Earlier this week Oli and I started up the Journey Count Gap Year Series with 8 reasons to take a gap year, so check it out if you haven’t already.
As with doing anything in life for the first time, you are bound to make some mistakes taking a gap year. I know I did! So, I have decided to help you avoid potential pitfalls with this list of 4 things I wish I’d know before taking a gap year. This way, you will at least miss out on looking foolish, spending too much money, or getting in trouble in some circumstances. You’re welcome…
1. You DO NOT need the 90 litre backpack the tiny sales person (who could probably fit inside it) is trying to sell you!!
There is only one thing I regret from the entire 8 months of my gap year and that is basically lugging a body bag around with me for all that time. Seriously, the weight and size of my first backpack would have been totally appropriate on CSI. It was ridiculous, causing me on more than one occasion to end up on my back, unable to get up, like a large helpless tortoise. Pathetic for me but hilarious to other, wiser backpackers.
So, if you want to avoid the foolish, pathetic tortoise look then opt for a backpack that is 70 litres at the most. I now travel with a 65 litre bag, and could definitely go smaller (I know it’s late but Santa, please bring me a Gregory Sage 55 litre!).
Although it is true that I used every single piece of unnecessary crap that I stuffed in my bag, I didn’t need to. And it is true that my trips recently have only been around 2 months long, but just because you are going away from 8 months does not mean you need 8 months worth of stuff! Trust me on this one!
Check out my updated packing lists for help.
2. Don’t rush
As soon as you step off the plane in a new country or continent you will want to see everything, do everything and eat/drink everything. Everything is new and exciting and ‘oh, wow, Bolivia is only a 12 hour bus away, let’s go there too!’.
It is so easy to get caught up in that excitement and rush through each place so that you can fit in every must-visit city or must-do activity. You cannot get over this excitement, but you can control how you react to it. I seriously urge every traveller to take a step back and make sure they are not rushing or trying to fit too many things in.
I say this for a number of reasons.
For starters, you may end up completely burnt out and then need to hole up in a big boring city for a week simply to sleep, Skype and sit back for a second. Furthermore travelling here, there and everywhere because that’s what the guidebook tells you to do, may mean you miss out on the not-so-Lonely-Planet-top-ten things that you may really enjoy. You may end up having no wiggle room to say yes to a random visit to an island full of adorable monkeys, and that is a sad thing.
This is something Oli and I have suffered from on so many of our trips and on our little vacation to the Philippines that we are on now, we are determine to slow down and not have too many set plans. We want to be able to relax, really take in each place we visit, and be open to the inevitable recommendations we’ll get in location.
3. Do a little research
This is definitely a hind-sight wish, that I must say I didn’t think too much about while I was on my gap year. But doing some research can really add so much to your experience.
Like I said in number 1 on this list, I only regret one thing, but I do feel a little sad that the whole time I spent in places like Vietnam and Thailand, I mostly ate vegetable fried rice and vegetable noodle soup! Yes, these were delicious and yes, they were the cheapest. This allowed me to travel a lot longer and buy more beer, but there is so much more to these two countries’ cuisines! From the fussy as hell child I was 13 years ago, I am now very much a foody and am going to have to go back to these places to rectify my unadventurous eating. Don’t worry though, I did eat a considerable amount of Pad Thai, Green Curry and Pho. Also, a second South East Asia trip is definitely not a bad thing!
So, think about your interests and look into what you can do in the countries you’re visiting. The internet is saturated with amazing travel blogs waiting to give you their top tens and best travel advice, so get searching! You don’t want to turn up in a new place and end up wasting your time, as you didn’t know you could windsurf/hike/scuba dive there.
4. Document the journey!
I think I’ve talked about it before on here, but I’ll say it again. Damn my forgetful brain and my uncaring 19 year old self!
While I was travelling 4 years ago, I didn’t know about travel blogs. I had a Get Jealous account which I used to attempt to document my travels for the benefit of those at home, and for the first month or two I kept a daily journal. But there is still a tremendous amount of information lost forever that would be so useful to me now I write this travel blog. It’s amazing, and incredibly sad, how quickly you can forget important stuff and wonderful memories. Snippets of gap year memories come to me at the most random moments, making me beam from ear to ear and instantly message whichever travel buddy was involved. But, still, I can never seem to remember what I want to when I want to.
This is not just necessary if you want to keep a travel blog at the time, or even later like me, but for anyone. Those travel memories are so precious and you will really appreciate having them kept somewhere other than your unreliable brain, for reminiscing when you are old and grey.
Even if you just write down the date, where you were and one thing you did, it will be so rewarding to go back and look at that information however many years down the line. I think these Luckies of London travelogues are perfect.
Again, as with life, there are so many potential mistakes you could make jetting off around the world as a vulnerable youth, but these are the ones that have personally stuck with me. All the other things will turn into important lessons that you should really learn yourself. Like I said, travel is an education.
Do those gappers out there have anything to add?