Thursday, February 28, 2013

Up-and-Coming Gap Year Destinations

GUESS WHAT? the deadline to enter Havana Club's contest to win a round-the-world Gap Year has been extended to March 15! get filming!

The Lonely Planet "Snap Year" article I discussed yesterday also outlines some traditional and up-and-coming Gap Year destinations. To round off Gap Month, I'd like to throw in my picks:

Traditional Gap Year destinations

  1. FRANCE: Polishing their romance-language skills and indulging in fine food (and wine) has long been a mainstay of the Gap Year for many North Americans.
  2. THAILAND: Although (I think) perhaps more common as a "Snap Year" destination, Thailand's exotic beauty and extensive volunteer opportunities has, and will probably always, drawn crowds of soul-searchers and adventurers.
  3. SOUTH KOREA: North Americans have been heading to South Korea for years to volunteer and teach English (and immerse themselves in total culture shock.) 
  4. AUSTRALIA: For Canadians specifically, Australia's working-holiday visa has always made it easy to pursue a Gap Year down under. (If you missed it, check out artist Ted Higney's interview about his Gap Year in Australia here.)
  5. INDIA: India's unique and diverse culture, its use of the English language, and its various volunteer opportunities have made it a favourite of Gappers. (Read about blogger Kisha's year in India here.)
Up-and-coming Gap Year destinations

  1. PERU: Young Canadians Gappers (is there another term to describe those who take Gap Years?) are heading south in droves, lured by Peru's beaches, friendly locals, and cheap cost of living.
  2. CUBA: With Cuba becoming increasingly open to travellers, and more volunteer and work opportunities popping up, perhaps Cuba will become a new Gap Year hot spot in the future.
  3. SPAIN: Since the European economic downturn, the cost of travel in Spain has noticeably dropped. In the coming years, I think Spain will draw more Gappers than ever who are seeking to explore a foreign country, polish their Spanish language skills, and not break the bank.
  4. MALTA: English as an official language, low cost of living, warm climate, what's not to love? Everything except, perhaps, Malta's immigration policy, which makes it less than easy for non-EU residents to work on this island. If Malta can overcome this, it may just be the next hot-spot for non-EU Gappers. Europeans have already discovered its charms, and since Mike and I began coming to Malta in 2008 we have noticed a distinctive spike in the number of young people taking Gap Years on the island.
  5. WHEREVER YOU'RE LIVING, RIGHT NOW: I think the most popular Gap Year destination in the future will increasingly become wherever you're living, right now. As I said in my first Gap Month article, in a post-2008 world many in my generation unwittingly found ourselves taking a Gap year (like Kisha) because we had either lost our jobs, graduated from high school/college/university and couldn't find a job, or simply didn't know what our next move should be. We took Gap Years closer to home - taking temporary jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities. We took the time to more thoroughly explore the cities and countries we live in, in an attempt to make every last dollar (or Euro) last (like Jessie). Then we went out and told our friends and families what we learned: not to blow money on university educations we were uncertain about, to test out a bunch of different career paths, not to put too much pressure on ourselves to figure everything out right now. And you know what? I think the domestic Gap Year is catching on.
As the Gap Month interviews featured on this blog, and our discussion of the Snap Year point out: when it comes to Gap Years (and heck, life) there are no rules.

(And if there are, they are meant to be broken.)

Now, over to you. What do you think? What are the up-and-coming Gap Year destinations?

Let's meet back here in 5 years to see where our predictions stand ;)

- Jess

thanks for reading!

and remember - the deadline for entries to win a round-the-world Gap Year courtesy of Havana Club is tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gap Month: The Snap Year

When I was researching Gap Years for GAP MONTH, I came across this article from Lonely Planet that asked "Is the Snap Year the new Gap Year?"
Opinions are mixed. Today I'll tell you mine, and you can tell me yours (or whether you think it matters at all).

Lonely Planet describes the Snap Year as the Gap Year's "shorter, punchier, younger sister" and, according to LP, it's here to stay. As the name implies, it's essentially a short Gap Year (several weeks to several months long). It typically packs in more career-building elements (and less 'aimless wandering,' from what I understand) and is commonly sandwiched between university semesters or during summer holidays.

According to a 2011 article in The Guardian, the numbers definitely show that traditional Gap Years may be on the decline; the number of people taking extended time off (4 months or more) fell 69% from 2005 to 2011. No surprise - rising unemployment and tuition fees across the world mean that more and more people simply don't have the luxuries of time and money to spend on a 12-month gap.

But some argue that the longer Gap Year looks better on your CV (or résumé to you North Americans) - demonstrating commitment to prospective employers, especially if you use your Gap Year to pursue a specific volunteer or work project. Conversely, others argue you can do all that in a shorter time period, and not break the bank.

