borders entirely to many countries and some of the EU are tightening restrictions on US citizens in response, whilst other parts of the EU are opening up. Sweden for example does still currently have a ban on non essential travel at the time of writing but are increasing the list of exemptions to the point where the ban is pointless and even the UK is talking about getting rid of its much criticised, unscientific and arbitrary traffic light system, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it won’t simply be replaced by something else. The fact is for the near future almost every country will have some form of restriction on entry and this will be subject to change at any time. That makes careful planning essential, as you will need to look at each country you want to visit carefully, look at what restrictions are in place, meet their requirements for entry and have back up plans in place in case things change. Of course this means that some countries may not be open for you just yet and your gap year plans may look different as a result but that doesn’t mean it is impossible either.
Things do seem to be getting a little better now that the majority of most countries (with some obvious exceptions) Covid19 vaccination programmes are rolling out relatively well, but many are unfortunately still demanding some form of the unethical and pointless ‘vaccine passport’. You will have to be very careful here as not every ‘pass’ is universal and not every vaccination brand is recognised in every country, some will require you to have two doses of a specific vaccine, or ‘double jabbed’ to use the absolutely hateful common vernacular, or have proof of a negative test or evidence of recovery. There are some countries such as Israel that are not even considering two doses to be ‘fully vaccinated’ at this point, and who knows how many boosters will be needed to be considered so in the future. There is no common standard at the moment, which is absolutely ridiculous. I mean it isn’t as if we didn’t already have a perfectly functional international system for monitoring diseases and vaccination advisories run by international health organisations before this or anything. My obvious sarcasm and distaste aside however in the near future at least you will have to navigate this infuriating minefield so do your research carefully and find out what is required.
And if that isn’t enough, travellers will still have to deal with airports and airlines imposing their own authoritarian and arbitrary rules on passengers to make life as difficult for them as possible. Enforced mask mandates, particularly in America where fear and authoritarianism will see you forcibly ejected and put on a no fly list for non compliance, are the new 100 ml liquid rule for airlines. Useless and completely arbitrary but enforced with absolute tyranny. Unless you are eating or drinking of course, and then it’s okay. Make no mistake this has nothing to do with infection prevention control and everything to do with appearances, easing passengers fears and insurance costs. Little facts like the International Air Transport Association 2020 statistics showing that there is a one in 27 million chance of catching sarscov2 from a flight partly because of the much lauded HEPA filters (back when they were trying to persuade people it was safe to travel before mask mandates) and the Civil Aviation Authorities own Covid19 addendum to the Aviation Health and Safety Protocols stating passengers did not need to wear masks, be systematically tested or quarantined on their return home don’t matter anymore. The mask mandates are all that matter. Even the UK has finally and sensibly dropped mask mandates for the general public, but airlines, and airports for that matter are still able to ignore UK discrimination laws at their own whim. These are corporate decisions, not clinical ones, but look like they are here to stay in the short term at least. Hey, at least they got rid of the distancing rules and allowed people to sit in the middle seats again, but I suppose it is too cynical to say that they were losing far too much money on that decision.
And then of course there will be the individual restrictions every other country decides to impose. The hysteria will die down eventually as things slowly return to normality, but given the sheer levels of fear out there that may not be anytime soon.
The Question Of Safety.
And that brings us to the question of if it is actually safe to travel post pandemic, and the easy answer is yes it absolutely is. In very general terms the risk of covid19 to the absolute majority is negligible, the risk of developing anything beyond mild symptoms requiring hospitalisation in the under 75’s is low, in the under 50s it is negligible. The vaccination rates are good to high in the majority of most western countries reducing that risk even more, and according to the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of people with antibodies against Covid19 in the UK is estimated to be between 90 and 94%, including natural immunity as well as vaccinated.
The truth is that as bad a disease as Covid19 is, it was never as bad as the fearmongering media painted it to be. The ‘cases’ continue to fall around the world but the true measure of a disease, the rates of hospitalisations and fatality rates put Covid19 at the same level as many common illnesses we travel with every single day. Or at least we used to. As I have always said about any aspect of travel health and safety, precaution is good, fear is not, and it is long past time we had a genuine and real risk assessment about Covid19.
Of course there is always the question of individual risk factors, and the elderly and those with pre existing health conditions that categorise them as clinically vulnerable such as those with diabetes, respiratory conditions or autoimmune deficiencies for example, are at higher risk and should discuss their own risk factor with a qualified health professional. None of these are automatic barriers to travel, it all depends on your own individual circumstances, but again that is something you can talk about with your GP or nurse who knows your past medical history.
And that brings us neatly to personal responsibility, because the truth is that is what safety is all about. Taking individual steps to reduce your own risk, from ensuring you have good personal hygiene, washing your hands thoroughly and regularly, being careful and meticulous about your surroundings, all of these will have far more impact on reducing your personal risk not only of Covid19 but of many other common travel illnesses than any ridiculous mask mandate will.
