From the mid-17th century until the end of the 18th century, well-to-do young men would travel around Europe after completing their university education.
The idea was to expand their knowledge of life and other cultures and experience the history and landscapes of the extraordinary European continent.
It was also a good way for youths to let down their hair away from the watchful eye of English society, and much drinking, gambling and fornication took place on the tours.
The concept of the Grand Tour might belong to the past, but there is a modern equivalent, which is the Gap Year European Tour.
Gap years aren’t just for students
Gap years are really the same thing as a Grand Tour, except you don’t have to be ridiculously wealthy to enjoy this adventure. The same principle applies, in that you take the opportunity in between A-levels and university to get out and experience independent travel, living for the moment and travelling with friends to as many countries as you can. You can either fund the trip in full or find work at the places you visit.
There are variations on the theme, such as the snow season trip, where young people live and work in ski resorts for the winter in return for board and free ski passes. Nowadays, the gap year is no longer exclusively for the young, and many older people take a year out to go around the world or fulfil other travel-related dreams.
The optimum experience
While it can be immensely enjoyable and liberating having fun and living each day without worrying about the future, you don’t want to forget that the trip is mainly about the experience of living in different cultures and visiting some of the incredible attractions across Europe.
If you just want to chill for a year, you might as well just stay at home and save yourself some money! Make the most of the opportunity to live and breathe the surroundings you are in and visit the attractions that appeal to you.
There are so many places worth visiting you will have a hard time choosing, but try and make time for some of the more unusual places such as the Paris Catacombs, the travertine steps at Pamukkale in Turkey, or Lake Bled in Slovenia.
Planning your trip
While it’s very free-spirited to head off on your expedition without having a plan, you’ll find it’s much less enjoyable in the long term. Take some time to work out a route that encompasses all the places you most want to visit and look at the best modes of transport between each location.
If you are planning to work while you are abroad, make sure you have all the necessary permits and ID that will be required, and if you can, arrange some casual jobs in advance, so you know you will be able to earn while you’re away.
If you’re backpacking, check the campsites where you’ll be staying, and make sure you have a backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
The Grand Tour in the 21st century may not be grand anymore, but it’s still an amazing experience regardless of your age or status, and if you have the chance to take a trip around Europe, seize it with both hands and enjoy!