Why you should take a gap year

by Sophie
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The original plan

I was supposed to be that girl who had it all figured it out. I got good grades at school and was involved in pretty much every extra-curricular activity my school offered. Basically I was the dictionary definition of a Type A personality. I thought that taking a gap year would only set me back. I was sure that I was going to go straight to uni and then into a career.

Everyone told me that the sky was the limit and that I could be whatever I wanted to be. The problem was, I had no idea who the hell that was.

Growing up I changed my mind about what I wanted to do for a career more times than I’ve changed my hair. Over the course of this blog you’ll come to realise that happens quite a lot! At some point in my life I’ve thought about becoming an author, a book publisher, a lawyer, a journalist, a police officer and a nurse. But none of those hats ever quite seemed to fit properly.

I didn’t have a clue what I wanted my future to look like. And yet, I was sure that I would go straight to university and then into a career. This was mainly because everyone would always tell them how much harder getting back into study would be if I took a break. I truly think that mainstream society has convinced our generation that there is only one way or the highway when it comes to your future.

 

Overview of the Swiss Alps where I visited on my gap year

Nothing like a view like this in the Swiss Alps to help you get some perspective

 

HOW IT ALL CHANGED

And then, as the time to make a decision loomed ever closer, I ended up having a spontaneous lunch with a friend who was sure of the complete opposite. She knew that there was no way that she was going to go into a degree or a job without first having seen the world. As certain as I was that I would not be taking a gap year, she was equally as certain that she would.

I remember sitting with her and smiling indulgently as she proudly told me about this plan. Privately I was convinced that she was crazy, and that she was definitely making a big mistake.

And yet, as that lunch continued, and we kept chatting about her after-school plans and all the many places that she would visit, my confidence in my plan began to waver. Her enthusiasm was infectious and her logic that wasting money on a degree that she wasn’t sure she wanted was hard to argue with.

As I had always had the good sense since I began my first part-time job at 14 to actually save a decent portion of my paycheck, I realised that even this late into the game, that this could be a possibility for me too, if I wanted to. The question was, did I want to?

 

I started off my gap year with a trip to New York, where I saw Lady Liberty!

And they said welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you!

CONSIDERING IT

I won’t say that I left that lunch a convert on the idea of a gap year. But I definitely left it realising that there was more than one option that I had to choose from. So that night I turned to the internet like a good little millennial, desperate for inspiration and answers.

Now I was in year eleven at the time (junior year for Americans) and it was 2013, so there wasn’t as many travel blogs out there as there is today. But they definitely had begun to exist, and that night, and for many nights after that, I began to devour them. And the more I read, the more I wanted to keep reading. I tore through those blogs with the type of ferocity and passion I had never felt towards any degree I was considering studying.

BTW some of the best ones I was inspired by were Liz Carlson’s Young Adventuress blog, and Sabrina Iovino’s JustOneWayTicket blog. There are many more fabulous ones out there, but these are ones I still keep reading today!

So the next time I saw that friend at school, I ended up asking her if she needed a travelling partner. I told her to sign me up, because I was so in!

 

Probably one of the best parts of my gap year was getting to visit Cairo, Egypt.

Being in Egypt was heaven for this history geek!

 

PLANNING TO GO

With about eighteen months to plan and save, but only minimum wage at my part-time job to do it on, I began to save like crazy.

During that time I began to tell others about my plan. This was probably the first time in my life that I had told my parents that I was doing something rather than asking for their permission, and needless to say they were a little taken aback.

But fortunately, I was blessed with parents who wanted me to be happy, so as long as I had a plan for this gap year, they were on board. So plan I did.

 

Day drinking on my gap year or going straight to uni? I know what I'd prefer!

Straight to uni or daydrinking in Mykonos? I know what I’d rather be doing!

 

Now it did become apparent pretty quickly that the friend who I was supposed to be travelling with was never going to save up the money. I want to believe that she truly did plan on getting a job and saving up the money, however, unfortunately, she never managed to transition from the planning stage to making it a reality.

So I had to make a pretty firm decision early on; would I still be going if it was by myself?  The answer was a resounding yes.

I ended up graduating with an offer for law school that I happily deferred and began to wait in anticipation for my exciting new adventure to start.

