Planning

So, you just decided you wanted to take a gap year. Now what? There’s so many different paths to take with your gap year, that it can be hard to choose. In this page we’ll be going over why a gap year can be so beneficial, as well as where to go with your gap year, and how to finally make this dream a reality through hard work and planning.

 

1. Why Take a Gap Year

2. Where to Travel to

3. How to Make your Gap Year Work

 


 

Why take a gap year?

In the previous page, I told you about the experiences and lessons I learned from my gap year so far. All these skills and experiences you gain can actually help you in university too! They might even give you an advantage that other students might not have. Below are some more experiences and skills you will most likely gain from a gap year: 

  • A new outlook on life and understanding of the world: All of your experiences from meeting people on the road and handling problems will definitely change your outlook on your everyday life back home.
  • Instead of learning about places and history you can experience it: Why read a textbook, when you can be at places where history took place! Go learn about ancient civilizations in Greece, or see the terracotta warriors in China. Visiting these places immerses you in the history and the culture, which is something you’ll never be able to get from a textbook.
The famous Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain
The famous Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain
  • Experience being independent: If you choose to travel solo during your gap year, you will immediately learn to become independent. You’ll have to figure everything out by yourself. I know, that might sound scary at first, but it’s actually not as bad as you might think. After some time traveling independently you’ll feel like you can take on anything! Also, being independent is an important skill to have in your youth. Plenty of high school students don’t have it!
Me in Meteora, Greece
My first day traveling solo, in Meteora, Greece
  • Better problem-solving skills: Let me just tell you, lots of things will go wrong during your gap year. It just does! However that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When traveling you are forced to deal with so many different problems. You can’t put them off and no one can help you but you. Having to deal with all these problems, little or small, over time becomes easier to you and you figure out ways to prevent problems from happening further. This can also helps you learn to cope with stress, which may come in handy once college starts!
Toubkal and the surrounding mountains in Morocco
Try climbing to the top of the 13,671′ high Mt. Toubkal. You’re sure to have to deal with some problems, on the breathtaking (in many ways) climb!
  • Increased responsibility and maturity: Touching on the previous points, as you gain experience with problem solving and being independent, you will also mature. Being in different cultures allows you to step back from your own culture and reflect on your own life and culture in a different point of view.
  • Make lots of new friends: I was surprised how easy it was to make friends when traveling! Everyone wants to talk and meet new people. If solo travel worries you because you feel you might get lonely, keep in mind, that there’s friends everywhere, just waiting for you to meet them.  Traveling is a great way to meet people from different cultures and countries around the world. I’ve met so many travelers and locals from around the world. It’s always inspiring to hear everyone’s stories.
Riding camels through the Moroccan Desert
Riding camels through the Moroccan desert with my new friends
  • Lots of fun: Just to remind you again. You’re going to have an amazing time. Taking a gap year to travel is an experience to remember for ages.
Kids playing in the streets of Chefchaouen, Morocco
Kids playing in the streets of Chefchaouen, Morocco

However, when taking a gap year, make sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. Only take a gap year if you want to do it. Don’t do it for your parents, Don’t do it to show off or to prove something about yourself. A gap year means an adventure and an adventure means there’s always ups and downs. If you’re ready and okay with that, then a gap year might be for you!

 

Where to travel to?

My favorite question! There’s 195 countries, 7 continents and so much to see and explore everywhere. Don’t worry if you’re overwhelmed and can’t pick a place.

Map of the world
Choices, choices, choices… Where to go?

Start by thinking what kind of travel experience you want to have.

  • Do you want to visit countrysides or cities?
Countryside or City?
Top: Coast by Palermo Italy, Bottom: Looking towards Barcelona, Spain from Mt. Tibidabo
  • Do you want to go somewhere modern or old?
Countryside or City?
Top: Housetops in Paris, France. Bottom: The ancient imperial city of Fes, Morocco
  • Do you want hot or cold weather?
Hot or Cold?
Top: Aït Benhaddou in the Moroccan Desert. Bottom: The Sacré-Cœur in Paris, France
  • Are you interested more in museums or the outdoors?
Outdoors or Museums?
Top: Canyon in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain. Bottom: The Louvre Museum in Paris, France
  • Do you want to go somewhere expensive or low budget?
Budget Friendly or Expensive?
Top: Village of Theth in the Accursed Alps of Albania. Bottom: The mesmerizing island of Santorini, Greece (expensive but worth a visit!)

