A month or so ago my friend Saskia arrived back from her gap year. I met her for a beer in Camberwell, South London. She was a bit scattered and hungover, but her general vibe was;
"That was the best thing I've ever done".
I was meant to go with her, to South America. There was going to be a small group of us, exploring the slums of Brazil and glaciers of Argentina. But I didn't. I stayed and did internships. And now I'm not so sure what's more valuable, and whether or not I wish that I too had jumped aboard a plane looking to escape the recession.
I'd been obsessed with travelling ever since I went to South-East Asia for five weeks during the summer of 2010. I'd travelled down from Laos, through Thailand and into Malaysia, eventually jetting over to Bali to end the trip.
It was the best thing I'd ever done.
When I finished uni, it became pretty apparent that graduates had almost no chance of survival. A lot of people my age had made the decision to travel. Doing a lower end job becomes more bearable when you can justify it with "well, I'm going travelling in a few months, so whatever." I was of a similar mind-set. Sod staying around here and wasting my time, I'm too educated for that. I'll travel. So I signed up with a recruitment agency to try and pick up a nice easy job. They seemed almost overwhelmed that I'd turned up to meet them wearing a shirt and shoes. They guaranteed to get me work and, lo and behold, the following Thursday I had an all-day interview lined up with BT. I was to be a telemarketing salesman. A noble profession. Jenny, my recruitment agent, had assured me that, as long as I turned up and "didn't mimic the accent of the bloke next to me", the job would be mine. I'd work there for six or seven months and then I'd be jetting to Rio. I'd be living the modern day graduate dream.
And then the BBC called.
I'd applied for an internship with BBC 6 Music many months before. One of their producers rang me out of the blue for an informal phone interview. After around eight minutes of talking about James Blake and Glastonbury the lady on the phone said "Okay, we'll give you a ring on Thursday to let you know what we've decided." It became quite clear that I'd have to miss the interview or miss the phone call. I, of course, missed the interview. And luckily the BBC offered me a place. The internship meant I wouldn't be able to save up enough cash for the trip, or at least, not enough to be able to leave at the same time as my friends.
So, I made an adult decision. I concluded that I would spend the year doing work experience and internships instead of traveling. I'd use my gap year to gain skills and worm my way into the media. And due to some good fortune I managed to do that. When Saskia set sail for SA, I started to work pretty much non-stop. Her Facebook became inundated with photos of her chilling on beaches and riding land mammals, and mine saw me in various London bars and posing with an array of presenters. My coffee carrying skills grew and grew. Around the time Saskia disappeared into Peru for a few months, I dissolved into the world of breakfast radio. I didn't speak to her until she returned.
When I finally found her again in Camberwell, she told me of how her outlook on life had changed. How she now saw the world differently. She had a fresh perspective and felt like, for the last year and a bit, she'd been truly living. I sat there fairly awkwardly, and eventually said, "I'm tired. I'm very, very tired." Saskia shot me a sympathetic glance. "At least you've made contacts" she said, "all I've got lined up is a masters".
I left the South London pub feeling sorry for myself, my vitamin D starved skin reflecting brightly in the early afternoon sun.
But you know what, I'm proud of what I've done. Sure, I haven't looked out over Rio from the top of the Corcovado Mountain, and I haven't camped under the stars outside Ayers Rock, but it's not a problem. I've got to know people. And I've gained skills. And I've spent hours meticulously editing the format of my CV, so that it's slightly easier on the eye. I've met loads of famous people and told them to speak directly into the front of the microphone. You won't get Noel Gallagher asking if he can "just use the fucking stairs?" on Phi Phi Island. I wouldn't trade my last year for all the whiskey filled buckets in Thailand.
And then I log into Facebook and see that Louise Wheatley has just 'checked-in' on Copacabana Beach, and I mutter "oh, well done you" under my breath.
I hide her from my news feed.
Follow Stephen Ferdinando on Twitter: www.twitter.com/steveferdinando