Making the most of a gap year

7th July 2015   •  By James Bailey
Elephant on a walking safari at Makuleke

Elephant encounter on one of my first walks as lead trails guide. © Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Having headed to Africa on a career break to become a safari guide I learned an awful lot. It wasn’t necessarily about life, nor was it about wildlife. It was about how to do a wildlife gap year well. Not that I did it better than anybody else. I simply learned from my mistakes and noted the things I did well. I’ve jotted a few of my experiences down so that others can benefit when they embark on their own adventure.

1. If it’s a year out, make it count

I’ve prided myself that for a gap year or career break I did something constructive. I didn’t just sit on a beach drinking cocktails. However, there was plenty of sitting on sandy river banks drinking relatively chilled beers.

Sundowners on the Limpopo

2. Never forget – Blog or diarise

My memory is pretty poor. In fact I’m already forgetting some of the things that I experienced and saw. Luckily I kept a daily blog. Every now and then I go back to it to check what I did the year before. I imagine I’ll do this for years to come so I never truly lose track of what I got up to during my year in Africa. I thoroughly recommend writing a diary, keeping a blog or becoming a guest blogger. I’d be more than happy to feature you on Fascinating Africa if you’d like to do the same.

James Bailey keeping his diary as a safari guide in South Africa

 3. Lose your watch

Unless you’re on duty you don’t need to know the time. There’s no need to have a watch. Instead try and fall into the natural routine, when you’re tired go to bed and when you’re not then get up. This is what nature intended, you’ll soon have aligned your body clock with the sun. WARNING – once you put your watch on you will feel your stress levels rising again.

River sunset

4. Sleeping bag liner

I had a very poor sleeping bag. It was fine during the summer when it was hot throughout the night but in the winter I found it very hard to sleep as the cold kept waking me up. A simple sleeping bag liner would have solved this problem. It would have added some warmth during the cold winters and I could have used it as a sheet during the hot and sweaty summer.

Student safari guide tent interior

5. Go no where without a Leatherman

Essential tool for any safari guide. It can be used for measuring tracks, pulling thorns from your boots, tightening a screw on your rifle, making a tooth brush from a bush, helping with repairs around camp and on the vehicles. Don’t leave home without one.


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