Gap years are seen as a rite of passage for teens and twenty-somethings, but think of the experiences you could benefit from if you take one later in life or second-time round.

Siobhan O' Halleran shares her memories from a former gap year and advice for embarking on your own grown-up gap year.

I was 24 when I embarked on my gap ‘year’. That’s older than most, but I still felt very young as I headed off into the unknown for nine months. I had the time of my life. It ignited my passion for travel and I blame it entirely for my endless wish list of must-visit destinations. If I had the chance, I would do it all over again – although there are a few things I'd do to enhance my experience...

BackpackingPack light(er)

The lighter your backpack, the easier your travelling life. Carrying a lesser weight up numerous flights of guesthouse stairs and along bumpy roads will end up being more important to you than a greater choice of clothes. You’ll end up wearing the same few outfits anyway.

Embrace all forms of transport

Air-conditioned coaches are not always the best way to get around. Flag down tuk tuks and jump on the back of local buses alongside bags of rice and families of ducks. These are the journeys you’ll remember.

Take more photos; write more diary entries

Live in the moment, but keep in mind your future self who would like to relive all of those amazing moments when she is stuck in traffic on the M25/cleaning the house. As well as blogging, keep a personal travel journal for your deepest thoughts.

Throw yourself into everything

If that’s sky diving at two minutes’ notice because the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is closed due to bad weather and you have no other plans for your day, so be it. Others may roll their eyes at your thrillseeking, but in years to come you’ll be proud that you did that bungee jump/gorge swing/dive course. So worry less and get on with it.

Boats on a lake

Bungee jumping

Mosquitoes are the spawn of Satan

Mozzie spray, bug guards, Johnson’s baby oil, aloe vera lotion – have at least two of these with you at all times! Similarly, if you’re given leech socks, stinger suits or any such item that may make you look a little crazy, there’s logic behind it. Wear them.

RoadAdapt your understanding of road etiquette

When it comes to crossing the road in other countries, you will just need to go with the flow. If you wait for a break in the motorbike traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam, you’ll be there all day, so just go for it. And although it’s not the norm for a bus to drive down a flight of stairs, nobody will get hurt.

Not all wildlife experiences are good

Your boyfriend loves you and that’s why he didn’t have the heart to tell you that the ‘bunnies’ you saw running around that Australian campground were actually giant rats. On a more serious note, check out the ethics of any conservation projects you plan to visit in advance. Many highlights of your trip will involve animal encounters, but only if they’re wild/well looked after.

Have back-up funds

Your stab-in-the dark budget will run out. Getting a credit card and expecting to pay it off when you return home in the midst of a recession is not the answer. However, you won’t learn, and from now on travelling will be your favourite way to spend your money.

Think long and hard about the places you want to visit

There’s a reason that some destinations are considered 'classics’, but this is your adventure; think about what you like and what you want to gain. Years later you’ll drive everyone mad by still going on about how you wish you’d visited Western Australia.



However long you think is enough, it isn’t

Of course you’ll miss your family and friends, but the post-travel blues will kick in the moment the welcome homes have faded. Make your travels last as long as you can – consider working in a bar or volunteering to make your finances stretch. You’ll be lucky if you ever get to experience this carefree way of life again.

Most of all: be brave, and make it epic.

Here are my top picks for an upcoming grown-up gap year:

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Are you considering a career break or a sabbatical and want to take on a grown-up gap year? For more inspiration and advice, speak to one of our knowledgeable Personal Travel Experts.

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