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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 17-Jun-16 11:32:50

Would you take an adult gap year?

Is it ever too late to grab a backpack and head out into the unknown? Would you? Divorced and in her fifties, Jean Burnett decided that, having waved her children off on their travels years ago, it was now her turn.

Jean Burnett

Would you take an adult gap year?

Posted on: Fri 17-Jun-16 11:32:50

(26 comments )

Lead photo

Would you take an adult gap year?

When I saw my son and, later, my daughter off on their ritual gap year travels I was left with the usual parental concerns – will they stay safe, healthy etc? But there was also a sneaking feeling of envy and regret. Why couldn't I have a gap year and go travelling?

The idea was unheard of when I was eighteen. A friend who went to be an au pair in Denmark for three months was considered very daring.

“What can her parents be thinking of?” was one remark. In retrospect, that was very sad because the world was a much safer place in those days. I didn't join the hippy trail to India in the swinging sixties either, which I often regret. Instead I got married, went to live in San Francisco and had a child.

I finally managed to scratch my itchy feet when I was in my fifties. My children were off to college, we were in the middle of a recession (again), I was divorced and in debt and I decided to cut my losses. I sold the house, put my goods in storage and went around the world for £5000. My daughter dubbed me 'the world's oldest backpacker' but I didn’t even have a backpack. I used a light grip (due to a bad back), and replaced my clothing and necessities on the hoof.

I sold the house, put my goods in storage and went around the world for £5000. My daughter dubbed me 'the world's oldest backpacker' but I didn't even have a backpack.


My travels were inspired by literature. I have always been an incessant reader. I didn't complete a full circle of the globe; instead I radiated out from London like the spokes of a wheel, by coach, train or plane. I started in France, went on to Eastern Europe, then to India, the USA and Latin America, including Cuba. I managed to fit in Georgia in the Caucasus as well.

India was the one place that never failed to live up to expectations – Georgia was another.

After a lifetime of anticipation since reading Rudyard Kipling as a child, the colour, smells, sights and vastness of India was almost overwhelming. Latin America was also fantastic; Mexico will always be one of my favourite countries. I'm glad I saw Cuba before the hordes of American tourists returned and the first McDonald’s arrived.

Nearer home, everyone should visit Prague, another great city of the imagination. The reality is beautiful, sad and sinister too. Georgia had been on my list since I saw their marvellous dancers perform in the Soviet era. Sandwiched between East and West but not fully one or the other, their culture is truly different. I visited remote Svaneti where vendettas were carried on and ancient rituals were performed by Kalashnikov-toting grannies.

My feet are still itchy today and I hope to roam until I drop. I haven't travelled on the Trans Siberian railway and I still haven’t visited Burma. My advice to gransnetters is 'just go'. Age is often venerated in other cultures and people will be friendly and helpful. London is more dangerous than many of the places I visited.

Grab your passport and your vagabond shoes!

Jean is the author of Vagabond Shoes, her travel memoir. Her new novel The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad is published by Canelo Books and available from Amazon.

By Jean Burnett

Twitter: @Jean_Burnett

GandTea Fri 17-Jun-16 11:44:49

When I saw the thread title, I thought do I want to tale a year off from being an adult ? Too bloody right I do, I want to be able to pee over a wall again. grin

Nonnie1 Fri 17-Jun-16 11:53:40

I'd like to be able to jump over one. I've noticed I can't do that now. I may break something smile

Nonnie1 Fri 17-Jun-16 11:55:19

This is the sort of thing I would love to be able to do, but know it could not happen

I have dogs, cats, children at home, and responsibilities.

If I were able to just drop everything and go I would do it in a heartbeat.

tanith Fri 17-Jun-16 12:06:19

I would love to do it but sadly I'm not brave enough to do it alone and OH doesn't have a yen to see the World. There is nothing stopping us either as we don't really have pressing responsibilities.. oh that I were braver.

jollyg Fri 17-Jun-16 12:37:29

Dervala Murphy did similar travels. She cycled to Kashmir on a 'sit up and beg bike' with no gears.

Have a look at her books, each one tells a tale. She went to Ethiopia aith a pair of bum boots and got a septic foot,, her daughter who suddenly appeared travelled with her to Coorg and got a tick in her eye, which could have resulted in blindness. Her travels in Siberia were also eventful and she was robbed!.

From 1992 I have travelled with my camera to China, Africa, Bolivia, and my love, India. 9 years solo, but now himself is retired we go together.

Yes I had a backpac, but now its a wheelie.

Lazigirl Fri 17-Jun-16 17:06:04

jollyg I have always been inspired by Dervla Murphy and have read quite a few of her books. She was certainly intrepid but am not sure I'd have taken young child with me as she did. Another inspiration is Anne Mustoe. At 54, and not particularly fit, she packed in her job as a head teacher, and cycled round the world west to east. She too has written a few books about her adventures. She did the trip in reverse later and quite a few more besides. She died aged 76 in 2009, on another trip in Aleppo, Syria. Amazing women.

