Sabbatical. Career break. Slacking off.
Depending on the circumstances, all of the above are interchangeable with the modern concept of the Gap Year. So which is it, and why bring it up now?
Who can forget that Thatcher-esque voice constantly nagging us to “Mind the Gap” on the London tube? As far as warnings went, to a young, invincible backpacker it seemed like a hang-over from 18th century puritanical Britain, a bit like “yield for horse and carriage” or “be sure to tip your hat to ladies”. Absurdly cautious and patently obvious, all served with great lashings of conservatism, dredged from the dreary consciousness of the motherland.
25 years later the warning is recalled as my family and I plan and execute “the big one”, the mother of all trips into the unknown – a real gap year. We’re a bundle of nerves, harbouring worry, yet still brimming with excitement and hope. Sometimes you feel like you know as little about what lays ahead as you do about what you’re leaving behind, but not in this case. In fact that’s a pretty stupid saying, and whoever made it up should be sent to a fluro-lit subway purgatory where the only stimulation is that stern voice, repeating the words “mind the gap” for eternity.
Meanwhile, the parameters of the gap year become clearer. We will spend much anticipated time with the newer additions to the family, my daughter will face the challenge of at least one foreign school, and I’ll do what I always do – work remotely and write sparingly. Or is it the other way around? It’s become a blur in this device-driven life.
Not to say there aren’t goals – some clearer than others at this point.
As an incorrigible traveller and yet fairly slack blogger I’ve always held considerable envy for full-time travel writers. The tour company promos, tourism-board sponsored trips, and lavish media junkets. They hook up with these freebies, write a bit, return to base, and before long they’re off on the next one. Screw envy, this is pure contempt.
But the elephant-in-the-room question which never seems to get answered is: “how do they do it?” How do they come and go at a whim while still functioning and barely clinging to anything more than an avatar in the real world – maintaining relationships, being there for their partner, kids, house, dog, bills, worries and wrinkles?
The easy answer is – they don’t. All travel writers are at some point faced with their own inevitable fork in the road. A mortality check. Dusty from their recent trip to Chad, tapping the sand from their ragged volleys, still warm from being dragged along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, these mysterious beasts must decide between the never ending road to their left, or the road to the right which leads to some semblance of a home left behind.
In the face of the predictable, the known, the banal, they find themselves turning left. Ten years later you’ll find them scaling the peak of Machu Picchu, sampling deep-fried dragonfly in the shadows of Cambodia’s Siem Reap, or simply marvelling at their own genius in the reflection of 1,000 crystal chandeliers in the Emirates Palace of Abu Dhabi. They own a cat and an email address, and their only bill is for a storage unit which contains what’s left of their life to that point in time.
Sounds like a plan!
So on that count I’m going to try and have my cake and eat it too. Everyone but the dog is along for the ride, the why and where can come later.
Watch this gap.