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Travis Hayes: “I feel mentally changed, more mature”

A gap year in Australia helped Washington State’s Travis Hayes decide what he really wanted to do with his future. 


Accepted into University of Washington for 2017, Travis Hayes could see his future laid out before him. An undergraduate degree before, most likely, moving into dentistry. Eight, maybe nine more years of study, a mountain of debt, then payday. The more he looked at the roadmap, however, the more uncertain he felt. 

“In the process of figuring out what I wanted to do I got this anxiety about where I was going to end up,” says the 19-year-old from Olympia, Washington. “And the more I thought about it, the more I felt I wasn’t ready to commit. That’s when I started to look at gap years.”

Travis Hayes, Alumbra, Melbourne, Victoria

As the clock ticked down towards his first day at college, Travis gathered as much information as he could find about the merits of a gap year in preparation for floating the idea with his parents. While there was ample evidence of how others had benefited from the experience, it remained a very personal choice.

“There were multiple factors in the decision, but the biggest one was stepping back before setting myself on a pathway I might have regretted. I also wanted to explore the world, but I thought it was a chance to mature as well, to do something on my own and rely upon myself.”

Ultimately, his reasoning won his parents over. With their blessing, he finalised an itinerary that included three months’ volunteerary work in Tanzania and Cambodia – the latter at a dental clinic – before heading to Australia for a working holiday.

His Australian experience got off to an ideal start even before he landed.

"I applied for my visa while I was in Cambodia and completed all the paperwork over one or two nights before sending in my online application. Later that night I was talking to my mother, who I'd put down as a contact, and she suddenly said an email had come through to say I'd been accepted for a visa. I said that couldn't be right, I'd only just submitted my application, but she said that the email was there. It took about three hours!"

Travis Hayes, Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Having been encouraged by Australians he met in Cambodia to head to Melbourne, he did just that. The advice was sound: in no time he had two jobs and a room in the home of a couple he’d met travelling. “How everything aligned was so good.”

For the next five months, Travis worked as a riverboat tour guide and at a nightclub while exploring his new home town and its surrounds.

A tour guide? In Melbourne, Australia? “I definitely had to learn quickly, but I had it all memorised after a couple of weeks and went on to develop my own 30-minute tour,” he says. “I’d never done anything like it, but I’ve always been pretty good with presentations and I just jumped right into it.”

After five months living as a Melburnian – “I wasn’t just working, I had fun and went out” – he spent a month on the road between Sydney and Cairns. Apart from the sights, what were the highlights?

“The people are more laidback and aren’t so hammered down with life. And just being by myself in a foreign country, where I didn’t have to rely on my parents. It was so good to be an adult taking on the world by myself and being responsible for my actions.”

That responsibility extended to reconsidering his future studies. I honestly think I'm a completely different person in terms of my outlook and view on life. I think I was too focused on the money and prestige side of dentistry.

“Now I’m thinking I might study economics and statistics. Whatever it is, I feel mentally changed, more mature and I’ve got a lot more confidence that I’m ready to head back to school having had a chance to clear my mind.”