Going on a gap year is an incredibly enticing prospect for some. If you have the ‘travel bug’ then this can be hard to shake. If you are spending your hours dreaming whist-fully of travel when you should be knuckling down in the office, then this is going to harm your productivity and leave you feeling dissatisfied until you go.
But of course it’s never quite that simple. Unfortunately going on a gap year is also a huge commitment which means literally putting your life on hold for that time, and which can involve too much of a lifestyle change for those of us with commitments. There are many pros and cons of travelling for a whole year, and this makes it something that we need to consider very carefully.
With that in mind then, here are some of the pros and cons of a gap year, that can help you come to the right decisions.
Pros of a Gap Year
You’ll Grow as a Person
If you go on a gap year then undoubtedly you will grow as a person and you will develop yourself. This happens as a simple result of your encountering other cultures and sceneries which broadens your mind and which opens you up to whole different ways of living. Many of us are too used to thinking ‘inside the box’ because it’s all we’ve ever known. It makes us less creative, less understanding and less sympathetic. Experiencing how other people see the world for a while can free you of this, and it can make you a far more open minded and well-rounded individual.
At the same time you grow as a result of travelling on your own. Most of us do gap years alone, but even if you go with someone else you will still be incredibly independent. If you’re used to living with your parents, or to living with partners or friends, then going on a gap year can make you much more independent and help you to stay calm in a difficult situation. If you’ve ever had to ask for directions in a foreign language when you’re miles of home, suddenly you’ll find setting up your gas bills a lot less intimidating.
You will also learn a lot about what’s important in life, and even who is important in life. You’ll find that the people who really matter in your life are the ones who stay in touch, and the ones who you miss the most. And you’ll learn that not being able to do your makeup, or not being able to eat your usual meal of chicken strips, really isn’t the end of the world.
You’ll Gain Respect
Going travelling is something that impresses people. This makes you a much more interesting and knowledgeable person, it shows you are a ‘doer’, it demonstrates bravery, and it lends you an air of mystery. If you are in a conversation with a stranger and you can mention ‘that time’ you were in the Amazon rainforest white water rafting, then suddenly people want to know more.
You’ll Build Memories
Travelling is a great way to ‘build memories’. When we are old and we can no longer do everything we want to, then our memories are really all that we have. If you can look back on your youth and relive excitement and adventure, then this will help to make you much more content and it’s a good way to prevent a mid-life crisis where you suddenly realize you haven’t lived to the extent that you would like to.
You’ll Have a Great Time
Furthermore, if you go on a gap year you will quite simply have an amazing time. Sure you’ll grow as a person, seem more mysterious and have happy memories – but in the here and now this is quite simply an excellent way to spend a year and you will be sure to be glad you decided to go.
Yes you could opt to be ‘sensible’ and to stay at home and in work and in your relationships, but then when are you going to start living for yourself? If you always save and plan toward building a stable life for yourself, then when will you be able to start enjoying it and what are you really saving ‘for’? Sometimes you just need to live in the now, and to do something incredible – otherwise life is just work.
Employers Like It
Having a gap on your CV is never normally a good thing when you’re looking for work, but one exception to this rule is going travelling. If you travel then you will be demonstrating your independence and your worldliness, you will show you are the sort of person who seeks out good experiences and isn’t too afraid to leave home, and you will generally be a more colourful and interesting candidate than those who have gone straight from job to job.
If your Facebook picture is currently you looking smouldering in the bathroom mirror, then it’s probably time to swap that for one of you trekking across a desert or bungee jumping down a waterfall.
Cons of a Gap Year
Going travelling for a whole year is of course very expensive and this is limiting for some people. If you simply can’t afford to travel then unfortunately that isn’t negotiable. Others might not have the security to be able to travel safely – and if you aren’t going to have a home to stay in when you get back then perhaps going travelling for a whole year is a little too reckless.
You’ll Be Away From Everyone
Being away from everyone can be a painful experience for most of us, and if we are in a close relationship, or are very reliant on one or two best friends, then the thought of leaving them for a whole year may be hard to stomach. If you are staying just to stay with your friends then you need to realize that they will still be there for you when you get back if they are real friends – and at the same time it probably is a good thing for you to learn to be a bit more independent. However if you are in a relationship and your partner can’t or won’t come travelling with you then this is something you are going to need to consider more carefully and something you should discuss with them seriously.
If you are a student considering travelling before university/college then this is a very good time to go. At this point in your life you will have few commitments and you will have your parent’s home to come back to. Go travelling now and you’ll increase your chances of getting into a good institution while at the same time ensuring you won’t regret not having gone later in your life.
However if you aren’t living at home with your parents then suddenly things become a lot more complicated. One problem here for instance is your property and belongings. If you are paying for a flat while travelling then suddenly the costs of your gap year have increased dramatically. Alternatively if you opt to move your belongings into storage this is going to still be expensive but also be a big hassle meaning moving trucks and other things. You can always just dump your belongings, but that can be quite a painful process that not everyone is comfortable with.
Then there’s the matter of your career – if you leave your current job for a year to go travelling then there is no real guarantee that they’ll take you back as soon as you return home. This is something you might discuss with your boss, but you may find you’re forced to leave your job. Consider this carefully before you make any rash decisions.
You Change Your Mindset
This is a good thing largely, but it can also be a bad thing. While you will no doubt grow into a more rounded and open minded individual, you may also find that travelling can be almost addictive and that once you’ve got the travel bug you no longer want to stay in your country. It’s not uncommon for people who go travelling to end up ‘restless’ and travelling a lot more. This can be a negative thing if it prevents them from moving forward in their life.
At the same time it also means that you’re out of the ‘swing’ of education or employment. If you have so far gone from job to job, or school to school, then taking a year out can leave you underprepared for the ‘next step’ and can make you somewhat restless when trying to work in your new job.
Of course travelling can also be somewhat dangerous. This is more a concern for Mums of young travellers, but it is something to bear in mind. Potential threats involve being left without accommodation, catching local diseases, getting badly lost or being attacked by locals who recognize you’re a fish out of water.
There are a lot of pros and cons there and this might leave you none-the-wiser regarding what the right decision is. If that’s the case, then you might want to consider compromises or precautions that can allow you to travel without quite as many detracting points.
For instance you might choose to travel, but not to go for a whole year. A ‘gap six months’ might not have the same ring to it, but it can be just as rewarding and a lot less expensive/intimidating. Alternatively you can go on multiple shorter trips, this way getting to experience as much of the world, but not having to take a whole year out of regular life. In many ways this also helps you to spread out the fun as well.
Another thing you can do to make your travelling less intimidating and save costs is to travel with a friend, or an organization. This way you can split costs, find comfort in being with someone you know, and at the same time you’ll be safer. It also gives you someone to share your adventures with which can make it an even richer and more worthwhile experience.
To help with the money element you can of course put aside some savings and go travelling once you raise enough, or alternatively you can even work out there in the other countries. This way you can experience what it’s really like to live out there, and you can fund your travels as you go.