Lucinda's Guide to the Gap Year
Written by Lucinda Day
Forget what the ‘going to university’ guides say, the first time that you roll up at the student’s union club night not knowing anyone, the first question that your potential new best friend (lets call them PNBF for short) is likely to ask is not ‘what A levels did you get?’, but ‘where did you go on your gap year?’ I’m not suggesting that you pack your bags and fly off to India tomorrow in order to secure your popularity with PNBFs at university, but it will certainly help, and most probably change your life in other unimaginable ways as well.
You’re probably quite rightly thinking ‘but how important is PNBF’s opinion – if they asked you to jump off a cliff would you?’ Well, hopefully not, but when you’re trekking up that cliff – while on your gap year - I would like to suggest that you may actually come across some new, wild, wondrous and interesting things to like and see and do. Post - university soul searchers listen up also because more fascinatingly still, it’s quite probable that you’ll find some things, or personality traits that you detest, which leads to inevitable self discovery, and an impressive repertoire of stories to tell. Enter all PNBFs: now we’re definitely talking.
And if you happen to be a post–university soul searcher then you’re not beyond needing that boost of life experience and enhancement of conversation either.
What kind of Gap Year suits you?
Before you work out where you want to go, it’s probably best to work out what you want to do.
Travelling Let’s cut to the nitty–gritty, a.k.a cost, first, because unfortunately it does happen to be the most important thing to consider. If you’ve been saving for a while, or are lucky enough to have unlimited funds, then travelling is not only the most exciting option, but feasible too. Two best friends of mine booked their flights to Mexico and their flights home from India a year later, with just a map and a whole lot of inheritance to help them along their way. Not all of us start out with healthy coffers, but don’t let this put you off. Gap ‘years,’ do not have to equate to a whole years worth of travelling. A few months of good solid work at that boring shop job you’ve had since you were sixteen may seem like a drag, but if you put in some hard graft you’ll possibly never be so far in the black, and it will make the reward of a few months of reckless wandering around that little bit sweeter.
If you do plan to go off for a considerable amount of time, then it is worth intertwining some work abroad with your travelling. This will not only widen your work horizons, but provide you with some hard earned cash for your next destination. Most gapper’s that are heading in the direction of Australia stop off in Sydney or Melbourne to work; it’s easy to get a working visa, there are no language barriers, and it’s a little bit like home, except with more sunshine. Jobs can vary but bars, restaurants and shops often employ seasonal staff - or you could get lucky like my best friend and get to collect money for charity, asking the likes of Liam Gallagher and John Cleese for some spare change outside Sydney Opera House…
Volunteering / Teaching In order to travel, you do have to be the kind of person who can cope with an extreme adrenalin rush – for better or for worse- roughly ten times a day. If you prefer to have a bit of a base from which to do a spot of travelling from, or better still you’d rather spend your hard earned cash helping others, then voluntary or teaching work could suit you better.
Charity work is varied, so don’t think that just because you’re not a fan of children or animals that there isn’t something for you. If you’re generally up for saving the world then conservation projects, health projects, building projects, academic research, and teaching English are just some of the wide ranging options available for starters, so work out what interests you and go from there. It is easiest (and often safest) to arrange voluntary work through a specialist organisation if this is your first experience; Gap Activity Projects (www.gap.org.uk), or Worldwide Volunteering (www.wwv.org.uk) can give you an idea of what to do, and how much it will cost you. Prices will vary, some organisations will cover flights and transport, and some will require you to raise some money before you go; it really does depend on how long you want to go away for and your voluntary work of choice, so do your research.
If you don’t happen to dislike children (or adults for that matter) then teaching English on your gap year is a very practical option; you can not only earn some well needed cash, but experience the country of your choice on a more authentic level. Many positions will require you to take the relevant TEFL course, which will cost you some money, but guarantee you a job in the long run. Not all places require official qualifications; websites such as www.gapwork.com give you all the latest information on teaching vacancies. It may seem pretty obvious but remember that if you do decide to teach abroad then you will be required to teach. Ensure you can imagine yourself stood up in front of a classroom of kiddies or potentially rowdy teenagers; and if you can’t think twice before signing up.
Where to spend your gap Year
A friend of mine that joined me on gap year adventures in Turkey experienced an unwanted culture shock. As soon as we arrived in Istanbul she realised that she would be covering herself from head to toe in forty five degree heat in order to traipse around the bustling city, and not laze by the pool half naked like she imagined. The world may be your oyster yes indeed, and this may sound pretty obvious, but you really do need to consider in practical terms the kinds of places that interest you, (mountains, beaches, cities, particular countries etc) and plan a rough itinerary beforehand; otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck in some remote South American village when all you wanted was a night on the town in Rio, or vice versa.
On your Gap Year
Whether you’re country hopping, teaching or volunteering the chances are you are going to have to consider the actual practicalities of travelling from one place to the next, and by this I mean transport and logistics and all that kind of boring stuff that we generally forget is important until we get there and realise that ‘we are going to have to spend the next 56 hours on a train because we got off at the wrong stop?’ When we think of ‘travelling’ we all too quickly disregard the act of, which is, if you think about it, a crucial part to your trip.
If you don’t generally like the stress of getting from A – B then you will probably want to fly to and from your destination, (or you may be forced to if you’re doing a round the world trip) but do remember that in order to get around the particular place you’re in, and be a bit adventurous, then you are probably going to have to take trains and buses at some point.
This leads me nicely on to trains which, if like me, you like to lie back and quite literally watch the world go by, are by far the best way to get from one town or country to the next. You’re obviously slightly limited by the entire distance you can travel by train so bear that in mind; it may be best to fly to, say India, and limit yourself to exploring that one country by train. Alternatively, the whole of Europe is entirely hooked up in terms of rail if you fancy an entirely overland trip with a taster of everything – and you can always boat it over to Asia. If you really are a train fanatic, then you could even dedicate your entire trip to training it. The Trans–Siberian is one of the most interesting train trips you’ll ever experience; just make sure you make it back to the train in time when you hop off to get food for your mates who are all sitting comfortably, otherwise you may, like me, have to risk your life and your legs, performing a Lara Croft style jump back on, or sit all alone on the platform and cry for your mum - I won’t disclose which was my method of choice.
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