 

Me putting a lock on the love lock bridge in Paris during my gap year

Putting my own damn lock on the love lock bridge in Paris (back when it was still allowed) because I’m an independent single woman who don’t need no man.

 

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE GAP YEAR

And so it came about that in that year I got to visit eighteen different countries that I otherwise may have never seen. Now, I won’t sit here and try and claim that I was able to spend enough time in any of those countries to call myself an expert on any of them.

But I left that year with my eyes wide open to the beauty and incredible things that the world had to offer. I now know exactly which places I want to go back to and immerse myself in properly.

I also got to skydive, ride a camel and make lifelong new friends. So I’d classify that as a pretty successful year, wouldn’t you?

 

Cycling in Central Park

Pro tip: don’t decide to cycle New York after a massive dessert at Serendipity Cafe or you’ll live to regret it like I did!

 

HOW IT ENDED UP CHANGING MY LIFE

It also turned out that I never ended up going to law school. On that gap year, I realised that the only reason I had decided to study law was because that’s what other people wanted me to. They told me that I was a fool to waste my grades and do something else, and I had listened to them. But my year abroad made me realise that life was far too short to spend time doing something that wasn’t going to make me happy.

I did end up going to university though. Which is why three years later I have a criminology degree that I actually enjoyed studying. It is also the degree allowed me to get the great first “proper” job that I have today.

It turned out that job would require me to move to a different state in Australia, where it just so happened that many of the girls I had met in my gap year travels lived. This ended up being so incredibly helpful to move to a new city and already have a support network around me. Plus I’m pretty sure there is a statute of limitations on how long you’re allowed to tell your travel stories before people stop listening. But the friends that you travelled with will always be more than happy to reminisce with you!

I can also honestly say that I never found that it was hard to get back into study after taking a year out. After thirteen years of straight schooling, I was definitely burnt out by the time I graduated. My gap year allowed me to step away and recharge. So that when I did go back to study, it was with a renewed determination that I’m sure I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

 

One of the best parts of my gap year was the people I met along the way!

This is what happiness looks like

THOUGHTS LOOKING BACK

My gap year instilled in me a lifelong love and passion for travel. This is why I decided to study abroad for a year of my degree in the US. Not only did this end up not only being an invaluable experience for me academically, but has led me to a best friend that I now consider my sister, and to be able to see about twenty-five of those United States.

They say life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. When I look at where I am today and how I got here, I know one thing for sure.

If I had never gone for that spontaneous lunch and decided to take a gap year I would never have ended up with this life. So all things considered, I’m pretty happy that my life never went to plan.

 

Have you taken a gap year? And if so, did it change the direction of your life too? Let me know below in the comments!

 

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8 comments

April October 13, 2019 - 2:25 pm

Your travels sound like an absolute blast! So proud of you for taking that chance to see the world. I never did a gap year and have some serious wanderlust now in my 30s.. so I suppose mine and my husbands life long dreams and ‘gap year’ will come when our children graduate high school!

Reply
Sophie October 13, 2019 - 2:58 pm

Thanks for your sweet comment April! Absolutely you should, or take one sooner and bring the kids with you! That kind of life education can be just as valuable as school ❤️

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Miranda October 13, 2019 - 3:26 pm

I’ve been thinking so much about a gap year or even a remote year so thank you for the info!

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Sophie October 13, 2019 - 3:52 pm

No worries at all Miranda, thanks for your comment! Feel free to reach out any time if you need any gap year advice x

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Disha Smith October 14, 2019 - 5:17 pm

I love this post! I think everyone should consider taking a gap year to travel. Traveling teaches you so much!

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Sophie October 14, 2019 - 6:01 pm

Hi Disha, thanks for your lovely comment! Couldn’t agree with you more x

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Bliss Eatts October 31, 2019 - 7:35 am

I love this! My Gap year was the best decision ever. It taught me so much and helped me grow up before university.

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Sophie October 31, 2019 - 8:47 am

That’s awesome, I’m so glad! I think as long as you do something productive with your gap year, whether it be travel or trying out working in an industry you’re interested in, then gap years are absolutely invaluable 😊

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