I, for one, don't think it matters. I'm a firm believer in the (mantra? slogan? philosophy?) that there are no rules. But I also wonder if a Snap Year is too short to allow you to find what you're looking for out there in the world? Conversely, by giving yourself a shorter timeline, maybe you simply learn things more quickly? Is learning even the point of a Gap Year?

Of course, the answers to these questions are highly subjective and personal - and there are no right answers (but I'd love to know your opinion).

Either way, I won't be disappointed if the Snap Year is here to stay. Anything that encourages people to get out and explore the world around them (whether that's the other side of the world, or the world right outside their front door) is good in my books.

- Jess

p.s. march 1st - this friday! - is the deadline to enter Havana Club's contest to win a round-the-world Gap Year.
get filming!

The shores of Sirmione

Mike and I took a two-week road trip through Italy, Monaco, France, Spain,
England, and Belgium this past September.
You can read our other road trip posts about this trip here.
Or, see all our travel posts here.

What's the first thing you do after being cooped up in a car for 6 hours and arriving to views like this? (Have a drink and) Take a good long walk.

Sirmione is the perfect size to comfortably walk around in a couple hours, and its shores are ridiculously stunning. During our walk there in September we saw hardy a soul, the weather was perfect (warm with a breeze) and we felt like we had this entire enchanting peninsula to ourselves. 

The waters of Lake Garda are so clear! While we toured Sirmione's shores we passed by the back yards of little villas and luxury hotels, for the most part following this easy pathway...

...And happening upon some Roman ruins! (No big deal.)

Sirmione is the kind of place that begs to be photographed. Sunbathers, cute kids, (more) swans, mountains and sweeping vistas. I was shutter happy.

But sometimes I question travelling with a camera and phone by my side at all times. I hope to be brave enough to leave them behind someday, and rely purely on my memory to capture every memorable scene. Or - to bring a film camera so I'm more attentive to the number and quality of shots I'm taking. I find I always get the best photos - and am the most relaxed about it - when my camera has a very low battery (and I can't reshoot and reshoot), so maybe that's an option too! (Perpetual low battery syndrome is a thing in our house.)

Have you ever travelled without a camera? Were you more tuned in to your surroundings (or was it just annoying and scary?)

- Jess

Monday, February 25, 2013

(Driving in) Sirmione, Italy

Mike and I took a two-week road trip through Italy, Monaco, France, Spain,
England, and Belgium this past September.
You can read our other road trip posts here.
Or, see all our travel posts here.

Sirmione was the last stop on the road trip we took last fall. Nestled on a peninsula that enjoys panoramic views of Lake Garda, Sirmione is the loveliest little Italian town.

And an ansbolute nightmare to drive through.

Pictured above is the most white-knuckled part of our road trip through western Europe - a trip that spanned six countries and over 4,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) of roads.

Driving through that crowd of tourists, along that teeny rickety bridge (a part of it is actually made of wood) and through the winding streets of Sirmione to our hotel was the stupidest decision we made during our road trip (almost as stupid as driving across the lawn of a chateau and through Zaragoza's main [pedestrianized!] square).

Smarter tourists leave their cars at one of the large parking lots outside of Sirmione, and wander along its tiny alleys by foot (the way all Italian towns are meant to be seen). But our hotel had free parking, and when you're stretching every last Euro, driving through crowds of oblivious tourists seems like a reasonable course of action.

This is where I publicly thank Mike (again) for being our calm, collected driver during our road trip (I don't blame you for cursing like a sailor during that last bit, and thanks for not running anyone over).
view down the peninsula of Sirmione, towards the lake shore
Crazy driving aside, somehow - even when packed with tourists determined to soak up the last bit of summer -  Sirmione turned out to be the most peaceful little corner of Italy. I'm not a lake person, but Annecy and Sirmione are slowly converting me. Throw in a stunning castle, Roman ruins, olive groves, and grassy parks, and Mike and I were two happy campers.

We only spent a day and a half here before boarding a plane in Bologna back to Malta, but it was long enough to know we'll return again someday. You can take ferries and private boats around Lake Garda, and I could easily spend another whole day wandering around the Grotto of Cattalus (with lots of breaks for salty crisps and bitter Spritzs). The town is also known for its thermal baths, so we would shack up here and indulge.

And, when we return to Sirmione, I'll need to go shopping too. Because the food there was so good (the best pizza and pasta of our whole trip) I could easily go up a pant size after a few days' visit.

This week we'll be sharing more of this magical little town and its attractions. And before you start planning your trip, remember: ditch the car. 

- Jess

date: september 15
weather: sunny, warm
distance travelled from annecy, france to sirmione, italy: 462 km/287 mi (4.5 hours)
distance travelled to date: 4,802 km/2,983 mi (52 hours)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Road Trip Logistics: Privilodges Apparthotels, Annecy

In Annecy we stayed at the quaint Privilodges Apparthotels, centrally located between the lake, Thiou Canal, and Annecy's main shopping area.

