I am often asked about a typical gap year trip. Here is Part 2 of a fun gap year experience! Read the first part in this series here.
After almost 3 months of fairly constant rowing and sailing, it was time for some land travel! Max met his family in Den Helder, Netherlands, the northernmost tip of the country and they spent several weeks touring Europe: Amsterdam, Belgium, France, and back to England. In London they parted ways. Max was headed to southern Italy. In high school, Max’s family had hosted Alessandro Petrosulla, the local Rotary exchange student. Now Max was going to stay with his family in Bari, Italy in the Puglia region. It would be tight…Mom, Alessandro, his older brother, Max and their bizarre dog in a small apartment.
This is where planning a Gap Experience, or any experience for that matter, gets interesting. Bari isn’t in the travel guide books. It’s a working class mid- size city that’s not especially noted for much. It’s not Rome or Florence or Venice. Max was staying in a working class neighborhood with no remarkable architecture or landmarks. No trendy clubs or Michelin stars.
But here’s the kicker. Those things don’t matter. Max was staying with a family who loved him. They treated him like a long lost brother, which he sort of was. They were grateful for Alessandro’s time in America. Alessandro shared his closest friends and despite the language barrier (that pesky language barrier…we keep meeting!) they howled with laughter, played soccer till deep in the night, cooked lavish pizza’s together in outdoor ovens and met up at every opportunity. Alessandro’s sweet mother never stopped cooking, despite a full time job and a death in the family while Max was there.
Max loved the odd sweet breakfasts of espresso and sweet cakes, followed by more espresso and cigarettes at the little cafe down the street. He loved how they dressed so well for no occasion. He loved the pasta, pasta, and more pasta. He loved the fresh seafood, whole fish served on plastic platters. He did NOT love the raw fish, which Alessandro (and friends) would bang on a rock and eat. He loved how brutally honest the family was…grown children still at home, common in Italy, yelling and loving in tight quarters. He loved drinking a tiny limoncello after dinner and retiring to the balcony for yes, another cigarette. They road tripped and saw the sights, but mostly they just lived. A normal Italian life.
And there’s the beauty, folks. That’s special. Max got to live, however briefly, a normal Italian life. It only cost him a plane ticket. Max didn’t hit any bucket list destinations, or check off the classic tourist sites. He got something much better. He knows that the good life is as simple as a bowl of pasta with people who know how to laugh. He and Alessandro keep up. Alessandro is in med school. No one has died from smoking. Or carb overload.
After living his normal Italian life, Max decided he’d like to see Athens, Greece. Our anxious 18 year old is now making international travel plans on a whim. He booked a ticket and hopped on a plane. He had researched hostels, and after landing made his way to his hostel. This sounds easy enough, but Greece is well, Greek. It’s bustling and chaotic and huge. Max made friends at the hostel, saw the sites, and sometimes felt overwhelmed. All this too, is an education. He learned that he’d rather travel with a friend or companion. We all have a preferred comfort zone and it’s ok to push on it a bit, if you are safe and smart.
After ten days, Max hopped on another plane, this time to Rome where he would then board a train to Florence for Part 2 of the Italian adventure. His travels included Switzerland, Germany, and back to France. Hello to the new person who can now hop on and off trains, flights, and navigate the unknown with ease and grace.
To make a long story short, Max returned in time to enroll for a full load at his community college, made all A’s, and finished his freshman year with a 4.o and a passport that was full of stamps and memories enough for a lifetime! He used his sailing skills to land a fantastic job as a sailing instructor at a camp in North Carolina and made new friends and connections. He transferred to college, receiving a full merit scholarship and says he’s not done traveling!
UPDATE: Max is spending his junior year studying abroad in Madrid, Spain and on the World Odyssey Semester at Sea program. He had to order a new passport to fit it all in!
What will your gap year experience look like? I bet it’s not typical!
Travel Note: Air travel in Europe is wildly affordable if you book in advance through certain airlines and follow the guidelines. Max’s ticket to Greece was $45 dollars and his ticket back to Rome only $35.
Are you wondering about Tall Ship Adventures? Max and his brother Lewis, both received scholarships as first time ocean sailors. These are available to most everyone. GYBC can help you secure a scholarship for your sail adventure!