Watching your child set off on a long-term trip can be daunting... or even terrifying. Even if your budding backpacker is beyond their teens and reasonably responsible, for many guardians the worry never really goes away.
But the advantages of a gap year away from home outweigh – no, pulverise the negatives. Whether your kids choose to work abroad, volunteer or simply travel the world, here’s how they’ll gain skills and knowledge that will set them up for life, not to mention boost their CV.
'We got us here, now we have to get us out' © Peter Cade / Getty Images
Problem solving will become less of a… problem
With a gap year comes a legion of positives for your child’s personal development and skill base. Travel provides varied opportunities to develop independence, maturity and confidence through problem solving – which is unavoidably exercised each and every day spent beyond the comfort zone.
From simple tasks such as booking train or plane tickets, finding a place to stay and identifying a suitable spot for dinner; to working out what to do after missing a train, when bank cards are swallowed or if luggage is lost, every problem solved is a step in the right direction. Facing these situations increases adaptability and self-assurance – and in the long-term, will help your child face challenges back at home.
Acquainting yourself with the unfamiliar is key to learning as you travel © Patrick Foto / Getty Images
They’ll gain new perspectives
There’s no better way to break down preconceptions and better understand other cultures than by travelling. With travel often comes a greater level of compassion, through increased exposure to lifestyles and circumstances that differ from our own – invaluable lessons for a young adult.
Encountering the challenges some communities or nations face, including homelessness and poverty, may make your child want to do something about it, and account for a world larger than their own. The opportunities to assist and volunteer are endless – see Lonely Planet’s tips on volunteering and how to do so responsibly.
The point-and-smile tactic works fine, but a word or two in the local lingo can elevate even a brief interaction © Amar Grover / Getty Images
Language skills may be unlocked
Travelling often presents the chance to pick up another language. Understanding the vernacular of a place plays a huge role when it comes to gaining meaningful insight into the local culture, and even a basic grasp of key phrases can lead to greater connections between visitors and local people.
The desire to properly pursue a language can also emerge from time spent overseas, holding great benefits for when a child returns home and elevating their employment prospects.
A new dining experience might inspire a whole new attitude to food © Rich-Joseph Facun / Getty Images
They’ll explore their passions
Those who travel overseas often discover untapped passions they may not have come across otherwise. This may involve finding love for a new instrument, sport or art practice, or nurturing an interest in wildlife, food, fitness or photography.
Travel also gives young adults the opportunity to better understand what they really enjoy and dislike before going into further study or down a career path. Some people find it easy to choose their next step in life – for others the road can be a little bumpier. Travel itself has the capacity to bring great clarity.
Gratitude can be a welcome symptom of travel © Westend61 / Getty Images
An attitude shift may occur
Those small crises that would have once seemed like the end of the world for your child are likely to appear miniscule once they’ve faced adversities overseas. Life lessons gathered on the road hold huge weight, provoking reflection and making one appreciate the comforts of home. A little more gratitude isn’t all too bad to acquire, either.
Now there's no excuse not to keep mum updated regularly © Juergen Ritterback / Getty Images
Tips on how to manage when your child is away
We live in a glorious age where virtual connection is all too easily enabled. Wi-fi is spreading to the most remote corners of the globe, while convenient mobile applications make keeping in contact easy. It is worth downloading a few apps while your child is away: WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and Facebook Messenger are a few easy-to-use options.
Talking on the phone is one thing, but having a child send through photos and videos is quite reassuring for some parents. Being able to see, as well as hear, what your child is doing, where they are and that they’re safe can be settling in times of stress. It’s wise to speak about communication expectations prior to your child’s departure.
The health benefits of travel can outweigh the risks – but it pays to be prepared © Jordan Siemens / Getty Images
Ensure their health is in good hands
It is important that your child is well-equipped health-wise – and that doesn’t stop after getting jabs and buying travel insurance. There are plenty of health apps worth recommending that are highly beneficial while travelling: My Travel Health offers health information about different destinations, while giving users a space to store immunisation records. Allianz’s TravelSmart allows users to translate simple first-aid terms, while integrating a ‘drug dictionary’ that provides the names of common medications in different languages.
Also consider the health benefits travel could have for your child. Taking some time off to explore in these prime years can do wonders for mental health. Your child has the rest of life to rush, study, be stormed with bills, have children of their own. A gap year is a time of growth, creating memories that will be cherished for the years and decades to follow.