VW campervan in a field

Lessons from a grown-up gap year

Lessons from a grown-up gap year last a lifetime.

Recently I celebrated my 39th birthday and while most people wait to turn the big 4-0 before reflecting on the last decade, for me it felt very poignant.

That’s because ten years ago I had just made the decision to go on my own grown-up gap year. As I began to plan my 30b430 trip I had never been so stressed about anything in my life. I was constantly wondering whether I was doing the right thing.

Making the decision to take a grown-up gap year can actually be one of the most difficult parts of the whole experience. Turning your back on the life you are currently living can feel like a huge risk, especially if you’re giving up a job, home or even a relationship.

However, there was one thing I knew for sure. I needed to do it. I didn’t want to look back ten years later (hello!) and regret not going.

What I learnt from my grown-up gap year 

You can probably tell by the fact that I have been running this blog for almost ten years, that my trip was one of the best experiences of my life.

Not only because of the places I saw or the people I met, but also because the lessons from a grown-up gap year can shape the way you live life when returning home.

If you’re wondering what they are, here are my lessons from a grown-up gap year:

1. Don’t worry about where you “should be”

This was a really big one for me. I remember just before my trip looking around at my friends and colleagues who were settling down, buying houses and having babies and thinking to myself, “what on earth am I doing?” It felt so strange to be in such a different place in my life and having previously been in a serious relationship, was not one where I’d ever expected to be.

I even met Mr A just a couple of months before I left the country and a friend told me she was surprised that I still intended to go ahead with the trip. But I knew that I would always regret not doing it if I didn’t go.

Fast-forward ten years and Mr A and I are married and I now have all of the things I thought I “should have” at the time. Yes, I got to it a little later than some, but earlier than others. There is no set timeline we have to follow and don’t let society tell you otherwise.

Even now it’s sometimes easy to look at where other people are in their careers or lives and think maybe I should be further along than I am or doing something differently. But I have to trust myself and the decisions that I make that they are the right ones for me and my family.

2. It’s never too late to travel

It’s so easy to have the mindset that gap years are just for students and that taking one when you’re older isn’t the right thing to do. “Am I too old to take a gap year?” was a question that I asked myself so many times before I set off.

But on my travels I met so many people of different ages who were doing trips for so many varied reasons and I realised age really doesn’t come into it that much. Also, as I’ve always said, I think you tend to appreciate a grown-up gap year so much more than one you take right out of school.

Taking a grown-up gap year was such a good decision and I loved every minute of it. 

This same mindset can be applied to so much of life. It’s never too late to start studying for something you’re interested in or change career. It’s never too late to take up a new hobby. And it’s never too late to start leading a life that you love.

3. You’re braver than you think

Stepping on that first plane to Peru was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I was actually in tears as we flew out of London as I was so, so scared. There were many moments on my trip where I felt afraid or out of my comfort zone. Doing a sky dive over Lake Taupo in New Zealand, trekking solo across Torres del Paine in Chile and diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia were all things which took me severely out of my comfort zone. Even simple things like buying a bus ticket in China could be daunting.

But by pushing myself to do them I discovered that nothing is ever as bad as you think it’s going to be. Yes, things don’t always go to plan, but you can adapt and work things out in the moment.

These experiences have taught me to be braver in life too. Now I’m more willing to take risks in my career or take holidays to places some people would never consider.

4. Don’t worry about following the crowd

I cannot stress this one enough. This was a a lesson I learnt both in terms of the way I live my life (see point 1 above) but also while I was travelling. Doing a trip when I was older meant that I didn’t feel like I ‘had’ to do things just because everyone else around me was. I very much made the trip my own, did the things I wanted to do and didn’t worry about what others were doing.

Now in life I try to do the same. As a parent it’s often very easy to look at what other families are doing and wonder whether you should do the same. But Mr A and I know how we want to raise our children, so we try not to worry about what everyone else is doing.

Likewise in my career as a journalist or my hobby, writing this blog, social media makes it all too easy to compare yourself to others and think that you should be writing more, posting more and achieveing more. But there are only so many hours in a day and it’s important to spend them on the things that are most important to you in life.

Walk to the beat of your own drum and don’t worry about following the crowd.

5. Make travel a central part of life

Over the last ten years my life has changed dramatically. There will be no more heading off on trips that are months long (at least not for the foreseeable future anyway). However this doesn’t mean that I have totally forgotten about travel. Aside from my family, it is the thing that makes me happiest in the world. So there was no way I was just going to draw a line under it.

Luckily I married someone who also loves adventures and together we have tried to build a life where we can still explore new places, when we’re not working. We choose to prioritise travel over lots of material things and have been lucky enough to travel together as a couple, to places like Argentina, South Africa and the USA. Then after the birth of our first little adventurer we took her along for the ride too, visiting countries like Bulgaria and Spain.

Obviously travel came to an abrupt stop in March 2020, so we never did get to do our Albanian roadtrip (sob!). Hopefully we’ll get there one day.

We’ve also not been able to take our second little adventurer abroad just yet. Instead, we decided to invest our savings in a campervan which has allowed us to travel in the UK and will hopefully one day take us to Europe. 

One of the things I love about the lifestyle we have created is that our two little adventurers love exploring too. There is nothing like seeing the world through their eyes and having adventures as a family of four. 

I hope you found these lessons from a grown-up gap year helpful. And if you’re wondering whether taking a career break or sabbatical is worth it, I’m sure you know by now what my answer would be!