Maggiemaybe Fri 17-Jun-16 17:43:57

I would love to take an adult gap year with DH, or maybe a gap few months,if we're still fit enough to do so when the DGS are older. We've talked about travelling round North America by bus and train for starters. But for what is probably going to be a brief and glorious moment in our lives we want to spend time with our DGC while they still want to spend time with us. We're lucky enough to have lived abroad and seen a lot of the world already though, so don't feel any urgency about packing our bags. And cycling will definitely not feature in our travels!

Gap year's surely an odd concept for us though - what's it a gap between? hmm

Newquay Fri 17-Jun-16 23:28:41

Much as I would like to see/visit all these places I would never be brave enough. I could never go with DH-bless him-he mithers the life out of me locally let alone anywhere else! Nothing wrong with him he just mithers!

Thingmajig Sat 18-Jun-16 10:32:03

We would love to be able to take off to Australasia for a few months, if not a whole year. However with our DGD babysitting duties we can't, and we would miss her terribly as she's such a special wee monkey.

Maybe when she is in school we can contemplate going way for a long trip, and we would be able to see and talk to her via Skype ... 3 more years! smile

Lazigirl Sat 18-Jun-16 11:48:28

In my 50s I was fed up with work and requested 3 months unpaid leave which surprisingly was agreed. My DH did the same and during the winter months we travelled around Greek Islands. Neither of us are sun seekers and we just wanted a bit of tame adventure. We stayed in cheap self catering rooms, explored local sights (mostly empty) met lots of locals, a few expats but no tourists because of season. Warm enough to swim, local festivals, nice food, and we were sometimes stuck on islands because seas too high for ferries to dock. Great fun and cheap too. First day back at work again it hit me that life is short, so promptly took early retirement and went back on a casual basis, to suit me, until retirement age. Best thing ever did because life IS short.

GrannyFirstLight Sat 18-Jun-16 12:43:05

Damn, never been able to pee over a wall...

Woodstock Sat 18-Jun-16 12:56:34

When things became too stressful at work, I took a three months' sabbatical from my job as an NHS Nurse.
Spent a month in Thailand, teaching English at a Government school, then went on to Singapore, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, and finally LA and Miami.
I was 59 at the time, and was annoyed with myself for not doing some travelling sooner.
Now I've officially retired, I'm off next week to beautiful New Zealand once again for an extended trip. Have many more trips planned....

etheltbags1 Sun 19-Jun-16 23:09:34

I would love to do something like that but would never dare also I would never have the money. Still I can dream

M0nica Mon 20-Jun-16 11:29:48

A Gap Year is not synonymous with a year travelling. The majority of youngsters taking gap years use them to earn some money, get important work experience, work as a volunteer with a charity and do all sorts of other things, but not travel. My children and many of their friends took gap years. None of them went travelling. They couldn't afford it.

Gap year travelling is a luxury that few youngsters can afford. Even done on the cheap it needs money to pay the air fares, fund the simple lifestyle and affluent parents who can afford to pick up the cost of any rescue operations.

etheltbags1 Wed 22-Jun-16 12:04:46

Is a gap year the same as a sabattical ?

Elegran Wed 22-Jun-16 12:38:25

You take a sabbatical (unpaid) from your job knowing that you will get back into it when you return. It comes from the sabbath (Sunday to us, Saturday to the Jews) being a day of rest at the end of one week and the start of another.

A gap year is a gap between jobs, or between school and college, or school/college and starting a job. Unless you have a job or a Uni place lined up for the end of it, you may not know what you will be doing at the end of it.

M0nica Wed 22-Jun-16 14:08:31

Academics get paid sabbaticals from time to time, which means anything from a term to a year (theoretically) free from teaching and administrative duties so that they can concentrate on their research.

etheltbags1 Wed 22-Jun-16 19:23:37

Could I take a 'granny gap', when my long awaited state pension comes and I can finish work, what would anyone think if I went off and did my own thing for a year, travelling or painting etc. Food for thought.

Elegran Wed 22-Jun-16 19:48:55

Go for it, ethel

M0nica Wed 22-Jun-16 19:54:52

Great idea ethel then you can post a diary of your activities on GN!

Jalima Wed 22-Jun-16 20:52:10

The OP was in her 50s, unattached, and had waved her children off on their travels years ago
I still had a teenager at home, and an elderly DM to help care for.

Where did I go wrong?
Although I must say I have visited some places in the past few years where I would never have dreamed of visiting, just not on a gap year.

Jalima Wed 22-Jun-16 20:53:18

Go ethel go!!

LullyDully Wed 22-Jun-16 21:52:42

We did plan a year of VSO when we.retired but ended up with having the tech move in. VS H instead.and less mosquitos I suppose. grin

Isis1981uk Thu 07-Jul-16 20:04:12

My parents are doing just this! To celebrate their 60th birthdays they have quit their jobs (they have worked hard to pay off their mortgage completely so can afford to not work), rented their house out for a year, and are heading off on a Grey Gap year to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji & the USA! My siblings and I were thrilled for them as we were fortunate enough to travel the world before settling down, and have jobs which involve some travel, but they went straight from 6th Form to work, marriage & kids. Definitely different from their usual golf holidays in Portugal and I think they will love it. They're in good physical shape & now is the time to do it! We live 3 hours away so see them via Skype normally so nothing changes!! I say go for it, all obstacles are surmountable if you want it enough!

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