Image by Toa Heftiba
Words by Kristie O’Connor
Due to COVID-19, the only travel dreams living in my head are my memories from the past, my gap year to be exact. August 2018 was when my journey began, a three-month trip visiting Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and a quick layover few days in Los Angeles.
It’s hard to pick favourites, but ultimately it was New Zealand. The Kiwi experience, which included travel around both islands and numerous incredible activities to sign up for, which made travelling easier. It was also such an amazing way to meet new people as a lot of itineraries matched up, meaning I was often with the same group. I developed some really lovely friendships that I still have now from the Kiwi experience. I also signed up for activities I never thought I’d do, like skydiving and going down into glow-worm caves! It was the best experience and I’d do it all over if I could. Other highlights include: the views from the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore (extortionate priced cocktails but worth it) and snorkelling in the Yasawa Islands in Fiji. It was the most beautiful coral I’d ever seen, and was made even more incredible by the colourful fish that surrounded me, and the manta ray I spotted.
Travelling gave me the strongest sense of independence, which I hadn’t ever experienced before. However, it wasn’t like that at the start. I went travelling with my best friend, it was something we’d always wanted to do together, and an ultimate low for us both was homesickness. It was difficult to adjust and we’d often fail to be on the same wavelength with issues such as day trips and evening plans, which eventually led to arguments. It made me realise, as my confidence grew, that I didn’t need to do everything with her. Afterall, travelling all the way across the world and passing up opportunities just because my friend didn’t want to do them seemed pretty pathetic. I wish someone had told me that at the beginning; just because you decide to travel with friends doesn’t mean you can’t do things alone. You can have your own experiences and make other friends along the way!
I recommend travelling to absolutely everyone. Not only is it an amazing experience seeing different parts of the world, but it also made me a lot more open-minded and confident, contributing to the person I am today. I miss you, gap year!
Words by Rosenwyn Dorrell
I started my gap year with a plan to go to Spain for the year and teach English. Boy, did my plans change. I went to Spain for a total of 4 months rather than 10. After a frustrating 3 weeks being interviewed by a man who didn’t know what he was organising, and applying to lots of families on a (slightly dodgy) website called Workaway, I was sat in a Wetherspoons with my friends when I finally got a text through saying that a family would take me in for a month. So, I was off to Banoyles in Catalonia, Spain in October 2019. I had never flown by myself before, so it was quite scary. This family consisted of two little boys and lots of cousins; they were all lovely. It was just a shame that I didn’t speak Catalan, it was another language barrier to overcome. They were a warm and welcoming family that showed me around and helped me improve my Spanish – and a little bit of Catalan. The food in Catalonia was amazing, I would definitely recommend a Xuixo, which is a kind of small cream-filled croissant.
The second family I lived with was about an hour away from the first and they came and picked me up from Banyoles. They were pleasant people and showed me around Girona. Oh, I would love to go back. It was beautiful and picturesque (plus Girona Cathedral is a Game of Thrones locations). Travelling home for Christmas was a little hit and miss because my buses almost didn’t turn up!
I then went to another family in January 2020 in the south Spain. I was meant to spend 3 months with a family there but I had to come home early because…COVID-19! I got home about a week before lockdown happened, which is slightly sickening to think that I might have been stuck out there even now…
I spent the rest of my gap year in lockdown and working in a nursing home which was an enlightening experience. And then in August I worked in a holiday park which was so strange after a lockdown.
Living with families gave me an authentic look at Spanish life, as it allowed me to experience Spain as a local rather than a tourist. It was definitely cheaper and in return I taught the children English. My gap year was interrupted but I enjoyed it and improved my Spanish which was my main goal.