When I tell people I took a gap year before college to travel, I get a variety of responses. Many think that the idea of traveling when you’re young is a good thing. However, after someone tells me, “That’s so cool,” it is usually followed by another statement, “but I could have never done it.” Basically the people my age, and even older people, have four main reasons (or some combination of them) that stop them from taking a gap year or traveling while they’re young. Some are afraid of ‘falling behind,’ some say that they don’t have the money, some lament that their parents would never let them, and others admit they’d be afraid to go alone. Now I’m not saying a gap year or traveling is for everyone; and I know that it is simply not possible for some people to travel. But I wanted a chance to refute some of these claims, as I think many are simply excuses for not pursuing a dream.
First, I will address the claim that taking off time to explore or work will cause a person to fall behind in academics or in their future career field. As someone who took a year off after high school, I can tell you that this is simply not true. You may lose a very small amount of information: I didn’t remember everything right away from calculus in high school when I took it again in college. But if you’ve actually learned the knowledge it usually comes back with a little prompting. However, the life experience and worldly knowledge that I gained from my 6 months abroad and 6 months at home working, is honestly far more than I’ve learned in (almost) two full semesters of college. The people I have met traveling have taught me so much—about their cultures, about life, about specific pockets of knowledge and expertise. The experiences that I have had traveling made me develop into a much more aware and understanding human being, as well as given me more common sense and street smarts. Lastly, I will point out that those who take off a year before or during education actually perform better in school and have a better sense of what matters to them in life. As Robert Clagett, the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, explained to the New York Times readers, students who have taken a gap year actually maintain and graduate with a higher GPA than those who went straight to university. In my experience, my gap year has helped me in college and even got me into the Honors College at the University of Maryland—the first time I applied, while still in high school, I got into a good, but less prestigious program. So both the statistics and myself can tell you that you won’t be behind everyone else if you take time off of school, in fact you’ll probably be ahead of others.
Okay, by far the most common reason that people do not travel when they are students is because of finances. Even beyond college, the most common excuse for not traveling is that it is expensive. To this I have two responses: there is such a thing as inexpensive travel, and travel can be accessible to the majority of people, they simply don’t prioritize it in their spending. Budget travel is possible in today’s world of hostels, homestays, and airline points. I afforded to travel for my gap year by working on the road in exchange for room and board. So through an amazing online site called Workaway, I gardened at a hotel, taught children English, and worked in a cafe, and in return, got to stay (and sometimes eat) for free with locals. But my travel was also financially possible because I saved for it. I worked the summer before I left, and over the winter when I came home, and I put aside the majority of what I made for travel. I knew I wanted to travel and was determined to make it happen, and so I did. There were plenty of times where I wanted to buy a coffee or a cute sundress, but I didn’t so that I would have a few more dollars to add to my travel fund. In the end, my 6-months abroad cost me less than half of what a year of in-state tuition costs—so before you tell me that traveling is expensive, let me tell you that college is expensive. While not everyone has the resources to travel, many people could if they were determined to do so.
When I hear about a person’s parents not allowing them to travel, I have a hard time not brushing this off. I’m lucky that my parents trust me. Even though I am legally an adult, I also have their support in traveling. This is mostly because I have shown that I am independent. But also I am careful in my travels and try to be as safe as possible. Plan to check in with your parents and communicate often, even if it’s just a ‘hello, I’m safe’ text every day. Also registering with the U.S. embassy (or whatever country you normally reside in) can help to insure that you are safe and everyone back home knows where you are. So my best advice for those who are trying to convince their parents that they should travel, would be to present the benefits of traveling, but also show your parents that you are capable of taking care of yourself abroad.
The last and most difficult to address is the fear of traveling, especially alone. I cannot deny that this is real, the world is a big place and things happen. But for every minute or two alone boarding an airplane, or walking down poorly-lit road, I have had hours and days of happiness and exploration. The fear of being alone and having to rely on yourself is natural, this is what keeps us safe and helps us make the right decisions. So don’t disregard the knot in your stomach when you think about traveling alone, just take a breath and look at what is holding you back. And then look at where you could go and what you could do if you tucked that fear into your pocket.
As my freshman year of college comes to a close, I think about all of the people I’ve met this year and with whom I shared my travel stories. Many listen attentively and nod energetically, but when I ask them if they’ve traveled by themselves or explore often, I hear “next year,” “after I graduate,” and “one day.” This post is for them, because I want everyone to be able to rifle through and play in the world that I have fallen in love with.