Then of course there is the Covid19 vaccine too. Like any travel vaccine in very general terms it is a good thing, but that depends on a variety of individual factors so talk with a qualified medical professional to see if it is right for you, and if it is (because remember there are many people who clinically cannot have it for a wide variety of reasons ranging from medical conditions, a past history of severe contraindications or even choices such as pregnancy that may make it inadvisable for some individuals) then you can consider doing so. Either way if you can get it and choose to do so then that is great and can reduce your risk of developing severe symptoms even more. If you cannot, or choose not to, then no one should judge you for that and either way remember that it is always your absolute choice and you should not be forced or coerced in any way, shape or form.
Saying all of that however, there is also the case for not going to certain destinations for at least the near future, not so much for your safety but as a consideration to your host destination. We have always had travel advisories that warned of local surges in specific diseases, endemic outbreaks of dengue for example are quite common throughout southeast Asia and Bali had a raised risk of Rabies for a time, so travellers were advised to consider this for their risk assessments. Most usually decided it wasn’t much of a risk and went anyway. In the case of Covid19 the vast majority of places should be fine and in general terms there is still a low personal risk to you, but there is always the risk of rising hospitalisations or fatalities in any given location and in many less developed countries or regions – often the places adventurous backpackers head to – vaccine uptake may not be as high as it is in other places. That means that for the near future at least it may be considerate to your potential host country to choose another destination until vaccine rollout has peaked.
More Independence Over Artificial ‘Experiences’.
The traditional gap year is stereotypically one that is undertaken by student age travellers, either just before or just after university, and is beset with gap year industry and voluntourism programmes that last a year. Now the pros and cons of those industry programmes are well documented, especially in the case of voluntourism programmes, and when done right there is nothing wrong with them per se, but I have always advocated for a more personal, independent approach for travel simply because the artificial gap year industry experience is so limiting, and I think more people will take note of that simply because of supply and demand. There will be an explosion in travel as restrictions are eased and traditional gap year programmes will fill up fast, meaning not only will there be less spaces on those packages, but the destinations and activities they cover will be extremely busy. That doesn’t mean of course that travellers can’t go to the traditional destinations like Thailand or engage in the usual voluntourism or diving liveaboard experiences, it just means that many more will look beyond the industry packages to do so.
Independent travel opens up the gap year experience far more than any industry package ever could, and more and more people will discover that as they plan their gap years. Traditional destinations like Thailand and the Inca Trail are legendary for a reason, but there is so much more to discover if you expand your plans a little, Thailand could be coupled with a trip through Malaysia and you can discover inland Java instead of heading straight to Bali. It is also likely that some traditional gap year destinations like Australia may even be closed off for the foreseeable future thanks to sheer, ignorant authoritarianism and insular fear, but that means that less traditional destinations that are open are just waiting to be discovered. The gap year doesn’t even have to be a year long, you can take a snap year of a month or two, travel for six months or just travel for as long as you want with no end in sight, and sure, the Full Moon Party may be a rite of passage in backpacker lore, but wouldn’t you rather have a far more unique experience attending the Navratri festival in Gujurat or getting away from the crowds entirely by spending some alone time in the mountains and national parks of Ethiopia or Ecuador? Independent travel opens up the world and its experiences to you more than packages ever could, and if the packages are going to be full, and probably at a premium price, what better time to discover that for yourself?
The Return Of Slow Travel And A Struggle For Airlines.
With borders closing and opening at a whim and airlines making it as difficult as possible for travel, a lot of people will want to minimise the hassle and disruption as much as possible. Some level of hassle is of course inevitable as you take that first step on your gap year, but a lot of travellers will simply take one direct long haul flight and then carry on from there. They may choose to pick one or two countries to travel slowly through and explore them more deeply instead of hopping from country to country on a traditional round the world route. Airlines are really going to miss out too if they choose to continue with authoritarian mandates as travellers take the slower, but infinitely easier and more enjoyable (as well as hassle free) options of train, bus and ferry travel to explore their destination over land and sea instead. The more difficult you make it for people, the more they will look to the easier option, and I strongly suspect many airlines will be less hard line when they see their bottom line dip. They can only ride the wave of people’s fear for so long.
Travel As A Way To Reengage With Family And Friends.
A gap year has traditionally been a way for young people to break away from family and set out into the world on their own, or with a friend or two, for the very first time. That spirit of independent adventure will still be there of course and will always be a part of the gap year experience, but something has changed in the last two years that means that whilst people will still travel on their own and will still have awesome solo adventures, people will now want to use travel as a way to reconnect with their friends, family and loved ones.
One of the most perniciously harmful effects of the last two years of lockdowns, restrictions and border closures is the fact entire families, partners, lovers and friends have been kept apart for most of that time against their will, and once people are able to travel again everyone will want to make up for a lot of lost time! That means friends will likely favour travelling together instead of taking solo trips, at least at first, but more than that it may mean that the destination choosing process may include countries that will allow travellers to specifically meet up with family or loved ones they haven’t seen in all this time, and that is not a bad thing! Extending your travels to detour to a city/country to see your family or friends you have not seen will be a huge reason that many may even decide to take that leap to travel in the first place.
The Increased Importance Of Travel Insurance.
