Travel Confessions: Samantha Ristic on UK summer camp jobs
Uni student Samantha Ristic and her bestie, Laura, headed to the UK in search of self-discovery, fun and adventure. Translated? They landed UK summer camp jobs, overcame their fear of heights and travelled all over Europe with Topdeck. Samantha fills us in on their gap year extravaganza.
How did you find out about the PGL Summer Camps program in the UK?
Laura and I went to school with a girl called Emily, who was in the year above us at school. We used to do rowing with her through school and she worked at [an UK] summer camp when she left school and took a gap year. We chose to do it because she couldn’t stop talking about it when she returned home.
What prompted you to take a gap year holiday?
Laura and I both finished year 12 in 2012 – a very busy, stress-filled year – and we thought we deserved a break before going straight into work and university. Originally my parents weren't in favour of it but after some convincing, they let me take a gap year. They have no regrets in doing so as, in both my and their opinions, I have come back a much happier, mature person. Laura’s older sister took a gap year after she finished school, so her parents always thought it a good idea to take a break and travel.
How did you find living in the UK compared to life in Australia?
Living in the UK was an amazing experience, which led us to meet lots of amazing people. We lived in the south of the UK in a coastal area called Torquay in Devon. Something we found was that they had a great pub and music scene and a lot of things (including alcohol) were cheaper. Another awesome thing about the UK was that we could just walk in and out of a doctor clinic for free if we ever had any problems, which helps a lot when you're trying to be cautious with your money over six months.
Pretty much no matter where you went, people in the UK loved Australians! They were always friendly and interested in our story. We realised while living there that the majority of people we met really want to travel to Australia.
What was the highlight of your trip?
For Laura, her highlight was Oktoberfest. The beer festival was amazing, it’s hard to explain to anyone how much fun it is because there is nothing else like it to compare it to - it was incredible.
For myself, if you don’t include the amazing time Laura and I both had working in England, then I would say that paragliding in Switzerland was the highlight of my trip. Absolutely breathtaking - I have never experienced feeling that extent of freedom before.
What was the most challenging part of your trip?
One of the most challenging parts of our trip, for both Laura and I, was conquering our fear of heights. While working in England, I was a zip wire instructor, and Laura ran a giant swing, which pulled up just as high as the zip wire did. The zip wire building was three storeys high and when I was trained on it, at first, I was terrified. Working at the camp and having to face these fears every day made us become more confident and less scared of heights.
We were extremely fortunate not to have any dramas happen during our whole trip. For this we both thank our amazing travel agent, Matt Castell, who planned our whole trip perfectly and made sure everything went smoothly.
What was the most rewarding part of your trip?
For Laura, the most rewarding part of our trip was canyoning though the Austrian Alps. Not only did she have an amazing time jumping off waterfalls and flying down zip wires, but she conquered her fear of heights once again - something that without working at PGL in England, she may not have been able to accomplish. Working with heights gave her a whole new confidence she never had before and gave her one of the most incredible experiences of her life.
For me, aside from paragliding in Switzerland, I think I would have to say that the most rewarding part of my trip was just working in the UK. I met so many amazing and inspiring people while working at the camp that it has forever changed my life. PGL is something I will never forget and will forever recommend to anyone thinking about taking a gap year.
Any advice you could offer fellow gap year travellers?
Some advice from Laura and I would be: do everything you want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you must go somewhere or do something, you don’t want to regret things you didn’t try while travelling. That’s what led me to being the only one from our Topdeck group to go spontaneously paragliding in the Swiss Alps. If I just did what everyone else wanted to do with their day, I never would have had that experience.
There is no such thing as a must-see – if you don’t feel like seeing the Eiffel Tower, don’t. Go and eat a nice baguette by the Pont de l'Archevêché (The Love Lock Bridge) instead. Your trip is what you make of it. I never saw the Tower Bridge or went on the London Eye the whole four months I was in the UK and still I don’t regret a thing.
What was one of the biggest lessons you learnt from your time away?
For me, personally, I don’t even have to think about this question - the answer is obvious to me and all of my friends and family back in Australia. The biggest lesson I learnt during my time away was how to be happy. It sounds simple enough but before travelling, the stress of work and school was a lot for me and I suffered with unhappiness for a number of years. There has been such an obvious change in how I think and feel that if I was to say travelling was worth anything, it was simply worth learning how to be happy.
For Laura, she learnt how to live life the way you want to live it. It made the both of us realise that you can make anything you want to happen, happen. In school, it could feel like the things you wanted were too big or farfetched, but travelling made us realise that if you want something, there is nothing stopping you from getting it - you just have to want it enough.