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Are Gap Years Just for Toffs Who Want to Build Toilets?

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Vicky Philpott

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Written by: Vicky Philpott

I’ve had a certain amount of ribbing in my 20 months as the Content and Social Media Manager at gapyear.com, generally from ‘friends’, and usually ones who haven’t ever even been on a gap year. Thanks to the comedian Matt Lacey there’s definitely a stigma attached to the ‘gap yah’ – they’re for rich kids, hippy souls to find themselves or just for young people to go and get drunk in different countries for as long as the money lasts.
This is so untrue for pretty much all the gap years I’ve read and heard about. A gap year can be anything, definitely not just rich kids going off to build toilets for people who don’t need them. If we’re boiling down the wealth of experiences on a gap year to a sentence: gap years are a chance to explore skills, passions and interests you may never knew existed in new destinations away from everything you know.
I want to use this, my last article for gapyear.com, to defend the gap year for the genuinely life-changing experience that it is with a few photos and stories of my travels and my fellow gappers’.
Travel in Porto

Life-changing gap years

Over the past 20 months I’ve read through hundreds of stories of gap years, from tales of eager excitement and adventure to heart wrenching stories from around the world told through our gappers’ experiences.
The three stories that have stood out to me during my time here would have to be Will on the volcanoes in Hawaii, Joe on the Killing Fields in Cambodia and Lucy exploring Antarctica.
Amazingly I’d never actually heard of the Killing Fields before but I read that article not long after I started, and was left feeling horrified and confused by the whole story, and amazed by the eloquence with which it was told. I then devoured any literature on Cambodia’s past and ‘How They Killed my Father‘ remains one of the most disturbing and thought provoking books I’ve ever read.
Joe’s story is proof that travelling is not just about the here and now, it’s an important education in the history of our world and one that will stick in your mind more than anything you’d learn in the classroom. In fact, I can guarantee you’ll learn a new thing every day when you’re travelling, if not 20.
Zanzibar laughs
While I was reading Will’s story of working as an International Volunteer Ranger on a volcano project in Hawaii it was obvious what an incredible time he’d had there and how much he enjoyed telling people about it. But that’s not the only benefit. In his own words…

“If an employer is breezing through 200 potential applicants and comes across a CV with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a reference, they’re going to take a closer look.”

I knew that he’d be full of stories to last a lifetime from that summer, both in an interview room and in life.
Kangaroo in Oz
Lucy’s description of her expedition to Antarctica is just damn cool. Not many people get to travel to this part of the world and as she won the chance in a writing competition she was keen to spread the word of what she’d seen. I love hearing about the unique and awesome experiences people are enjoying all over the world. Ones that enrich their lives, and everyone around them for years to come. She’s definitely inspired me to want to visit that area one day.

Gap year inspiration

These backpackers, among many both on and off the site, decided to venture out on these ‘trips of a lifetime’ and saved and slogged to afford them, or used their talents to get them there. They took the initiative to explore alone and in turn opened up to every new experience that came along. That’s an inspiration and an incredible feat in itself, no matter what they actually did there.
Me working in Spain
Like millions of backpackers before them and millions to come they changed the course of their lives after being inspired by someone, or something.
I’d love to say the inspiration was gapyear.com – maybe it was – the more I travel the more I meet people who tell me gapyear.com was in some way responsible for their current adventure.
Our site community have certainly inspired me in my future travels.
Travelling in Vietnam
I’m leaving gapyear.com to travel to France, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria over the summer. Then in October I’m going to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize up until Christmas. In January I’ll be visiting Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Burma up until May then… who knows?

Financing your gap year

There’s a certain amount of taunting of the phrase ‘gap year’ and as I’ve said, a stigma that they’re just for rich kids to build toilets, but there are so many ways to enjoy a variety of experiences on a gap year on the cheap that it’s just a myth. I know, I’ve done it. I’ve worked, volunteered and travelled as cheaply as possible to afford the adventures I’ve had.
Anyone who says travel is too expensive has no imagination.
Me in Genoa
My travels have been worth every hour of slogging away on minimum wage in a pub / data entry office / shop, that I’ve done. I can assure you that I’ve paid for all my travels from the age of 16 onwards and Slovakia will be my 40th country. If you want to go off exploring you’ve just got to learn to spend, save and travel wisely.

My travel journey

Going to the USA to work at summer camp aged 21 changed my life. I met so many incredible people, who I still count as friends today, and as cheesy as it sounds, it opened my eyes to the world. This cost a few hundred, which I earned working in a pub at university. I got free bed and board for three months in upstate New York, and a salary at the end of it to spend on one crazy week in Cancun. I did this in my university summer, and more than a few close friends and family said I was a changed person when I returned. I certainly felt different.
Travelling in Czech Republic
I went back to summer camp the next year, and then on to Australia for two months to stay with my friends I’d made in both years at camp, for free. I then taught English in Madrid before doing an NCTJ journalism course, which finally got me a job in London. A few years of working, then a redundancy, and it was time to travel again with four months through Europe.
Since then I’ve been on a lot of weekends and weeks away and travelled with my job, but now, with the opportunity to do exactly as I please I’m going on a gap year, at 29 years old.

I heart travel 

For 97%* of people who go on a gap year it will be the best thing they ever do. For some it might not seem like it at the time, but when you return you’ll appreciate the incredible time you had and the benefits of throwing yourself into it will slowly shine. The people you meet, the food you taste, the sounds, smells, emotions, and the wealth of experiences you suck up are infinite.
Travelling in Morocco
Gap years are not just for rich kids aged 18-21 to go off for a year and then come back to the rat race with tales of ‘chundering’ with ‘Tarquin’. Going travelling and exploring all your skills and interests away from what you’ve grown up with, or what you’ve got used to, will make you a stronger, wiser and generally more interesting person.
No matter what your age, background, skillset or interests taking some time out abroad to appreciate them is well worth it. For some it may just be an awesome year of their lives that they’ll remember with a laugh, but for others, like me, taking some time out will genuinely change their lives for the better.
Skydiving in New Zealand
It’s probably time to find out what a gap year could do for you.
And if you are a toff who wants to build a toilet, we have options for that too!
 (*from my observations)

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