It can be a confusing and demoralising place.
In the last year of university, the sudden discovery that people are applying for grad schemes and entry-level jobs is enough to shake up even the laziest of students. I had also watched recently graduated friends spend months angsting over applications and mourning rejections; despite not wanting a confining job straight out of uni, I also knew that padding out my CV was a good idea – at least while I had no other plans. For graduates nowadays, willingly taking on the unpaid role of an intern is apparently one of the only ways to gain experience in your chosen field. Without knowing if it was exactly the career path I wanted to head into, I applied to travel companies for internship positions, started clocking up the CV buzzwords, and ended up with offers to join hitherto unknown office environments. Unperturbed, I was off on the intern adventure.
The first place I volunteered my services at was pretty good; I learnt a great deal in a busy environment, bustled about like a proper team player, and really committed to the role they gave me. Being responsible for the Sainsbury’s order every Thursday will do wonders for your self-esteem. Despite being a cog in a rather big wheel, I still reckoned that I was actually contributing something of value to the company. In comparison, internship number 2 was not so hot. There wasn’t a grocery order, the office population shrank from 40 odd to about six people, and by my third interning position I found myself truly hating the commute (a sleep-inducing hour and a half on two buses – god bless South East London transport links) and finding it seriously hard to conceive that people do this kind of thing on a twice-daily basis. Whiling the work hours away with travelling routes and surreptitious twittering, I ended up writing blog post ideas to myself instead of working and knew I’d reached the end of the internship road – at least for the time being.
Looking back at the last couple of years, it’s pretty obvious what happened to my travel-obsessed psyche. I’ve travelled pretty regularly on and off since 2007, culminating in my longest trip away, on my year abroad in the States. Problem was, since returning from that eye-opening adventure in June 2010, my travel accomplishments numbered a week in Berlin, two weeks in Florence (both with my dad – which were lovely, but not quite the same as travelling solo), a quick weekend visit to a friend in Brussels, and two weeks tramping across glaciers in Iceland. The travel bug, stuck in my head since America, was irritating me more than ever to shove my backpack on again.
I had to make a decision. Instead of harping on to all and sundry about ‘going travelling soon, at some point, eventually’, I had to stop sending my CV out to more internship positions, choose somewhere I wanted to fly away to, and just go. Once I’d decided on India, the sense of relief was amazing. Choosing to head out at the beginning of February was even more of a thrill, particularly when I worked out just how much I had to do to prepare. The prospect of spending the next month getting jabbed in the arm, queuing at a couple of embassies, dropping some serious cash on a few flexible flights and reading up on every Indian region I can is definitely making the intern stresses fall way behind me.
So, despite knowing that my friends will be making strides in the job seeking world while I bum around with flipflops on, I’m very happy with my decision. Much as office experience is worth, I’m pretty sure backpacking solo for a few months has its benefits too.