Karen Lomas
August 16, 2022

Is it a good idea to travel when you’re young

Has your child got a friend who lives on the other side of the world? Has your restless teenager decided to defer their studies because grandma has a spare room in an overseas location? Or does the young adult in your house want to work, or even to volunteer, somewhere other than in their home state or country?

This blog looks at the many reasons that traveling when you’re young is a great idea.

There are a number of reasons why a Gap Year is a good plan for your child. They may be a restless adventurer who doesn’t want to continue studying. Maybe that’s just for a while. If they say to you, point blank, “I’m not going to study any more“, it could simply be a cry for some space for now. Try not to worry too much about that kind of reaction to a couple of years of intense assessed study. We all need to vent from time to time and may say things we don’t actually mean. Your teen may be vocal about asserting what they want right NOW. Think first before responding. Maybe also reflect back to when you were a teenager. Did you, or would you have liked to have taken some time out and travelled for a bit? Adolescence is a tricky age-stage and a time when we need to articulate our needs as an individual, but don’t necessarily know how to say some of the meaty stuff. On the one hand they want us to help. On the other, they’re ready to launch and assert their individual agency.

2020 and 2021 have been a really tough two years for your child

So to the big one for our teenagers; Covid home-schooling and extended lockdowns. We now know that the global pandemic has negatively impacted the physical and emotional well-being of many children and young adults. Indeed, much has been published about this in recent months.

If your child has been studying in a converted spare bedroom in your home, has felt stuck in place and needs some time to reflect, what better than a break from the routine? Some of us have spent months trapped in our small neighbourhoods, sometimes in tiny rooms staring at computer screens. The benefit of movement and physical activity outdoors is not to be underestimated. Your child could actually earn money doing this.

Gap-Year Jobs in Australia

As regards opportunities of this kind that might be of interest to your school leaver, there are jobs that offer outdoor adventure. I’m serious, paid employment! In Australia, your teenager can go to schools or clubs in your area, or elsewhere, to work with children who are booked into sporting and after-school programs. These include providing swimming coaching, or becoming a basketball referee. They receive the requisite training and then are able to carry out tasks that can be enormously rewarding. My youngest daughter taught little children to swim, when she was only 18 years of age and she absolutely loved it.

There are also schemes which allow your young adult to work in rural areas on farms and plantations. There’s fruit-picking, for example. This used to be covered largely by international job applicants on working-holiday visas. However, with the pandemic, producers have not been able to recruit these overseas applicants. This has opened up doors for Australian youngsters. For backpackers, there is a lot of opportunity in a range of areas, including nannying, for example, or bar work.

Many other jobs at home can be accessed by young adults after graduating high school. My daughters did hospitality and call-centre work. These jobs might be casual, part- or full-time. If you help them to seek that work straight away after their exams, they might be able to gain a ‘Christmas Casual‘ role and even stay on with a good employer for an additional few months. By mid-year they can have saved enough money for flights, either interstate or overseas. This is a brilliant way for them to structure the year.

International Job Opportunities for keen Travelers

Offshore travel and work options are hugely attractive to young adults. It is as if this is a right of passage, seemingly for young Australians in particular. Perhaps, growing up in a nation which is not the country of origin for a huge proportion of teenagers, there is a huge curiosity about those distant nations; Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom, where their grandparents may have been born. They have also grown up in such a globalised, connected world, where they can’t help but notice the extent to which the products that they consume come from elsewhere. I include in this, of course, the media they consume; Hollywood movies, is a case in point. This generates enormous curiosity about far-flung cities, such as New York, or Paris. So what work options are open to young adults overseas?

One great example is the summer camp programs in the USA and Cananda, which need young adults to teach sports and supervise middle-school age children in their holidays. Think of the benefits for your child of camping out under the stars, canoeing, trekking, taking responsibility for a small group of children. It can change their lives. They make new friends, gain confidence from having to fend for themselves and they will come back with amazing stories. This amounts to around 13 weeks of paid employment, with food and board included. All your child has to do is fund flights and the program organisers meet them at the local airport and take care of everything from there-on-in. My eldest daughter completed such a program in North Carolina and looks back really fondly on that period.

Something for keen skiers is the chance to train to become a ski instructor in a location such as Canada. This works well because of the Canadian ski season being quite long and it’s an easy hop across the border into the US and even over the ‘pond’ to Europe before or after the work season. Don’t forget, also, the potential for your child to be immersed in a new culture and even to practice languages they may have been learning in school. Travel is a brilliant way for a teenager to practice languages. Cananda, for example, has a proportion of its population that speaks French.

