Here at John Mason International we’re inspired by stories of adventure and discovery. This includes those off on a journey at the age of 18-the gap year explorers. Many people choose to revisit countries visited on their gap year and even find themselves relocating to them later in life! Below Philly’s shares her gap year diary visiting Australia, New Zealand and South Africa sharing her thoughts and providing a few tips for those who are moving overseas or just wanting to explore the world.
Having a gap year was always something I was going to do so as school ended off STA travel we went. We sat down with a young man and he asked us the simplest, yet most daunting question: “where would you like to go?”. Being only 18, we sheepishly responded with our lack of knowledge, and in a very nonchalant way he made us look at a World map and simply point out all the countries that we would like to visit. After an hour of concerns, we left the travel agents with pride and a list of countries we would visit: Tanzania, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
After a lot of tears, an emergency trip to Egypt, an eighteen hour wait in Johannesburg airport and thirty hours of travel we had arrived in Dar Es Salaam. We had arranged to spend a month in the Amani Centre in the district of Morogoro, which was a foundation offering aid to the intellectually disabled children.
Upon our arrival we were launched on by children, the excitement and thrill from our hosts soon calmed our anxiety. Our living quarters exceeded all our expectations, we expected the stereotypical Africa that you see on television, however, we had running water (most of the time), beds and electricity.
After a week, our routine soon became set, and we were settling into Tanzanian life quite well. We would spend the morning in the school trying our hardest to learn 1 – 10 in Swahili and pass on our little knowledge, the afternoons saw us making our own entertainment, whereby we would play with the orphans that lived at the centre. On weekends we were left to our own devices; we took the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas in Dala Dala’s (Tanzania’s bus service – rickety, old minibuses) which cost 200 Tanzanian dollars, which is the equivalent of 8p.
Due to my family having several members throughout the globe, we were lucky enough to stay in a family home in Cape Town for the duration of our stay. Coming from the dust and dirt of Africa, we were blissfully happy with a warm shower and a washing machine as a way to spend our first evening. The two weeks saw us soak in all the sights, from Table Mountain to Camps Bay to the Victoria and Alfred Harbour.
Having read horror stories about the country, we didn’t feel that we were in any particular danger, but to remain on the safe side, our evenings were quiet and restful and only venturing out if we were going in a taxi, with a company that were trusted.
According to STA Travel, going to New Zealand without booking the Kiwi Experience was a terrible plan, so before we left, two tickets for the Zephyr Pass were paid for. The ‘experience’ gave you travel for both islands, similar to the hop-on/hop-off buses seen in cities, although this ticket lasted a month, and you spent nights in places as opposed to hours.
When we first thought about visiting New Zealand, I had fields and sheep in mind, however, our second stop soon made me see differently. Paihia in the Bay of Islands can be found at the top of the north island, surrounded by white beaches and stunning views. It’s a popular destination, so much so a cruise ship was docked in the waters. Our time was spent sunbathing, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of our Pipi Patch hostel.
According to friends and other travellers, visiting New Zealand without taking part in some form of adrenaline activity is a travesty. A mid-day stop included a visit to The Kawarau Bungee Centre, situated just outside the city of Queenstown. Our driver asked us whether anyone would like to experience the bridge bungee jump, as I knew my nerves would not be able to sustain the 134 metre Nevis jump Bungee Jump; I thought I would take the opportunity and jump the 43 metres off the Kawarau Bridge. The jump was the most terrifying, yet exhilarating experience, and the fact that your reason for survival is Velcro, makes your nerves significantly more apparent.
Sydney is one of the best cities in the world, the expanse of the harbour and the beauty of the Opera House and the Bridge give the city breath-taking views. We spent three days wondering around the city, enjoying the thrill of trying to work their public transport system and visiting Bondi and Coogee Beaches.
Half way up the east coast we stopped at Airlie Beach, which is the port for every trip to explore the Whitsunday Islands. With my birthday falling at the same time we were there, what better way to celebrate than going to visit the Great Barrier Reef? Our boat took us around the islands, anchoring at various isolated spots so we could snorkel and explore the breath-taking views under the sea. The highlight of the three day expedition fell on the last day when our boat anchored at a relatively small bay, we were taken ashore and trekked through a small forest, as we climbed over the hill gasps were heard, and we were all dumb-founded at the view in front of us of Whitehaven Beach.
When we had finally reached Cairns, our group had increased to four, traveling with two girls that we had met on the way. Before we had left England, all of us had this idyllic plan of hiring a camper-van and visiting every corner of Australia. Although, we had all travelled Australia by this point, I didn’t see any reasons why we couldn’t fulfil our dreams for the last week. After a bit of difficulty finding a company that would take the risk of loaning a car to four 18 year Old’s, we finally found Wicked camper-vans, and we set off finding our own version of Cairns. For five days we drove with no plan or map, stumbling across Josephine Falls and the town of Port Douglas.
For five and a half months, I had no cares in the world; I went on fourteen different flights and visited seven different countries. Travelling the world at eighteen with no parental supervision, felt like the most daunting thing in the world, but actually I managed, and it sculpted the person I became. I only dream of having those months again, it made me think that you can never travel enough, and that is why once I finish University I will plan another expedition. To where? I don’t know, but to live like that for another six months is an experience that you cannot put a price on. I have had people ask me whether they should travel, and I find it astounding that most are not even bothered by it. There are only so many years in your life where you are able to pack your bags and leave without thinking about your responsibilities. The six months you’ll spend saving money will make you lose your wits, but I can tell you without hesitation, that it is worth the boredom.