We received a free room upgrade on arrival, and our (super clean) little suite had pretty French balconies that opened to a side view of one of Annecy's quaint streets. The bed was a surprisingly comfortable murphy bed, so we had plenty of lounging and dining space. We also had a small kitchenette, and received a welcome package with coffee, tea and cookies.

The hotel also had a fitness centre, strong and free wifi, and very friendly, helpful staff. Parking was  €11 per day.

We would highly recommend Privilodges Apparthotels for a comfortable, modern, budget-concious stay in Annecy. It was a welcome haven after a day of driving, and you could totally picture warming up here after a day on the slopes during the winter months.
- Jess

date: september 14
hotel: privilodges apparthotels, €78/night
parked at: the hotel, €11/night

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Annecy's Thiou Canal

Mike and I took a two-week road trip through Italy, Monaco, France, Spain,
England, and Belgium this past September.
You can read our other road trip posts about this trip here.
Or, see all our travel posts here.

We found lots of interesting things in Annecy's Thiou Canal: clumsy birds, umbrellas, coins, hungry swans, even a palace.

first try

second try


The palace in Thiou Canal is Palais de l'Isle, to be exact. It was built in 1132, and throughout its long history it has been home to the Lord of Annecy, housed the Count of Geneva's administrative headquarters, a courthouse, a mint, a jail from the Middle ages until 1865, and again served as a jail during World War II.

Today it is a history museum surrounded by picturesque cafes, restaurants, and the friendliest water fowl.

It's not hard to see why Annecy is also known as the Venice of the Alps. (And - bonus! - it's canals are cleaner.)

- Jess

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gap Month: Blogger Kisha's Gap Year in India

I was so excited when Kisha, a blogger and woman I've admired for years, agreed to do an interview for my Gap Month series. I loved watching Kisha's Gap Year in India unfold on her blog, Chronicled (formerly From India With Love). Kisha has a beautiful, frank, and open way of writing that so gracefully captured the challenges and triumphs of living abroad during her Gap Year. And her photography is stunning.

I think you'll learn a lot from Kisha's interview responses, and I can't thank her enough for taking the time to participate in this series. I especially love her last point ("but not too much homework") - it's something I'm going to try doing from now on when Mike and I travel.

Kisha: Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this feature. I love talking about my time in India and sharing my experiences with others - I can't believe I've already been home for over a year - time really does fly! If this inspires even one person who's been thinking about going abroad to go abroad...or just to get more information - then that will be so amazing. If anyone wants more information on anything I can help with they can always get in touch with me through my blog!


Jess: Why did you decide to take a Gap Year?

Kisha: Volunteering and living abroad was something I had always kind of wanted to do but never really given any serious thought – especially because I had always been permanently employed and wasn’t sure if quitting my job to take a year off would be the right idea. When you have a full time job you become accustomed to things like you know, a regular pay cheque, benefits, and the security those things bring. The thought of giving them up for the “unknown” was, quite frankly, scary. That is until fate stepped in and I got laid off at the end of 2008. I worked freelance for the next year and a half and the entire time the thought of going abroad become more and more appealing. I was also having a change of heart about the field that I worked in and wanted to possibly get into international development – the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like this was the perfect opportunity to go abroad for a year.

J: What did you do during your Gap Year?

K: I was a (paid) volunteer at an organization that worked with young people with disabilities. (I use the term “paid” very loosely – it was more of a quarterly stipend to cover the basics and was paid in local currency.) My professional background is in Communications and PR so my official title was Communications Advisor at the organization. I took my Gap Year during my late 20s.

the taj mahal

J: Did a particular person or event influence your decision to take a Gap Year?

K: I guess getting laid off was a blessing in disguise, and was an event that influenced my decision to go abroad. It was really a now or never kind of thing. Also, at the time, I read the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and Who Will Cry When You Die by Robin Sharma. Both inspired me tremendously and the latter is one of my favourite books.

If I can share two quotes from “Who Will Cry…” because they are ones that inspired and encourage me tremendously then and still do to this day:
"When George Bernard Shaw was asked, on his deathbed, 'What would you do if you could live your life over again?' he reflected and replied, 'I’d like to be the person I could have been but never was.'"
“' any moment I could start being more of the person I dream to be - but which moment should I choose?' No one is stopping you from opening your journal and, on a blank page, rewriting the story of your life. This very minute you can decide the way you would like it to unfold, change the central characters and create a new ending. The only question is will you choose to do so? Remember, it is never too late to become the person you have always wanted to be." 
I can’t recommend this book enough.

kisha and a local outside of the red fort in jaipur

J: What's the best thing that happened during that year?

