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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 23-Apr-15 14:04:12

Are we missing out on gap years?

As author Debbie Rix waved her son off on his travels, she wondered what it is exactly that young people get out of a gap year. And if they're so good for younger people, why should older generations miss out?!

Debbie Rix

Are we missing out on gap years?

Posted on: Thu 23-Apr-15 14:04:12


Lead photo

Are older generations missing out?

My son disappeared off on his 'gap year' recently. It was not actually a gap year at all, but six weeks travelling round the Far East. Was I worried, as I waved him goodbye at Heathrow airport - his brand new backpack digging into his shoulders? Yes, if I'm honest. I was filled with a combination of fear and pride. He had worked hard, post-university, and saved up for his travels. So I felt he deserved it. And I hoped, desperately, that he would have an interesting - and safe - time. But is there any point in this gap year travel… beyond having a long holiday? Just what do we imagine our young people get out of this experience?

Any long haul trip requires organisational skills - so that's one box we can tick. My son found the complexities of sorting out phone insurance, cash passports, visas, photocopies of EVERYTHING all quite a tall order before he left. Part of him just wanted to go away and not bother with all the 'just in case' stuff. But by the time he waved me goodbye at Heathrow he had understood the value of it. In fact, he texted me from Dubai airport asking me to send him another scan of some document or other. Why? Because "you’ve got me neurotic now, mum". Good, I thought… neurotic equals sensible.

A sense of self-reliance. One of his friends developed a form of typhoid not long into their trip. The boys marched him off to hospital within two days and he was better within five. The doctors told them they had been sensible to bring him in so quickly. Another boy on the same ward - also from the UK - had a similar illness; he had been 'self medicating' for six days before he finally sought help. The medics were less confident of his full recovery.

Looking at the map, the destinations seem to flow rather neatly from one to the other. Perhaps my own gap year is beckoning…

An understanding and respect for other societies, their customs and history is a valuable lesson. And fun and is obviously key - as long as they stay safe (bungee jump anyone?).

So are these the reasons why 2.5 million youngsters plan to go travelling every year? And if so, does it prepare them for the world…or for university? Interestingly, the figures demonstrate that kids who take a gap year before they go to university are more likely to graduate with a First or Upper Second Class degree.

And what of employers? Surveys show that employers generally view gap years favourably. However, they do look for achievements beyond 'twenty bars in twenty days'; some evidence of self-improvement is considered desirable.

So, on balance… are gap years a good thing? And if so, are they wasted on the young?

There's a growing trend towards the older gap year traveller. I have several friends who have decided that if their children can do it, they can do it too. One chum disappeared off to India with her sister recently, leaving husbands and kids to fend for themselves. Touring the southern district of Kerala, they had a wonderful time, finding accommodation in 'home stays' - the Indian equivalent of the British B&B - or in tiny guesthouses that provided mosquito nets and the occasional swimming pool at a very reasonable price. They ate street food and travelled by bus. They saw, heard, and experienced things you simply don't get near to when you're tucked safely up in a four star hotel.

Another couple set off to trek round South East Asia. "Why?" I asked the wife, only slightly incredulously, before she left. "Because Ben (their recently married son) will be having babies soon, which means I'll never get another chance to be away for so long." She has a point.

One of my dearest friends invited me to go to India with her last month; I am tempted. My husband says he wants to see Australia and New Zealand before he's "too old to enjoy it", and I need to go to China to do some research for my next book. Looking at the map, the destinations seem to flow rather neatly from one to the other. Perhaps my own gap year is beckoning…

Now then, where can I buy a stylish, comfortable backpack?

Debbie's new book The Secrets of the Tower is published by Bookouture and is available from Amazon.

By Debbie Rix

Twitter: @debbierix

Tegan Thu 23-Apr-15 14:51:05

I'm of a mind that gap years started with the Australian/New Zealanders that my ex and I used to meet when doing our mini form of gap year [ie travelling round Europe during the university holidays in an old car, sleeping in a two man ten living on packet soup and blush duty free cigarettes]. It was economically more sensible for students from the southern hemisphere to travel for a year rather than a few weeks. As I got older I started to think that we should all have a 'gap decade' in our 50's while our bodies are still passing their MOT's. I also have a theory that if all the Japanese travellers went back to Japan at the same time the country wouldn't have room for them...

janerowena Thu 23-Apr-15 15:34:41

For some, it's a breathing space away from exams and a chance to sort out what they really want to do with their lives. Neither of mine wanted one really, they both knew what they wanted to do, and I was very relieved not to have them either going away and getting mugged (happened to pretty much every other teen child of my friends and family) or staying at home bored and under my feet all day, then going out and getting drunk with friends all night. Some manage to get work experience for a year, others end up having travelling plans thwarted and having to work doing odd jobs for a year, like the poor boy over the road.

