If you quit your jobs, put all your worldly possessions in crates in the recesses of a warehouse, and leave the country for a year to explore Europe, do you still call it a vacation? Not once since we started planning our gap year have I ever thought about the time as a vacation, but just last week I had a few people say, “If I don’t see you before you leave, enjoy your vacation.” The first time I heard it, I did a double take. What vacation, I thought? Oh, I guess she means our gap year... But will it be a vacation or something completely different? Yes, we’ll be away from work; yes, our days will belong to us to do as we please; and, yes, we’ve sold our home and are “vacating the premises” – indeed, the country. But don’t you need an employer to grant you a specified period of leave during which you continue to be paid in order to call it a vacation? And isn’t the time you take for a vacation painfully brief? (We’re not European, after all...) We plan to devote significant time to relaxation, introspection, discovery and pleasure – all of which are worthy vacation pursuits – but just because we’re temporarily unemployed, does that mean we’ll be on vacation?
We are taking a gap year but the recent “vacation” comments have me thinking: perhaps I should start referring to our time away as “going to live in Europe for a year,” thereby implying that we’ll be engaging in more of the day-to-day routines that go along with “living.” Our trip to the supermarket may become a walk to the local open air market, the bed we sleep on may not be our own, and the daily commute may result in a different trip every day, but there will be much time devoted to simple, everyday living. So then I go back to my original question, are we going on holiday for an entire year? And would that be so bad? Maybe I should just throw away my Puritan guilt and say yes, we’ll be away on vacation for 12 months; but that just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps being on vacation requires a specific frame of mind:
· a willful (but fleeting) detachment from the work you left behind?
· recognition of just how short the time away is?
· an attitude that says, it’s our vacation, we might as well splurge on this, that, or the other thing?
In our case, we’ll definitely be detached from work since neither of us will have a job waiting at home – and that’s way too scary to think about in depth right now... We’ll certainly be aware of time, but I suspect that having a full year ahead will allow us to slow down much more than we usually do even on vacation. There’s always that time clock counting down and saying: we only have a week or we only have 15 days and we’d better make the best of every single moment. I always used to claim that I work so I can go on vacation and that I pay my travel fund before I buy food (not far from the truth). As a result, there’s always been a lurking pressure on vacation to make sure it’s as memorable as possible to justify the other 50 weeks of work for the year. And while there will definitely be splurges, like lunch at Le Grand Vefour and the Tour du Mont Blanc hike, it will be hard to rationalize daily indulgences when the finite budget has to last for a year.
In the end, I’ve decided that our gap year will definitely not be a vacation. There will be way too much that differentiates it from a standard holiday. We’re going to Europe to live for a year and our mindset really will make a difference.