Gap Year Experience: Seeing the World | Top Universities

Gap Year Experience: Seeing the World

By Guest Writer

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

Taking a gap year to see the world before the rigors of a degree can be a potentially life-changing experience. Poppy Jennings shares her memories of her year out.

I always knew I wanted to take a gap year and go travelling before I started university as an undergraduate student. In actual fact at the end of my gap year I could have quite happily taken a second one but thought it was probably best to head to university before I got carried away.

The thought of seeing different places and meeting new people really appealed to me, even if just turning up in those places and not knowing exactly where I was going or where I was staying was a little nerve wracking. It was very exciting and quite often this lead to more unusual discoveries and adventures off the beaten track.

My first real taste of 'backpacking' was with my sister when we spent two months travelling through Turkey and then Greek island hopping. Turkey was such an amazing country with so much history and such a diverse population. After some chaotic travels in Turkey it was really nice to dedicate some time in the Greek Islands to lying on white sandy beaches and drinking cocktails.

I then returned to London to work and to save some money before heading off to spend three months living in the French ski resort of Les Arcs. All day everyday was dedicated to indulging my passion for snowboarding, a hobby which I think has now become a life-long obsession.

Finally I spent three months travelling in Bali, Australia and Fiji. All three places had such unique cultures and identities. There was so much to see and do in all of these places as well as some beautiful parts to just kick back on the beaches and watch the sun set. I also met so many great people that I am still really good friends with, even after so many years.

I organized all my trips independently rather than through a dedicated gap year organization as I felt this gave me more flexibility in where I could go and for how long. Having said that, my air tickets for my Bali/Australia/Fiji trip were bought as part of a 'round the world' ticket as this worked out the cheapest option at the time.

While I was in Australia I also travelled extensively with a travel agency called the Oz Bus. There were definitely pros and cons to this; it was a great way to meet lots of fellow travellers in the same boat as me but in many ways I also found it restrictive having my itinerary set by the travel company rather than by myself. You have to decide how much you want to take control of things and how much you want someone else to take the strain and do the organizing.

Travelling can throw you into all sorts of situations, some of them are fantastic and others can be very challenging. When I was backpacking in Central America there were some real highs and lows. One evening included a night spent with a group of people that worked in the restaurant where I had dinner. We went to a local bar that was set up on a petrol garage forecourt and sold only two items: rum (by the bottle) and tyres (only suitable for tractors). It also held a rather extravagant karaoke contest!

On the other side of the spectrum I had a few unnerving experiences of arriving in small towns in the middle of the night and traipsing for miles with my backpack trying to find a hotel for the night.

I think the important thing to take away from these situations is a little planning is always a good idea and for the most part people are often very willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help you out. On several occasions where hotels/hostels had said they were full up the owner would call their friends or family in the nearby area and eventually someone would have a room they were happy to rent out to travellers like myself.

My travelling experiences have definitely made me much more willing to help out people, even total strangers when and where I can.

As I didn't work at all while I was away it was really important for me to both work and save when I was back home in London in between my trips. The prospect of being in debt before I had even applied for a student loan was not one I wanted to face.

I had an office job during the day that I acquired through a temp agency and worked part time during the evening at a local bar. A major help was the fact that I could live at home while I was trying to save money, which fortunately meant I had minimal outgoing expenses. Some careful budgeting before leaving and while I was away meant that I didn't start university in debt. Having a credit card and some very understanding parents also came in handy!

My gap year travelling definitely helped me prepare for the new surroundings and adventures of university life. I was much more independent, confident and accustomed to managing my finances, dealing with any unexpected problems that could crop up.

I think my gap year experiences continue to shape my personality and life. I still love to travel and spend time in different countries and cultures from my own. I would definitely advise everyone to take a gap year and go travelling; not only do you learn a lot about other people, their culture and traditions but also a great deal about yourself.

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in March 2016

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Explore Events

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.