I don't think there's a plus or a minus. Lots of my friends think that it's good for their children to go off abroad and travel and learn to be independent. I preferred my children to go off to Uni over here first, learn to be independent gradually and then spread their wings, travelling in the summer with friends, or going skiing.

It all depends on the teenager, really.

Marmight Thu 23-Apr-15 15:56:41

All mine travelled - 2 after Uni and 1 before. One of them didn't come back - met and married an Aussie so all this Gap Year thing can have its downside sad. It certainly made them more confident and able to deal with the unexpected and I am only glad I didn't know what they got up to until after the event!
I think it's a brilliant thing to do once you retire: with the benefit of a few extra years you can appreciate your adventures much more, not necessarily get drunk and are more aware of the dangers. I would love to be brave enough to do it - anyone up for it? wink

tanith Thu 23-Apr-15 16:02:58

Something I would love to do too, as you say Marmight we are older and wiser. Australia has always 'called' me but now I'm sure its never going to happen and I know its something I will regret not doing. OH can't/won't fly and no one close can afford either the time or money for a trip like that.. I wouldn't be able to carry much in a back pack I guess I'd have to 'downsize' my normal holiday garb grin

Brahaspatinda Thu 23-Apr-15 19:40:54

If you are at all tempted, "Go for it!" Those last three words were my 'permission' from my son to run away at 49 to make up for opportunities lost through early marriage /house renovation /divorce /18yrs of single parenthood. I was terrified, howled at Heathrow, took three wobbly months to adjust and then never looked back. Six months volunteering turned into mainly happy memories of fifteen years in Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Spain and changed my life.

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Apr-15 21:15:39

Wow! Brave lady!

rubylady Thu 23-Apr-15 22:02:24

Good on you, Brahaspatinda.

sweetpea Fri 24-Apr-15 01:07:33

I too would love to travel but not brave enough, I think, to go it alone. Been to India (twice) and Nepal with eldest daughter and had fabulous time. OH not keen on longer flights, though I did get him to Ecuador and Galapagos to celebrate his 70th. Perhaps we should get together Marmight! For anyone interested there is a good website Grown Up Gap Year.

Aruna51 Fri 24-Apr-15 18:31:46

Hi there Debbie! My daughter "dropped out" of uni for a year in order to travel. First she worked full time to get the money for several months, and then off she went with her best friend, for three months.

They travelled through Asia: Thailand, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal and India. At first I wasn't in favour, more because I wasn't sure if she'd go back to Uni (She did and got a First) than out of fear. But in my heart of hearts I knew that travelling in this way is the most wonderful education ever I know, because I did it myself when I was young (South America).

Still I was nervous. I wanted her to email me just about every day, Skype and telephone when possible, etc etc. When I think what I put my own mother through, back then -- no mobiles, no internet, just a letter every few months!

I am very much in favour of youth travel. In fact, I think every young person should spend a year at school in a foreign country, if possible a country in the developing world. As an Oldie, soon to be retired, I'll also probably do some more travelling, but this time with as many comforts as I can afford.

Thanks for the interesting topic!

Aruna51 Fri 24-Apr-15 18:33:19

Hmmm -- I don't know why part of that post has a strike through. It certainly wasn't deliberate, so please excuse!

Nelliemoser Fri 24-Apr-15 23:58:19

My DD went travelling a couple of years after she graduated. She had been working for a while then moved into a flat share with a housemate who had been travelling and inspired DD to go.

Her grandparents had left her some money in their will and she took off in new year 2005 just after the tsunami and headed for Thailand.
She went by herself for nearly a year. Started with South east asia. Malaysia Austrailia . NewZealand and to India.

