Ending the Gap Year Stigma

It’s that time of year again. High school seniors, college seniors, and grad students across the nation are getting ready to answer the single most dreaded question any young adult has ever been asked: What’s your plan?

It’s not that we’re incompetent individuals or lost souls, that’s just a really big question to answer. What do you want to do for the rest of your life? Kids in high school aren’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol, let alone decide the direction of their lives for the next 50 years. On average, one in three students will change their major at least once during their college career. Heck, my cousin went to school for archaeology and is now an accountant. At 18 and 22, many of us don’t have enough real world experience to have a firm understanding of the field that we’re going into. So why not take some time off to really learn about the world?

I’m a senior in college now (just cried a little), and by this time I’m supposed to have a road map of my life drawn out and color coated. Well, I have it roughly mapped out, but it’s certainly not color coated. At this point, I’ve decided that I’ll be taking some time to travel after graduation. Being raised by English parents who traveled for 5 years before settling down, this is something totally nonchalant to me. To many Americans, this is flabbergasting. You’re going to take 6 months off? A whole year?! But what about getting a job?

And this is the question that sparks a little corner of my soul while also making my stomach flip. What about a job? I only have another 40 years to be a part of the work force, wouldn’t want to shave one year off! Taking a gap year before college or getting a job is actually the perfect time. You have no house, no mortgage, no two-weeks-paid-vacation limit. College is an amazing opportunity to further your education, there’s no doubt about that, but there are some things that a book or a professor just can’t teach you.

When you visit a country, you learn their customs and culture. More importantly than that, you learn to respect them. For example, when I visited Egypt it was disrespectful for me as a woman to have my arms, parts of my legs, and hair exposed when entering a mosque. To abide by their customs, I covered up. It wasn’t something that I was used to, but it was a new experience for me. It’s also important to keep in mind that, when traveling, you are a stranger in someone else’s home. You wouldn’t want someone to come traipsing into your town and disrespecting your culture, so do your due diligence before you go.

You will meet so many interesting, beautiful people. Hands down, my favorite part of traveling is the people. After all, it’s the people who make the place. The locals are the magic that brings any town to life and you should always make an effort to venture away from the touristy parts of town and towards the more authentic, local areas. Even in Venice, I was able to find the most incredible bookstore nestled down a hidden alleyway. It was a magical little gem that slipped past the tourists. I’ll tell you the name and more about this place in my next post…

couple walking together in egypt market
A couple walking together in a backstreet in Egypt.
man and his cat in bookstore
A man and his cat at a hidden bookstore in Venice.

Not to mention, you will meet even more people if you stay in a hostel! Hostels are the best place to befriend travelers from around the world. While hostels aren’t as prominent in the United States, they are hubs for travelers around the world. If staying in a hostel might interest you, this article will tell you all about why staying in a hostel will be the best experience of your life.

lions head hike
Some friends I met at a hostel in Cape Town.

You’ll learn a lot about yourself. Cliche? Cheesy? Yes. But is it true? Also yes. Here’s the thing, if you travel – and when I say travel, I mean staying in hostels, going off the beaten path, getting to see the real culture and not just the tourist traps – you will explore the world and yourself in ways you never knew. Traveling will make you push yourself and shift you out of your comfort zone. You will be meet people with fascinating lives and stories. You will create your own story to tell others. You’re never too old to stop learning, and algebra can only teach you so much.

seal on boat with person
This furry fella decided to hop aboard our boat in Namibia.

A gap year isn’t for everyone, but it’s steadily beginning to gain more popularity. An article by the New York Times states that, “Many colleges now endorse the gap year, including Harvard, which “encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work or spend time in another meaningful way.” Not to mention, students who take a gap year tend to do better academically and be more satisfied with their choices after they graduate.

Now it’s time to take down the negative stigma surrounding the gap year!

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