We've all heard the clichéd phrases, "I'm going travelling to find myself", "Travelling just gives you a whole new perspective", "I feel like going travelling really changed me as a person...".
I have no doubt, I have probably uttered some of these clichés in the past, but in truth, it wasn't travelling that did it at all. It wasn't taking some pictures of some pretty places to say I've been there, and then returning to my 'normal life' full of anecdotes beginning, "When I was travelling in..." .
It wasn't getting drunk on a beach in Australia, or hiking a mountain in Nepal, or riding a camel in Morocco - sure those were all fun, but they are moments, they're not lasting. It was other experiences I've had where I've learnt about a place, about people, contributed something or learned something new.
I'd go as far to say that travel is not about the location at all - it's about stepping out of your comfort zone, and giving yourself a chance to grow, away from everything that has defined you up until that point. That could be 1000s of miles away or 20 miles down the road, it's a state of mind and a chance to be a different kind of you.
I kind of hate the phrase 'gap year', it evokes a sense of it having to be break from your 'normal' life. Afterwards you return with stories to tell, but essentially continue the same life you had before.
The amount of times I've heard people say to me; "do it why you're young", as if the only time that we should open ourselves up to new possibilities is when we're still young enough to enjoy them, before age, and responsibility bears down on us, and we can no longer afford to take a break from our lives.
I'm not saying that you can't return to the life you had before, but referring to it as a 'gap' or a 'break' implies that it is not as valuable or as 'serious' as the rest of our lives.
We see the world differently at different ages. A 31 year old will experience a place differently from a 21 year old, as will a 71 year old! We appreciate and value different experiences at different ages. We also have different things to learn and contribute.
'Transformative', 'meaningful', whatever you want to call it, people of all ages can benefit from the kind of the travel that helps develop you as a person (and often helps others too).
These are just a few of the types of purposeful travelling you can get involved in at any age
Here are 4 (of many) worthwhile travel options at any age
1. Volunteering- Voluntourism has got a bad rap in recent years, and for good reason, in many cases. Paying a company thousands of pounds to volunteer your time at a school is in many cases, not beneficial to either party, but if you find the right project, it can be very valuable. Many volunteer companies employ people with skills gained from their careers and place them in projects where they can actually make a difference. Skilled, professional volunteers support of tens of thousands of teachers and nurses worldwide, plus the development of many other communities.
2. Learning a language - Learning a language is on many of our bucket lists, and it's actually been found to be very beneficial for long term healthy cognitive functioning. It is estimated that between 60-75% of the world's population speak at least 2 languages, and there is proof that being able to navigate between two languages not only improves the memory retention of the brain, but its ability to switch awareness. Learning another language may also significantly reduce the onset of Alzeimers. It is proven that the best way to learn a language is immersion, so spending a few months in a country with daily language lessons, or enrolled in a language course, can go a long way to developing your new skill.
3. Teaching English - Teaching English abroad will not only give you an opportunity to integrate yourself into a country's culture, but the chance to earn as you do it! Many TEFL jobs around the world pay a good salary, and some even provide accommodation and flights. For people considering a career change into teaching, this can also be a good option, allowing you to build skills of teaching and managing a classroom, plus a fantastic addition to the CV. Even if you're not looking for a career change, teaching can be a very rewarding experience, and a chance to understand a country more than you would if you were on holiday or backpacking.
4. Learning a New Skill - Whether its going to India to learn to teach yoga , going to Brazil to learn Capoeira, learning to scuba dive in Thailand, or doing a cooking course in Italy, sometimes going to a new location is just what you need to learn that skill you've always wanted to learn. Learning a skill, or gaining a qualification in another part of the world can then be taken with you no matter where you go, and lead you onto the next stage of your life.
Taking a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years, to visit somewhere new, and challenge and develop yourself as a person, shouldn't be seen as a 'gap', it should be considered as a valuable and important step in life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - a statement that is true throughout life, no matter what the age!