Is dropping out and going to India a vital career move?

`People travelling east will spend their time talking to carpet salesmen about market trends'
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The Independent Travel
People always used to tell me that travelling would broaden my horizons and help me get a job. I never believed them.

It now turns out to be true. According to research by the Royal Mail, 87 per cent of UK employers think that new graduates who have taken a year off to travel will make better employees. More than half of them said that they would "always" give a job to a graduate with worldly experience rather than a keen stay-at-home with the same qualifications.

This research has been done for a new "gap year" guide book, which is designed to help people decide where to go during their year of freedom between leaving university and starting work.

To be honest I find it worrying that the gap year is now being transmogrified into an essential cv asset. There is something worrying about would-be bankers and stockbrokers hitting the hippy trail to India in the name of their careers.

What effect will this have on the nature of travel? No doubt the personnel directors of financial institutions and legal firms have created profiles of the ideal gap year they are looking for. People who have travelled purposefully, forcefully and perhaps a little aggressively will be in demand. I imagine that bungee-jumping and white-water rafting will have the edge over dope-smoking and didgereedoo playing for example.

Entrepreneurial travel will be encouraged. Graduates who have managed to flog job-lots of American Levis to overtaxed Europeans will be considered successful travellers. Anybody heading east will feel virtually compelled to spend their time researching prices in the bazaars, compiling pie-charts on their lap-top computers and talking to the sales executives of carpet shops about market trends.

Forget the old notion of travel offering the chance to escape into "otherness". The pressure to stay in touch and acquire useful information while travelling will be colossal. Backpackers will no longer swap tales about the best means of hitch-hiking to Lhasa, but about the possible investment opportunities they have identified in the potash fields of Qinghai province. Isolated beaches in Thailand will be exclaimed over as ideal locations for the leisure complexes that backpackers may one day manage.

Networking with other travellers will also be a vital feature of life in the beach-huts and dormitories of Asia. Instead of bonking on nudist beaches, travellers will swap name-cards and casually suggest "meeting over a pint" when they get back.

In other words, all this talk about travel "broadening the mind" is just a capitalist ploy to drive young people out into the world, as a cunning means of turning them into pliant office fodder later on.

The real purpose is not actually to broaden their minds, but to remind them who they really are - on the understanding that there is nothing better than a month or two squatting on an Indian toilet to set a young person thinking about having babies and getting a mortgage.

Of course this transformation doesn't always work. I recall returning from my first trip to India at the age of 20 convinced that it was my destiny to travel forever amid dusty landscapes and sacred cows.

And I'm not saying that travel doesn't really broaden the mind. I suppose it does, though not in a way likely to enhance a person's productivity. I wouldn't particularly recommend anyone who has seen Ba'albek and Persepolis to go into insurance or chemical engineering, for example.

Basically though, travel is losing its status as an alternative, unconventional activity for dropouts. The Establishment has bought straight into it. In future, a year of travel will be highly relevant to the overall purpose of one's career.

One consequence of this will be that the way to rebel after university will be to insist on going straight into a job without taking any time off. While the young bankers, lawyers and managers of the world are furiously puffing on joints in Indian beach huts as a means of improving their cv, the real dropouts will be hard at work in the office.

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