Taking a year out to backpack

PUBLISHED: 18:37 07 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

THERE'S nothing new about the idea of taking a year out and backpacking the world – after all, the majority of Britain's young students are trying it for themselves.

THERE'S nothing new about the idea of taking a year out and backpacking the world – after all, the majority of Britain's young students are trying it for themselves.

But there's something distinctly less common about a man in his forties doing the same. Debbie Watson met with Ipswich's more mature globetrotter.

IT might not be your idea of a life-enhancing experience, but frankly, Gap years are practically a modern-day expectation.

When Prince William took the less regal road through Africa as part of his, he successfully prompted even more sixth formers and pre-university students to submit to the trend.

And yet, despite the youthful enthusiasm, it's a habit that has partially escaped an entire pool of the over-30s population.

A population which had, until this week, included Ipswich travel professional, Andy Fosker.

By Sunday, 43-year-old Andy will be heading out of Britain on a flight bound for South America – determined to explode the myth of 'year out youth'.

"I've always thought about travelling, and about giving it all up to go abroad for a year," explained Andy.

"It's something that just doesn't raise too many eyebrows when a teenager or a university student does it – but once you've been working for twenty years, it's slightly more unusual."

Andy, a former Westbourne High School pupil who still lives in Ipswich, has spent most of his working life at the heart of the travel industry.

Now, with a dream to fulfil and the determination to accomplish it, he is about to see a rather different side to the many countries and cultures which his wealth of customers have already visited.

"I have always been fascinated by different ways of living and by the vast divide between countries. I guess that's why I've been so happy in this chosen career," he said.

"By taking a year out, I hope I'll get to put a lot of those feelings into perspective, and I hope I'm really going to discover a great deal about myself."

It was two years ago, as he was sitting drinking with a friend, that Andy first realised that this international passion could be so well suited to a year's travelling adventure.

That incredible prospect of 'getting away from it all' had begun to really inspire him far more than he ever thought it might.

He had never had the chance to take off with a backpack as a youngster – and now was curiously beginning to feel like the right time.

"I gave it some thought for a few months and then I just thought 'right, time to bite the bullet and follow your heart'.

"I stuck my house on the market, told work what I was planning and got myself completely wrapped up in this whole thing – as if it were a bit of a personal project for myself."

He said: "I'm sure a lot of my peers were quite stunned by the immediacy of it all, but the one reaction I seemed to get time and time again, was the comment 'You lucky so and so Andy, I wish I was in your position'."

In fact, it's Andy's 'fortunate' position which has made this opportunity remotely possible.

He is not married, and as he admits himself, has no 'ties or dependencies' which would hinder this decision.

Unlike so many 40-plus adults, he is relatively commitment-free and is uniquely able to make this massive decision.

"If I were in the position of a lot of my colleagues," he commented, "it would make it so very hard to do something like this.

"If you have children or a spouse you would seem thoroughly selfish to just go your own way for a year. But it's just not like that for me."

He said: "I had to take a risk where my house and job were concerned, but even that seemed quite straight-forward.

"I really believe that this is the right time for me to do this, and if I didn't take the risk, I think I would have spent the rest of my life regretting it."

Andy, who officially left his role as an NVQ assessor at the end of September, is adamant that he, and any other elder would-be 'Gapper', can potentially gain a great deal from this kind of journey.

He says youngsters learn numerous skills and personal qualities while they take their designated 'year out', and by the same token, he hopes his twelve-month adventure will offer him the same chance.

"It's never too late to be learning about yourself, and I believe that I'm giving myself a really good opportunity to work out exactly who I am and where I'm heading.

"People in my generation have probably gone straight out to work, got caught in a lifestyle cycle, and haven't done a lot in the way of analysing themselves or the way their objectives change over time.

"This is my opportunity to do that, and I'm looking forward to what I might find."

With days to go before his adventure begins, Andy is filled with a mix of excitement and apprehension. But he has no regrets about his decision.

"I've been plotting where I might go, and planning how I'll be keeping in touch from the other side of the world via email," he said. "It's a really exciting time, but of course it's nerve-wracking as well.

"It feels a bit like I'm dropping out of society for a year, and that I'm becoming a non-person….but in a funny kind of way, that's the most exciting thing of it all."


For more information about where and how you can take a gap year.

Gap years among those awaiting the start of their university course are officially on the rise. The University and College Admission Service claims a total of 22,073 applicants were taking deferred entry to allow them to have a gap year before the start of the Autumn 2001 term.

Jack Straw has publicly applauded the concept of Gap years. He says they are a great tool in enabling people to experience life and work in other countries.

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