Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Gap Yaah!

As readers of some of my earlier posts (see Ghana: Africa for beginners) will have noticed, I have an unfair, irrational, but very real lack of tolerance for gap year students.

Whilst I never took a year away myself, I got my travel fix in a host of “gap summers” (Inter rail 2007, South Africa 2008 and Swaziland 2009). These summers were, without doubt, the richest and most rewarding of my life. Back then I conformed to many gap year stereotypes. I grew my hair long, wore African bracelets and even took a Swazi name during my time in the country. (Cringe!!)

However, even then, I had developed a sense of cynicism towards myself and others I saw on my travels. Here is an article entitled “Travel Politics” I wrote for the Student Newspaper The Sanctuary in 2008...

Spring is in the air in Manchester! At the slightest hint of the sun breaking through the Mancunian gloom, birds can be heard tweeting, lambs are frolicking and the population of Fallowfield are busying themselves for the forthcoming two days of summer. Flip flops are being extracted from the back of countless wardrobes, aviators are dusted off and all around flesh is being liberated from its kindly winter covering. Once the clocks go forward, thoughts inevitably turn to travel plans for the summer.
However, what the travel agents, websites, guidebooks and Lonely Planets don’t ever mention is the vast array of politics that is involved in travel. Where you have been and what you have seen is an all-important status symbol. Over at Sanctuary HQ we thought it might be nice to give you tips on how to hold your own in that inevitable conversation you will have with the person who “wants to make a difference” or longs to “see what’s out there”.
Whether encountered at university or abroad, these people are immediately recognisable. The males will have long scruffy hair, in the “just woken up” look, a complement of beads, scruffy jeans and t-shirts branded with slogans such as “baada ya Kazi”. The female look is “boho-chic”: kinked hair, flowing skirts, opened toed shoes and perhaps a “bag for life”. A fair trade drink is also an essential accessory.
If you find yourself cornered by such a frightfully bohemian youth, here is a blagger’s guide to surviving the inevitable one-upmanship. Firstly, when talking about previous travel experience, NEVER admit to holidaying on the Spanish coast, unless to state how disgustingly over-developed it is; the Brits that go there are terribly crass and poorly educated. Extra kudos is available to those that have been south of Gibraltar and east of Germany. The further away you go, the better person you are. However there are exceptions: camping in the Lake District or renting a cottage in the Highlands is now very kitsch; remember to stress that your midge-infested holiday was a conscious choice in order to lower your carbon foot- print, and that you have a deeply held disgust for the airline industry.
If the conversation turns to political ideology make sure that you establish your liberal credentials. Remember you have never voted, or even thought of voting for anyone other than The Green Party or the Socialists. You would never be seen reading the “Torygraph” - your newsstand diet consists entirely of The Guardian and The Big Issue (alongside The Sanctuary, of course!). The main issues that haunt you daily are the humanitarian situation in Tibet, the perils of Chelsea tractors, and the sad plight of the endangered Snow Leopard.
As a final parting shot, might I suggest that you mention your passion for voluntary work? Many of you will have no doubt helped to build the odd school in your gap year, but for those of you who haven’t, do not despair – be creative. Ever worked in a charity shop? Been a member of scouts or brownies? Helped an old lady with her shopping bags in Sainsbury’s? Perhaps lying is wrong, but bending the truth can never cause much harm, can it? Hopefully, if you have followed at least some of this advice, you should be able to escape the clutches of most self-righteous travellers unscathed, without having developed an inferiority complex.
From all of us at The Sanctuary travel team, enjoy going away this summer. Go and do what you love, and, if you do get sucked into a session of drawn out travel politics, then just remember my tips!

So why am I bring this all up now? Well, thanks to Mr Adam Waise and facebook status updates I discovered this little beauty about gap years by the satirical website The Daily Mash. Think the captivated the mentality of a gap year better than I ever could. Made me chuckle and thought it would for you too!

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