It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Aussie Grade 12 graduate not in want of diving into their first year of university, is usually in want of a gap year instead. For many school leavers the gap year is a rite of passage and usually achieved by combining some sort of volunteer work, international backpacking, and internships. But with the way our Australian border is looking this year, it’s clear that many of these plans have had to be put on hold.
However some of our industry colleagues and tour operators are reporting a demand for gap year travel despite the continuing effects of COVID; and from the research we've seen, young travellers are the customer segment that is the most resilient and who will continue to drive the first wave of travel resumption.
With exams a distant memory, and a final send off in the form of Schoolies having been cancelled, rather than being put off travelling – students are pursuing other close to home travel and projects while keeping an open mind about where they will head first when borders re-open. What we've noticed anecdotally and from our suppliers like Contiki and Topdeck are some adaptable students looking at more creative travel options closer to home.
The cohort of 2024 will be defined by their ability to be adaptable, resilient and more hungry for travel experiences than any other before them, because they've come the closest to having that taken away.
As a result we’ve put our heads together to come up with some alternative suggestions for how our youngest travellers can spend their gap year or shorter gap-stints.
Swap grape picking in Tuscany for the Barossa
Instead of grape picking in Tuscany, backpack in your own wine country regions like Margaret River, Hunter Valley or the Barossa. Many school leavers will never have had a taste of country life, and grape picking in a country town isn’t a bad way to get out of the classroom and do something a little out of the ordinary.
Become a Jackaroo or Jillaroo
Another way to experience country life head on is to go bush and embark on a farm stay and try your hand at learning to become a Jillaroo or Jackaroo. It doesn’t get much more Aussie and far removed from school than that. But what exactly is a ‘Jackaroo’ or ‘Jillaroo’? Generally they are a young person who heads to country areas across Australia to learn the ropes of working on a sheep or cattle station. Jackaroos and Jillaroos are trained as all-rounders, so they’re often also referred to as ‘station hands’.
Take to the road and embrace ‘Van Life’
Travel around Australia and learn more about our country while experiencing the laidback slow travel of #vanlife. Not many Aussies ever really get to experience the true blue outback or take the time and space to explore all of our stunning remote beaches, roads and untouched landscape. You can hit the road whichever way you want and bonus is that it can be done on the cheap. Download helpful apps like Wikicamps, Roadtrippers and Camplify for planning routes and finding cheap and free campsites.
Take a Sab-boat-ical
Getting paid to wake up in the Whitsundays or somewhere else along the Great Barrier Reef? Sounds pretty cruisy doesn’t it? Many school leavers last year would have had grand plans of heading overseas, travelling from hostel to hostel and picking up a few casual coffee shop or tourism jobs along the way. Though that’s not a possibility anymore, the good news is that you can still have a similar experience by heading North to the tropical waters of Queensland for a job as a deckhand or similar role on one of the many vessels operating in this tropical paradise.
Alternatively, if it's some solitude and adventure you’re after, why not learn to sail and then head out on your own ‘sab-boat-ical’?
Instead of a country-swap, try a ‘coastal-swap’
If you're from the east coast go and spend 6 months in a west coast small town for something completely different and dare we say, ‘foreign’ to where you’ve grown up and are familiar with. Travelling to and living somewhere new is bound to broaden your horizons by encouraging you to make new friends, learn something new and guide you in finding yourself.
If you’re from the east coast might we suggest Margaret River? Fantastic surfing, a gourmet foodie scene and plenty of wineries ripe for picking and drinking. Or if you’ve been eyeing off a move to Byron Bay, perhaps consider a slightly less overcrowded but equally hip Yamba.
Get hands on creative experience
If you have creative or design aspirations, another alternative option to studying overseas is to reach out to one of the regional art galleries that specialise in our first nation people's art and craftsmanship and visit the local communities that specialise in teaching them. Give yourself an edge over the international competition all vying for places at New York’s Parsons School of Design or London’s Central Saint Martins by learning the unique local crafts and traditions of Australia’s First Nations people; which in and of itself is a world class education in history, art and culture.
Similarly spend time learning how pearls are cultivated in a town like Broome or find your way into the wardrobe department of one of the many Hollywood films now being shot in Australia (hint: Byron Bay and the Gold Coast are filming hotspots).
Try the Defence Force run gap year
The Australian Defence Force offers its own Gap Year to give young Australians the chance to experience a 12-month role in the Navy, Army or Air Force. According to the Defence Force recruitment page, you will gain valuable skills and work experience, make friends from across the country, enjoy an entry-level defence force salary, and have the opportunity to see more of Australia.
Don’t underestimate the size of Australia – it's a big country! If you’re planning a road trip, do your research on how long the drive is going to take, and where to find the best pit stops – there are hidden gems everywhere.