Volunteering Opportunities

I come to volunteering, which pre-Covid was enormously popular with intrepid travelers. The big draw for such programs is the extent to which these experiences expose a young person to incredible opportunities to network in the community sector and gain an insight into world issues. Indeed, it is often overlooked, by students and parents, the extent to which community service engagement is highly regarded by university admissions and recruiters. For American Colleges and UK universities a Personal Statement is a requirement of candidates. Then, when it comes to job seeking, being able to articulate on application documents, namely the CV, or Resume and Covering Letters, the life-skills/transferable skills, gained within volunteering programs, can can turn a hum-drum job application into the most enticing one in the pile.

However, the pandemic has curtailed a lot of travel, in particular in countries that were slow to access, or to adopt, vaccine programs. For example, Australians wishing to volunteer overseas have been prevented from leaving Australia due to strict Border Force regulations and ongoing flight disruptions. Indeed, The Australian Volunteers Program has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. For current year-12s these kinds of opportunities might be off the table for 2023, however, there is a good chance that opportunities of this kind will begin to open up again.

More broadly, another issue that has negatively impacted the volunteer sector, in recent years, has been issues in terms of poorly organised, or even rogue activities. It’s fair to say that there has been a notable media backlash against some seemingly benign and altruistic programs that have in fact, conversely, caused problems within communities and for the individuals whose experiences have turned sour. This is a big topic and is something that as parents we need to interrogate thoroughly with our children, should they wish to work with charity groups, to travel to onshore to rural and remote regions and/or to international settings. But with most things in parenting, we need to “choose our battles” and not say outright ‘No’ to things without some negotiation. Most of what we see in the ‘tabloid’ press can be looked at as sensationalist, so read broadly and make sure that your child plans their experiences carefully. This has to include insurances, making copies of passports, having overseas contacts and fall-back plans, etc.

Other Thoughts on Gap Years

In the Australian context, there are many unemployed, or under-employed adolescents who are rightly frustrated at the lack of employment options in their home towns. Youth unemployment is high in some areas, in particular in rural and regional locations and for Australian youth, the Covid-19 pandemic has created an even worse youth unemployment crisis than before 2020. The competition for jobs is really intense and it’s only with a really good Resume or CV, as well as a strong targeted Cover Letter, that success might be achieved. That said, active networking can help too. Regardless, your child may want to travel interstate, or into a major city location, to find work and live independently, even if just for a while. They might be lucky enough to have a family member who would be willing to put them up for a period. This opens up employment opportunities.

Then there’s the school graduate who has deferred commencement of their degree. To defer a course offer is really quite straightforward for most, but not all higher education courses. Please look at the course information to be sure. Do this early, not upon receiving the offer, but when investigating suitable courses. It’s in the fine print on the course webpage. The only courses where there are restrictions are specialist courses. Take care for example with medical degrees and creative courses, such as acting. Otherwise, to defer is to give yourself an academic year of grace to enrol. Again, check the process by contacting the institution. When your school-leaver reaches that point of enroling, the institution in question contacts the applicant and provides details of the enrolment or deferral processes. Once deferment has been confirmed they are off and running with respect to planning some travel.

A Watch Word or Potential Pit-Falls

So to any other issues regarding Gap-Years. Are there any down sides to a Gap-Year? Yes, of course. Nothing is straightforward. As before, you need to discuss the idea with your child, so that they know the implications. For one thing, most, if not all of their friends will be starting their ongoing study. Your school leaver might then feel a little left out when everyone is excitedly talking about their Orientation Day at Uni. They need to be really excited about their own plan, as well as relatively confident. There will be nerves, of course. But then there are nerves and anxieties about starting college or university too. They both represent new chapters. Make sure your child sees it that way and thinks through their decision.

Your child may not be very intrepid, so go cautiously regarding some experiences and destination. Countries where the language spoken is not their first language is an example. They will have to navigate different cultural references, even in an English-speaking nation.

There are inevitable issues and potentially unexpected costs. Plan accordingly, and be sure that you are aware of what health cover exists, if any, in different nations. Again, it’s always good to obtain travel insurance for any trip, but especially for extended trips to multiple destinations. Have contingency plans in place so that there’s always a contact person, preferably in the same time zone, is a good idea for your peace of mind.

And Finally…

I love the fact that my children have been able to travel, both interstate and overseas. Overseas travel has taught them so much about themselves and the experiences have given them confidence in themselves. Be open minded about Gap travel. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. One young friend of my daughter returned from her travels with a whole new self-concept, such that she decided to pull out of the course she had previously been offered and commenced something entirely different. Equally, I have friends my age who still talk with such joy about their own adventures. There’s even a bit of me that envies them those stories.

To make a good Travel Plan talk to Karen at Karen Your Career Coach.

Important Addendum

Please note, for Australian students, now is the time to apply for courses. The tertiary admissions centres; VTAC, UAC, QTAC, etc are now open for applicants. This includes non-year 12 applicants, as most young adults will apply for courses in this way, rather than directly to the institutions.

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