– Written by Victoria Philpott
Taking a year out? Spend any time with your family before you go and the chances are you’re going to have to defend and justify your decision to the end.
Well, here’s a few words for your grandma/uncle/sister-in-law to prove that your gap year is actually a continuation of your school/college/sixth form learning, and not, in fact, a chance to bunk off and get lost for three hours at a Full Moon Party.
Just thank me in the comments box below when you finally get some peace…
Walking around all those art galleries and museums you’ll learn far more than studying from text books for 10 years. Interact with exhibitions and taking notes of the building architecture as you walk the streets will enhance your knowledge of all the greats. Take in some street art and watch the pros at work. You could even sketch a monument or two if you feel the need.
One of the most rewarding parts of long term travel is doing some volunteer work. Offer your skills as a handyman, English teacher or play mate and you will learn more about yourself, your abilities and the people around you than you ever would in a classroom.
In travelling and talking to people with hugely different life experiences to yourself you’ll also learn about how other countries work, their legal and parliamentary systems, and expand you social skills in understanding local people. You’ll also learn a huge amount about human rights, sometimes it’s easier to learn about the opportunities you have when you meet people who don’t.
Take part in some volunteer work and you’re sure to be putting on plays and showing off to the children. You’ll also gather skills in working as a team to get things done.
If you’re more of an observer, keep up your critical drama lessons by going to see local plays and shows and enjoying the entertainment of street artists. You could always write a few reviews and try to get them published on the internet, if you like. And on your travels you’ll see some of the most impressive theatres ever made, including Ephesus in Turkey…
You’ll get a great idea of how different countries work when you’re planning whether you can afford them or not. Get to grips with the currencies of each country is also quite a talent and the reasoning behind the currency changes will also teach you a few lessons at the School of Travel. Combined with learning how the financial decisions of the country have affected the local people – you’re sure to learn a lot about world economics.
In South East Asia for example English teaching jobs are pretty easy to come by in return for bed and board. Trying to explain why English people say ‘Hide, Hid, Hidden’ but ‘Grow, Grew, Grown’ will hurt your brain, but it will also make you understand the English language more than you ever thought you needed to. Travelling will also make you realise how lucky you are to speak and understand English, especially for employment opportunities abroad.
With all this time on your hands you can also catch up with that school reading list you pretended you’d read. Indulge in some book time and reignite your love for the written word, or start it. Many hostels have swap shops making reading a sociable and cheap thing to do on the road.
Planning and plotting where you’re going to go on your year out will give you a better understanding of the world than any studies of rocks in school geography. Research thoroughly and you’ll learn about rivers, natural hazards, world development, ecosystems, tourism, weather, populations and agriculture, among many, many other geographical titbits.
Visiting monuments and museums day in day out is a much more interactive experience than learning from a book. Go on tours and you will learn about the history of a place in an interactive way. Study guidebooks on your days off from siteseeing and you’ll spend the rest of your life wowing friends at dinner parties with your historical knowledge.
Getting Skype to work on a prehistoric computer in outer Nepal will test your computer skills to the limit. Or volunteer at a start-up charity and you could flex your ICT skills even further.
A no brainer. You are sure to learn more French/Spanish/German actually living in the country rather than three hours a week repeating, “Hola, mi nombre es Bob. Tengo una mamá, un papá y dos hermanas”. Instead, you could be chatting to the locals, and maybe take up a Spanish language course in return for your English skills. Being surrounded by a language is without a doubt, the best way to learn it.
Working out how many Thai Baht are in a Euro should keep the old mental arithmetic skills ticking over. Spent a year out converting menu prices around the world to your own country’s currency and you’ll be like a walking, talking, human calculator by the end of it.
You’ll also learn excellent budgeting skills and the ability to make €50 last you a month (maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but if you do let me know how).
Keep your ears and eyes open and soak up the music all around you. From street singers, to bar musicians to huge summer festivals throw yourself into it.
Your year out is an excellent time to learn a new musical instrument too. Get your hands on a harmonica, yukele or guitar and you could be a one man travelling band. This is a great way to make friends in hostels too – everybody loves a musician!
Learning how the skewed politics of countries can ruin them, seeing how other leaders lead their countries, the problems other countries have at the top and how this trickles down to the people is so much more understandable if you’re actually in the country. If you do know some of the local lingo then reading the newspapers will reveal a lot of how a different country works to the one you live in.
Climbing up hills and mountains, exploring old towns on foot and swimming in the sea every day is so much more rewarding than any school lesson. You can also play tennis under the sun, rollerskate along Venice Beach, cycle through Europe, play football with the local kids in Vietnam, watch a basketball game in the US, enjoy a boxing match in Thailand, go canoeing, ride horses, play table tennis… the list is literally endless.
On your year out you’re sure to visit many temples, churches, mosques, synagogues and religious buildings around the world. You’ll also see how religion has torn countries apart and the last effect it’s had on country’s politics and geography. As well as how a country’s religion is deep-rooted in everything it’s residents do.
You’ll probably learn a lot about your hormones on your year out, but best not to tell grandma that one. Tell her you’re going away to see how different people react and adapt to their environment and and that you want to feel closer to your environment by spending some time outdoors with the wildlife. You’ll learn about the different atmospheres and environments and what that means for your current surroundings – the rocks and the wildlife and how it affects them. When you’re visiting a country with no electricity, you’ll soon learn how the locals harbour their power wind power to the best they can too – check out the incredible story of William Kamkwamba (pictured below).
Your year out
This isn’t a time to sit on the beach by day and on a bar stool by night, although of course there will always be plenty of that involved. Your year out is to find out about yourself and your place in the world. Make the most of it and future employers and friends will be impressed and fascinated by you.
Thanks to AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker, SuziJane, lukasz dzierzanowski, archer10 (Dennis) (SLOW), exfordy, borkur.net, lowjumpingfrog and Brian.Mo for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.