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Why travel: Because it’s my gap year

Gap yearTaking a gap year—typically a time of global travel and work between high school and college or university—has long been embraced by Britain and Australia where it is considered a rite of passage. The concept has been slower to catch on in North America but it’s now becoming more common and even major universities are promoting it.

Harvard University has long encouraged admitted students to defer enrolment for one year to travel or pursue a special project or activity.  The University of Toronto says a gap year can be “a wonderful, once-in-a lifetime opportunity for a rewarding and memorable period of personal development and exploration that can help to re-focus your career and your future.”

Young people who are considering taking a year off can run into objections from family and friends who are concerned they will be sidetracked from the straight-and-narrow path of further education. Here in Canada, however, more than 80% of the high school students will eventually go on to some form of post-secondary education and experts suggest that the pressure to follow the straight-to-university path is short sighted. In fact, two recent studies linked participation in a gap year to students later entering university with more specific goals, less wasted money and finding a real calling.

There are numerous resources available to help plan the time. Websites include,,,, and Charlotte Hindle, who wrote the Lonely Planet’s The Gap Year Book, advises that the year be well structured. Get a well-paid job, she says, or work “all the hours under the sun” and save the money. Indeed, a survey of youth travellers done by the Lonely Planet found that the greatest barrier to taking the trip (62%) was “not enough money”. Hindle also suggests that you buy travel insurance, do a first aid or survival course before you go, pack only the essentials, and don’t be afraid to go alone. That same Lonely Planet survey said that 25% travel alone so there are many people to meet up with.

Decide what you want from your time off, do your research, plan your budget, and earn some money. It doesn’t seem to matter where you travel to, it’s the journey itself that is important.

© Riding the buses 2011

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