I like to think that I’ve mastered the art of the gap year. I’ve had three in total and found ways to be completely independent without needing money from study financing or parents.
My gap year habit leads most people to assume that I’m a lazy rich kid or that I’ve worked for several years to pay for all these plane tickets. But I assure you that’s not the case.
I have bankrolled myself for these stints abroad. And it’s actually increasingly easy to do these days. As well as getting jobs on the road, there are an increasing range of other options for young people who don’t want to deplete their funds while they’re away (without even having to break the law).
During my time in Asia, I launched a freelance business and help launch two startups while I was on my travels, which paid for me to stay out for an extra year. Yet before I left the Netherlands, I had no entrepreneurial leanings.
After studying in China, I completed a six-month internship in Bali as part of my degree. I was working for an educational startup and it was the usual startup experience – lots of responsibility and not much sleep. I didn’t know anything about most of the stuff they asked me to do but Google and lots of e-books were my best friends.
Doing an internship in Bali and working in an emerging startup hub like Hubud opened my eyes to what was possible. Before I moved to paradise, I never thought about starting a business or being a freelancer before finishing my education. I was studying marketing but I saw myself in a big company like Nike or Coca-Cola when I finished studying but never thought about the possibility of starting something new.
I was working hard, actually harder than I’ve ever done before, but I was enjoying it because I was starting to see all these possibilities. I was learning more than I ever did and started enjoying reading about SEO strategies and marketing funnels. Was I becoming something that no one thought possible? Somewhat smart, organized and professional?
After a few months, I made my own website with the skills I learned from my internship and started promoting myself to get more jobs. And it worked. I started asking more money for my services when I noticed that jobs kept on coming. And soon I was earning more than I did back home. While everything I did was on the internet I realized that I wasn’t bound to one place and I started traveling to neighboring countries while working in coffee shops or internet cafes.
I realized that most people who were working in these coffee shops were doing similar things as I’ve just discovered. I made friends who were traveling the world with their laptops and occasionally earning money buy designing logos or websites, programming, managing teams through Skype or coaching people online from across the world.
I never realized that all these jobs that you’d find back home were perfectly possible from a laptop on a far exotic island.
Most students do their internships and go straight back to university when they finish. Many wear suits and travel on a packed commuter train to an office in a big city. But I was living on a tropical island, wearing whatever I wanted (mostly swim shorts) and cruising to and from work on a motorbike through rice paddies and jungles.
My living conditions were also better than they had been back home. I traded my tiny student dorm without windows for a spacious house with a view (and much better weather) for less than one fifth of the price since rent is so low there.
When I returned home for Christmas I heard some of my friends complaining about not getting any jobs, even while some have a master’s degree.Working for a startup is hard work, but it gives you the freedom that you’d never get in a 9-to-5 job. It also gives you the chance to grow together with the company and learn skills you can start to get paid for. Quickly.
And by the time my most recent gap year was up, I’d helped launch two startups, sampled life as a freelancer, lived in Bali and acquired my dream motorbike. The hardest bit? Dragging myself away from island life to finish my studies.