Gap years didn’t happen when I was of that age. ‘O’ Levels, ‘A’ Levels, University and then full-time employment or fail ‘O’ levels, apprenticeship and full-time employment were the only socially acceptable options way back in 1973. Periods of unemployment for pleasure were unthinkable.
The very best a small number of students could wish for in the early 70s was a festival or maybe an exotic trip during summer holidays with friends wearing Afghan Coats, tie dye t-shirts and stylish flares. The early 1970s brought back into vogue a brief-retro period of hippy-ism and anti establishment that included long hair, peace and not so wild parties. In fact I remember my older brother setting off with flares and a mate to Turkey in an old red mini with a Union Jack Flag painted on the roof. Travelling to Turkey, which in the 70s was exotic, had a slight edge of danger and certainly seemed adventurous to an envious younger sibling. How times have changed, travelling though Turkey with a Union Jack emblazoned mini would not be so wise in 2013.
If I could have had a gap year, time out, call it what you will what would I have done? At the age I am now my preferences would be to travel by car, camper van or train (any method that involves a bit of comfort) across Europe and into Asia, experiencing a slow, relaxed pace of life, taking photographs, loading them up onto my newly created travel blog and generally enjoying the nature, landscapes and cultures that I passed through.
In 1973, young people were very fortunate to have a scooter never mind a car or camper van. Computers hadn’t been invented for the mass market and a blog wasn’t thought of until 1998, although we had diaries of course!
As a teenager I wasn’t the most gregarious of individuals although individual I was. I had issues and boy did those around me know about it. I was difficult, hard work and secretive but then again aren’t all teenagers? If I was offered a gap year I probably would have refused, belligerently. However, if I could have done anything I wanted for one whole year I probably would have sought out people and places that I could relate to and not search for unfamiliar and alien cultures.
My late teens and early 20s were hard times in many ways. I would have probably gone (escaped) to London, worked in a bar, lived in a bed sit or shared house, stayed out late, got drunk, dabbled in wacky baccy, worn clothes that were frowned upon by older generations, listened to Bowie, Cockney Rebel, Meat loaf and Gloria Gaynor, ate Pizza, pasta and black forest gateaux, had sex, gone to nightclubs, got into trouble, run out of money, call home weekly (reversing charges), borrowed cash from mum and dad, got depressed, get evicted, lived in a squat, squirmed at the dirty facilities and taken a bus back home or hitched if I’d had no money.
Looking back, I ended up doing most of that (well not the eviction or squat bits – personal hygiene just cannot be compromised). Instead of cramming it all into a year I spread my gap year throughout a decade. Hour by hour or day by day, I probably ended up with a two-year equivalent gap year and that can’t be bad can it?
The concept of a gap year is a strange one. A time for adventure, travel and self-discovery for some whilst for others it is a last-ditch attempt to have a year off before a lifetime of 9-5 beckons. If you have the luxury of taking a year off it is of course a wonderful experience as it can consolidate within a year what most of us eventually get to know about ourselves and others over a much longer period of time.
Apparently, there are now several categories of gapping. Pre, during or post University, career break or sabbatical, and pre and post retirement gapping. Splendid.
With a growing travel market share, globally, estimated to be worth 12 billion pounds annually, I suspect more of us will feel the need for a bit of gapping or at least made to feel guilty and left behind if we don’t. Strangely enough I feel the need for a bit as I ponder on this wondrous concept.
Now…I wonder if there is such a thing as mid-life crisis gapping? I may just have spotted a gap in the market.
What would you do if you had the chance of a gap year?