I guess I should start by introducing myself (or re-introducing, if you read my former blog)--I am Madison, age 19, American. I like to drink coffee, make art, read books until the early hours of the morning, and take the scenic route. In many ways I am just a normal teenage girl. Except one remarkable thing happened to me: I made a decision.
I decided to travel. That I would do what I had always dreamed about doing one day--now. I had been researching for a piece of writing in which a girl had to travel alone on a small budget. And something just clicked. I could do that. So I left my university plans behind for a year, started working more, and spending less. I made a profile on Workaway to find a place to work part-time in exchange for room and board. I bought a plane ticket.
What stopped me in my tracks was a single man, a border patrol agent. In Scotland, I was held up, searched, questioned, and eventually detained and sent home. I hadn't done anything wrong and yet I had. I didn't have a UK visa because I had not thought volunteering would be considered work since I was not to be paid. After some research I found that volunteering is a gray area, up to the judgement of the officer. I don't think I will ever forget this moment where I knew my thousand plus dollar return flight was being used in under three days, against my own volition. Because this was also the moment where I knew without a doubt what I wanted. I wanted to travel.
And I found a way to come back. After a few spare hours in Edinburgh, a flight home, another month spent working and planning again. Then I did France, Italy, Austria, and a handful of days in London. Back home for Christmas and to make a little money. After that, I traveled to Cambodia and Thailand where I learned through my time as an English teacher and elephant poop scooper how amazing it is to work for a cause while abroad.
From where I am now I have one major piece of advice: make travel happen. A year and a half ago, I had no clue that I could afford travel or that I could do it alone. So don't tell yourself that it will happen in five years, or when you have more money, or when you have time. Because it is possible now. So why wait?
I would not change my gap year in any way. I've met so many amazing people and learned so much from history, new languages, customs, street skills, to other ways of life. I would tell anyone who wants to travel, who is at a turning point in their life to take a gap year. If you are trying to decide where to go next or what you want to do in life, a gap year will give you time to explore yourself and your ambitions.
I think the hardest part to long-term travel is that it's never quite enough. You'll always have something you did not get to see enough of or people you'll miss terribly. Back at home you will dream of lands you have seen and have yet to see--of icy mountains, a lit-up city, a forested village, a seaside retreat. Because once you have a taste of traveling, wanderlust will spread through your veins.