‘My life is on hold’: Meet the grown-up gap year travellers now stuck at home

‘My life is on hold’: Meet the grown-up gap year travellers now stuck at home
While most of us are wondering whether a summer holiday is on the cards this year, Emily-Ann Elliott speaks to the people whose lifelong travel dreams remain on pause

“We sold our house and spent 18 months renovating an RV, but now we’re wondering is it even going to be possible to do what we wanted to?” Karen Edwards wonders aloud, her life currently on hold.

A year ago, the 36-year-old was planning the trip of a lifetime with husband Shaun and their children Quinn and Esme, travelling overland from the UK to New Zealand in a converted motorhome.

The arrival of Covid instantly halted their plans, as Karen decided to remain in her job as an NHS site nurse practitioner. The family are now living full-time in the van in a caravan park in London, unsure of what the future will bring.

Karen, who also runs the blog Travel Mad Mum, said: “On one hand, being a nurse, and having seen the reality of Covid, I just feel grateful to be alive. But on the other hand, it’s hard because we have been stuck in limbo for nine months.”

Jason Fernandes on the Pacific Coast Highway

The Edwards family isn’t alone. As most of us are wondering whether a summer holiday will be possible this year, others have had to put their long-term plans on hold due to travel restrictions. They include Jason Fernandes, 38, an insurance underwriter, who cancelled a three-month sabbatical he was due to take last September after 10 years of working for Canopius.

His trip, which included eight countries, is now rebooked for the end of this year. However, he feels even that seems unlikely.

“I’m about 60 per cent sure the whole trip can’t happen because of some of the places I wanted to go, such as Brazil and New Zealand. It’s disappointing, because you don’t just suddenly decide after 10 years to go on a three-month trip. You spend months beforehand planning a route, getting advice on where to travel and researching activities.

“As someone who hasn’t really travelled alone, I had to get used to the idea of being away by myself for three months too. At the moment it just feels as though my life is on hold. I feel like I can’t move on to the next chapter until I have done my trip.”

Sabbaticals and career breaks, often dubbed “grown-up gap years”, have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. For some, it is the chance to take a short break from work to complete a special trip, while for others, it is a longer period of time, taken between jobs or after retirement.

Grown-up gappers tend to have greater disposable income than traditional gap year students. However, they are often more time-limited and have additional practicalities to organise at home in order to make their trip happen.

‘The trip was more than just a holiday,’ says Lucy

Nevertheless, Tom Barber, co-founder of Original Travel, says he expects to see the trend continue when the travel market reopens. “Our client survey last year showed that of those working, over half (55 per cent) would consider taking a sabbatical when able to, either because travel has become a higher priority (35 per cent) or because they need to take time out to reassess and recover (40 per cent)”, he said.

For some, the year of pause on travel means they will never be able to fulfil their ambitions. Among them is Lucy Ruthnum, who was travelling through South America when Covid struck. She was on her way to New Zealand, where she planned to spend up to two years, thanks to a working visa.

After making the decision to return to the UK, Lucy, a digital marketer, journalist and founder of travel blog Absolutely Lucy, moved in with her parents in Norfolk. A year later, she is still there. She will now no longer be able to work in New Zealand, due to the fact that she turned 30 and passed the requirement age for the visa.

It was the trip I had always dreamt of doing. So Covid has totally changed my life plans

“I was disappointed because the trip was more than just a holiday,” she said. “It was the trip I had always dreamt of doing. So Covid has totally changed my life plans. I’m glad I came back when I did, but it’s bittersweet. Because although I’ll still try and go to those countries in the future, I won’t be able to experience them in the way I’d planned.”

Rachel O’Reilly, director of communications for holiday company Kuoni, believes the last year of restrictions, combined with more flexible working, will see people wanting to travel more in the future.

“Having things taken away from you makes people appreciate it more. People are taking a look at their own lifestyles and proposing things they’d never previously thought of to their employers.”

As for those grown-up gappers whose lives are on hold, if the last year has taught them anything, it’s to enjoy every moment of that trip when their time finally comes.

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