Mind the Gap by Anna Moody

Anna Moody Travel

Mind the Gap

By Anna Moody, Bloomsbury 2010-2015

Recent Alumni Anna Moody, former Deputy Head at Bede’s, reflects on her Gap Year travelling the world and the wondrous choices you face….

After a last minute packing frenzy, the bag was zipped. Mosquito repellent - check. Passport - check. All practicalities sorted with fifteen minutes to spare before the drive to Heathrow. In the knowledge that I was about to embark on a thirty-hour journey across the globe on my own, eating breakfast felt very different. I was doing this out of choice. My choice. And for the first time in my life I realised I was the only one accountable for this decision.

So you’re a traveller now, you might tell yourself. Free and itching to see the world. Exams are over, school is finished, A’ level results have taken their toll and everyone empties off to school or university again. This is the moment when you realise part of what it really means to be in the gap. That longed for space. That open road which lasts a year.

The time of your life is round the next corner! Or so they all keep saying. So how do you make this happen? There are so many thousands of possibilities available at the click of a mouse.

But there is a problem. Google shows me no obvious reason why Machu Picchu would fill this gap any better than Kathmandu. Scroll again. Scroll through the whole world! You could volunteer in Africa, learn to sail, to tango, climb a mountain… but why don't you speak six languages?

For me this was a paralysing situation and as I sat for hours, scrolling the world, looking at all the places I wasn't in, I was haunted by one big question: Where is IT happening?

Well I’ll tell you now, it could always be somewhere else. The internet will show you millions of other places where you should be, could have been, or almost went to. You have the whole world at your fingertips. There is simply no way of knowing what the ‘right thing’ to do is.

Where to begin? Or more to the point, where to end? You could scroll forever and forget to live your life. It’s addictive, this constant searching for something else.

Facebook will show you smiley groups of friends in exotic places. They must have cracked the code! They’ve googled the right thing! And yet, when you’re polishing fridges behind a bar on a Thursday afternoon with images of all the places you could be floating around in your head, the world of school where you are held and shown where to make your next move feels far away. Yet this is what I thought I had wanted, the unconditional space to do ‘all those things I've always wanted to do…’

How do you know where to put your hard earned cash? All those long shifts where time moved so slowly have to have been worth it. So I would finally settle on something and press ‘book’, only to realise that the problem was not solved. How do you know if the place you've just spent all your earnings on even exists? Perhaps it is just a dodgy internet mirage or a malevolent net to catch those gappers mid-scroll.

In truth, there is no ‘right’ option. You have to take chances and risk the feeling of not knowing. Wonderful things can happen in those times when you have no idea and no expectation about what will happen. But this requires trust and trusting the unknown is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to learn to do. Having spent years of your life achieving things and working towards certain goals or exams, it is a disconcerting feeling to be without structure, no longer sure where your limits lie.

This is a time when you are quite likely to find yourself in some unusual corner of the globe, wondering why on earth you’re there. Perhaps like me, you could wake up to find yourself in a jam packed overnight train racing through the deserts of Rajasthan. Or suddenly eye to eye with a huge tiger just waking up from his siesta.

So let’s ask the big question: What did you DO on your gap year? I’d tell you about being assistant director for an opera in New Zealand, learning Spanish in Barcelona, teaching English, travelling India, Australia… And I could continue to list the outrageous, weird, wonderful and awesome adventures which have filled this gap.

Or I could tell you that that morning as I was brushing my teeth it occurred to me that I could choose to get on the plane or not. Both options were equally terrifying. These sliding door moments can define the gap and if you think about it too much it’s overwhelming. However, someone once said to me that in a sense, not going is the same as going. Perhaps you do indeed learn just as much whichever path you take and I can safely say that both options take huge courage. It was in these moments that I learnt something school can’t teach you. Facing all the different pockets of the world and wondering on which part of the canvas to place yourself. To step on that plane or not, out of choice. Your choice.

Anna is currently reading English at The University of Cambridge and she was part of Bede's Gifted and Talented programme.