Thanks to all your interest in my gap year in Germany and affordable gap year suggestions, I have decided to launch a series interviewing other women who spent gap years abroad! I’m delighted to share these incredible ladies’ stories, and hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I did.
If you’re in the process of planning your own gap year, I hope you find these interviews beneficial! I’m excited to introduce Lisa from littleadventurertravels.com. Lisa is an Australian traveler who spent a gap year as an au pair in Italy and France. While working as an au pair, she also managed to travel to a whopping 23 countries!
If you’ve ever considered working as an au pair, the zillion questions I asked Lisa and her insightful feedback should be helpful!
What inspired you to take a gap year?
My gap year actually came after working in my chosen career for several years. I was successful but felt I needed something more out of my home city. My gap year came off the back of a month long trip to Europe. I loved Europe so much I wanted to go there for longer and really experience life in Europe – the food, the culture and the sights.
I quit my job to go away for a gap year and I don’t regret it.
Did you have any specific goals you were trying to accomplish during your gap year, and were you able to achieve them?
My main goal was to travel and also achieve a cultural experience. I far exceeded my travel goals by traveling to 23 European countries in a year while working as an au pair in Italy and France.
I also had a very culturally enriching experience, particularly with my French family. They taught me a lot about French life and values. I walked away a different person knowing a lot more about the world and other people.
Did you have any set expectations for your gap year?
I actually had no expectations before the journey. I went out hoping it would work out, knowing that if it didn’t I would just come home when I ran out of money.
I just wanted to explore the world and have a good time but be doing something constructive at the same time. That’s why I chose to become an au pair for a year.
How did you fund your gap year and did you create a budget in advance? if so, was your budget realistic?
I left home with savings of about $12,000 AUD and then was supplemented by my au pair salary of about $100 AUD per week.
I saved diligently before I left. I avoided buying clothes, I brought my lunch to work, and I rarely ate out. I also sold clothes I no longer wore, so that I could leave with as much money as possible.
As an au pair, I had free board and didn’t pay much for food either, so I had very few expenses besides traveling. As such, I never set a budget. While traveling, I stayed in hostels and cooked many of my
meals. I also found cheap flights to make my money last as long as possible.
I’d drained my savings by the time I returned home but did as much travel as I could fit in (I visited way more countries than I had initially planned) and felt like I had achieved everything I wanted and didn’t miss out on anything. I don’t think I needed any more money during my gap year and the savings I had was a good amount to thoroughly enjoy a gap year.
Were there any points in your experience where you had an epiphany or “a-ha” moment that influenced your life beyond your gap year and traveling?
I definitely became addicted to travel in that year and became very comfortable with it. I saw myself become more confident and independent. Nowhere in Europe was too hard for me to go to – it was there,
it sounded interesting, and I was going.
Since then, I’ve put all my money towards travel. When I came back to Australia, it was more than post-holiday blues. Travel energised me and a year overseas had made me realise that.
When I returned to Australia, I realised I was a lot stronger and independent and this helped me in my professional and personal life.
I owe this to having to figure out on my own getting to and from places, navigating places with no knowledge of the local language, and blending in with a family and helping to raise their children.
When the experience ended did you have any disappointments or regrets? Were there any fringe benefits or other positive aspects that surprised you?
I did not regret a single thing. The gap year was only positive – I just wish I’d done it sooner!
I was really surprised how independent I’d become and I also became very good at saving money and only spending on essential items.
One surprising thing was how addicted to travel I became and how I decided to really go by the motto of “I work to live.” Now I work to solely fund my travels.
Would you say your gap year had a lasting impact on your life?
Yes, I will always have great memories of my gap year and it’s led me to wear I am now starting as a travel blogger and devoting my life to travel. Without that gap year, I would probably have just kept going along with my career, taking 4 weeks a year leave, and not really experiencing the world.
Now I’ve found a way to combine travel with work and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
What were the greatest challenges during your experience?
This was my first time away from Australia for more than a month. I experienced several bouts of homesickness but then explored somewhere new and it was all forgotten.
When I was an au pair, it was hard at first to blend in with the families. I was living on my own previously and then bunking with a family and looking after children was a big change. I had to adjust to new routines, house rules and also live without a car.
While I lost some of my independence, I also gained it by travelling to foreign countries on my own.
What were the highlights of your gap year?
The highlights were definitely the travel and also having an impact on children’s lives. When I started with my French family, the children spoke no English. But after a couple of months, we were able to communicate in basic sentences.
I also went to more countries than I thought I would and ticked a lot off my bucket list. Seeing my resourcefulness in planning itineraries in short notice and then having an amazing time was exciting and rewarding.
Highlights were falling in love with the city of Budapest (which I have now visited 4 times since) and going to Morocco – places I never thought I would visit at the start of my gap year.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself before beginning your gap year?
Home will always be there so don’t miss it. Live in the moment and enjoy every minute of where you are. Be open to new opportunities all the time and be prepared to be flexible in your plans.
What advice would you give to other girls contemplating whether or not they should pursue a gap year?
Just do it. You only regret the chances you didn’t take. The worst that can happen is you go away, don’t like it and come home. I didn’t even know if I liked children when I signed up to be an au pair, but it was one of the best things I ever did and wish I’d done it sooner.
For me, a gap year was a year of huge personal growth. I had an amazing experience, and it only improved my career and personal life.
Thanks Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly! You can check out Lisa’s blog here! Stay tuned for more posts sharing other women’s gap year experiences!