I started my gap year at 29 years and 10 months old. Eight months in and it’s without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
As is the case for most people who take a gap year in their 30s, rather than in their teens, 20s or retirement, there was a sink or swim catalyst. Two in fact. My five-year relationship was over and my freelance writing business was really taking off.
About 20 minutes after I was dumped I decided that this was the sign I was waiting for to stop worrying about age, money and what other people would think and just go. Two months later, jobless and homeless, I was loving life at Latitude Festival in Suffolk – the first baby step on my tour, which so far has taken me to the following countries since July 2014:
· July-September = Slovakia > Hungary > Romania > Bulgaria > Italy
· October-December = Mexico > Guatemala > Belize
· January-April = Japan > Taiwan > Philippines > Singapore > Indonesia > India
Of course I worried that I was too old to be hanging out in hostels. I worried that I’d ruin a career that I’d worked hard for. I was nervous that I’d get lonely and be back in a few months with my tail between my legs. I also worried about what other people would think. And finally, for now, I was concerned that pretty much all of my peers were either married, pregnant or both, and why didn’t I just want to be like them?
But following the usual life processes and parent pleasing that everyone else was doing just wasn’t right for me. I wanted to get out there and see some of the other 180 or so countries on Earth. I wanted to meet interesting people who’d grown up unalike to me, who had diverse life interests and wildly different goals to the people I’d known for years. It was time to see different landscapes and to experience every day as special. I wanted to see what else the world held beyond the life I’d lived.
I’ve taken extensive travelling trips at 20, 21 and 26 but there’s no doubt in my mind that 30 is a perfect age to travel. You’ve done enough to bring some cool stories and perspectives to the table, your eyes are open enough to see that travel isn’t just about getting hammered in the clubs with all the other Westerners, and you have the strength of soul and mind to do exactly what you want rather than following the pack. Taking a gap year at 30 is definitely a different experience to that of all the 20 year olds out there; you make the most of your tips and you’ll find it’s actually even better…
There’s an art to dealing with hostels at 30+ – particularly after what seems like a lifetime of a cushy bed with your beloved. All of a sudden you have to share with 6 or 7 strangers snoring, farting and rustling plastic bags in the early hours. I’d definitely recommend staying in hostels over hotels though – this is how you get to meet people, find out the cool things going on and make your money last a lot longer. Here are a few tips on how to enjoy hostels when you’re 30+.
· Never stay in more than a 4-bed dorm, unless in extreme circumstances.
· If there’s even an option of more than a 10-bed dorm for super cheap the place will be overrun with noodle-sucking, bucket-bombing 18-year-olds. Abort.
· Never go for the cheapest (see above).
· Never, ever choose a hostel with metal bed. Wood every time.
· Treat yourself to a private room every so often / as much as you can.
· Always read the reviews for potential red flags (creatures, bad Wi-Fi, constant late night parties etc.)
If you join a ‘friends on arrival / orientation’ kind of tour, expect to find inexperienced and nervous travellers. Have the confidence to just go it alone. Tours are definitely a good idea but read the small print, check out their social media and think about what kind of person they will attract. Certain companies and groups are sure to be filled with younger travellers. If that’s not a problem for you then it’s sure not a problem for them, but just so you know. I’ve done tours with G Adventures and Tao Expeditions and both have been some of the best times I’ve had on my travels. I’m actually keen to do more in the future.
Unfortunately some of the more popular visas, such as the working holiday in Australia or New Zealand, are limited to those under 30, but if you’re not eligible there are still loads more paid experiences to be had around the world.
If you’re from the UK, you can work anywhere in the European Union, for money. Obviously the linguistics could be a problem but it could be fun to take a relevant language course while you’re preparing in the UK, and then an intensive one when you get to your chosen destination.
If you’re not worried about making lots of money but want to work on a project with others, you could work in a more senior role out in the field for companies like Raleigh or Smaller Earth. Or if you’re on a major budget, check out sites like workaway.info and WWOOFing for free or paid opportunities.
Once you’ve reached the heady heights of 30 there’s a good chance you’re a few rungs up on your career ladder and you don’t want all your effort, hours and qualifications to go to waste. In fact, this rates highly on the spectrum of things potential 30+ year old gappers fear for their return. But why not do something for your career in your gap year?
Gapyear.com has projects in journalism, cooking, accounting, media, building, medicine and more. If you use your gap year wisely it could be the perfect opportunity to enhance your wider skillset than you currently use in your job for your return, or for using your skills for other countries where they can be of lots of use helping the local communities.
Always leave your current work on good terms: explain to your manager why you think some time out is important, why you want to do it, and how it will improve your skillset. Keep on their good side and you might even be able to pick up some freelance work while you’re out there to keep you going and to stay on their radar. Maintain the communication lines and if you do come back, they’ll be there to help, whether that’s with a glowing reference or possibly even a job.
If your trade is something that can be done online start profiles on websites like elance.com and odesk.com – you could pick up a bit of work to keep your current skills going. If your trade is more practical, such as a hairdresser, a musician, or the many other ways to make money abroad, make yourself a website to show people as you travel and to have somewhere to direct them. And if you’re not interested in working at all while you’re travelling then just make sure to enjoy every second!
This is a tough one, and annoying. If you’re travelling with your partner, fine. But as an older solo female traveller I’d say I’ve been asked every day for the last 8 months where my boyfriend or husband is. I can’t vouch for whether this happens to guys too but if you’re travelling in Asia you’ll have to come to expect it.
As a solo traveller, of course love is on the mind. I’m sure it is for any kind of traveller actually. If you’re worried about keeping up with the weddings and babies at home I wouldn’t even think about it. In fact, travelling is the perfect way to avoid them all. If travelling at 30 is something you want to do you’re much more likely to meet someone on the same excellent wavelength as you on the road than you are sticking about at home being miserable. So don’t let the worry of meeting someone be a deciding factor as to whether you take a gap year or not.
Keep an open mind and you never know who you might bring home to mummy dear next time you see her.
Returning to work
This article on discussing your gap year at an interview by the ex-gapyear.com COO Cormac offers some great tips on how to show off the best of your gap year to potential employers. If getting a job on return is something you’re worrying about, you need to learn to spin your experience as positively and as relevantly as possible. Your gap year can be an interesting talking point if you’vemade an effort to make it a talking point.
Travelling at 30
As I’ve said, I’ve been on the road for 8 months now and have met people of all ages with all kinds of different reasons to travel. Gap years are not just for toffs to build toilets. I’m thinking hard now, and I’ve never felt out of place or too old. Maybe it helps that people usually estimate I’m around 25 when the stalwart ‘how-old-is-everyone’ game comes about. And the fact that my mentality is stuck at even less than that probably helps too.
Just do it
I’ll be blunt. You’re only going to get older and so if you don’t do it now, you never will. There are all kinds of excuses waiting in the wings of the future so go now before you fall in love / get (someone) pregnant / sign up for a new phone contract / whatever. Don’t look back and have regrets, just go for it, and if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried something different with your life.
As the well travelled gapyear.com Content Manager Will says on our popular ‘travel at 30’ message board thread, when you’re old can you really see yourself thinking “Wow, I’m so glad that I decided to work an extra year of my 30s instead of seeing the world and having crazy adventures”?
I definitely can’t, and I for one won’t have to.
Follow my gapyear.com blog @Vicky.