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Take that Gap Year – you know you want to!

gap year over 50Article by Jo Carroll

Should you? Shouldn’t you? Can you really?

The most difficult thing about taking a Gap Year is that first decision to go. We are, naturally, more cautious than young people who can sling rucksacks on their backs and head for the airport. A thousand reasons why you ‘can’t’ may plague you. Underneath them is that little voice that persists in telling you that you can. Give that voice some air, and you’ll find the decision easier.

I gave up work in my mid-50s (thirty years in Child Protection is long enough). I sold my car, let my house, and set off with little more than optimism and a notebook. Here are a few of the lessons I learned – some of them the hard way – to make your planning easier.

Money: With a tenant in my house, I had an income – enough to live on provided I didn’t stay in 5* hotels and eat lobster every night. This meant that the biggest expense was my round-the-world ticket. Shop around – they come in various packages. But once they’re bought, you can forget about what they cost. I also gave my accountant power of attorney, which meant he could keep an eye on my financial comings and going and move money in a hurry if I needed him to. A trusted friend would be just as good – but it helps to have someone at home who can fiddle with your purse-strings in an emergency.

How will you access cash? There are ATMs all over the world. But it’s worth having sterling or euros or dollars in your pocket in case you find yourself up a mountain with no banks.

Luggage: You might be tempted to buy wonderful new luggage to celebrate your decision to go. A word of caution – wheelie suitcases are fine in places with reliable pavements. If you hope to go somewhere a little less predictable, a rucksack is more practical. Can you carry a rucksack? Of course you can. You might not be able to swing it on your shoulders, but put it on a chair, sit in front and shuffle back into it, and then stand up. See – you can.

Then you need to make sure you can lock it. You will be carrying more than some women cleaning your room will own in a lifetime; it’s not fair to wave your goodies in front of them. I have a shoulder bag for the necessities I carry on a daily basis: I hate those travel wallets that sit on your stomach, and backpacks are asking for anyone with light fingers to play with the zips. Take your safety seriously.

What do you need to take on a Gap Year?

You’ll be amazed how little you need to take with you. I won’t give you a list of things you don’t need – everyone takes too much and leaves spare tee shirts and shoes behind in hotel rooms. It’s part of the Gap Year discovery. But it is worth having a Swiss knife, an elastic washing line, a tiny sewing kit, and a torch. I also carry a small fleece blanket – probably intended for a dog’s basket but invaluable in rooms where the air conditioning is stuck on freezing.

Insurance: Don’t even dream of leaving home without it. You’re investing in a trip of a lifetime; don’t penny pinch at the last minute by going without insurance.

Now you can thing about where you might go. How much should you plan? Planning can be part of the fun. Some of you will feel safer with the entire trip mapped out – every hotel, every train trip, every tour. Others will be able to land in a foreign city and find a hotel at the airport.

I can only say what works for me: I know I can’t manage the anxiety of arriving anywhere at five in the evening and wandering around looking for somewhere to stay. But the internet makes it easy to book hotels. I generally know where I might go next – but after that? I chat to other travellers, spend hours pouring over guidebooks, see if there are tours available locally – and then decide where this trip might take me. How much luxury you need is up to you: I stayed in hostels in Australia and New Zealand, but found reasonable hotels in Nepal and India.

The one thing you don’t need – is permission: from your parents, your children (provided they’re adult, of course), your manager, your friends or neighbours. Some will be envious, others quiver at the thought of you leaving. But it’s not their journey – it’s yours.

Bon voyage!

jo carroll imageJO CARROLL’s Gap Year adventures can be found in her book: Over the Hill and Far Away.

You can find more of her writing, photographs from her travels, and links to ebooks of her trips to Nepal and to Laos on her website: http://www.jocarroll.co.uk


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  1. Suzanne Flay

    June 11, 2013

    I didn’t go on a gap year but I did a trek in the Himalayas (Nepal) for charity. I would recommend that to anyone that wants an adventure in their 50’s but not quite so daring as a gap year! We had one over 70 year old on the trek who found it challenging but completed. There are loads to choose from, I went with The Alzheimer’s Society who always have a good variety on offer and it was well led and staffed.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      June 13, 2013

      Sounds like a fab adventure Suzanne. Thank you for highlighting the Alzheimer’s Society, I shall take a look and see if they are happy to share upcoming trips with future readers.

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