In praise of the Gap Year




When I came back from my first round-the-world trip in 1990 I sat down to lunch with a pretty girl. I was shy. She asked me how my holiday went? Stuttering with incoherence, all I could whisper was it wasn’t a holiday, it was “travelling”. I suppose this was the forerunner of the “Gap Year”, but I’ve never been sold on the name "Gap Year". For starters most people don’t actually travel for a year. For most it’s 4-8 months. Secondly a Gap from what? Life? Thirdly there’s the Gap Yah thing. Yes you’ll meet yah’s on your trip. But also plenty of plumbers, dentists, students, and those who have no idea what they’re going to do next. It's a journey. And in my book it's good to meet other folk from other backgrounds.

Not just for the rich

Nor should it be. When I was asked by a well known travel journalist (he's off the telly) what I thought the biggest change in our sector of travel had been over the last 20 years, it wasn’t technology, it was the democratisation of travel ie the ability of those on median and lower incomes to be able to afford to travel. Bearing in mind  that a Navigator RTW cost £1100 (almost 2 months wages) in 1990 and now costs under £1500 (just over 1 months wages based on £23K salary) then in real terms, travelling has become a lot more affordable. I hope it stays that way.

Not just for the young

The biggest growth in Gap Years we've seen is amongst those who are taking a career break. Not every Gap Year traveller is 18.


3 Years at Uni or Poly =£60K+

1 Year Travelling to 11 of the greatest countries on earth including backpacker level spending money = £8K-£12K

Worth remembering you're a long time dead

What happens when you’re old and decrepit and you wish you’d gone there? Nothing. it's too late. Regrets - you'll have a few. But you’re young. You’re free. You can stay at home, mess around all you want, get stoned and come up smiling Tuesday, go clubbing, get drunk, then wonder why you have this horribly empty feeling where your soul should be. Unless you’ve trekked up a mountain to see a sunrise and travelled many miles to visit that museum, how will you ever know what might have been…Want to know what Australia looks like - and the sense of space it engenders? Nepal smells like? Ever dipped your toe in the Pacific? Go there… End of.

Eat with different people from different cultures

You may live in a multi-cultural society but have you ever eaten in someone's home that has a different skin colour, or religion, or nationality? Doesn't sound that important when you write it down but I have this memory of myself from 1990 sitting in a friend's Mum's kitchen in Chiang Mai as she whizzed up some chicken and rice in a blaze of laughter, smiles and patter. It was one of the most perfect meals I've ever eaten.

Education, Education, Education

I'm a big fan of life long learning. Too many folk “peak” at University and forget there’s a lot still to learn in life.... Travelling (or a Gap Year) is a form of education. Financial, cultural, personal and as educational if you want it to me. As an added bonus, and as mentioned above, a Gap Year is also working out cheaper than a year at Uni from next year...




Meet an Australian

Everyone assumes you will have met one before. This is not always the case. Travelling is a perfect opportunity to meet one. They are different.

Meet an American

You've seen them on the telly-box, you know their legal system better than your own, so a Gap Year is a perfect opportunity to meet  and interact with one on so many different levels.

Learn about your own country

I've met people half way up the Andes who've never been or met anyone North of St Albans (Watford is just such a cliché). This is not a good thing. Travel should encourage you to visit your own country. Especially after you have kids.

Grow up

I've yet to meet anyone who's done a Gap Year round the world who has then gone on to regret it. Personally I think it's a rite of passage for some if not all:; Morever I think having to organise your finances, travel on the ground, and laundry are rather good life skills to learn on the road. A lot of folk grow up on their Gap Year.

Real food

An average Chinese meal in the UK tastes nothing like an average Chinese meal in China. You think Indian food is Tikka Masala? It’s not – pea masala  or a Thali is more like it. A fried egg on your fried rice for breakfast – how can that taste delicious? It does. Look unless you go and seek out foods and get a sense of what food is and means to different peoples and cultures, you’ll never know the real deal when it smacks you right in the chops. Some goes for wine, but that's another story.

Smell vs a 56 inch plasma widescreen

For the price of a RTW you could buy the world's largest monster plasma screen 3D all singing dancing television. You could then invest in some sofa time and become a seriously lazy oaf whose only experience of life is through someone else's experience and camera skills. Or you could go travelling and regain your senses. Start with smell. Read this article by Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads on spices: it’s superb.

Coz it’s what the clever people do

Well clever people do stupid things too, and there are a lot of well-travelled bigots, but yes most of the clever people I’ve met have done a Gap Year (or a variation thereof)

Bobby De Niro

Travelling will make you more money in the long run. Employers like well-travelled folk (up to a point). But the real secret of a Gap Year – it’ll give you confidence, and employers really like that.*




By Stuart Lodge