Travelling in your 30s: Why it’s never too late to take a gap year

Once upon a time, gap years were seen as a ‘pre-university’ rite of passage. A year of backpacking on a shoe-string budget through Southeast Asia, fruit picking in Australia, drunken nights and hostel dorm rooms. Or, so I’ve heard, because I never actually took one. It wasn’t until Andrew and I were approaching our 30s that we set off on our own trip and nearly six years later, I’d say it was the best decision we ever made. So, here’s why I think it’s never too late to take a gap year and go travelling in your 30s.

Us in Ella, Sri Lanka

Why go travelling in your 30s?

Here are some thoughts on the benefits of travelling in your 30s but before I start, a caveat: I know that if you can afford to travel for leisure, you’re extremely privileged. Andrew and I have funded our entire journey ourselves and always worked on the road, yet we’ve only been able to do this because we were  born in a country that afforded us so many opportunities. I try never to take this for granted.

Khlong Khong Beach, Koh Lanta, Thailand

Create a life you actually want to live

Growing up in the UK, I felt the societal pressure to conform to that well-trodden life path of finishing education, getting a job, a mortgage, getting married and having kids, then working until retirement. Deep down I’ve always known that isn’t really what I wanted in life. As an anxious teenager I feared getting trapped in a full-time job I hated and never once dreamed of getting married or having kids.

Us trekking in Nepal, overlooking Namche Bazaar

Just like many of my friends, I believed that my university days would be the best of my life, my only real taste of freedom and chance to study and indulge my passions. So, I made the most of it. Afterwards, I followed my interests and completed a master’s in journalism, moved to London and got a job writing. Even living in a city I loved, doing a job I had studied hard for, left me feeling empty and restless. In the end, the only thing that could erase that feeling was to leave.

Us in Central London

What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t just up-end my comfy London life to see the world, I wanted to shake up the way I lived for good. I left because I thought I owed it to myself to create a life I really wanted to live, because I hated being trapped in an office for 40 hours a week, commuting and barely seeing Andrew. Travel allowed me the space and time to figure out a new lifestyle and without it, I wouldn’t be working as a freelance travel writer from an apartment in Portugal, in my PJs.

Us sitting on a log in Pang Ung reservoir, Northern Thailand

I get that many people relish having a home, family and 9-5. However, if you feel like you’re just conforming to societal expectations and aren’t enjoying your life, travel can be a great way to break that pattern. Head away for a gap year to figure out what you really want to do. Take some time to study abroad, to volunteer, to teach, to work on an online business, or simply to explore. Who knows where that year could lead.

Learn that work doesn’t define you

In western society, I think we all put too much emphasis on what we ‘do’ for a living, we define ourselves and our worth by our jobs. Travel has taught me that it’s not the same for people in many other cultures. In lots of countries we’ve visited, work is merely a way of making money, not a reflection of your self worth. Instead, there may be more of a focus on family, religion, community or giving back. I’ve learned that while work may be a fulfilling part of your life, taking a break can be a reminder that you’re more than just your job title.

In some of the most competitive working environments in the UK, especially London, I think people feel they have to make work the centre of their universe. There’s pressure to constantly be checking work emails, applying for promotions and saving for the future. What about your ideas, passions and hobbies? Since leaving the UK we’ve prioritised learning through travel and have taken on different challenges. These include teaching abroad, volunteering after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, spending time at a dog rescue project in Thailand and working online.

You’ll meet new people

As we get older and settle into working routines, I think we lose the knack of spontaneously meeting people and making new friendships. Since leaving the UK in 2013, we’ve met so many amazing people we would never have crossed paths with otherwise.  We’ve made connections with people from all over the world through travel and blogging, be it students and teachers when we lived in Vietnamdigital nomads in Thailand, retired travellers, family travellers – the list goes on. We’re so thankful for all the new friendships we’ve made through travel.

Yoga camp at ACE Adventures preparing to go white water rafting on the River Findhorn

You can travel more comfortably in your 30s

When you hit your 30s you’re probably  in a better financial situation than you were in your teens or 20s, which means you can travel with a bit more luxury. After saving hard, we left the UK with enough money to travel for nearly two years when we were 29, but on a budget. During that first phase of our trip we splashed out on activities but spent as little as possible otherwise, even if that meant noisy hostels, 11-hour overnight bus journeys and eating nothing but noodles. I look back at those days now and remember the feeling of adventure and freedom – it was magical, but tough.

Now we’re well into our 30s, it’s safe to say that our travel style has changed considerably. We’re definitely not rich by western standards, but we have figured out a way to earn a sustainable income so we have the money to eat healthily, take road trips, rent apartments and stay in nicer hotels.  We also know travellers in their 30s who have mortgages yet rent out their home while they’re abroad, so they have the security and funds to travel.

Have you taken a gap year later in life? What do you think the benefits are of travelling when you’re older?

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