Once you have an idea of what you want to do, then you can start researching the best places that fit your preferred criteria. For me, I love hiking and vising places off the beaten path. There’s something intriguing about going to places that not many other people have been to.

When I’m researching places to visit I like to look at Condé Nast Traveler, Buzzfeed Travel, and blogs like Nomadic Matt, and Young Adventuress.

The most common places for backpacking are around Europe, Asia (specifically SE Asia) and South America. Europe is a good place to travel to, because it is compact and there’s lot’s to see everywhere. The main downside is that it can be expensive, especially in the north. However, take a hint from me and go to the Balkans if you want to see a more untouched and cheaper side of Europe.

SE Asia is the mecca for gap year travelers. Beaches, good food and cheap prices attract lots of people! If you want to be surrounded by others like you (for good reason, though!) then that is your place to be!

South America is another popular budget destination. The Andes mountains run through the continent, providing mountains to explore and making South America home to lots of adventure travel.

If you’re really feeling adventurous, think outside the box, and explore Africa or Western Asia!

You’ll also want to think about if you want to spend all your time in one city or country or traveling around various countries or even continents.


 

How to make this happen?

The great thing about a gap year is that it’s a year for you. You can make it whatever you want it to be. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can plan a gap year.

  • Gap year program: 

    This is probably the most common way people do gap years. There are hundreds of various programs out there for all different continents and activities. Many of them incorporate a volunteering aspect, and or a curriculum as well

This option might be good for you, if:

• You want everything to be planned out for you    •You enjoy doing the program with a group of others.

This might not be your option, if:

•The above are not preferential to you    •You don’t have $1000’s of dollars to spend on one of these programs.

In my opinion, I would not recommend a gap year program. They seem overly expensive when you can have just as much fun and learn just as much stuff with a fraction of the price.

List of Programs:

Carpe Diem Education –Winterline –International TEFL Academy –Pacific Discovery

 


  • Volunteering: 

    This option can be similar to doing a gap year program but might not be as planned out. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities to partake in around the world. However, you do want to be careful about the volunteering you want to do. Some programs do more harm than good, so make sure you do your research. I’d also recommend to check out Workaway and WWOOF. Both are volunteering where you get free room and board. WWOOF is to work on organic farms and Workaway has a variety of jobs from babysitting to construction to teaching English.

This option might be good for you, if:

• You want to give back to communities in need     •You want to spend your time in one place

This might not be your option, if:

•You don’t want everything planned out

Resources:

US Peace Corps (Volunteering)    –Workaway (Volunteering and you get usually free room and board)    –WWOOF (Organic farm work, usually with free room and board)        –Omprakash (Volunteering and Internships)                     –Idealist (Volunteer listings) – International Volunteer HQ (Volunteer listings)


  • Working abroad: 

    Working abroad is another option, but depending where you plan to work can be a little more difficult, especially if you are an American. You can find lots of  jobs like fruit picking, au pair, working on a cruise ship, or if you’re interested you can also teach English. To legally work in a country you will need to get a work visa. As an American the only places you can legally get a work visa are: Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Ireland. The lack of availability for work visas for Americans is due to the fact that it is hard for many foreigners to get the same work visa in the US.

This option might be good for you, if:

• You want to spend your time in one place       •You want to gain experience in a certain work field                      •You have a low budget (and want to make money too!)

This might not be your option, if:

•You don’t want to stay in one place       •You aren’t able to get a visa for the country you want to work in

Resources:

Working Abroad (Job Listings)       –Go Abroad (Job Listings)       –CIEE (Jobs and Volunteering)


  • Independent Travel: 

    Finally, there’s independent travel. This is how I organized my gap year and is what I really recommend do get the fullest experience out of your gap year. Instead of paying to have everything planned out for you, you do it yourself, and learn a lot more along the way!

This option might be good for you, if:

• You want to see multiple places     •You want a big adventure!     •You’re on a low budget

This might not be your option, if:

•You are uncomfortable traveling alone     -You don’t want to have plan everything yourself

Resources:

My Blog  🙂     –Nomadic Matt (lots of good resources and articles)   –Young Adventuress   –The Blonde Abroad

Keep in mind, that you can always combine various options. For example, during my gap year I mainly focused on solo travel. However I am also doing some volunteering through a program called Workaway. You can even do a gap year program for part of the year and then the rest of the year travel by yourself. It can be however you want it to be. Remember that!


Next: Part 2 – Preparing 


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