According to my friends, coming home from my gap year turned me into an insufferable prick that couldn’t have a conversation without dropping stories from my ‘overseas experience’. According to my family, coming home from my gap year turned me into some sort of drifter with no aspirations for full-time study or work.

According to my boss, coming home from my gap year meant that I was now a constant flight-risk, always looking for an excuse to dip out for a holiday–even during our busy periods. While all these things are completely and unconditionally true, I stand by my own belief that I learnt a heap of legitimate life lessons during my gap year. Here are some of them.

1. Everyone is still figuring their shit out

One of the lasting impressions I got from my gap year was the variety of people I met on the road. It wasn’t just kids like me on their gap years–there were uni students taking breaks during their degrees, couples on year-long honeymoons, even fully-formed adults that freaked out after 20 years of corporate work and went travelling to find their new purpose.

I learnt that people of all ages all over the world are still figuring out what they want to do when they grow up, and even those that eventually do can change their minds entirely.

2. What I wanted to do in life

It wasn’t all just getting lit on a beach and playing beer pong at hostels, I swear. My gap year got me in contact with a bunch of people with different professions, and I was in constant admiration of their contribution to society. I was also confronted with the reality of the world outside my middle-class Inner West Sydney bubble, and it had me wanting to do more for it.

There was lots of time for reflection, and with exposure to all this new information I was able to get closer to a clear idea of how I wanted to valuable to society, what I wanted to do with my life and a vision of how I would achieve that.

3. How to be independent

Travelling on my gap year was the first time I was in charge of taking care of myself, free from the nagging nurturing hands of my parents. Sure, I fucked up for the first few weeks, eating absolute shit every day and drinking too much every night, but I damn well learned eventually.

Not only did I figure out how to keep myself healthy and safe, but I learnt things like how to control my spending and saving, navigate the geography and bureaucracy of foreign countries, figure out my idea of a fun time, and even did my own laundry every now and then.

4. What I like about myself

Going away on my own to strange places for a long ass time did wonders for my self-growth. It’s a cliché, but it was goddamn liberating to be somewhere where I wasn’t tied to other people’s expectations of who I am and how I should act.

Travelling allowed me to really examine these expectations–to explore who I could be beyond them and to see the merits in the person within them. I was able to try new things and add some novelty to my identity, but I also saw parts of me received so well by complete strangers, and heck, I even started to like those things.

5. It’s worth it

Even though gap years are becoming more common these days, it can still be really scary to take the plunge. There’s pressure and stigma from your parents, your teachers, maybe even your mates.

What I hope my experience does is remind you all that gap years aren’t just selfish fun but are valuable due to things we can learn from them, and that these lessons are useful for study, work, and life in general.