If I could give one piece of advice to school leavers everywhere it’s this: take a gap year. You won’t regret it for a second.
When I was finishing up at high school, I was set on taking a gap year. I’d worked my ass off for six years and I couldn’t wait to give myself a break. For seven months I worked full-time, and by October I’d accumulated a modest amount of money, an amount that more sane people would never consider enough to travel overseas with. But, I was determined, so my friend and I booked the cheapest hostels we could find and we set off for a four-month stint backpacking all over Europe.
I quickly discovered that travelling is one of the greatest joys in life and should be mandatory for every human being. There are things in life, things about yourself, that you’ll never have a chance of understanding if you haven’t removed yourself from the comfort of one context and thrown yourself into another.
1. I discovered a confidence I never knew I had.
Backpacking was one of the greatest challenges I have ever encountered. There are times when I had to be fearless, and totally independent. Asking for help, particularly in a countries where English wasn’t prevalent, was scary at first. But those situations ended up being some of the most hilarious and fondest memories of my time in Europe. Learning how to handle things on your own – be it taking directions, booking hostels, or dealing when shit hits the fan – without the guidance of your rents is by far one of the greatest lessons of travelling.
2. I met new people.
The people you meet throughout your travels will be some of the wildest, most interesting and most inspiring people you will ever meet. Staying in hostels became the best way to interact with people from all over the world, with different experiences and brand new takes on life. I met an American who lived on the Appalachian trail in a town of less than 200 people. I met a Spanish man who was high almost constantly–on drugs and on life. I met a German family whose idea of a ‘short hike’ was an entire day spent scaling mountains with walking poles. There are some amazing people out there, and the only way to meet them is to go looking for them.
3. I fell in love over and over.
Most people love the city that they’re from, but visit cities all around the world and you’ll know what it’s like to fall in love with a place, again and again and again. I love the iconic beauty of London. I love the rich history of Berlin. I love the irresistible food of Rome. I love Barcelona and Amsterdam and Prague and Venice. And now I know I love my hometown of Sydney–because how can you ever truly appreciate your where you’re from unless you’ve been somewhere else for a while.
4. I became closer with my friends (and fell in love some more).
Travelling alone is an experience, but travelling with someone else is another thing entirely, be it a friend, stranger or a partner. Spending a month travelling with someone is akin to spending a year with them in the real world, and relationships develop quickly and deeply. You share your best kept secrets, you fight about the smallest of things, you learn things about them you never knew before (things you maybe didn’t want to know). But all of it only brings you closer together. If you want to test the strength of a relationship, travel together. It might just be the greatest thing you do with each other.
5. I became my own person.
Being away from home for the first time, away from your family, from your friends, from your hometown, is the only way to really find out who you are. Take away all the things that have influenced your life and all you’re left with is the raw, untainted you. There are some days when all you’ll want to do is get a hug from my mum and sleep in your own bed. But you push through it, you rely on yourself and you become a stronger person for it.