Mind the Gap Please – Part 1 : Jake

Mind the Gap Please – Part 1 : Jake

Today’s Podcast by retired Travel Writer and Journalist Jakethewriter

The Gap Year

It was prompted by the pontifications of a Europhile from the CBI, who spouted that Gap years are a waste of time along with a lot of other rubbish. All his speech really proved was that because he didn’t do it, he doesn’t get it. A bit like his love of the European Union and trying to lay down the rules for those who wish to escape. My item was taken from one of my articles written and published some time ago which I called

Mind the Gap please!

I have divided my Podcast into two parts because even edited from my original article it is still rather long; my throat can only go for so long without a breather and I would hate for you to get bored and lose interest.

Part One

Why should students have all the fun? Gap years should be for those who have earned it and what is more who are old enough to appreciate it.  Right! that has upset all of you who have decided to go and see a piece of the world before getting stuck into several years of study at university having just escaped the struggle of our education system from the age of 5 to 18.

I don’t mean to upset anyone, I just think that if students believe they have earned the right to a gap year just you wait until you have graduated and then joined the JOB market.  Working the statutory 40 hour week for the just over minimum wage.  We enlightened souls, who work for themselves; smugly call the JOB market the “Just Over Broke” market because employers will never pay you more than they have to, object if you want to knock off early or even if you spend too long in the loo.  But that is another hobby horse that I am not riding today.

To return to the subject of worked out, wage slaves, deserving a Gap Year equally with the student getting off of the gravy train somewhere on the route between GCSE’s, ‘A’ levels, University and job.  So let us all plan to have a Gap Year whether we are 18 or 80. Everyone would benefit from a Gap Year or even Gap Three Months.  Does it matter if you are going to work for 43 years or 44 years whether you take time out to re-charge your batteries at the beginning, the end or even in the middle?

There is always a worry about taking time out and wasting time – At eighteen it will be parents worried about the dreadful things that could happen to their little darling and they will be trying delicately to suggest that you really should keep the momentum going until after you have graduated.  Quote the anecdotal facts that fewer people drop out after year one if they took a Gap Year than those who didn’t.

Once you have graduated, qualified or whatever – the advice (cold water) will come again from parents, who will have enlisted the battalion of grandparents who will all ignore the fact that they do not know what they are talking about and the fact that you are not sure in what direction you want to go yourself, right at this minute.  Tell them this time that you need something more than Nursery School, Primary School, Secondary, Comprehensive, Grammar School, Sixth Form College and University to fill in all of those blank bits on the CV and the application forms.  By this time you will have lost them, so quote me – You need a break

Then when, “To old to die young!”, you are tired out, worn out, battered by life at the JOB, having done your job as a wage slave for 40 hours every week plus commuting and to put it politely having seen better days.  Now you have the time and inclination to take time out.  You will find that all the negative advice will be coming from all of your family. – Grown up kids, your grandchildren, all of them telling you that you need to put your feet up not to be thinking of offering your services and all of your hard learned skills to some Romanian orphanage. Thinking about that I must add a warning; in the early 1990s after the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu, I allowed one of my staff to go on a one month paid sabbatical, as a volunteer to help sort out the ghastly mess he had made of his orphanages. My well meaning lady volunteer came back quite damaged mentally by the horrors she had seen and took some months to recover. So think carefully before making your decision.

Believe me your family’s concerns are less for your welfare and mostly about you spending their inheritance while you are away and “Who is going to look after your cat?” – Quote me – You need a break not a rest. As for someone to look after the cat, you could always put a hyperlink between those who kindly took care of Tom and your Last Will and Testament.

So who am I to be giving all this friendly advice and waving you Bon Voyage as you step into the unknown?   I didn’t get to University, I left Naval College at 15+ to travel twice around the world on a cargo boat.  Some Gap Year! actually my first voyage took 15 months which was followed by two years before the mast on a luxury liner plying the South African route and then into the Royal Navy.  What is it they say when singing the praises of taking a Gap Year?  “There is a world out there … go and see it … and live life to the full.”  I saw the world, I saw the sea and I lived life to the full and when the time came to settle down, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

I came ashore, tried working at a JOB as a wage slave, picking up a wife and two kids on the way together with a mortgage and all the accoutrements that go with them.  I then came to my senses and took on board the fact that I was not born to be a wage slave and didn’t like the JOB factor, in fact I was unemployable because I didn’t like being bossed around.  So I have been my own boss since before most of you were born and since 1986 was the Managing Director of a travel company and after taking early retirement have been a freelance travel writer and my researches have taken me even further than my seafaring or my travel agency.

Also on my CV is the fact that I did a lot of survival training in the Navy. I did Arctic warfare training and then put it to good use in the heat of the Middle East.  I have eaten weevils, earthworms and witchity grubs.  In my youth I was a keen rock climber and a sailor and have taught outdoor pursuits at an Outward Bound School in the North of Scotland.  I possess a qualification in mountain leadership from Plas Y Brenan and a Board of Trade Yacht masters Certificate.  So as the lovely Gloria Gaynor tells us “I will survive”

I now travel at leisure, for pleasure, with my much loved and long suffering wife.  My two married kids have added two grandchildren who are now adults.  Because I have always been somewhat of a free spirit – I believe my granddaughter calls it being a loose cannon – We get no grief when we decide to – Just Go! – And my lovely daughter looks after William my Burmese cat.  He being an adventurous spirit like his butler (me) and likes a change, sometimes packs his bags and takes himself off to stay with my sister for his gap year/week/month.

