6 Things Nobody Tells You About Taking An Adult Gap Year
Taking a career break — it sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Having a whole year away from the stresses of the workplace, with nothing but adventure ahead of you. Instagram is full of travelling accounts, featuring amazing sunsets and cocktails on the beach. A quick Twitter search will bring up profile after profile of non-teenage nomads, with tales of leaving the office behind. And yes, I have to admit that I am one of them! After being in my chosen career for most of my twenties, I was lucky enough to have my application for a year-long sabbatical approved by the powers that be. Along with my partner, we set up a blog and jumped on a plane to Asia in search of the experience of a lifetime. Now we are close to the end of our trip, I’d like to share with you some of the things I wish I had known beforehand.
You’re Still You, Just Further Away
Ok, this sounds dramatic, but it’s true that you cannot escape yourself. Any issues that you face on a day-to-day basis back home are usually free to follow you on your travels as well. For example, I suffer from depression on and off and have done since my teens. Anyone who doesn’t have a first-hand experience of mental health issues might think, what could possibly make you depressed while you’re lazing on a beach or trekking through a jungle?
Luckily, for most of our trip my mind has been on an even keel, but for a few bumpy patches here and there. One morning I found myself crying in our lovely hotel room in Chiang Mai, completely out of the blue. To all the usual thoughts and judgements that crowd my head when I am down, I now had to add a huge dollop of guilt. How dare I be depressed while having this opportunity of a lifetime? How selfish to be sad while back home everyone is struggling through another grey English winter? But I was no more able to stop the way I felt here than I would be back in my everyday life.
If you’re an over-planner, or bad at motivating yourself to exercise, or prone to worrying — guess what? You’ll likely still be all of these things on the other side of the world too. But at least you’ll have lots of time to work on you, so don’t sweat it.
You Might Hate It and Things Might Go Wrong
It’s true! No matter how excited you are, or how much you have pictured yourself finally free to be on your travels, you might find that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Now, I’ve personally had an amazing trip, but there have been one or two moments where I wondered why we were putting ourselves through this. Getting a horrible stomach bug on the side of a mountain in Nepal, or spending 14 hours on an overcrowded night train in India without getting a wink of sleep are two examples that come to mind!
We met someone in Bangkok who was at the start of her journey and who was already having second thoughts. She was struggling to make new friends at her hostel and missing her family. A few of us went out for some food together and tried to reassure her, and I couldn’t help but think how easy it would have been for me to be in her shoes. I am lucky to be travelling with my partner, but I am terrible at small talk and meeting new people makes me anxious. We followed her on Instagram and after a shaky start, she seems to be having a great time now, so it is worth sticking with it for a bit, even if you don’t get off on the right foot.
It Might Cause You To Rethink Your Life
This is a big one for me! After 11 months on the road, I recently made a decision to hand in my notice and not return to my safe, full-time job. Over the course of the year, I have found that the two things which make me happiest are writing and travelling. Although I love my job in a public library, my dream has always been to be a writer and having a year to flex my creative muscles has really brought this home to me.
Will I regret handing in my notice and jumping on the freelance writer bandwagon? Who knows. But at this stage in my life and with a whole year of soul searching under my belt, I figured that it’s now or never!
My partner has also done his fair share of re-thinking and has decided to look into setting up his own food-based business when we return, after working in kitchens his whole life and then eating some amazing local foods while travelling. So life for us when we get home will look quite different from the one we left!
It Can Get Lonely
It’s true, lying on a beach in Goa on Christmas Day, sipping a cold beer, I didn’t feel too hard done by. And yet I still found myself tearing up while picturing my family at home, arguing over who gets the last roast potato and then falling asleep on the sofa to the afternoon film. I’ve missed the hen-do of a close friend, the wedding receptions of a couple of family members and countless milestones and pieces of good or bad fortune in my friend’s lives. It’s important to remember that the world will keep turning back home, even though you’ve checked out.
It’s Not All Luxury Villas and Posing For Instagram
As you scroll through Instagram and sigh longingly at another beautiful shot of a traveller in a floaty dress and floppy hat on the balcony of an incredible hotel, you’re only seeing one side of things. Very few of the people we’ve met on our travels would be able to stay in luxury accommodation for the whole length of their trip. We certainly haven’t!
Budgeting for a long trip takes a lot of discipline. Even though it can seem like monopoly money as you juggle different currencies and exchange rates, you need to watch what you spend. We write down everything we spend and we know how much our daily budget is. Of course, it’s OK to splurge every now and then — we stayed in a gorgeous beach hut in Koh Phangan to celebrate my birthday. But don’t forget that your money needs to last the whole of your trip unless you plan on working along the way.
But, having said all of that…
It Might Be The Best Thing You Ever Do!
Taking a career break has been, without a doubt, the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve met amazing people and learned about their countries and cultures, I’ve seen incredible landscapes and architecture and I’ve eaten the best local foods Asia has to offer. Yes, there are downsides and it’s not all sparkles and sunshine, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a second.
If you want to find out more about our adventures in Asia, you can follow along at www.nofixedhome.com