What is a Grown Up Gap Year?

I caught the travelling bug at the age of 19. It was my second summer at university and I signed up to do Camp America. It was so easy. I went for an interview, told them I liked drama and before I know it I’d been given a job teaching it at a camp in Wisconsin (I know, living the dream right?) Absolutely everything, from the plane tickets to the accommodation, was organised for me and all I had to worry about was the packing. (Which was how I managed to be the only person in the history of American summer camps to turn up with seven pairs of shoes and yet not one pair of trainers.)

The next summer I graduated and set off on my big five-month adventure to South and Central America which, after I got home and realised I still had itchy feet, was shortly followed by another five months in Asia. And each time I left I just dumped all of my stuff at my parents’ house and set off without a care in the world.

So it was only at the end of 2011, when I started to plan my 30b430 trip, that I realised things are a bit different when you’re a “grown up”. Apparently slamming your hands on the desk, shouting “I quit” and storming to the nearest airport is quite frowned upon in the real world, despite the fact that the movies make it look so easy.

No, when you’re a grown up you have to do it all in the right way. You also have to make proper grown up decisions. Like, is it better to quit my job completely or should I take a sabbatical from work? Should I give up the lease on my home or, if I’ve got a mortgage, should I rent it out? Can we take kids on a gap year? What shall we do about the dog/cat/goldfish? Suddenly I discovered there were a million more things to think about before you even started planning the actual trip (and, as we’ve discovered, planning is not my forte).

I think sometimes it is this fear which holds people back and stops them from making the leap and doing something they dream about. I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have said to me: “I wish I could do what you’ve done” before giving me a whole list of responsibilities and reasons why they feel they can’t.

And every single time I say: “But you can.” Sure, it might be a little bit harder than when we were 18 and the most we had to worry about was whether we were taking enough pairs of pants. It might take a little bit more organising and planning but, as many, many, of us prove, it is by no means impossible.

Once I actually got on my trip, lots of other travellers would ask me if I was on my gap year. Now I don’t know whether that was just because I’m tiny or whether those miracle face creams actually work (or maybe it was the fact that I’m such a scruff when I’m travelling) but they always seemed surprised when I told them I was on a trip to celebrate the fact that I was turning 30. So I started answering the question by telling people I was on a Grown Up Gap Year. This confused some people, especially the 18-year-old proper gap year students – who I nearly knocked out when they called me “old” – but why shouldn’t people who are older and have worked and may have had a family want to travel and see the world too? It’s something I love doing and I don’t ever intend to stop, no matter what age I am.

When I got home friends and friends of friends and even random strangers I met on public transport (I tend to talk to a lot of people, I think it’s the Northerner in me) asked me how I’d done it. So as my previous blog had come to an end I decided to set up the Grown Up Gap Year as a place to not only write about all of the amazing countries I have been lucky enough to visit, but to explain how you actually get there in the first place. Because gap years really aren’t just for the kids. After all, why should they have all the fun?

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11 responses to “What is a Grown Up Gap Year?

  1. I completely agree! Why should gap years be only for those in their late teens or early 20s? If you want to travel and have the means, you should be able to do it whenever you want in life. Too many people hold out until retirement and by that time it’s too late for many. Also, as a fellow Wisconsinite, curious where you ended up in the land of cheese and beer?

  2. You are absolutely right! I never got to have a gap year or even a gap week when I was in my twenties; and the urge to travel never went away. So, in my forties I found a way for my husband and I, and our two kids, to experience cultural travel as a family. The only way we could afford it was through international home exchange. I am now a huge fan and supporter of international home exchange. My family has been privileged to live like locals in lovely homes for a total of four months and four countries over the past five years. We have no intention of stopping there. Now I want to share what I have learned and experienced with other families, so they to can experience the wonders of cultural travel.

    • What an amazing adventure to have as a family! Stories like yours are the reason I wanted to set up the grown up gap year. I hope you have many more fantastic experiences together!

  3. This is great! Like you I went on my first trip away at 19 but it wasn’t for a summer/year, I spent about 2 weeks trekking The Great Wall of China for charity. It was an incredible experience and it made me so eager to get out and start travelling when I’d never cared for travelling before. Finishing uni this year and feeling the pressure to get a job straight away has put travelling on the backburner but I’m determined to make it a priority again and see the countries on my Bucket list! Great post!

    • Thanks Camilla and glad to hear you have also been bitten by the travel bug! I understand the pressure to get a job after uni but I think what’s great about travelling after you’ve worked for a while is that you appreciate it so much more, so I’m glad to hear that you still have travel plans for the future:)

  4. This is great! I’m at a bit of a career cross roads so thinking of taking 6 months to travel and see if I can find some career direction! Your post has only encouraged me 🙂

  5. Great!! I’m in my 30s and just came back from my own grown up gap year and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done so I can also completely recommend it. Yes, it is harder with responsibilities and more insecure than if I had just stayed in my job, but I will always have those memories and that is more important. You only live once. Lovely to have found your blog today and read about someone having done something similar to me. https://thewanderingfeline.wordpress.com/

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