On the 26th August, an anniversary passed quietly by – three years since I stepped off the final flight of my seven-month trip around the world. In those seven months I visited eight countries, stayed in countless hostels and spent more money than I wish to share, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Aside from being a whole lot of fun, it was a massive learning curve for me in terms of tackling new and extremely different cultures, learning to live on a shoestring and adapting to a whole new way of travelling. Here are a few of the ways my gap year changed how I travel for good…
I Travel More
Before I went on my gap year, I thought of travel as this big, complicated, expensive thing that you only do a couple of times a year; one week/fortnight-long trip in summer and a quick city break if you’re lucky. My backpacking trip opened my eyes to the fact that travel is (within reason) only as complicated or expensive as you make it, and I now like to take holidays as often as my annual leave allowance and bank balance lets me. It turns out booking a flight is the easiest thing in the world…
I Worry Less
I can get fairly neurotic when I’m in unfamiliar situations, and even though I’ve always loved going on holiday and visiting new places I always used to get a small knot in my stomach about the idea of something going wrong in a foreign country. Before a trip I’d obsessively double and triple-check all my bookings, plan several routes from the airport to the hotel, and my over-preparing meant that nothing ever really did go wrong. During my gap year that bubble of perfection definitely burst, and though it felt scary at the time it has left me with more of an ‘ultimately everything will be ok’ outlook.
Planning is Optional
I used to spend hours in the weeks before a holiday researching activities and planning out exactly what I wanted to do every day for the whole trip, and not doing that seemed unthinkable to me. When I set off on my round-the-world trip I had a fairly good idea of what was on the agenda for the first two weeks in South Africa (my first country), but once I was on the move I realised that I was too busy enjoying whatever was going on right now to properly look ahead, and that was ok. If you have the time or are on a short trip it’s obviously still good to do research, but I realised that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t, and that not having a plan can sometimes lead to amazing improvised adventures.
The Backpack is King
I’ve always hated wheelie suitcases – their bulky shape, their lack of balance, how easy it is to trip over one in a busy airport – but once I took a trip with my backpack I knew this is the way I want to travel forever. If I need more than hand luggage my rucksack is my go-to; they’re so practical and I managed to choose one that fits my back perfectly so I barely feel the weight. I also fell in love with that other backpacker staple, the hostel – while once upon a time I probably felt really nervous about sharing a room with strangers, I now only draw the line at huge party hostels and dorms of 10 or above. I’m too old for that shit…
Some Experiences Are Worth Discomfort
I’d like to think I’ve never been a princess or a diva when it comes to travel, but my parents did take my brother and I on some pretty nice holidays in our teens and I remember jokingly worrying to my mum that they’d ruined us for the budget travel that surely awaited us on the non-parent funded holidays of our twenties. After surviving cockroaches in beds, public squat toilets, uphill hikes with a 13kg backpack in 35°C heat and a particularly hellish 21-hour train ride across China on a hard seat, I find it hard to think of many hardships I’m not confident I could endure. The harsh truth is that (affordable) travel isn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time, but sometimes you just have to quit whining and remember that the discomfort is only temporary, and the destination is so worth it.
How has long-term or budget travel changed your view of travel? Share your pieces of wisdom below!