Express Gap Years: The Coming-Of-Age Travel Tradition Is Getting Shorter, More Intense

28/09/2015 9:56 AM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:51
Leonardo Patrizi via Getty Images
Group of young friend hiking in mountain.

Ask your parents and older relatives about their gap year and they’ll smirk.

There’s no way they’re telling you about their 12 months of debauchery in Goa, backpacking in Iran and illegal activities in South America.

This coming-of-age travel ritual, however, is changing.

Between a higher cost of study and an increasingly competitive job market, the youth of today don’t have time to spend a year finding themselves.

Enter the 'express gap year'.

Increasingly, people are taking the three months between high school graduation and further study to cram in a year’s worth of experiences.

As Mariel Malabanan, 21, of Sydney said: "Do you ever get the feeling you're being left behind?

"I wanted to take a full gap year and destress after the HSC but all my friends were starting university right away and I felt that pressure to finish my studies and get a job."

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Mariel Malabanan at Hobbiton where The Hobbit was filmed in New Zealand. Picture: Supplied

Malabanan said she still intended to travel later in life, but at the end of high school, she needed a destination that was quick and cheap.

"I went on a little mini-gap year in New Zealand because I needed somewhere affordable -- I hadn't been working for very long at that time -- and somewhere where I could fit as much as possible and absorb all I could in just a few weeks," Malabanan said.

She's not the only young person heading to New Zealand -- statistics compiled by Tourism New Zealand found the number of 18-19 year olds arriving in the country went up 15 per cent year on year to 10,960 visitors. Overall, those aged 18-29 made up 24 percent of total visitors in the last 12 months.

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The express gap year phenomenon is also being seen in the volunteering sector. Picture: Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Independent global volunteering travel group Projects Abroad is also seeing an increase in express gap year trips.

Program adviser Elanor McCall said young people were increasingly looking for shorter, flexible experiences.

"Shorter trips are definitely growing in popularity especially for people at the end of high school," McCall said.

"Instead of doing an old-fashioned exchange for 12 months, we do find people are booking for a few months."

McCall said the challenge was fitting a year's worth of experiences in a short time.

"That's why people come to organisations like us to help them organise everything," McCall said.

"When you've got a whole year, you can set things up yourself and arrive somewhere and take a few weeks to get yourself sorted but when you've only got a few months, you want to know that every day will count."

McCall said the idea of a gap year wasn't so radical any more.

"Maybe 20 years ago people who were going overseas were really quite adventurous and keen to make travel a way of life," McCall said.

"I think today people have been exposed to the idea of international travel and more people are thinking about doing it, but they're not looking to rough it for a whole year."

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