Backpacking / Taking a Gap Year to Travel - Should You Do It?
Are you just about to start, or finish, university and have been thinking about whether or not to take some time out for traveling? Sometimes we all need a break, to refresh ourselves and to pursue other experiences. Taking a year, or even a few months, out to backpack around the world is a big step, though, and it's understandable that you might have some misgivings. The crux of the matter is, should you do it? Or should you put that idea out of your mind and focus on completeing your studies or applying for a job?
Well, I for one think that time spent traveling is never wasted time. You can learn so much from setting off on a great adventure, and it can leave with you lasting memories that will enrich your life. Heading off to experience the cultures of others can bring about a whole new perspective of life; a perspective which you can carry with you forever. Traveling shows you the diversity of the world in a way that nothing else can - and viewing that amazing diversity first-hand can really pull you out of your comfy little bubble and teach you that, very often, the way you see the world is based only on the tunnel vision of your own life experiences. Simply by getting out there and seeing more can prove that your way is only one way, and that there is a whole lot more. You may find that you become less materialistic about life - I mean, stuffing all your meagre belongings into one measly backpack really shows you that most of our 'essentials' are not actually needed at all.
Of course, you can go traveling anytime - why go now, when there is already so much going on in life? Well, from my own experiences, I know that as you get older and acquire more responsibilities, it actually often becomes more difficult to take time out for such pursuits. Once you get caught up in the routine of regular employment, house buying, perhaps a couple of children, it can seem pretty much impossible to make the break and follow a simple dream of backpacking round the world. At this point in life, setting off on a gap year becomes a great deal more difficult to plan - though some will disagree and go ahead and do it, there will be hundreds more that don't. Do it while you're young, and while you can...that would be my motto.
A backpacking gap year can also teach a young person (or any person) independency. When you're on your own - or with friends, even - you learn how to look after yourself. Getting from place to place, island hopping, planning a local bus to take you from one end of a country to another - all this can teach you both self-sufficiency and confidence. What's more, people who take a year out backpacking are automatically drawn towards one another, so even though you might set off on your own, chances are you'll never be lonely. Backpackers usually head for the same accommodation - cheap and cheerful, so as not to break the bank - and most backpackers are on the lookout for a new friend and a bit of company. Of course, you should also keep your wits about you, but on the whole I have found backpackers to be a friendly lot, and usually happy to help a fellow traveler.
Where you head for on a gap year is entirely up to you. Some young backpackers head off for South East Asia, where you can find a wealth of culture, history and stunning locations. Perhaps you have always wanted to visit India - I have, but so far I have not achieved this dream. Thailand has always been at the top of the list for gap year travelers, and it's easy to see why. Bangkok might be rather seedy, with a rather irreputable reputation, but the islands of Thailand, and the north where the Karen Tribes live, and where you can experience elephant trekking, are well worth seeing. Indonesia is very cheap and very beautiful - Java and Bali have a lot to offer. Where to next - perhaps onto Australia? Australia is a great country for young people, and of course it holds the Great Barrier Reef. Nowadays, travelers are branching out rather more - China is becoming more popular, as is Japan. Vietnam is a must-see at the moment, and Cambodia and Laos (off the tourist map for years) are alluring and exciting. A bit further round the globe, South America is a destination which some travelers have at the top of their check-list. North America is popular too, though you will either need a bigger budget or a job to see you through. I say, go where your heart tells you. You can travel right around the world and arrive back where you started, or you can choose just one continent or area.
Most travelers use a variety of different methods to get from A to B (and Y to Z), but what you probably can't do without is a flight ticket. You can purchase excellent tickets which cover wide-ranging areas - Round The World Experts has tickets from under £800 per adult. Basically, you will purchase a ticket taking you from certain key airports (which will vary depending on the itinerary you choose), and you will be expected to make your own way across ground for part of your trip - such as, from Christchurch to Auckland, for example. The price of the tickets is actually quite reasonable when you consider the cost of an ordinary return flight, taking in one destination only.
One very important point is to remember to book travel insurance. You never know when you're going to need it, and you really will be lost without it - medical care can be extortionately expensive without it.
So I say, if you're seriously considering taking a gap year to backpack around the world - get out there and do it. Few travelers regret it, and you will learn a wealth of information that can rival any educational course. Life is about living; about new experiences and personal attainment - and there is nothing that teaches us more about ourselves than meeting other people who are doing it differently. Life can't really be all about the next pair of jeans, or the top job, or the status of a large house or smart new car - can it? In the end, life is all about the 'real' things, and you can't get much more real than taking yourself off and really...I mean 'really'... seeing the world we live in. Just remember - when you come back, life will still be waiting for you.....