How best to uncover the spirit of a place and get the most out of gap year travel by not playing the tourist, as far as that is possible.
When you decide to go traveling, there are many things to think about. How can I get the best out of my trip? There are coach tours. There’s the experience of simply backpacking alone or with friends across a continent. As I left England for a solid nine months, I experienced both those modes of adventure and got to enjoy what I felt to be much more rewarding.
No. I wouldn’t say that my job in Australia was far more rewarding than freely ambling through Peru. My job involved early mornings and hard work. The most fulfilling option of traveling is still to be described. However, working in another country is something to be considered. You don’t have to save up astronomical amounts before you go because you’ll be earning money.
I know many persons who have had a job in a foreign country like Australia and used it as a base. They work there for a couple of months, save up to go backpacking somewhere else for two months, then go back to that job for another few months before upping sticks and going off again. They live their entire gap year like this and never have to go home to save up, getting the whole feeling of being away and thrillingly disconnected from the familiarity of home.
I worked on a stud farm in Australia. There’s also the option of working on vineyards or other plantations. There’s the option of working on game reserves, becoming a member of the catering staff on a wild safari, then there’s the option of getting a job in a bar or a restaurant. I’d say the more exciting, the better, but it all comes down to the same thing.
There’s also the ski season, either in Europe, America or wherever there happen to be ski resorts. It falls under the same title of work. Long hours, hard labor, and like all the other traveling jobs, copious quantities of alcohol.
A chalet girl or guy’s lifestyle is as follows: Get up before six in the morning, prepare breakfast and serve, clear away, and clean. Finish at about ten or eleven. Have a few hours to go skiing (all expenses are covered obviously), then be back at work at about five to prepare, serve and clear the evening meal. Finish at about ten or eleven and then go out and drink yourself to oblivion before doing it all again the next day.
It differs according to the resort, of course. It is the life of a chalet girl in Verbier, Switzerland; I’m describing having personal knowledge on that one. However, I know the staff in Vaugany, France, live a very different life and are not necessarily treated like slaves. I have discovered a lot of good stuff about ski seasons. Many people have a brilliant time, but I’d say it only suits a specific type of person.
Now, this is what I was referring to when describing the most rewarding. There’s the argument that those who do volunteer work pretend to be philanthropists when they’re only doing the work for themselves. That, from experience, is only partly true.
First of all, most people don’t pretend to be charitable; they know they’re doing this because they’ll get to experience something fantastic. The volunteer work I did in Ecuador involved building paths through the rainforest and planting seeds intending to stop the diminishing of the Amazon rainforest. It also involved teaching English to kids in a school where the professional English teacher didn’t even know the difference between “How old are you” and “What is your name.”
We also painted and decorated another school. Really and truly, we weren’t coming anywhere close to changing the world or anything. Still, everywhere we went, the people we worked for were phenomenally grateful to have us, so we genuinely did feel as though we were helping, and we were part of something exciting that, over time, would make a difference. On top of this, we had the opportunity to have one-to-one Spanish lessons.
The main benefits of the volunteer work were that we got to spend time in some small communities. It was a two-and-a-half-month program, and we didn’t stay in one place for the entire time, so it wasn’t as if we missed out on seeing the country. While in the Amazon, we played football twice a week with the village men and went out to the village bar – a corrugated iron shack. As much as we could, we became a group of English eighteen-year-olds, a part of the community, and for me, that was the best thing about volunteer work and outshone all the other aspects of traveling.
Traveling is not about seeing as many places as possible and having a book of loads of photos of all the significant landmarks. It is about experiencing a different walk of life, finding out about the cultures and senses of humor, it is about discovering the spirit, and if you manage to capture that on your camera. It will make a far more memorable photo than ten snaps of you grinning inanely in front of Machu Picchu. I did plenty of smiling inanely in front of landmarks, in addition to the volunteer work, and people got very bored of those photographs very quickly.