Gap year travelling won’t solve your quarter-life crisis

Don’t know what to do with your life? Travel might not be the answer.

Illustration by Belle White, Photo Editor.

Running away, or travelling, may seem like an easy way out of your quarter-life crisis. But be warned, you might just come back broke and more lost than you were before taking off.

People often talk about travelling as if it’s some elixir for lost souls. It’s easy to see how this narrative can be enticing for university students that don’t know what to do with their lives. It makes sense to think that if you don’t know what to do with your life, travelling is a good way to delay making a decision.

Don’t know what to do with your life? Take a gap year to travel.

Didn’t get a co-op for the summer and feel bad about your life? Gap year.

Feel like your degree isn’t serving you? Gap year.

Gap years may seem like a great idea, but at the end of the day they are more about putting off inevitable life decisions than actually learning about the world.

Of course, travel is amazing and eye-opening. I have never travelled anywhere, even just to Vancouver, without seeing something I haven’t seen before. This in itself is something that makes travel worthwhile.

Gap years are great for people that need extra cash and need to work. And yes, if you want to go volunteer abroad and save every endangered species on this planet then I’m not going to stop you. But if you want to go backpack and spend all your time and money in cheap hostels for a year, there are better ways to spend your time.  

What’s becoming the norm for wanderlust-crazed university students isn’t about exploring a new culture or philosophical soul searching. It’s taking a backpacking gap year, saying you’re soul searching, and drinking your way from hostel to hostel while paying some hungover attention to the attractions in whatever capital city you’re in that day.

I am guilty of doing this, and some of my best friends are as well. I know from experience that it doesn’t change your life back home, besides giving you a beer gut.

If you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, chances are the answer isn’t going to wash up on the shore like a message in a bottle.

I felt like I was cheated when I got home from backpacking in Asia. I didn’t feel different. There were some cultural experiences that made for some good stories, but I didn’t have any fundamental realizations about the world. It wasn’t like Eat Pray Love, even though I went to the same places Julia Roberts did when she met her Spanish lover in Bali. If a movie was made about my trip, the closing montage would not highlight the life lessons I learned. Instead, the narrator would say something like, “this all looks great, but now Kate has no money.” The end.  

Whether you’re in Asia, Europe, South America, or doing some VanLife exploring on the West Coast, travel is something that can help you answer your questions, but it’s not guaranteed to.

If you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, chances are the answer isn’t going to wash up on the shore like a message in a bottle. By all means, take a gap year if you feel you need one. But if you go party in a developing country and pass it off as soul-searching, you’ll only be broke, hungover, or both at the end of it.

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