Giaan is currently on her Gap Year in the UK. Like many of our current participants she spent the summer holidays travelling through Europe and across the UK. The way we travel has somewhat changed due to the pandemic, but the great news is that borders are opening and visiting the destinations you may have dreamed of is back on the cards.
She tells us about her amazing adventures, as well as what to keep in mind when travelling. Read below to discover some amazing places you can visit on your Gap Year. She also gives her top tips when travelling and recommends places you must visit.
“Our first stop for the summer was Greece…
It was a dream for all of the girls and I to travel to Greece and we decided to stay for 16 days. For the first week we stayed in Naxos at Kastraki, in an AirBnB. It was a 20 minute drive from the main town of the island but we had a secluded beach only 50 metres down the road from us. Further up the beach were these amazing rock pools that we would go swimming in and lie on all day. During the week we also loved heading into the main town and just walking through the markets, eating tzatziki and fresh bread whilst sipping on cocktails.
After Naxos we went to Santorini which was quite different. In Santorini we stayed in hostels where we made new friends every night from all around the world. We would play card games in the evening and eat €2.50 souvlaki for dinner. The days were spent on the black beach, under umbrellas drinking cocktails and swimming in the ocean.
We had some amazing experiences including visiting an outdoor cinema in Kamari where we watched Mamma Mia and even went on donkey rides. I also really enjoyed cliff jumping in Ammoudi Bay. We’d end the day watching the cliffs get busy and full with people preparing for the iconic sunset, which we obviously had to tick off the bucket list. It was such a lovely first taste of our first ever European summer.
Top tip: if you are to ever go to Santorini the frozen yoghurt there is amazing!!
Next up – Italy
After a night in Milan we caught a bus to Venice where we stayed at a hostel next to the main train station into Venice city. Venice was absolutely gorgeous and such a romantic place. It was easy to get lost in all the tiny streets but on every corner was a new surprise. Our first day was spent just walking around and looking at the canals. It was such a lovely day full of Italian food, a gondola ride and Bruschetta at a restaurant on the main canal at sunset. After this we stopped by the Magnum shop where we got to create our own Magnum which was absolutely delicious. The next day we took a day trip to Verona to see Juliet’s Balcony. Verona was what you’d expect an Italian city to look like with its cute coloured balconies and shutters against the limestone walls. Both Venice and Verona were just cities you could easily fall in love with!
The next city we visited in Italy was Florence. Here, we visited many art galleries and saw famous monuments such as David by Michaelangelo. Florence was a beautiful city to spend days just walking around and exploring sights.
After Florence our last stop was Rome where we spent 3 nights in the city. We first visited the Vatican City, which was absolutely gorgeous and the craftsmanship was crazy! One room took one artist 10 years to hand paint. The next two days we spent exploring the city, visiting The Trevi fountain, The Colosseum and Palatine Hill, which were all ‘must sees’ when in Rome.
We spent a lot of money on gelato as it was really hot. It was such a great experience but we couldn’t wait to get to the ocean and swim.
Our last stop for our holiday in Europe was our sail week in Croatia. This was my favourite part of the whole holiday. First we arrived in Zagreb a few days before our boat was ready to depart. Zagreb was very different to the cities we had just been in but it was a lovely place to just walk around and explore the centre. We then caught an 8 hour overnight bus from Zagreb to Dubrovnik.
Eventually we boarded the boat and met the other 30 people we were living with for the week. The week was absolutely amazing and sailing was such a lovely way to see the country. We started in Dubrovnik and spent the first night docked here. In the evening we visited a local beach where there were cliffs to jump off and a water polo pool in the ocean. I spent the evening playing and training with the local Dubrovnik team until it was 7pm at night.
Sailing the Croatian Seas
We visited Mljet National park which has gorgeous salt lakes with amazing views and clear water. Our next destination was Korcula for an evening of cocktails at the old town Massimo cocktail bar which is on the top of an old tower. The majority of our days followed the same routine of sailing in the morning, and docking in the evening, with stops in the middle of the day at bays to swim for a few hours, and then adventures in the evening.
In some places we kayaked across to different islands or rode buggies around the town. In others, such as Makarska, we zip-lined 150 metre high over the mountains and rivers. We spent nights out and at clubs where we could officially dance and sing! It was such a great experience and we made so many new friends. It was nice to be able to wake up and not worry about cooking breakfast or where you are booking in to next. You didn’t need to worry how to get anywhere because all you needed to do was be on the boat before it docked in the morning.
And finally, home to the UK
We finally got home and were exhausted after travelling over a month! It was nice to just relax and wash our clothes and sleep in our own beds. With only two weeks left of summer holidays, I spent my last few days in Bath and Bristol in the UK.
Bath was a really cute and quaint city. It reminded me very much of Edinburgh in ways. I spent the majority of my days lying in parks reading my book in the little sun there was. I visited the Royal Crescent, the Jane Austen Centre and the Roman Baths. The Roman Baths were a must see. The history of how they discovered the Baths after being covered was very interesting.
The one place which you must go to is the Thermae Spa in Bath, which has an outdoor pool on the roof of the building with a full view of the city. It also has wellness levels where you go and sit in steam rooms with essential oils, saunas, planet rooms and an ice room before you enter the pool. After the outdoor pool you head down to the mineral pools where the water is provided from the mineral springs from around Bath, the ones that the Romans used to fill their own. It’s a very lovely way to just sit back and relax.
I then caught a bus to Bristol for a day where I just explored the city. I walked around trying to find the Banksy artwork, view the local monuments and ate dinner by the harbour. It was a really nice way to end my summer holidays.
Meeting new people
Travelling meant that we met new people every day. We made new friends from all over the world that had completely different lifestyles and values. It just really opens your eyes to how large the world really is. It’s so nice to have met new people as well because now whenever we travel to where they’re from there’s a place to stay or a “local” to see and same for them when they come to Australia.
Meeting new people really makes the quote “it takes all kinds to make the world go around” so true!
Out of the places I have been I would recommend:
- Sail Croatia
- A history walk of London
- Thermae Spas at Bath
- Roman Baths
- Ammoudi Bay in Santorini
- Kastraki Beach, Naxos
- Mount Zeus at Sunset
- Gondola ride in Venice
- Ziplining in Croatia
- Vatican City
- Definitely make sure when staying at a hostel to socialise in the common area. This way you make new friends and you also get given advice from their travels.
- With some airlines you can buy a ticket for cheap and then add luggage and this ends up being cheaper than buying a ticket with luggage.
- Travel with carry on luggage as it saves checking in luggage or any concern of it going missing. It’s also easier to move around with.
- See what deals companies are offering such as Sail Croatia. We got a 2 for 1 deal so it ended up being cheaper.
- Always carry cash on you as many European stores don’t accept cards
- FlixBus is an awesome way of transport between towns and cities. I got a £3 ticket from London to Bath
A memory I won’t forget is falling out of the top bunk onto a tiled floor in the hostel in Santorini. It was about 2am and I had a nightmare about a spider being in my bed. I ended up nearly passing out and losing all colour in my face with an egg on my head and a bruised tailbone! This is when we also learnt that common areas come alive and the funniest things happen between 2am and 5am!”
If Giaan’s epic summer holiday experience has inspired you to take a Gap Year to the UK, apply today!