The decision to take a Gap Year takes a lot of thought, as does each part of the experience itself. Luckily, there are a few ways for you to go about strategizing how to best approach the before, during, and after stages of your Gap Year in order to make the most of your unique time “on.”
Further Reading: 3 Key Reasons Why International Experience is a Career Must
1. Plan Ahead
Research your options, carefully and thoroughly – even if it seems tedious. The work you put into planning now will pay off later, trust me. While abroad, you don’t want to curse your past self for not thinking through enough what your current self is doing! We recommend searching around on Go Abroad or Go Overseas for well-reviewed programs/options. Make a road-map for yourself!
2. Share your Plans
Tell your parents, tell your friends, promise to keep a blog so they know you’re alive and well and thriving (this is a good idea as a keepsake anyway). Make lists of things to do, countries to visit, skills or qualities you want to gain, and rest easy knowing you have thought through all of the necessary details. Tell yourself a skill or two or three you want to develop while you’re abroad. This can be learning a language, or finally mastering your fear of scheduling, time management, or airports. Be conscious about yourself, your abilities, and what you want to gain from this time.
If you are going with a Gap Year or Volunteer organization, many of the hard details will likely be taken care of for you. Make sure you check in with a representative with any pertinent questions.
Get excited! Think of ways you can make the most of this time off to make it time on, specific to the person you want to become. Let your mind roam. Write down your hopes, dreams, or fears. Make a map of what you want, what you want to gain, why you want to gain it, and what you want to avoid. Think of what to focus on and what not to focus on. Make for yourself a kind of mantra, or central point for you to return to during your experience, perhaps during moments where you feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.
Further Reading: 7 Steps To Become A Global Citizen
4. Let go of the plan
Remember before? Well, you did your research, you’ve pre-planned enough. Don’t cling to the details so tightly that you can’t flow with the experience. Run with the wind a little and see where you end up. Obviously maintain your safety and keep track of important scheduled details, but also be mindful to take advantage of this time. Stretch yourself by stepping outside of the painted lines a bit. After all, that’s how we as human beings grow!
5. Keep in touch (with the experience)
Periodic emailing, FaceTiming, Skyping, or SnapChatting your friends and family is not a bad thing. It will help you feel connected to them, and supported while traveling…while of course updating them on all the awesome stuff you are doing! However, it’s important to also keep in mind all of the effort you put into planing and preparing for this time.
You owe it to yourself to break free a little, spread your wings, and really connect with where you are. Solitude can teach us a lot about ourselves, so do your best to listen, to feel your inner strength, and to create solutions for yourself instead of seeking the ever-present Social Media Fix if you begin to feel a little lost or lonely.
6. Document your time
You promised to keep a blog – now do it! This will help you with some skill-gaining, but it will also be good for your memory bank. You are experiencing a high density of awesomeness, and the best way of making sure it sinks in is to remember it! Try to keep up with it while not making it a chore. You will naturally have better things to do than worry about consistently updating your blog, but the reward of doing so will be well worth the effort later on.
If writing isn’t your forte, never fear. Keep your ticket stubs, leaflets, receipts, brochures, foreign newspapers, etc from the places you visit, for future scrap-booking or just for keepsakes.
Further Reading: 6 Ways To Deepen Your Travel Experiences
7. Stay connected
If you joined an organization for part (or all) of your time abroad, keep up with their alumni services
.This is a good thing to investigate about an organization before joining one, too. The stronger and more active this network is, the better and longer-lasting your connections will be throughout and after your experience.
If you mostly traveled independently or met up with other travelers while traipsing around the globe, then you are in charge of your own alumni network. If you find yourself missing a piece of Italy, message the kindred backpacker you traveled with in Tuscany. See what they’re up to, if they’re still traveling, and maybe even dream up a next trip…which brings us to our next point…
8. Dream a little
Feeling nostalgic? Wondering why you came back at all? That’s ok. That’s part of something called reverse culture shock. Be patient with yourself and don’t rush your process of acclimating to your life back home. Consider what about travel made it so special, and where you want to go next. Buy a map and begin to piece together another adventure, even if it isn’t plausible for a little while. This last point will help you manage these larger dreams with smaller actions.
9. Find the daily adventures
One of the biggest assets you’ve gained from your travels is a refreshed mindset. It isn’t just for when you’re adventuring across the globe – it can be applied to your everyday situations or environments. Treat your parents like exotic cultural experts. Listen to your friends’ stories with an eager intention to learn from their perspective. And, if all else fails, find a quiet piece of nature nearby for you to explore, engage with, and learn from. Take a mini-vacation until you can take your next major one.
Feel ready to start making a difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.