Adult gap years aren't going to save you from the misery of grown-up life

Grace Dent
When gap years were first invented, in the Seventies, they were for privileged eighteen year olds to ‘escape’ from gilded lives which most average tikes would run towards open-armed: Getty

News of an increase in “grown-up” gap years, with “kids” of 28-plus quitting jobs to see the world, is designed simply, I sense, to agitate anyone like me who is through the saloon doors of forty. We know what you bastards are up to. It’s like when the Top Shop window display is suddenly full of mannequins in PVC waders, coconut shell bras and Panda-ear headbands. Millennials enjoy the piquant mix of my middle-age outrage, bewilderment and cloaked jealousy. And now here comes grown-up gap year women like Cassandra Furfari, 28, who worked until recently as a successful hairdressing salon manager in Adelaide, until one day, the penny dropped. “I had some money – about $22,000 – in savings,” she said in a recent interview. “A lot of people might have put it towards a house deposit, but I always wanted to travel so I knew I had that if I needed it.”

Her initial plan was to start in the US at Coachella – the music festival – then head to New York and then Asia. Furfari eventually spent just under a year travelling America, Sri Lanka and Asia. Please see her Instagram for details filled with requisite photos of her looking holy in a sari, smiling at a sunset and frolicking in a bikini. “Oh, you always wanted to travel, did you?” I find myself harrumphing. It’s an involuntary harrumph. After a certain age a woman is no longer in charge of her own derision at younger women doing exciting albeit self-serving things. “Well, dear, I didn’t get where I am today by buggering off at the age 28 to find myself in Asia. No, I had three jobs by this age!”

Furfari’s flightiness means she may never survey the likes of my empire, which right now includes a garden fence obliterated by Storm Doris, a leaking shower unit about to destroy the lounge ceiling (again), and a laptop-related RSI wrist injury hatched in 1996. This, as well as southbound buttocks that would frighten a Goan dance party and retirement savings which, in the current financial climate, will furnish me circa-2037 with a small packet of Werther’s Originals. Compared to Miss Furfari, I did all the correct things in a moderately sensible manner yet still, adult life is arduous. And perhaps like me, you’re post-youth and finding it hard to stay furious with those reaching their thirties who have zero chance of a mortgage, Deliveroo-style working rights and due to this, no plans to reproduce, who think damn it and give Expedia.com their savings.

Of course there is a strong argument that thirty-plus is exactly the right time to vanish, albeit temporarily. When gap years were first invented, in the Seventies, they were for privileged eighteen year olds to “escape” from gilded lives which most average tikes would run towards open-armed. The “gap year” vibe spread amongst the middle-classes during the Eighties and Nineties. It flourished with the notion that fresh-from-school was the perfect time for introspective self-searching into one’s role in the cosmiverse. It wasn’t. For many cosseted British kids it was a time mainly to bungee jump, grow inappropriate dreadlocks and lie about in flea-ridden hostels reading Alex Garland novels.

And now, the modern-day 2017 orthodox post-A-level gap year is somewhat of a farce. Teens leave for a beaten track of traveller’s haunts they’ve researched on Google Images, armed with iPhones, FaceTime and plentiful Skype credit, aided by instant money transfers and linked by Whatsapp groups. They “escape” but with punishing schedules of content to supply Instagram and Snapchat followers. The truth is that gap years, like good skin and the ability to sleep till 3pm, are wasted on the young. Because only a modern thirtysomething knows the true value of the chance to go off-grid.

By thirty-plus you have endured several years of all-weekend work cc-d emails, Awol builders, warring divorced friends, Facebook mummy-oneupmanship and an increased glut of phonecalls from sick and ageing parents which begin, “Have I told you about my bunion?” Yes, my generation may roll their eyes at women like Cassandra Furfari, but there are weary adults standing outside every school gate in the land at 3.30pm today who would, if offered the chance, do six months of “helping” the people of Burkina Faso where only 3 per cent of the country’s population has regular access to the internet. I’ll bet they’ve not even heard of “Dress your child as their favourite book character day” there.

Obviously, this throws up the argument of whether the indigenous people of the so-called “armpit of Africa” really deserve a legion of post-youth listless busy-bodies arriving to “save them” because we’ve finished the new series of Cold Feet, can’t decide on an emulsion shade for the box bedroom and have now realised modern life is rubbish. The whole subject of gap years reminds me of the words of mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Expensive air tickets won’t put any meaningful space between you and your more painful emotions. What you’re actually thinking of is therapy. You can do that in Wigan, if you want to.

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