The Gap Year Experience: Abby Clayden
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The Gap Year Experience: Abby Clayden

Why head straight to college, when you can travel the world and make unforgettable memories?

The Gap Year Experience: Abby Clayden
Abby Clayden

During their senior year of high school, students are faced with the all-important question of “which college should I attend?” For some, this decision is easy, but for others, the decision isn’t so clear. Some decide to take another path and decide to take a “gap year.” A gap year is when someone takes a year off between high school and college, or college and a "real" job, and spends the time either working or traveling.

I’ve always had an interest in gap years and even considered taking one myself. I recently interviewed Abby Clayden, a student who had a very exciting gap year experience.

This was Abby's first time flying alone. She traveled from San Francisco to London, England. Image Credit: Abby Clayden.

Can you describe what you did during your gap year?

“Right after high school graduation I backpacked around Europe for one month (England, Italy, France and Spain) with two good friends.

I worked in Santa Cruz to save up more money for the next adventure, which ended up being on Oahu, Hawaii. My best friend Hailey and I decided that we wanted to work somewhere that we could live without paying rent (also known as room and board), so we started emailing dozens of organic farms and hostels. Working in a hostel and WOOFing were our best bets. WOOFing stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

While we were there we lived and worked at The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel for around four months. Youth hostels are absolutely incredible. A hostel is a place where people from different countries, races and cultures can come together for a common purpose: accommodation. What ends up happening though is more than just that, it usually ends up being a place of cultural sharing. When you stay at a hostel you know that each person is on their own personal journey, it's rare that two people are going to the same place, but everyone is together at one instant.

Abby and Hailey working at The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel in Waikiki, Hawaii. Image Credit: Abby Clayden.

I was surrounded by travelers every day, as well as locals who showed me around the island. I learned about other people’s cultures as well as the Hawaiian culture.

As I was working in Hawaii, I spontaneously bought a ticket to Bali and travelled around that island for one month.”

Local children from her time in Bali, Indonesia. Image Credit: Abby Clayden.

What did you learn from taking a year off?

“After flying around the globe, meeting hundreds of travelers from working at a hostel, experiencing new food, feasting my eyes on some of the most scenic places on the planet, and learning about other cultures, I can easily say that the most I learned from traveling was purely about myself.

Backpacking around Europe for a month taught me more than school ever could. Math? Currency exchange and money negotiating. History? You're looking at it, not reading it in a textbook. Geography? Using metro maps, city maps, asking directions from strangers, seeing the country from inside of a plane, on a boat, on a train. English? Journaling every day and writing until your hand cramps up. Language? I made conversation with someone in Spanish, and I don't speak Spanish.

I believe that an experienced traveller knows more about the purpose of life than any successful lawyer or mathematician.


Because there are things that school could never teach you, and that traveling can. And when I say traveling, I mean really traveling. Not staying at the four seasons for a few days.

I learned how to be punctual so I didn't miss my flights, how to be organized when living out of a backpack, how to have a conversation with a stranger when I didn't share a common language, how to think under pressure, how to get to the other side of the city without a GPS, how to deal with unpleasant roommates in hostels and how to manage money when I am a broke young adult.”

What was your best gap year experience?

“My best experience wouldn't be eating macaroons under the Eiffel Tower with my best friends, taking a moped to a pro surfers bungalow party in Bali, or even taking Zac Efron’s order at the Health Bar in Hawaii. My favorite memories from my experiences were the moments in solitude when I closed my eyes, smiled to myself and cried tears of joy. For I was doing exactly what I had dreamed of doing.”

Abby and Hailey in Paris, France. Image Credit: Abby Clayden.

What was your worst gap year experience?

“I can honestly say that I didn't have any bad experiences," she said. "You never lose, you either win or you learn."

Do you have any advice for other students who are on the fence about taking a year off? Or how to convince their parents to let them?

“If you're interested in taking a gap year, by all means, do it. A gap year doesn't even mean you have to necessarily travel! You could take a gap year and work, volunteer, intern, etc. The beautiful thing is that it is YOUR time to do whatever you wish."

"If your parents are reluctant to let you take that time away from school, keep in mind that they are doing so out of love, but remind them that you are an adult who is capable of choosing their own path in life. Self-discovery is extremely vital, and especially at an age where it has the potential to influence your entire future."

Put yourself first. Ask yourself "what is best for me?" And don't be afraid to blaze your own trail. Magic happens when you step outside of your comfort zone, and when you witness it, you'll never be the same.”

Image Credit: Abby Clayden
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