Advice for your grown-up gap year
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...
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.
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.
Adapt 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:
Ready for an epic journey?
This South American Panorama 21-night tour is one of the most exciting journeys in the world, led by one of our team throughout and using expert local guides in each destination. You’ll travel through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil; visit capital cities and stay in the Amazon Rainforest. You can gaze over Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley; catch a tango show in Buenos Aires; and ride a hydrofoil across Lake Titicaca.Find out more
Jump in your private car
In our opinion, one of the best ways to discover Sri Lanka is in a private car with your own driver-guide who will share local knowledge and insight with you. You can explore at your own pace and visit the cultural triangle, where you can choose to visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Dambulla Cave Temple; explore Kandy; and stay in Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by tea plantations.Find out more
The best of South Africa
Tick the Garden Route, Cape Town and Kruger National Park off your bucket list during this exclusive South African Explorer 13-night small group tour. Spot wild elephants on safari; visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park which boasts coastal dunes; and visit the tiny kingdom of Swaziland. We recommend a few glasses in the wine estates of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek; as well as gazing over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain.Find out more
This 16-night Indochina Panorama tour of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos is fast paced, yet rewarding, and led by an expert guide throughout. You can watch the early morning collection of alms by local monks in Luang Prabang; explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter on a cyclo tour; and appreciate the beauty of Halong Bay during a cruise. We’ll also take you on a rural boat ride along the Mekong River before the icing on the cake, the temples of Angkor.Find out more