What if you had the option of taking a gap year?
What if you had the opportunity today to take a sabbatical year?
Not the traditional gap year after school or college, but a year where you got to do what you really wanted?
At 40. Or 60. Or 70. How would you spend it?
With our kids now entrenched in high school and leaving for college within the next two years, my husband is determined to have one.
And it looks like I might just take the tour.
But what are you doing?
In the old days, before COVID-19 became a looping wrecking ball in most of our lives, the dream would be easy. A plane, and according to budget, a trip abroad.
New York would be at the top of the list, with daily bike rides around Central Park, followed by Rome and Pasta, Paris and Riesling, Amsterdam and God knows what, and maybe even Spain.
In total, that would add up to five extra kilograms and be worth every penny.
But with the complexity of travel, and if we would even be allowed to reenter the country, what else could be offered?
The Italian exchange students we have welcomed tell of the desire, at least in Italian high schools, to become an Australian surfer for a year, or to herd cattle in the outback.
Both are probably age-appropriate activities, and in my case, that makes them inappropriate.
But standing on a property, in the middle of woop-woop, and seeing the bright red sun set over the western horizon must garner votes.
Or if it’s the beach, seeing it rise up lighting up the sky above the country’s most easterly city, Byron Bay, would be an equal game.
A check of hotels in West Queensland and the Northern Territory would suggest the Gray Nomads may have a leg up on the rest of us when it comes to sunset, with few vacant rooms in a hostel.
And Byron Bay, now caught up as a site of continued exposure to COVID-19, is also disabling it as an immediate gap year option.
The sabbatical year has been a rite of passage for many young people leaving school, considering years of study to come; exchanges organized by community organizations, language exchanges between countries and the possibility of getting a low-paid job in different places are a major asset.
It stopped last year, and those who organize gap year exchanges find it difficult to “reinvent” the year for young people across the country.
Schools and enterprising groups are considering offering an after-school break in another Australian city, where students leaving school would only speak a particular language, or gain experience working for a charity or in the field.
That’s a great idea, because it just ‘disrupts’ the way we define the traditional definition of a gap year, the same way Ubers disrupted taxis, Airbnbs disrupted the motel industry, and COVID- 19 disrupted school learning.
Perhaps this allows the sabbatical year to be target a larger cohort of those who have long considered post-school or university life.
My husband joined a band, hoping to find fame and fortune on stage. It’s unlikely, and the option of being a groupie doesn’t quite match my DNA.
But imagine if you could spend a year in Australia doing 12 different things for a month. What would they be?
Volunteering in a detention center in Perth. Work alongside COVID-19 tracers in Sydney. Learn to drive a truck in the Northern Territory. Swim 15 kilometers, in a shark-protected cage off the Gold Coast. Eat in 10 different French restaurants across the country. Find time for Pilates every day. Learn to cook Southeast Asian cuisine. Write a book (OK, it’ll take over a month, but a gap year can turn into a two-year gap…).
Create a TikTok account for seniors. Frenzy on Netflix. Work your way through UberEats. A return to learning Italian. Drive for hours, without the great anxiety of having an L-plater behind the wheel. Right now that last suggestion is at the top of my list.
For others, it may be gardening or needlework; both of which generated considerable interest during the lockdown.
Or get a pilot’s license. Or photograph the dawn in every Australian city of more than 200,000 inhabitants.
The thing about redoing a gap year is throwing away the tradition. When we do. How we do it. What we do with it.
And with COVID-19 changing so many other things in our lives, why not the traditional gap year?
We might even meet our post-school children, having the same experience.