K: I can’t name just one thing. I made some incredible friendships, saw incredible sights, and had amazing experiences.

J: What's the worst thing that happened during that year?

K: For about the first two months I lived in a less than desirable part of the city that was close to the organization I was volunteering with. The living situation (pre-determined before I arrived) made adjusting to everything very difficult and I questioned my decision to move abroad many times during those first two months. But I prevailed, and shortly after moved to another part of the city that was much more conducive to how I saw myself living. Immediately after moving things started to improve and the adjustment became much easier. So my early living situation was probably the worst thing that happened to me.

There were two difficult challenges for me during my year abroad. One: being a black female in a place where there aren’t very many other black people, let alone black females, was quite the experience. The staring I received practically everywhere I went (not threatening but at times very annoying) was very intense and at times uncomfortable. It took me a long time to learn that it wasn’t meant to be rude – it was curiosity…though that realization didn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with. Second: it is very much a male dominated society…and that was tough to get used to.

J: Did you make any valuable personal or professional connections during your Gap Year?

K: Yes, I made great friendships with people I still keep in touch with today! Things like Skype, Facebook, email…even texting has made it so much easier (and affordable!) to stay in touch with people far away. (Actually, coincidentally, one of the friends I made who was also in India volunteering lives about 20 minutes away from me in Toronto! He’s currently working in the Middle East but when he comes home to visit family we meet up. It’s such a small world!)

the camel festival in pushkar

J: What are three things you wish you had packed, and three things you wish you had left behind when you went to India?

K: I actually did pretty well with my packing…hmmm…I guess I wish I had packed more tampons (I almost had enough for the entire year though!) Oh! And solid deodorant - because it was super hard to find there (I actually didn’t find it at all! A blogger friend visiting kindly brought me some!) I guess I wish I had left behind my blow dryer. I didn’t use it once because I couldn’t find a power converter strong enough for it. 

J: What's the most valuable lesson you learned during your time in India?

K: I learned so many things that I can’t just pick one. I learned to always listen to my gut. I learned that I need much less than I actually think I do to be genuinely happy. I learned that, for the most part, people – no matter where they are from or their circumstances – want the same thing in life…to be heard. I learned that life is too short not to do something you’ve always wanted to do. I learned that it’s true – at any time we can choose to become the person we have always wanted to be…it’s never too late. 

kisha at qutb minar

J: Be honest - any regrets about taking a Gap Year?

K: None at all. Actually, I regret that I didn't do it sooner/earlier.

J: What did you do after your Gap Year?

K: I managed to land a job back at home in Toronto while I was still in Delhi, so I arrived home, had about a week to readjust, and went right back into working full-time.

at the taj mahal

J: What's your best advice to someone considering taking a Gap Year?

K: Just do it. Lol!

Okay, to expand a bit – what’s the worst that is likely to happen? That you hate it and decide to quit and go home early? That’s fine. At least you’ll never have to wonder “what if?” But promise to give yourself at least a solid three months. If after three months you’re not having a good time – go home…you gave it a fair shot and have nothing to be ashamed of! On the flip side, what if you love it? What if you have the time of your life? You’ll never know unless you go…

Do your homework but not too much homework – you don’t want to necessarily know every single detail* before you arrive…that’ll take away some of the fun and excitement of discovering things and seeing things for the first time.

I wish I had known that it didn’t have to be as hard or long and drawn out of a decision as I made it. I think about all the time (years!) I spent “thinking it over” and wow…but at the time that’s what made me comfortable so I have no regrets. I also wish I had known just how fast that year was going to go by…we always say “time flies” but it really truly does. Try and remember that and to live in the moment because before you know it you’ll be on the plane heading home.

*I mean details like every site to see, every shop to visit – some of those things you would naturally discover once you live in a place. For example, I didn’t look at too many photos of the Taj Mahal before visiting it because I wanted to have that experience of seeing it for the first time.

the inside of an auto rickshaw, delhi

J: If you could take another Gap Year, would you? What would you do?

K: Absolutely. But I’d want to be earning a proper salary! Maybe I should go the expat route and make it longer than a year?! There are really so many things I’d like to do….the list is a long one!

Thank you so much to Kisha for sharing her insights about her Gap Year in India. I strongly encourage you to click over to her blog where she chronicles her life in Toronto, Canada.

Kisha: you are an inspiration. I'm sure whatever is on your (long) list will be accomplished (with grace, wit, and style to boot).

- Jess

follow Kisha on her blogtwitterinstagram or pinterest

all photos by kisha, used with permission

p.s. don't forget to enter Havana Club's Gap Year contest to win a once-in-a-lifetime 12 month Gap Year in 12 cities around the world. contest closes march 1st.