It is portrayed as the adventure of a lifetime, the chance to broaden horizons in far-flung corners of the globe and an intrepid rite of passage. But the reality for many of the 200,000 British youngsters each year who take a gap year is more akin to a guided trip around tourist hotspots with mum and dad in constant contact.
A three-year study of the habits and experiences of gap-year backpackers has found that the vast majority rarely interact with indigenous people, hang out only with fellow Brits and maintain an umbilical cord to home via mobile phones and the internet.
Young travellers are more likely to be accessing soap-opera plots and football results from home than learning new languages or wandering off the beaten track.
One backpacker admitted to planning his entire itineraryaround televised Manchester United football matches.
Nearly all of those interviewed by Manchester Metropolitan University sociologist Lucy Huxley phoned or sent emails and text messages to friends and family several times a week.
A paper on the findings, Seeing the World: An Examination of Backpacking as a Global Youth Culture , says that most gap-year travellers spend more time with fellow backpackers than with native people. Part of the reason may be that most set out armed with the same guides and congregate in the same locations.
Ms Huxley said: "It could be argued that backpackers go looking for the familiar and kindred spirits. In that sense, rather than finding danger, they are finding a place possibly more comfortable than back home."
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