Anyway that is my CV – A much travelled wrinkly, nearly a crinkly, much researched travel writer who has been there and done that and had all of the corners knocked off on the journey.

Do you have to have a reason?

Why do you want to travel? If you are doing it for any other reason than because you want to – maybe you want to see the world before it’s too late. Maybe you want to see life, Maybe you want to appreciate how the rest of the world lives or maybe you need to “find yourself”, any other reason, don’t do it.  It must be your decision, it’s your life, and so do it for yourself – NO OTHER REASON.

Deciding to take a period of time out and then deciding how to spend it may not be as momentous as some other life decisions like getting married, having babies, choosing or changing careers, but it is still a big decision.  It certainly takes guts and that is an essential ingredient in achieving a break in your lifestyle.  The hardest part is the summoning up the determination to JUST DO IT!  No book can make the decision for you.  All outsiders, even someone who knows the ropes, can do is set out the possibilities and see if any take your fancy.  Do as much research as possible.  Ask yourself if you can imagine yourself trekking through a Costa Rican rainforest or teaching in a Tanzanian village or studying art in Florence?  The next thing to ask yourself is do you have the energy to make the dream come true?

There has never been a better time to travel around the world.  No matter what your age is or where you are bound there are literally hundreds of people doing the same thing.  If you think about it you probably know someone who is doing it and if you know someone and everyone that you know, knows someone else who is off into the wide blue yonder, can you imagine the number of backpackers out there?  It is easy for me to say and to imagine as I’ve been there, done that and seen towns literally full of backpackers.  If you imagine that you are going off into the unknown, completely on your own out there you can forget it.  This is simply not the case.

You couldn’t make this up!

I have a chum who went to get away from it all to Ulan Bator in
Outer Mongolia and found that the place was full of backpackers.  I met someone from the next village to mine when I was half-way up a mountain in Whistler, British Columbia, and my hairdresser bumped into one of his customers in a Souk in Beirut in the Lebanon.  The world has become a very much smaller place and there has never been a cheaper time to travel, it’s not only budgies that go cheep!

No time like the Present

Seriously with the increase in demand, prices for flights and travel in general are coming down the whole time and it has never been cheaper to travel.  As a result of this increased demand it has also never been easier to travel, with youth travel companies, help the aged travel companies (I just made that one up), tour operators, coach routes and even internet cafes everywhere, all making it easier for everyone to JUST GO, or as Nike say JUST DO IT.

If you stagger off the plane in Sydney you will find that you have landed in the number one destination for backpackers.  You will be surrounded by them – hundreds of them, all doing exactly the same as you.  You will find that there are buses continuously running up and down the coast from Sydney to Cairns.  You don’t even have to thumb it, just get on a bus and get off at the next town where you will be met by a representative who has a free mini bus to take you to the hostel that someone on the plane told you about.  Australian joke “How do you know which is the plane that has come from Heathrow? – It’s the jet that is still whining after the pilot has switched the engines off”.

When you are ready to move on, the rep with the mini bus will take you to the bus station to jump on yet another bus to take you to the next town where you will be met by another rep with another mini bus to take you to another recommended hostel.  It’s tough out there in the bush – Have you ridden in those mini buses?

I feel another anecdote coming on – My wife and I were staying in a small town called Zakapane in Poland at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and decided to make our own way up to the starting point of a locally renowned, 8 kilometre uphill trek through the forests to a restaurant with stunning views.

Following a locals’ advice who told us, when he discovered that we intended to walk the route, that it was a “damn long vay” – Under his guidance we duly found a mini bus which ran from the town centre to our setting off point – the 16 seater mini bus gradually filled up and then the courier/rep/conductor walked up the aisle to the back of the bus carrying wooden planks which he placed under the bottoms of those seated passengers, across the aisle and hey presto! Eight more seats for eight extra passengers.

As we lurched along in our now 24 seater mini bus the said courier/rep/conductor made sure that we were aware that the forest we were about to trek through, was the home of some of Poland’s much loved black bears and wild boar and that in this enlightened age they were protected by new and rigid laws. – I know that his English was rather broken unlike my Polish which is totally non-existent – but I believe the message he tried to get across was that Bear and Boar are protected – rubber-necking tourists were not.  We were not to protect ourselves if we were attacked by wild animals.

All you have to do is Find A Man Who Does

I digress – All over the world not just Australia there is a well –trodden backpacker trail and everyone you meet will be on it or have been on it.  Every time that you meet up with someone you will find yourself swapping traveller’s tales and ideas over a beer or two.  Have a look at www.backpackeurope.com which is the brainchild of an American and veteran backpacker Kaaryn Hendrickson, this site is a gem for any young person about to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe.

Even before you leave, the best advice comes from someone who has already done it.  They will have learned the hard way, so talk to your friends and acquaintances who have hit the road or the volunteer trail abroad.  Make use of the internet to locate travellers who have gone before.  You could even find a pub in Earls Court and chat to a few Aussies going walkabout.  You then must sit back and cherry-pick all the good and bad advice and try to make sense of what makes sense to you.  You will have to filter advice based on prejudice on one hand and bravado on the other.  All of the advice in the world is useless unless you make a personal approach to every particular situation.

Thanks for listening to Part One I’m stopping for a short R & R and hopefully I’ll see you on the flip side

Thanks for listening! (Cont…)