Is the sabbatical year over?

Hostels, wild parties, bustling cities and bonfires on the beach – it’s the gap year we’ve known and loved since the 1960s. But it’s hanging by a thread. Year after year, young adults have enthusiastically flown off to Asia, South America and Australasia in an effort to explore the world and “find themselves” before embarking on higher education or a career.

However, the tide seems to be turning on this rite of passage. Raleigh International, a charity responsible for placing more than 55,000 young people in overseas development programs since 1978, closed in May this year. The charity said it could no longer afford to operate, blaming the pandemic and reduced funding.

That’s not too surprising given that only 3% of students took a gap year in 2018, compared to 11% between 2005 and 2010. So what’s changed?

Gap year and pandemic

Not surprisingly, the pandemic had a detrimental effect on the gap year. As the travels came to a halt, the dreams of taking a year off to blow off steam also came to a halt. According to Deloitte, concerns about finances, family well-being and career prospects have been highlighted as the main causes of stress and anxiety among Gen Z and Millennials. And so, s Away for a long period of time has been uncomfortable for many people after the pandemic.

“A gap year seemed far-fetched given that everything was still in play with travel, visas and COVID.”

This was the case for Joseph Grindrod. The 20-year-old was preparing for his A-level exams when the pandemic hit, bringing his school years to an abrupt end. “The move to college felt very disjointed,” the University of Manchester student told POPSUGAR. “I decided not to take a gap year because I didn’t want to put my studies and my career on hold anymore. At that time, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, so I thought that ‘It was better to continue with my studies than to stay at home.

For two years, our lives were in limbo. With a backlog of students ready to begin their next chapter, the scramble for college places and jobs has become even more competitive, and, with travel still uncertain, a gap year hasn’t seemed like the reckless choice it was once for many.

“After sending all my personal statements to various universities and thinking about the idea of ​​a gap year, lockdown hit,” Kiera Patel, 20, told POPSUGAR. “A gap year seemed far-fetched considering everything was still in play with travel, visas and COVID. Going straight to college was the best decision for me.”

Sabbatical year and work

However, the pandemic has opened up possibilities for a new demographic of digital nomads. The global move towards remote working has allowed Britons to combine it with travel, albeit less hopping hostels and more rustic Instagrammable Airbnbs. Bali Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno even announced a five-year digital nomad visa that would allow up to 3.6 million international freelancers to work from the island tax-free.

Surprisingly, it is actually cheaper to work and travel than to work and live in some parts of the UK, according to research by Hostelworld. A month’s trip would cost a lone wanderer £1,170, which is a bit cheaper than living in London where an average outlay is £1,250 a month if living frugally.

And so the nomadic lifestyle fills the void for Brits who haven’t had the chance to take a gap year, like Phoebe Dodds. The 26-year-old, who founded marketing agency Buro155 after finishing college, told POPSUGAR that her desire to travel was one of the main reasons she decided to get a job that allowed him to work on his own.

Dodds has spent the past year working in Mexico, Greece, Berlin, Paris, Rome, London and Amsterdam. “I’ve always been jealous of people who took a gap year, but I just wanted to start college straight after school. I couldn’t travel, so I felt like I missed out. that and I really wanted to have that experience afterwards,” she said. “It’s my way of life rather than a year-long delay that people have when they take a year sabbatical right out of school. Now I have freedom and flexibility.”

Three hiker friends head to the start for the next part of their journey.  They carry their backpacks, check timetables and laugh.

Gap year and cost of living crisis

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to afford a year off from sightseeing, sunbathing and soaking in cultures, but we’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis. The traditional “gap yah,” the comedic phrase coined by YouTuber Matt Lacey, is most often taken by middle-class white teens whose families can support them. And that’s a tiny fraction of the population.

According to a study by the New Policy Institute for StreetGames, 30% of 14-24 year olds currently live in poverty, and 13% of young people live in families unable to keep their homes warm enough. For many, taking a year off from work and study to travel is simply not an option.

“We are in a financial crisis. The class divide is growing rapidly, and while the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer.”

