“Of course, we didn’t have gap years in my day” says my father. Frequently. This is true. In the sense that there wasn’t a massive industry catered towards facilitating 18 year olds to skip around third world countries teaching underprivileged, disabled, orphaned children in the year before university in the 1970s. In those days holidays meant a U.K. resort. Foreign travel was perhaps more hardcore.
I had a gap year. Those things are wild! I suddenly found myself surrounded by 18 year olds who were off the leash of their families and going crazy with the new found freedom. One ex-public school boy spent 6 months chugging buckets of whiskey, hanging out with Thai prostitutes and passing out in front of confused, disabled, Thai orphans. Having never had much of a leash myself I spent my time with a tambourine desperately trying to teach a group of 3 years olds the ABC.
So when my mother started referring to her impending retirement as her “gap year” I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows. This was intriguing. I doubted she meant the frenzy of drinking, sleeping in cockroach infested huts and poor decision making that was my experience of gap years. No, what she meant, quite simply was travel. Lots and lots of travel. To exciting and far flung places.
People of my parent’s generation have been watching their children skip around the world with envious eyes. And now it’s their turn. Early retirement, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, gives you a fantastic opportunity to fulfill travel dreams. With so many competing airlines flights to exotic destinations are cheaper than ever before. So it needn’t cost a bucket. Increasing numbers of people are taking up the gauntlet of backpacking around third world countries in their 50s and above.
In fact it might even be better to backpack in your 50s (and later) than in your 20s. For one thing if you’ve just spent 30 years or so working you probably have some cash in your pocket. When I traveled at 19 and in my early 20s I regularly ate meals of bread and can. If you’re unfamiliar with the thrifty backpacker this is some bread along with whatever canned food you could afford – tuna if you were lucky. And I would always travel between destinations the cheapest way possible. This inevitably involved sitting for 18 hours or so on a bus wedged between sweaty people and/or chickens. However, as an older person with some money you can afford to take better advantages of the opportunities offered by travel. You can sample local cuisine, stay in nicerplaces and not have to spend 18 hours with your legs cramping. I am jealous of you.
My parents are planning an epic trip to Sweden, India, New Zealand and beyond. I’m trying to work out how to subtlety crash their itinerary. “Oh fancy meeting you here in Delhi, yes I would like some of that fancy thali, thanks” I’ll say. I think though I’ll have to wait and hope I can afford early retirement.
For now it looks like early retirement is the best gap year of all.