Gap Year. Europe vs. Asia

Gap Year. It’s what us Aussies do. It has become the standard pathway post education to both discover what the world has to offer and avoid adulthood just a little longer (and probably over indulge in the self-righteous style of youth that has earned us a passably distasteful reputation abroad). So far I’ve done about 3 gap years- it appears I’m avoiding adulthood past my fair share and past what is socially acceptable, if I were to adhere to the expectations of society.

I’m one of those people that has been caught up in travel, that finds stability boring and doesn’t want to die wondering.

I guess it should come as no surprise that I am a strong supporter of the gap year, which leads to the question of where. I’ve done Asia and Europe whilst Canada had escaped my radar so far, although if my tendency toward Canadians is anything to go by it’s probably the best option of all. And despite appearing to have endlessly pounded pavement around the globe I’m still overwhelmed by the amount I haven’t seen more so than the amount I have. It’s essential to get out of the country and get out of your comfort zone. There’s something about the self-reliance of long-term travel that changes a person into more of who they actually are.

So.

Asia.

It has a stunning amount of history, culture, food and diversity. I’ve only had the chance to visit a handful of countries; a tiny slice of this contrasting continent. From the cosmopolitan Singapore arguably the safest place in the world, where entertainment is endless and politeness is paramount to the hectic streets of India where you will constantly be lost and confused and and confronted with colour.

I adore Asia.

It commands a slow pace as you find yourself island hopping along the coast, the only stress choosing one paradise over the next (Perhentians >Tioman, thank me later), and your skin slowly browns with endless summer. Night after night is added to your beachside bungalow, paradise seducing you to stay just a touch longer with the promise of another day of perfection.

The climate is more forgiving to those of us that don’t pair well with the cold and the food is the best you will find, it’s also so cheap that the need for cooking is non-existent, another lazy luxury that deludes you to believe you aren’t really backpacking. Asia gives a false sense of luxury.

I recommend Asia for the nature lovers.

I’ve motorbiked amongst prehistoric landscapes in India, hiked in the Malaysian jungle, swam amongst sharks and woken up on too many beaches to count. The nature here is unexploited and underestimated.

I can also only speak highly of the people. Having been welcomed into strangers homes, offered help, offered friendship, offered humanity. It is a sad reality that those with so little are the ones with the generous and open hearts.

The cultures are so contrasting.

I can’t pretend that there weren’t moments in India where the attention of being a solo female foreigner didn’t bring me to tears, it can be bloody hard but I can also say that the Indian culture is one not to be missed with its fervent energy. From that to the peaceful and engaging spirit of the largely buddhist Burmese, and the cosmopolitan lifestyles of Bangkok and KL.

 

Europe.

It’s the standard choice, although I don’t mean that with negative connotations. I, like everyone else despise the almost 30 hours of transit that is necessary to transfer hemispheres and can only recommend you do it in a way that’s worthwhile (I also recommend you don’t do it post week of partying with minimal sleep). Thankfully Europe is a place where you can spend an infinite amount of time compacting around 50 countries in area not disproportional to Australia.

There is so much to see.

Europe is so contrasting to Australia. The cities are beautiful which is an unfamiliar notion to our youthful country that thrives on it’s wonders outside the bricks and mortar (I’ll be political and throw in a stab re. the Great Barrier Reef, heres’ looking at you Aus government). You will find yourself in awe, and in turn fatigue, of castles and churches and museums, and town after town after town. And I think that is what sums up Europe; it’s a more insulated experience that revolves around cities and the indoors. It’s not to say the nature here doesn’t compare, you only need look at Iceland, the Swiss Alps or the Croatian coast to see the spectacular beauty on offer, it’s in your face phenomenal but it’s not a constant, it’s an addition. Europe is also the place to go to meet people, for as much reason as any since you are forced into hostel environments due to the heftier price tag. You will find yourself on ‘free’ walking tours and pub crawls with a new set of friends day after day.

What I love about Europe is the diversity in a small space. In a few hours you cross countries and despite the lack of distance in miles the look, the feel and the people will be entirely different. Europe is also very easy, which is accountable really to the fact it is developed nations. It’s safe, most people speak english and you can generally tell what is in your food.

You also have to be more planned. I rarely turned up to a new place in Europe without first researching and booking accommodation, disappointingly swapping the affordable private bungalows and hotels of Asia for varying states of ‘nice’ hostels that will see you bunked with up to 20 people. Personally I can’t say I adore spending 6 months with minimal privacy and dubious states of bathroom cleanliness but when you do find a good hostel with a perfectly matched gang of legends it really can be one of the best aspects of travel.

 

 

I think it’s impossible to chose the wrong place to travel. Every place has its mesmerising charm and adventures are always waiting if your willing. The important thing is to go and experience what the world has to offer because it will always be so much more than you could have imagined. And at the end of the day life is simply meant to be lived.

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