The advice I wish I'd been given before going on my gap year

As Nick Trend's daughter heads off on her gap year adventure, he ponders what he wishes he'd known.

Seeing your child off on their travels can be an anxious experience. Photo / Getty Images
Seeing your child off on their travels can be an anxious experience. Photo / Getty Images

Next week my daughter, aged 21, is setting off on her first big long-haul trip.

She is going, with a friend, to do a grand tour of south-east Asia - through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos before ending up on the beaches of Malaysia. And it has made me think about my own youthful travels - first on a rather tame InterRail tour around Europe, and then a little later, on a much more adventurous trip when I headed off overland and alone through Russia and China to Hong Kong, and then on around the world.

It's new for her, but it's also a new experience for me - for the first time, I am the one being left behind. And it is interesting to have the tables turned. Looking back, I had no thoughts for the anxieties of my family, other than a slight bemusement that they could possibly think that anything might go wrong, but I do remember being amazed at the tearful relief in my mother's voice when, after weeks out of contact, I randomly decided to call home from China.

I can't help thinking however, that it was easier then for those back home. Before mobile phones no news was good news, but for some reason nowadays, no texts means endless reasons to worry. I have resolved not to do that. And I have also resolved, for obvious reasons which any parent will understand, not to try to offer my daughter any advice.

If I were to weaken on this point however, and I were thinking back all those years ago when I headed off on the boat train from Harwich, there are one or two things I might mention to her about what I can remember of my own experiences.

1. Prepare

Most prominently I regret that I did almost no preparation - not in terms of travel arrangements, but in terms of reading up on the places and cultures I was visiting. I just found out what I could when I got there, which was fine, but pretty limited. I also wish that I had made more effort to learn even just a few words of the local languages. I managed to come to terms with the cyrillic alphabet, but my Russian vocabulary never stretched much beyond "spasibo" and counting to 10. My Chinese? Non-existent.

Nick Trend's daughter will take in the sights of Laos. Photo / Getty Images
Nick Trend's daughter will take in the sights of Laos. Photo / Getty Images

2. Cherish friends but beware enemies

My strongest memories are not of places, but of the people I met and some have remained friends ever since. I travelled alone, which is the best way to meet others. It's different travelling as a pair, but it's important to be gregarious and open to others. I'm certainly not going to mention specifics, of course, but the most overtly friendly people you meet while travelling may not always be the ones to trust most. This lesson is often learnt the hard way.

3. Invest in memories - and keep a diary

I have almost no photographs from my trips, which I hugely regret. Today's travellers are more likely to face the polar opposite problem - pictures are so easy to take and share, that you risk experiencing some of your most precious moments, not live, but through a screen. I did however, manage to keep a diary for the first three weeks or so of my trip. I wish I'd kept it up. But I'm very glad to have even that.

4. Take your time

The great thing about travelling when you are young is that you have time. And that means you can be spontaneous. I changed my plans many times. I visited places - Taiwan and Japan for example - that I never dreamed I'd get to. Carpe diem. You won't regret it.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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