My gap year started the minute I finished school in June 2016. It followed with 3 months of working and living in a shared flat in Barcelona. In October I was off to Italy working as an au pair for another 3 months. In January I stayed 2 weeks in Scotland and in February I was off to Shanghai, China for 5 months. Not only have I been lucky enough to travel so much but I’ve been able to experience these cultures by properly living in them, which I consider the best way to get to know them. Although my gap year had nothing to do with money, I did learn a lot about the way we manage it.
Traveling is cheap
During my Italian travels, me and three other au pairs would travel around Italy each weekend. It was amazing how much we did in 2 months and the beautiful sights we saw. However, we had to manage with a meagre income of 80-100€ per week and our own savings. Europe, though, was ready for this. There are tons of cheap buses (overnight bus Bologna to Rome for 10€, absolute nightmare but we got there), there is car pooling, and there are trains. Then there is Couchsurfing, Airbnb and hostels. You just need to do a bit of research and be prepared for little luxury (which means you will appreciate the small luxuries you will find on your way).
GoEuro: Comparing prices for buses, trains and carpooling.
BlaBla car: Amazing carpooling app, I’ve had so much fun sharing cars with interesting people.
Flixbus: Cheap buses which go everywhere
Immediately needing money at a moment when you have none, as we all know, is a nightmare, especially when in a foreign country with a foreign currency. You must always have cash on you, even if it’s the currency from your own country as you can easily change it over in a bank. If it comes to worse you can take out money with your debit/credit card, however we all know how expensive that can be. I was in a difficult situation in China where I had to pay rent and had absolutely no money. A few friends saved me until my mum helped me do a transfer. After that I had a great deal with a friend where she would send me 4000 yuan through my Chinese bank account, and I would send her the equivalent through to her Spanish bank account. This is the best kind of arrangement.
In terms of lifestyle, I was surprised that everyone followed the same methods. Most people had a 9-5 job which they didn’t really like and were content living this lifestyle. This was especially apparent in Italy, where my host mother was earning only 1000€ per month and working tremendous hours. This really showed me what I could be doing later if I didn’t think of something different. I even dabbled a bit in it working 3 hours a day as a digital marketing intern. I could finally say ‘Gosh I’m so busy I have no time for anything’ like everyone else. This lasted 3 weeks.
These three small concepts did shape how I perceive the money world and really impacted my decision making for the next year. I realise that traveling the world is not impossible, you don’t need a big budget, just some determination. The difficulty of transferring money taught me how scary it is to not have any and how you really need to be prepared at all times. And this mentality that I met everywhere motivated me to find smarter ways to earn an income, which will all help me in the future.