Sonya Barlow, a 29-year-old businesswoman and founder of the LMF network, told POPSUGAR, “We are in a financial crisis. The class divide is growing rapidly, and as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Ten years ago when I thought about going to college, a gap year was mostly for people of wealth. As a first-generation South Asian immigrant, my parents worked very, very hard to s “ensure they could put food on the table. We didn’t quite understand the concept of a gap year.”

While the gap year might be named as such to illustrate a break from education and work, there is an undeniable disparity between classes and races who can afford to take 12 months off.

“People of color face more barriers when entering the workplace, so it’s generally accepted that you should go to college and graduate immediately,” Barlow continues. “Nobody can take that degree away from you, and it’s more likely that you’ll be able to earn enough money and take a vacation at a later date. It’s a very competitive field. As a woman and a brunette person , you know you have to do your best to get into spaces you’re not normally accepted into.”

Although historically there has been a sense of entitlement to a gap year, there are gappers who do so cheaply. Tour operators like Contiki have strived to offer budget-friendly tours that can be tailored with guides, food, work opportunities and accommodation to make the experience much more inclusive, but the stigma surrounding the privilege of the sabbatical year remains in 2022.

Gap Year Safety

We cannot talk about young people going on a trip without addressing safety, especially with regard to women and solo travellers. Women’s safety and sexual assault are of the utmost importance, especially since the devastating deaths of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Zara Aleena, to name a few. Although these events happened on our doorstep, women’s safety is an issue at home and abroad.

According to a 2021 study by JourneyWoman, 88% of women said they felt somewhat threatened or unsafe while travelling. With high-profile cases like Grace Millane, who was murdered in 2018 while hiking in New Zealand, it’s understandable that safety is at the forefront of women’s concerns.

“You learn so much about your own resilience, being self-sufficient, being independent, not needing anyone or a distraction, and just being comfortable in your own business.”

Still, 26-year-old senior account manager Annabel Redgate, who took a year off in 2018, wants to assure travelers that tragedies can happen anywhere, not just while backpacking. “I would tell anyone to travel alone. You learn so much about your own resilience, being self-sufficient, being independent, not needing anyone or a distraction, and just being comfortable in your own company” , she told POPSUGAR.

“I would just advise women and solo travelers not to take any risks. For example, if you want to go out and have a drink, do it, but don’t overdo it and make sure you tell people your plans for the evening. , whether it’s friends you made on the trip, your hosts at the hostel or hotel you’re staying at, or your friends and family at the This way you will always have someone to check in with. You also need to do your research and get recommendations from friends, family and Lonely Planet’s “Solo Travel Handbook” on where to go and what to do. , because relying on other people’s ideas can really help you feel safe.”

Travel agencies are reacting to the increase in solo travel. HostelWorld’s The Solo System app allows solo travelers to chat with other people visiting the same destination before their arrival date. “Our goal is to make sure anyone using the app is safe and feels safe while traveling. We want to create a safe and open community for travelers to meet. We will not tolerate any abuse or behavior contrary to the guidelines from our community,” a Hostelworld spokesperson said.

Women relaxing and sunbathing at the beach

Gap year 2022 and beyond

While there seems to be more on the shoulders of Gen Z than their parents, who took off on hippy trails to remote parts of the world, that doesn’t mean we’re immune to wanderlust. . As the world reopens after the pandemic, there are some undeniable memories to be made by taking a break from the diet that adult life can bring.

“As borders around the world continue to open, we expect to see an increase in the number of gap year travelers over the next 12 to 18 months, after those who have had to delay gap years in due to the pandemic will now have the opportunity to travel again,” Donna Jeayants, of Youth Travel Operator, Contiki, tells POPSUGAR. “Over the past six months there has undoubtedly been a surge in searches and bookings – a good sign that confidence is returning.”

Instead, Gen Z is changing the gap year plan. Companies are working to make travel safer, cheaper and more inclusive for travellers. The world has changed, and while the traditional gap year may not reflect the 20-bed hostels and guitars around campfires we’re used to seeing, enriching lives through travel does will never go out of style. The gap year is not dead, it just evolved into a new era.

About Andrew Miller

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