The idea of taking gap year is pretty common in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and is getting more popular in the United States and other countries as well. Gap year refers to one taking time off between life stages to get more life experience through traveling, volunteering, or working abroad (or perhaps all three). Traditionally this is done after one finishes either high school or college/university, though today you see more people doing the gap year experience post retirement, before starting a family, or even in the middle of a career as a break from the hectic life. The length also varies from few weeks to even indefinite.
During our trip in Vietnam we met someone who had done this in earlier part of his life. Dave, the gentleman from Australia whom we met in Sapa traveling with his wife Anna, had done such traveling for few months in several Asian countries. You could tell the experience impacted his ‘style’ of traveling — more independent, open minded, resourceful, and efficient. Anna mentioned how Dave limited their travel gear to only things they could carry on a backpack each. And while they had general plans on where they would go during their few weeks in Vietnam, the plan was somewhat fluid and they relied on what they learned along the way from the locals and other travelers they met to plan their next steps.
In Ha Long Bay, we me a couple of other travelers who had just started their gap year experience. Hannah and Sophie are a couple of friends from Canberra, Australia, who had just recently graduated from college, and were in the beginning part of their trip in Vietnam. They were traveling for a few weeks (it was summertime in Australia) before they continued on with the next stage in their lives.
I took the photo below as we left the Cong Dam village on the way back to our junk boat. Here is Sophie trying out rowing in place of the lady who was the rower of their boat. I think this is the kind of attitude that would make such experience enriching — being willing to try out things and interacting with the locals where they are.