In 2009 I quit my job, broke up with my boyfriend, hoisted a backpack onto my back and set off on the biggest adventure of my life.
It was my second time living overseas as an adult (I did a 6 month exchange program when I was 19) so I thought I knew what to expect but without any solid plans, I actually had very little idea what was ahead.
In total, I was away for 15 months and during that time I visited 22 countries. I danced in Dubrovnik, drank Beer at Oktoberfest, ate goulash in Budapest and strolled the streets of Sarajevo. I learnt to snowboard (and cracked a rib), worked 3 jobs at once, put on close to 10kgs, made amazing friends who became like family, and met the love of my life.
So you can see – taking time off from my ‘real life’ to travel and live abroad was an eventful and life-changing experience!
I learnt so much and felt it was only right to share it with you. So here we go. The 10 Things I learnt from my GAP Year:
- Unless you are Beyonce or Bill Gates, you will never, ever have enough money to do all the things you want to do but why should that stop you from trying? I saved for 2 years to afford my trip and it was only until I got this sage advice from my mum that I bit the bullet and booked. I just wish I had done it sooner.
- So ok, you’ll never have enough money, but that means it’s especially important to manage the money you do have. When you’re travelling long term it can sometimes feel like you’re on a permanent holiday – and to be fair you sort of are – BUT if you want to avoid living of 2-minutes noodles for 7 months, you need to set a budget and stick to it.
- Time is precious and yes it does fly by when you’re having fun. Appreciate everything and be grateful for your experiences. Another thing – don’t put of travel because you’re waiting for the ‘right’ time or you don’t want ot miss out on things at home. NEWSFLASH: There will never be a ‘right’ time and yes, you will miss out on important things happening at home and people’s lives will go on without you. But making the move is worth it. Just go!
- Staying in touch is important. With Facebook, Skype, Email, WhatsApp and Instagram there is no excuse not to keep in touch with friends and family. I know it sometimes seems as if nothing has changed at home and that their world is not as exciting as your galivanting gypsy adventures but staying in touch makes them feel more involved in your trip and it also makes it a LOT easier when you return home.
- Look after your health and fitness. This is something I unfortunately didn’t prioritise whilst I was travelling. Yes, I remained active and watched what I ate, but I also enjoyed much too much local cuisine and I did a lot of partying. Alcohol + heavy meals in the cold Canadian winter…not so figure friendly.
- You’re your own best companion. When you’re travelling on your own for an extended period of time, it can get a little lonely. That’s why learning to enjoy your own company is a must. This is a lot easier than it sounds. Just imagine you’re dating yourself. Take yourself out for a delicious breakfast and do a spot of people watching…follow it with a picnic in a park or sightseeing at a museum. There is normally so much to do you forget that you’re not sharing it with anyone. But of course, sometimes friends do make everything better.
- Setting up a life is hard work. Once you’ve made it through the minefield of ‘housekeeping’ things you have to do when you move over seas (setting up a bank account, finding a place to live, etc) shit starts to get real. You realise you have no friends, are in a foreign country, perhaps you haven’t found a job yet…WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE!?!?! But stick it out because it will all work out. You’ll get a job, make some wonderful friends and pretty soon things start to feel like home…sometimes it takes a bit longer than you might like but once it all falls into place you’ll feel a huge sense of pride that you’ve got this ‘life’ thing down pat.
- People are friendly and interested in getting to know you. Ok so I’m not saying that there aren’t some absolute d**chebags out there, but on my GAP year I encountered so many genuinely lovely and helpful people who wanted to make sure that I was ok and also to know my story. There was an older gentleman in Salamanca who noticed me at the Pharmacy and kindly translated for me so I could get medication. A father and son who bought me a bus ticket in Serbia because I didn’t have enough of the right currency. And many locals who volunteered to act as tour guides. There’s also the people I worked and lived with – some of whom are still very valued and close friends – one of the best souvenirs a girl can have.
- Homesickness will strike but you’ll get through it. I first got homesick about 3 months into my travels. I was on a bus in the Portuguese countryside watching the landscape go by and all of a sudden I had an overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want to be there. I was sick of hauling my backpack around and I wanted to go home. I wanted some vegemite toast and to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to see my dad and hug my mum. I was sad and I can vividly remember having a little cry on the bus. It was one of many occasions where I felt home-sick but like most of them it was nothing a quick phone call couldn’t fix before I was back to enjoying my adventures.
- Planning and Spontaneity work well together. When I left Australia for my GAP year I had a ‘sort of’ plan, meaning that I had organised a couple of weeks of my trip and had booked some of the necessary stuff but I also had a lot free time that I needed to ‘fill in’. This was an ideal approach for me because it meant I didn’t miss out on any of the time-specific things I wanted to do (hello European Summer festivals) but I also had the freedom to explore places recommended by fellow travellers that I had not really considered previously.
So there you have them – some of the things I learnt while gallivanting around the globe…take them as you will but just know that they are just a few of so many more life lessons and my biggest advice would be to just jump on that plane!