Travel, Gap Years and God
Written by Fiona Dewhurst
The travel bug
"I’ve been to cities that never close down, from New York to Rome and Old London Town…"
These lyrics are an unofficial anthem for Australians (cue the Qantas advertisements), and even during primary school we were taught to sing these words. It is little wonder that this generation has caught the travel bug. Rebecca Huntley, an Australian social commentator writes, "Y-er’s want to study, live and work overseas as well as spend extended periods of time backpacking…with the promise of freedom and adventure which globetrotting offers." . But how should we respond as young Christians to the opportunities and the cultural expectations that are posed by the freedom and ease of international travel? What about the overseas “gap year”?
There can be good reasons to travel
The Bible does hold some wisdom in approaching the idea of travel. Firstly, God created this world as we see in Genesis 1. The Bible tells us that God created it beautiful and good. When we travel, it is God’s world which we are exploring and admiring. Psalm 24:1 reminds us that this is God’s world and everything in it is His for us to enjoy and explore under Him. We can also by travel sometimes gain a deeper understanding of people in this world.
God’s story of redemption (the Bible) is filled with instances of his people travelling from Abraham to Paul. International travel, therefore, can be a part of God’s redemption plan, and there are good reasons to travel overseas:
Missions, church and volunteer work: Many young Christians find great value in coupling travel with meaningful work such as a short term mission or volunteer work or simply to get involved with another group of believers in a different place and culture. In this way you can remain connected to the church community, contribute directly to the work of the kingdom and grow through this experience. Jesus himself encourages us in Matthew 28:19-20 to go to the nations and show them who he is.
Growth: God uses all experiences to grow and refine us. International travel does hold a level of discomfort which can lead to greater dependence upon Him. It can open our eyes to the lives and plights of others. It can help us to wonder at His creation and the diversity of the peoples He has made. Travel can draw us near to Him and grow us.
However, it is important to recognise that we live this side of the Fall. In all areas of life, including travel, sin rears its ugly head. Many aspects of travel and gap years could be at odds with Scripture and what it means to live under God.
What to ask before you go
We need to understand our own motivations for wanting to head overseas. Perhaps you should ask yourselves these questions before packing your bags.
Identity: Are we thinking about travelling to find ourselves, to figure out our identities or perhaps to be “grown-up”?
Our identities are to be founded in Christ and our worth from being made in the image of God and as dearly loved children. By finding identity in travel we reject God for a worldly sense of worth.
Fear of missing out: Do you want to travel because your friends are doing it and you are afraid of missing out?
2 Timothy 1:10 declares the certainty of life beyond death through Christ for us and creation. It is foolish to fear missing out now when we have better things in store.
Some warnings if you do choose to travel
If you do choose to travel, have you considered some of the key issues you may face as a young Christian on the other side of the world?
Dissipation (fancy word meaning indulgence): Many of the activities engaged in on the scene of international travel amongst young people are directly commanded against in Scripture. Colossians 3:5 orders us to put to death our earthly nature including sexual immorality, lust and greed. Galatians 5:19-21 included amongst its list of sinful acts drunkenness. Galatians 5:1 declares that Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin. Have you considered the temptations you would face and are you able to stand firm or flee from them?
Disconnection: another problem with travel for young adults is that it results in disconnection for Christians from the church body to which they are connected. They miss out on ministering to their church family. They miss out on being supported during these formative years of faith development. Have you considered how you will stay connected to the Church while overseas and living in transience?
So if you are thinking of travelling, consider it from God’s perspective. Praise Him for the incredible creation he has made, and pray, seek wisdom and consider whether it will be the most helpful thing for you to be doing as a young Christian.
 R. Huntley, The World According to Y: inside the new adult generation, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2006), p. 82.