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Comment: From Magaluf to Tanzania

19th March 2012

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A lot of people I meet at university seem to think gap years are solely for the year between school and university, this is totally untrue, gap travel can happen anytime. In fact, for me and many others, it happens every summer.

Ugandan school children sat on our doorstepDuring my gap year I went on a five-month trip to East Africa with a company called ‘Aventure’.

On the plane home I was told by a stranger that: “Once you get African soil on your feet, it never truly comes off”, this is true not just of Africa but of all travel.

A lot of people get set in their ways and a family trip to Europe every summer satisfies their travelling needs, until they go somewhere farther afield. Being somewhere that is totally culturally alien to you, where you’re completely independent and surrounded by new people and places, is another type of travel entirely.

I booked my aforementioned gap year travels the month before the trip was set to depart - I packed my bags and went completely alone with a group of thirty two strangers. As we arrived at the airport it was clear who the ‘Aventure’ travellers were because we all had the same huge turtle-like backpacks and obvious nervous expressions. Although I was terrified at the thought of five months of lone travelling, it was the most exciting prospect I had, thus far faced in my life. As I waved off my parents and made small talk with the other people on the trip, I took a huge sigh of anticipation; I had five months to do whatever I wanted. 

This feeling of total independence is one I got easily hooked on. Being at university doesn’t even come close to how autonomous you feel when you’re on the other side of the planet fending for yourself and, having a total laugh while doing it.

In the last three years I have almost circumnavigated the globe, covering continents such as South America, East Asia and, of course Africa. This summer, my travelling sights are set on Alaska which is set to be one of my biggest challenges yet, with the lowest recorded temperature in June being -18 degrees. I’m normally not one for the cold, even in summer I’m rarely seen out without a cardigan so the thought of those sub-zero climes is conjuring up some fairly unattractive visual images of me doing my best impression of the ‘Michelin Man’. Alas, if nothing else, I can’t be criticised for not challenging myself at least once a year.

I recently asked various people I know what they had to say about their gap travels, here’s what some of them had to say: “It was wicked, makes everyday I spend at uni seem majorly boring in comparison, I just want to be back there!” “I miss everyone I met so much; you never make such close, dependant friendships in any other walks of life.”

And lastly, my personal favourite: “It’s sad now I’m home because nothing I do here compares to travelling , but I know it won’t be long until I’m jetting off on a plane somewhere new…again.”

I hope by this point in the article, you’re visualising yourself somewhere spectacular, and if you are, don’t overthink it, just book it - its one decision you will never regret. Here are my top four travel tricks of trade for your future voyages:

1.)    Never expect any two days to be the same – if you had a relaxed, sleepy afternoon on a Monday, by the Tuesday you could be in a different state entirely. When I was in Thailand in the summer, I went to the infamous “Full Moon Party” in Koh Phangan on Friday and, by the Saturday afternoon; I was at a small, chilled paradise in Koh Samui.

2.)    Choose your travel partners wisely – they will become crucial to your enjoyment of the trip. The best way to do this is to consider what you want to get out of your travels. If you’re all about going out and getting drunk every evening, don’t pick someone who likes to be in bed by 8 o’clock in matching pyjama sets. Or if you want to get out in the sunshine and go out sightseeing from dawn until dusk, don’t pick someone who would rather be in a darkened room watching re-runs of ‘Friends.’

3.)    Take all opportunities offered to you – there’s a tendency to imagine your ‘travel time’ runs at the same pace as ‘normal time’. This isn’t the case; four months in England can drag on for years, whereas four months of travelling goes in the blink of an eye. So live fast and take chances because it’s time you’ll never get to relive. If at the end of your trip you look back and have no regrets and a camera full of unforgettable moments, you’ve done it right.

4.)    Don’t forget the essentials – I hate to sound like a nagging parent but: insect repellent, sun cream, shampoo, deodorant and shower gel will get you a very, very long way. You definitely want to come back gloriously tanned and without mosquito bites all over you! Trust me; it’s much more attractive than the “haggard traveller” look.

Fellow nomads, I salute you and I hope you have your best summer yet. Happy travelling!

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