Ever thought of dropping everything to go travel the world? Students do it all of the time. Just because you have the 9 to 5 routine down, doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance. Here’s the first in my series of how we did an ‘adult gap year’.
I’m forever seeing ads and social media posts explaining how someone quit their job to travel full time and, promising that I might do the same if I follow their steps. (Though they’re often just essays of nothing; empty words and rambling paragraphs providing little to no information on how you might actually accomplish this). Do you see them too? Perhaps they’re targeted at me because I’m always packing a suitcase and accumulating stamps on the old passport.
Well, as legit as I’m sure these promises may be, sometimes it’s just not feasible to work remotely or just drop everything and travel the world advertising on Instagram. So how about something halfway there – an adult gap year? Call it a sabbatical if you like, but whatever you label it, we decided to give it a go. We quit our jobs and took off for around seven months to see some of the world. South-East Asia and Australia, to be exact. Neither of us did the ‘gap year’ thing in college/university, so it was time to give it a go.
The ‘Adult Gap Year’ was Born
We quickly took to calling it our ‘adult gap year’. Saving up to travel the world as a student is popular and it’s easy to see why. Dropping everything and jetting off to see the world can be a difficult decision but if you aren’t loaded with responsibilities it’s probably the perfect time. The whole ‘adult gap year’ thing isn’t to say that students aren’t adults or that we’re super grown up. It’s because, well, what if you want to drop everything just when you have a stable, secure job, a home you like, and a solid routine? It grows harder to throw everything away, as you dedicate years of your life to climbing the ladder in your field. SPOILER: you’re not throwing your life away… you’re living it.
You’re not doing anything wrong by wanting to explore. Lots of people take the plunge; it isn’t quite as scary as it seems. So we packed our bags and boarded our first flight to experience a gap year for ourselves… with a few minor upgrades to the trip that our 18 year old selves wouldn’t have had. The rules were simple…
Often, students take jobs fruit-picking or helping out on farms in exchange for accommodation to save money. We saved up and devised a budget (a large spreadsheet was obviously involved) so that we could just travel. Simple.
Hostels are a great, cheap and sociable option for backpackers but, whether you just never fancied a dorm room set up, or you’ve outgrown bunk beds, perhaps a hotel would be nicer? We researched (it all went on the spreadsheet obvs) budget hotels and set ourselves realistic budgets for each country. We included as many hotels with free breakfast as possible, so that would cut down on the food expenses. As well as the cheap budget rooms, we interspersed the itinerary with the occasional luxury stay – as a treat. And in South-East Asia, sometimes you can get a fancy hotel stay for cheaper than you might expect!
No Rushing or Stress
Maybe that rule is easier said than done. The aim was to have no rushing to the airport, no running to be on time and no worrying. The opposite of a normal routine life. We plotted out a vague schedule but kept things as open as possible to have a sense of freedom.
We made a list of countries we wanted to travel to, and eventually came up with the following skeleton itinerary:
Japan >Philippines >Vietnam > Malaysia > Thailand > Australia > Indonesia
Now, it wasn’t as simple as booking a long vacation; we wanted to have an element of spontaneity. So, we booked some definite flights and hotels, some changeable plans, and left whole blocks of time empty to help us out if we ended up in an awful place we couldn’t wait to leave, or if we found ourselves in a paradise we didn’t want to leave.
Saving Those Pennies
As a starter, let me share with you some of our money saving tips…
Before the trip…
We cut down on luxuries like eating out and getting Ubers.
Unfortunately, you might have to politely decline lots of invitations and social events and people might start to think you’ve become a little hermit.
Saving money can mean making sacrifices. If you don’t buy that morning coffee at Pret or spend anything eating out on your lunch break, you can already make some valuable savings. Sell things on eBay, don’t buy new clothes you don’t need and give up subscriptions you simply don’t use. Saving can be as simple as you want it to be.
Eating your money…
A food budget for two people to simply exist for seven months can be quite hefty. But you don’t want to simply exist – you want to enjoy your time and try local cuisines. As I say, we tried to include as many free breakfasts as we could – some hotels include this as standard and others charge a fee. Weigh up the extra costs – do you spend £50 extra on the hotel breakfast for 5 days, or is it cheaper to buy fruit at local supermarkets? If you’re staying in a nice resort, local restaurants/stores will often be cheaper than anything within the hotel – standard.
Pack your bags…
Depending on which airline you fly with, you could be faced with baggage charges. Each airline will have different allowances, but if you’re going to be away for some time, you’ll need stuff – right? Well travelling as a pair, we decided to bring one large bag and one carry-on bag. This meant we could bring our sun creams, mosquito repellent, and things that may be costly to purchase abroad whilst only ever having one checked bag to include in the airfare.
On the journey…
Don’t underestimate the power of shopping around and using different methods of transport. Follow flights on Hopper and check blogs and guides to see what those before you have done. An overnight bus might make you wince but some can be super cheap and comfy enough, also saving you the cost of a hotel night.
Perhaps the ferry isn’t cheaper in that one instance and it would be more sensible to fly? Maybe if you spend £10 extra on an AirBnb apartment, you’ll save money by buying groceries and cooking for the week? Consider all options. Also, look into new hotels – we managed to stay at some beautiful resorts at a fraction of their usual price, just because they’d only just opened and had no reviews yet. Total bargains.
Points mean prizes…
Signing up for memberships and opening accounts sometimes seems like a hassle but it can definitely work to your advantage. For example, saving up those Avios points and using a companion voucher sliced the price of our initial outgoing and return flights (meaning we travelled First Class).
Using a site like Expedia (where you earn points with each night you stay) or being a Marriott Rewards Member can help you get discounts and free nights. And I’m telling you this because that’s exactly what we did – no one bribed me to tell you they’re great. Even if you think you’ll never get enough points for anything special, it’s worth opening the account on the off chance that one day you fancy taking a backpack around the world.
I’ll let you know how we plan out our trip and what we get up to…