She was obviously lucky to have been able to fund this trip. For someone who had been quite shy it was the making of her. She would meet up with groups of other travellers in different countries and then move on elsewhere and had a wonderful time.
After her first couple of months away I began to relax about this and she kept in touch by email.

She returned hom a couple of days before Christmas when I had expected her to arrive back a week later. She and and her brother had hatched up this plot. I was expecting to pick DS up from the station and discovered DD there instead.

absent Sat 25-Apr-15 08:02:07

As a general rule, the gap for young people is between school and university or between university and starting a career – and it should be remembered that many, many young people do not get a chance to do this. What is the gap supposed to be for oldies – between retiring and dying, between being a mother and a grandmother? It just sounds like a lot of nonsense to me. I have travelled to many countries in several continents and moved to the other side of the world from where I was born, grew up and spent most of my adult life. I might do some more travelling to countries that are now nearby – or not – but a gap year?

Marmight Sat 25-Apr-15 09:01:11

Why not a year Absent? Some of us are not tied down to family commitments or a husband and can easily afford 6 months or a year away at a time. I too have travelled to many countries in several continents but only for short periods, so the opportunity to spend longer is not to be sniffed at hmm

Marmight Sat 25-Apr-15 09:04:50

......I didn't realise there was a 'rule' about when to take a gap year! Yes, it is normally twixt school and university or university and work/marriage, but why not between marriage and marriage or in my case, widowhood and dotage? Who makes the 'rule'?

baubles Sat 25-Apr-15 09:18:43

My children also travelled; in DD's case it was a gap between graduation and starting a career while DS took a couple of breaks from work to go off and wander.

Last year DH and I drove to Greece via Croatia and Albania returning via Sicily, Italy and France. We were away for three months and I could easily have carried on for another three. Accomodation was mainly booked a day or two ahead but on a few occasions I tramped along a beach knocking on doors till I found a place to stay for a few days.

We have family commitments which will prevent us repeating the experience for the time being but I wouldn't rule it out forever.

Aruna51 Sat 25-Apr-15 13:07:45

Absent, I don't think we should take the label "gap year" too literally. I think it just means to travel the way those young 'uns do-- not an everything-included holiday, but a longer visit in a culture different to our own, mixing with the locals and getting to know them, maybe living with a local family, learning a bit of the language, not to be mollycoddled in some tourist resort. An educational trip, leisurely, longer than usual, all our senses open and eager to take in the colours, scents, flavours of the country. I think this is what Debbie meant. We are never too old for such a trip, I believe, as long as our health is up to it.

jenn Sat 25-Apr-15 17:19:53

I wonder how many of us have pets that stop us taking long breaks for travelling.I would love to take a couple of months to visit friends and do a round world trip or volunteer to help a charity as I had daydreamed about in the run up to retirement. I am fit and solvent but 3years into retirement and I get no further than Europe for no longer than a week..Why?2 elderly dogs and a grumpy horse!!!!!

Tegan Sat 25-Apr-15 18:09:00

We were going to Australia next year but, given the fact that it's not worth going there for just a couple of weeks, I decided I couldn't leave the dog for longer than that; plus the fact that, now she's getting older and has had a few health problems, if she did get ill on the run up to the holiday it would be a lot of money to lose if we couldn't leave her. Pity holiday cancellation cover doesn't cover pets. We once spent years having a holiday in the same caravan because the family dog had gone blind and it was the only place away from home that she knew.

September45 Fri 08-May-15 14:29:40

In November 2000, we bought a small camper van and had our gap year. We returned this February having had a wonderful time round Europe and Morocco. For us we had made the right decision at the right time. We are all different.

Medicationresearcher Fri 15-May-15 15:38:31

Message deleted by Gransnet for breaking our forum guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

FarNorth Fri 15-May-15 15:50:44

Sorry, I'm not fond of Spam.


zangxuma Sat 16-May-15 19:39:58

oh not at all

cho thue chung cu royal city | may loc nuoc nano | dam cong so

FarNorth Sat 16-May-15 19:44:34

And another one. Reported.

Heckter Sun 26-Jul-15 12:52:24

With age, the gaps are not scheduled at a particular time. So besides aging dogs/pets, there are aging parents - we are all living longer these days - and gaps between surgeries and various ailments. We still have plans to emigrate, as well as travel, to foreign climes, but have been held up by the above. One day ......!