There And Back Again

The ‘gap year’ is a relatively new idea, it seems. Twenty years ago it was far less common for young people to take a year out between school and university to go and travel round the world. Nowadays, it seems most students are at it.

But an even more recent development is that the gap year is apparently no longer restricted to students. It’s becoming more common for people in their 30s and 40s and well established in their careers to jack in their jobs and take off around the world for a year or two. I think part of this might be a symptom of the recession most of the world has been stuck in for the last little while. When we went on our Tanzania trip last year, most of our travelling companions were on a much longer trip than the two-week stint we did. A significant proportion of them were people around our age, who had been made redundant and decided to travel instead of looking for another job. Most of this group were single and had been renting, which probably makes it easier to just drop everything and go travelling, but there was at least one person who had sold her property to raise enough finances to travel indefinitely.

In the last 18 months, two of my colleagues have resigned from their jobs in order to go travelling for several months, and some friends of ours recently took a three-month sabbatical from work to travel.

I have to say I am full of admiration for people who take this brave step into the unknown. Twenty years ago I had neither the money nor the confidence to go travelling around the world. Now, at forty, I possess a bit more of both, but my preferred method of travel is still to go someplace for two weeks and then come back again. I don’t think I would want to go off for six months, even if the opportunity to do so arose. The uncertainty of spending money and not having a job to come back to would be far too stressful. I would also worry constantly about whether my house had been burgled in my absence, or if my cats were OK. Not to mention the fact that an extended period of eating non-Western food and using non-Western toilets would play havoc with my decidedly temperamental digestive system.

I would like to say that extended travel is a young person’s game but I can’t, really, because I’ve met plenty of people my age or older who have taken off round the world for months at a time. So I think maybe it’s just not something that would suit me. I have commitments. I like routine. And I am actually quite happy with this state of affairs.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no objection to getting on a plane for 14 hours to go to some far-flung exotic destination, spending a week or so in an alien place, tentatively trying their food and doing my best to experience other cultures. But then when the week ends I’m glad to come home, back to my indoor plumbing and soft toilet paper; back to Marmite sandwiches and Dairy Milk chocolate bars.

I’m not denying I love travelling. But only in short bursts. Perhaps I’m not very adventurous after all, but part of the fun, for me, in going there is coming back again.

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