Today I published in my Huffington Post blog about Malia Obama’s decision to postpone college and take a gap year. Malia’s decision was exciting for all of us who believe in the transformational power of travel as she can be a role model for a generation of young adults. But that’s just part of the reason I made the post.
Malia’s decision received wide and varied media coverage. One example is the New York Times (“Malia Obama’s ‘Gap Year” Is Part of a Growing (and Expensive) Trend”). It nicely highlighted the benefits of the gap year experience for Malia and others, but could easily have left a young adult reader of more limited means with the impression that the whole idea was likely outside their financial reach, unless they somehow qualified for financial aid. That seemed an unnecessarily discouraging take away.
I know from my own experience that a “gap year” experience does not need to be super expensive. I backpacked around Europe for little more than the cost of rent and paying bills at home, and for half the year. For part of the time, I participated in a business program at Oxford University.
These days, it’s true that a curated year-long tour where you don’t have to worry about anything can cost over $30,000. But that doesn’t take into account the possibilities afforded by the independent travel experience – in terms of budget or impact – and the flexibility of spending more limited time abroad.
My blog post seeks to highlight the alternative: a gap year experience focused on solo travel and hostel use, interspersed with engaging short-term learning programs along the way. It can make a gap year more affordable. And more fun and engaging too, with a diversity of travel mates and local experiences to draw from, unconstrained by the windows of a tour bus or the regimented itinerary of a group tour.
And of course now, HI USA also offers Explore Your World travel scholarships through our Community Hostelling Fund program for worthy, curious 18-30 year olds.
Will Malia accept my offer of a HI membership card? I hope so. But if not, we still have shared an important perspective on what makes a truly meaningful gap year experience.
Do you want to help get the word out? Share the Huff Post blog story with your friends. It’s a great way to promote independent travel and hostels.