Travel insurance has always been essential, that is just a simple fact. Even though odds are you will probably never need it, and you will hate handing over your hard earned cash for what is essentially a piece of paper as much as anyone else, the simple fact of the matter is you never need it until you do, and if you do you will be glad you have it.
The one thing that has changed since the pandemic hit is the need for travellers to ensure they scrutinise their policies and their providers even more carefully than before. A lot of travellers have found themselves in situations during the pandemic were their policies simply did not cover the situations they found themselves in, and since the world locked down and borders became akin to a manic portcullis on a platform game, opening and shutting at random, it is absolutely essential that you make sure not only that you have cover, but you have the right cover. Alongside all the usual health, property and cancellation policies, make sure that your policy specifically covers you for pandemic related issues, that you are covered if the government decides to change the travel advisory on a whim or the border shuts on you without warning. Too many travellers at the start of the pandemic wished they had looked more carefully at their policies.
A Recognition Of The Importance Of Travel Vaccinations.
Travel vaccines, like insurance, have always been essential. As a nurse I advise on them and recommend them a lot in my Travel Clinic. But contrary to current ways of thinking one thing I never did was force them on people or judge and ridicule them for deciding not to take the advised vaccines before they travel, because people have forgotten the fact most vaccines are in fact recommended, not mandatory.
In fact a lot of the time many travel vaccinations weren’t highly recommended to some travellers because they were at such low clinical risk it wasn’t necessary, but recommended to others because their individual risk factor was much higher. One thing that was universal though was the surprise at the cost of travel vaccines and I have to say in the many years I have advised on them the one thing that probably made people decide not to get them over anything else was the cost.
Nah, I only have a small chance of Hep B or Jap B Encephalitis, that £80 will pay for a ton of whisky buckets, right? I’ll take the risk!
But now the entire worlds population have seemingly become vaccine zealots. People – usually those not qualified to know what they are talking about – have forgotten little things like established medical ethics, choice and informed consent and have called for forced vaccinations and concentration camps for those who aren’t vaccinated. They have called for vaccines to be mandatory to be able to participate in the most fundamental levels of society, never mind the fact that there are a significant number of people who either clinically cannot receive the Covid vaccine for medical reasons, or are specifically advised not to by qualified medical professionals for any number of individual reasons. But forget about them right? They can be rounded up easily enough, identified by a nice coloured sticker maybe before they get sent to the camps.
The world has lost its damn mind.
Don’t get me wrong, for the average traveller who contacts my travel clinic the advice in very general terms is that it is a good idea to get it to add that extra tiny layer of protection, but that is always tempered with a full risk assessment of the patient’s individual circumstances and past medical history and it is always, and I repeat always, without exception, the patients own unequivocal choice. I advise, give the facts, and then it is 100% always the patients choice to give informed consent or not. That is a fundamental principle of medical ethics and practice and no amount of ignorance, fear or zealotry will change that.
My big question is, out of all these people who are so adamant that everyone without exception should take this travel vaccine, how many of them will quickly revert to sucking air through their teeth when they hear the cost of the Rabies vaccination once the hysteria has died down? Will other travel vaccines be held in such high esteem as the Covid vaccine? Or will the Covid vaccine drop in importance to be inserted alongside the list of other travel vaccinations and dismissed as easily?
Travel vaccinations are always important to consider. How important depends on a number of factors including your individual circumstances, where you are going, your past medical history and many other things, but they are still important to consider.
So before you make your gap year plans and buy your tickets, make sure you make an appointment at my Travel Clinic!
Travel And Wellbeing.
The collective stress and trauma of this pandemic has been substantial, made worse by punitive and largely unnecessary restrictions and losses to our personal and collective freedoms. It may take years for many to get over, if they ever do. That means that many who travel will be doing so at least in part with restorative wellbeing in mind. Travel has always been a great healer in many ways but the increased perception of our own mortality, lockdown fatigue and stress will lead many to seek a way back to a place of full health and wellbeing, even if they never had that before. For some that may be simply taking the time to appreciate being alone on a beach hut near the Andaman Sea, others may be more practical about it and want to travel through specific health and wellness retreats or seek out a yoga school or spa retreat. For many, that will also mean a rise in working location independently as they stubbornly stick two fingers up at demands to go back to the office. Lockdowns taught a lot of people that their jobs could just as easily be done from the couch as it can from a stuffy cubicle, and if it can be done from a couch it can definitely be done from a beach! One thing is for certain, the traditional digital nomads have got a lot of upcoming competition for seats in those coffee shops in Bali!
It Is Time To Move Past The Fear And Travel Again.
The world has faced a collective trauma over the last two years and at least in the short term will look very different as people emerge from it, but one thing is certain and that is travel will be an essential part of the healing process. As we indulge in our supressed wanderlust and reconnect with the world and our loved ones, take time out to focus on our health, wellbeing and work life balance, and focus on those bucket list experiences that are no longer on the back burner, the return of the gap year is going to be huge, and more people than ever before will be taking one.
It is time to stop living in fear, it is time to end the collective hysteria the world has allowed to take over and it is time to get back to normal. It is time to plan your next, or very first, gap year!
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