Gap Yah

‘What are your plans next year?’

It is the dreaded question that makes our eyes dart to the nearest exit, our hands reach for the nearest alcoholic drink and our lips tighten in an attempt not to scream at the poor person who was merely trying to make polite conversation…. Or is this just me?

Whether you’re in your final year and fearing the prospect of unemployment or just thinking about what to do with your four month long summer, I thought I would be bold, share some words of ‘wisdom’ and leave you to make of it what you will. Last summer, after eighteen long months of saving, I went travelling around South East Asia for nine weeks. Having not had the chance to take a gap year, all I could imagine the night before my flight was this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU

Whilst I can’t promise there was no chundering, I can promise that I will not bore you by reflecting upon the beautiful sunsets I saw, the life-changing treks I embarked on and the way that travelling enriched my view of life…should you dare to follow suit, you can experience such for yourselves.

So first things first is picking the right travel buddy (or buddies). You’ve heard the tale – you go away the best of friends, the type that share everything and by the end, the only thing you will ever be sharing is the flight home. Thankfully, I was lucky but we did come across those who weren’t. Travelling can be stressful (99% of the time it absolutely isn’t) and you are likely to miss your bus, your boat or even your connecting flight, so you need someone who you can have that sister-sister argument with; the sort where five minutes later all is forgotten and you can resume to pondering what time of day is best to visit the tigers.

After your partner in crime is chosen, you will want to start planning a route. Perhaps you’ll have a search in a lonely planet book or maybe pop into STA for a reassuring chat but ultimately all will be forgotten once you reach your first destination. You will learn to rely on the tales of fellow backpackers and frankly this is the best travel guide you can have. I propose you book your flights, plan your first nights accommodation and be on your way.  

Next is the dreaded word – budget. Ok, this is important. You don’t want to find yourself a few weeks in having to call home for a loan or worse, having to change your return flight. At the same time you don’t want to be weighing up the pros and cons of each move you make or take 24 hour bus journey’s with no air conditioning instead of an easy six hour train ride…. or in our case a last minute flight! (In fairness, we were days away from the end and one can only take so many night buses with no loo stops!) SAVING big time is the answer. It may mean delaying your travels or working more hours a week but I promise it will all be worth it. There are opportunities to work en route if you get really strapped for cash. 

Now for the real fun, you’re off! You are going to see crazy scenes, meet amazing people and have to be dragged home kicking and screaming. One guy we met had actually spent the last five years travelling for six months of each year. It’s the friendships you make along the way that make your trip and help you to smile through the slightly more testing times – like hospital visits where no English is spoken or when you think your passport has been stolen for 24 hours but really it’s just where you left it…in the pocket of your suitcase, safe and sound.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m all for a bit of backpacking. So if you’re stuck for summer plans or pondering the thought of a potential gap yah, go for it, it’s an experience you will neither regret nor forget.