Discover Destinations and Experiences
The best way to approach the sometimes overwhelming task of deciding which part of the world to spend your gap year is to think in terms of regions. Once you know which regions you want to visit you can then start thinking about individual countries and what you want to do once in them.
Planning a successful and structured Gap Year needs to be done with a decent amount of intent and purpose. There are a lot of positive aspects to taking a Gap Year. There are many considerations to make so please take the time to do your research so that whatever mistakes are made can be learned from without becoming permanent.
Simple things, like establishing your own rules (e.g., policies around academics, relationships, safety, and self-care) can be the difference between a Gap Year that transforms you, and one that’s just “passing time.”
Below are a few simple steps to consider as you’re working through all of the myriad questions. One of the best sayings about an experience like this is simply that “you don’t know what you don’t know” . . . so please take the time to educate yourself.
Step 1: Answer the following Questions.
- Do you want to go with a group or alone? In most cases, within a longer-term plan for a Gap Year, the best advice is to start in a group setting and then graduate to a more independent form. Have you historically fared better in teams or alone? Where would be best for you to grow?
- How long do you have for your Gap Year? It’s best to think about a Gap Year within the existing academic structures for both framing and continuance purposes. Semesters or quarters work best and allow for at least two experiences, with summers to work and earn money.
- How much structure do you need? Will you be able to go it alone and fend safely for yourself? Should you need to go to a doctor do you have the wherewithal to ask the right questions and advocate for your own best interests?
- Is it important to get college credit? Doing so opens financial aid doors. Should this be done poorly, it can inhibit your ability to get the most out of your Gap Year.
- What do you want to do? Arts? Learn green building? Photography? Teach? Wildlife? Environmental work? Study a language or cooking? There is no single “right choice,” and often you can choose multiple options within the same organization/setup. Planning for time to wander and perhaps be a tourist is a good (and realistic) idea.
- What needs to happen to make college a reality after your Gap Year? Do you need to defer, take a leave-of-absence, or arrange for a Consortium Agreement? What deadlines and deposits need to be paid to secure your position? It’s best to have a plan post-Gap, and many times students find a better-fitting college as a result of their Gap Year so establishing communication while the student is gone to save time and impart deadlines are vital.
- What’s the budget? Do you need to find compensation with room and board? Are there currency conversions that work in your favor? Do you need to work and save money first? Are there airfares and other expenses to factor? Will you be using part of your college tuition? What scholarships and FAFSA monies are out there to help?
- Where do you want to be? Think languages, communication-potential back home, environmental attributes, etc. Africa? Asia? Latin America? USA? Europe? South Pacific? Antarctica?
Step 2: Find the right program.
Finding the right fit for your Gap Year is a challenge, and one that truly needs to be taken with perhaps more care than choosing a university. The stakes, in many senses, are higher with a Gap Year given its intention … not to mention the fact that they are typically off the proverbial ‘beaten path.’
- Do you have any references I can talk to?
- How much does it cost? Are there any extras like airfare, insurance, or activities?
- What do you suggest we do to best prepare? Are there books, movies, or articles?
- What’s a typical day look like?
- What safety structures do you have in place in case of an emergency?
- Who are your typical students?
Step 3: Prepare yourself.
- Arrange for an airport pickup. Times of transition (jet lag, environmental, etc.) are when travelers are most at risk so set yourself up for success. This can often be arranged and suggested when traveling alone.
- Book airfare. Do this preferably a month in advance and take advantage of student-only fares.
- Build or buy a small medical kit.
- Arrange for a Visa Debit card and a backup credit card. When traveling internationally, currently it appears that Visa is simply more accessible than the other major credit companies. Additionally, check with your bank to know the fees for using your card outside of the home area.
- For international Gap Years, make sure your passport is valid for 6 months AFTER the last day of travel. Some places literally will refuse you entry at the border without that extra validity.
- Get a travel guidebook. Either Lonely Planet, or Rough Guides, or Let’s Go are the three that are recommended.
- Make arrangements for any visas and vaccinations.
- Make a detailed packing list and don’t buy everything new. The travelers that stand out as new (and thus naive) are those with the bright and shiny new backpacks and gear. For a great list of travel tech, visit this recent Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
- Plan for communication. Do you bring a cell phone? Buy a local phone? When do people at home need to worry (i.e., how often will you communicate with family and friends)? Will you have access to email where you’re located or will you have to go to a library or go to town?
- For international trips, make sure to register your itinerary with the State Department’s Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP).
- When you’re traveling with a passport, it’s never a bad idea to email yourself a photocopy of the front photo and signature pages incase you need to get it replaced.