So you want to go on a gap year, yah?

A few down to earth tips on wandering the Earth

The five months I spent travelling through India, Vietnam and Indonesia with my mate were some of the best of my life and I’d recommend it to anyone. But there’s a lot of idealistic, ‘gap yah’ mythology surrounding the travel ‘experience’, so here’s a few pointers on how to get the most out of it and avoid becoming an excruciating cliché…

Don’t expect to ‘find yourself’.

What the hell does that mean anyway? No one knows; hippies only pretend they do. Sure, you’ll have a lot of time to think things over and as a character you’ll probably alter slightly, but don’t expect some existential epiphany.

Not everything is ‘Amazing!!!’

This is the most overused superlative in existence. I’ve heard sunsets, beaches, Bintang beer towers, fly-ridden fish markets, dilapidated temples, The Roxy, Ladyboy shows and the Taj Mahal all be described as ‘amazing’. Some things certainly will amaze you, but don’t feel obliged to think everything is the best thing ever.

If you’re thinking of travelling with someone else…

You’ve got to know them so well that you don’t even bother to be nice to them anymore. They’ve got to be the sort of person who you can comfortably spend hours in total silence with. After all, you’re going to be together for potentially hundreds of hours at a time. This person must be your best friend, not an ‘ohmygodwe’veknowneachothersinceFreshers’ best friend, but a proper lifelong stalwart of a mate.

Food poisoning is a rite of passage…

And one that will make you want to kill yourself. My journal entries for those disgusting days are borderline suicidal, so just keep in mind that it will all be over soon and the world will be a pleasant place again. Don’t be tempted by a Maharaja Mac in New Delhi.

If you’re gonna drink, do it with the locals.

I’m not advocating teetotalism, but it’s a waste of time getting pissed with a load of sweaty, relatively boring Westerners who you’d never meet again. Instead, find some friendly locals who can teach you a thing or two. One of the best evenings of my life was spent with a Vietnamese extended family, sitting on children’s furniture at a street-bar on the pavement by a dual carriageway. They introduced us to the best food, the best local beers (and a lot of it) and the best cigarettes, despite knowing about eight English words between them!

Even then, it takes a lot to justify a hangover in 90% humidity.

Just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean that you always have to be on the move.

If you really want to experience a part of the world properly, don’t try and ‘do’ places in a few days. All too often we encountered exhausted individuals who would purchase an all access ticket and wake up at 5am to see four museums and three ancient monuments as well as a couple of markets and a holy temple by lunchtime, then hop on the next bus out of town. Get to know the place a bit by making time for doing nothing in particular.

Rent a scooter.

This is the only genuine way to travel around Asia, all it requires is a healthy balance of bravery and stupidity. You’ll discover all sorts you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, just bear in mind the wise words of a grizzled Texan we met: “There are two types of motorcyclist: those who have been screwed, and those who will be screwed.”

The better an Australian says a place is, the worse it will be in reality.

Kuta Bali. Enough said.

and finally…

Don’t chunder.