Taking a Gap Year

So you want to take a gap year? As high school ends, life begins to fork into various directions as we become adults. You can follow the well trodden path straight to college or explore the lesser known path of taking a gap year. Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that a gap year can be a decision that will change your life for the better. So what’s stopping you?
For many people, especially in the USA, gap years have incorrect negative connotations.

looking down on the city and bay of Kotor
How cool would it be to visit fairy-tale places like this? The bay of Kotor in Montengro.

Here’s some false assumptions and their corrections:
-A gap year is only for the rich = Wrong! There’s many ways to go about a gap year and it is totally doable to do a gap year on a minimal budget. You can even do one with only $1000 (You’ll have some restrictions on what you can do, but it’ll still work!) Keep reading to learn more on how to take a gap year on a budget.

-It’s a waste of time = Maybe they’re just jealous? Gap years are an invaluable way to gain real life experience that will make you a more mature and responsible person. I’ll also talk more about this below.

-If you take a gap year, you’ll never go to college = 90% of people who take a gap year do, in fact, return to college. Furthermore, taking a gap year can help you mature, increase your self-confidence, prepare you for college and much more!

Graph of outcomes for gap year takers. Credit to Nina Hoe and Gap Year Association
Impacts on taking a gap year. Study done by Nina Hoe, Ph.D and the Gap Year Associaton

In a study done by the Gap Year Association, 98% of people taking a gap year said it helped them develop as a person. For many people entering college, they don’t know what they want to do and how to spend their time in college to their advantage. Nevertheless, If you take a gap year, you have a whole year to think about what you want to do with your life. During that time you will certainly mature, and by the time college starts you’ll be more ready than ever. To learn about even more benefits of a gap year, check out this study.


In fact, there’s no better time to do this than now. After high school, you’re at a time in your life where you don’t have all the social and economic adult responsibilities that hold so many people back from traveling.

But before I get into this more, what exactly is a gap year?

Most commonly, a gap year (also called a sabbatical) is a year long break between high school and university. However, a gap year can also be the time after you finish university or even a break in your career at any point in your life. People take gap years for a multitude of reasons, but one thing is sure: it will be a memorable experience that will change your life!

I’m writing this page for anyone out there finishing high school or college and feel that a gap year might be something you’d want to do. If so, keep on reading!

Ballo Della Cordella festival in Petralia Sottana, Sicily
Experiencing Sicilian culture at the Ballo Della Cordella Festival in Sicily, Italy

To keep this organized, I will have this guide divided into three parts:

  1. Planning: Figuring out how, where and why you want to take a gap year

  2. Preparing: Making your dream become a reality through making money, and getting necessary tasks done

  3. Doing: Implementing your hard work during your gap year and how to deal with various problems that might come up


Before we get started, let me tell you my story about how I planned and achieved my gap year.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an urge to go on adventures. It started off with me going on hikes, and backpacking trips and then eventually as I started to learn more about the world, I developed a dream to want to see the world.

Three hikers in The Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon
Plenty of adventures to be had in the Pacific Northwest

My dream became a strong yearning during my high school years. Like many high school students, I didn’t enjoy school too much. The worst part for me was doing the same thing over and over again. Waking up really early to go to school, always counting the days until the weekend, and then doing it all over again the next week.

Finally during my sophomore year, I really started considering a gap year. I bought a large world map, put it on the wall over my bed and used pins to mark all the places I wanted to travel to one day.

World map, with pins for places I want to visit
My map of the world, pinned with places I want to visit

Junior year came, and I began thinking about what exactly I would want to do for a gap year. That April, I began looking for jobs and in May I was hired to work at a Chipotle. Whenever I wasn’t working, eating a burrito bowl or in school, I would research and daydream more for my trip. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, and if my money allowed I’d go to Asia or South America.

Junior year finished, and then senior year began. The excitement was real! I’m not exaggerating when I say that I thought about my trip at least once everyday. Finally I graduated from high school and then on June 27th, my dream became a reality. Check out a video I made below to highlight the beginning of my adventure.

 

I can’t tell you how amazing it was that day. It was so surreal that after all that waiting, the gap year finally began. The plan was to travel to the Balkans, Italy, France, Spain and Morocco. You can see my path below on the map.

I would then assess my money situation and decide if I could then fly to Asia or South America. I finished my trip in Morocco this past October and then decided to come home for the holidays and work to get some more money. Here I am now, at home, before I soon head off to travel through South East Asia, India, and China.

I know that so far in just 4 months of travel I have changed and learned so much. Here’s a few lessons I learned throughout my travels:

  • Just let whatever happens, happen: You can’t change the past and it’s not worth getting frustrated over that. For example, many times throughout my travels, I made mistakes. Sometimes I would get off at the wrong bus stop and have to walk for a mile or two with my heavy backpack in 100 degrees weather. Other times I would change my plans and not go to a certain place and then realize that was a dumb mistake. Dealing with so many of these small problems over and over again, forced me to not get frustrated over every mistake I made otherwise I’d go crazy!
  • Getting out of your comfort zone is a valuable experience: I can’t count all the times I was uncomfortable on my trip. Sometimes I felt I was in a dangerous place, other times I felt culture shock but no matter what, going through with all these situations made me realize that I could in fact handle all these situations and they would make me stronger. An example is my portion of my trip in Morocco. Although Morocco is close to Europe, it is a very different place from what I am used to. It’s a Muslim, developing country. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable because I felt so out of place but all the other times I had such a great time. It was so cool experiencing a place so different from my own where everything just intrigued me!
  • Be yourself and be free: I’ll admit that in high school, I feel like I wasn’t myself. There was lots of different factors like the atmosphere of school and the cliques that caused this for me. But when I began my gap year, I was able to just be me. Being in foreign countries, where no one knew me or any of my past experiences, I could act however I wanted to be. I could do whatever I want, whenever I want, and however I want to. During my gap year, I also made it an effort to be “free“. I didn’t want any of my past fears or apprehensions preventing me from doing anything. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and it felt great.

On top of these lessons, I also had lots of amazing experiences. Here are a few of my favorites:

    • Riding camels through the Moroccan desert with the most surreal, beautiful sunrise ever.

Riding Camels in the Moroccan Desert


Picturesque streets on the slopes of Oia


      • Living like a king in Albania: the land of cheap food, culture, history and stunning landscapes.

Hiking near the village of Theth


Hopefully you can see from my experiences, that a gap year is a really fulfilling experience. Now let’s get into the details! Click below to continue on to the planning portion of this guide.


Next: Part 1 – Planning 


 

 

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