What I learnt from my mum’s gap year: live for today

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Forget influencers – my mum is my gap year hero, says writer Jenny Novitsky

People say I take after my mum. When I used to walk around the Manc neighbourhood where she grew up, I’d get stopped in the street by 90-year-old women calling me by her name. With our ‘petite’ height (thanks for the five foot nothing genes, mama), penchant for wearing berets and crippling levels of social anxiety, I could see why.

As well as being my older doppelgänger, my mum is my travel hero (she’s my general life hero, too, but that’s a different article). Travel heroes can too often be #influencer types, swanning about on a yacht with a glass of champagne, forcing their other halves to snap infinite photos of them in swimwear. But my travel hero is a 63-year-old woman with arthritis who always takes a hard-boiled egg wrapped in tin foil for the plane ‘just in case’.

My mum, the wanderluster


To hell with the consequences

My mum announced a few years ago that she wanted to retire early because, “I want to see the world, and work is stressful and gives me the sh*ts.” And so, she did. She set off on a gap year, 45 years older than the acne-ridden backpacker next to her and, let’s face it, 45 years more grateful to be getting away from it all.

It would have been easy for my mum to make excuses and put off her dreams of travelling: she had a mortgage to pay, a flourishing career, plants that needed watering, dance classes that wouldn’t tango themselves. But I guess she always knew, somewhere tucked away, that life isn’t infinite. If you really want to do something, you need to do it sooner rather than later.

Milford Sound in Fiordland, New Zealand

My mum ended up on all kinds of adventures. Like all good gap year-ers, she started by fruit picking –albeit, for pleasure rather than a visa, on her friend’s olive grove in Greece. She went sailing in New Zealand, holding onto her bright orange sun hat as the wind whipped through her grey hairs.

She went on safari in Kenya, elephants rumbling past the tent at 2am, in an ever-so-slightly too immersive version of The Lion King. She saw actual orang-utans, her favourite animal, in Borneo. And she tangoed in Argentina, bringing a little of her Sheffield dance class along with her to South America.

Don’t hang about

I was jealous as hell, of course. I’d had my own ‘gap year’ between school and university. A gap year that I spent, for the most part, serving roast chicken and Malbec at the restaurant at the end of my road to people I’d known for 18 years.

An exotic adventure it was not. I used to envy people who’d made better use of that year of freedom, gallivanting off to Thailand for neon-paint-soaked raves and collecting anecdotes to impress boys at uni parties. But seeing my mum have the time of her life taught me that it’s silly to be jealous of other people. That it’s pointless to regret not having travelled more.

At any moment, you can choose to fill your life with the things you wish you were doing. Of course, in life, there are commitments and some have more than others. But a week exploring the jungles of Borneo, ten days trekking the Sahara desert, learning to scuba dive in the Maldives. Fit these things into your life while you can.

If my mum’s gap year has taught me anything, it’s to seize life. If you want to travel, travel. There’s never a right or wrong time to have a ‘gap year’ or to take off on an adventure. Throw some pants in a backpack, whack a beret on, boil an egg and hop on a plane. The time is always now.

Three gap year-boosting trips, whatever your age

Jungle camping in Borneo

A herd of elephants in a river in Borneo

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Borneo was set up in 1975 to care for injured, lost or abandoned Asian elephants.

Born-where-oh? Yeah, we get it. Borneo isn’t exactly a tourist hot spot, and it’s all the better for it. Secluded jungle exploring, kayaking down wild rivers and actual orangutans. This is for the real explorers. Live for today!

Sri Lanka, it’s got it all

Do you like golden beaches, misty green valleys and ALL the animals? Sri Lanka’s got you. Hop aboard one of the world’s most beautiful train rides from Nuwara Eliya to Haputale, hike through the cloud forest and hang with elephants, leopards and baby turtles. Bliss.

Yes please

A modern gap year in Laos and Thailand

Kuang Si Waterfall in Laos

You’ll be #grateful you missed Thailand for your first gap year. With remote eco-lodges, secret waterfalls, sleeper trains and ancient temples, there’s so much more to Thailand and Laos than neon raves.

Images: Jenny Novitzky, Shutterstock, Unsplash

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