It’s coming, it’s COMING, IT’S COMING! You have a million things on your mind as you are in the final stages of preparing for your gap year abroad! Pinch, yes this is for real. Overwhelmed by your lengthy gap year prep to-do list, you need to get your final thoughts organized.
Breathe, it’s all going to go just as you have planned. Sort of.
There will be inevitable hiccups and last minute changes and unexpected new additions to your out-standing items, but fear not, you wanderlusting, culture seeking, global gallivanting adventurer! With passport in hand and your flights booked, there’s only a few more things to do as you prepare for your gap year. Lucky for you, we’ve racked our heads to collect the absolute “musts.” Here are some last minute gap year tips.
4 weeks out
With a month to go the clock is ticking as you are focusing on your gap year prep checklist. Time is flying and it’s going to come quicker from here on out.
Set all last minutes appointments for basic checkups, dental, and vision care so you can be your healthiest self when you get across the world. Do you have enough contact lenses and, if applicable, birth control, to last you a whole year? “Did you put dental floss on your packing list?” asks your dentist. Ummm yes, of course you did. Make sure to get all necessary shots and vaccinations. Depending on where you are heading, there may be certain immunization requirements upon arrival. Sing it with us: “I am not throwing away my shot!”
Make sure you sign up for travel insurance if your gap year program does not already include that. Heading off for a year uninsured is not a good idea. There are many ways to get affordable travel insurance that will give you peace of mind when abroad. You can’t control if you will be bitten by the wrong mosquito.
Cancel your current phone plan. If bringing a phone abroad, do some research on getting an unlocked phone that can be used with a sim card from your destination country. With the world all connected through the beauty of WIFI, it’s easy to communicate without a sim card if that’s the route you wish to go. And don’t forget, you will need to get the proper power plug adapters to ensure your battery life never gets below that frightening 2%.
Make a schedule for all of your last-minute hang outs! It’s your last chance to see everyone and it’s about to get hectic. With loads up people bidding farewell on top of everything you need to do in preparing for your gap year, make sure to organize in advance so that you aren’t bombarded with coffee dates squeezed into the last few hours.
3 weeks out
Three weeks out already? Breathe. Relax. You still have plenty of time to get things done while preparing for your gap year.
Quit your job. Oh yes, they will miss you and hopefully throw you a huge party. Giving your two weeks notice a bit more than two weeks before take off is a good way to make sure that you’re last day of work is not on the same day that you are in the airport about to board a plane. It gives you a bit of time to decompress and prep all of your final last minute travel plans without work stress on your mind.
If you’re already out of the nest and doing a gap year, sell your stuff or figure out how you will store it. Selling what you can is an easy way to make some extra cash for your trip abroad. If you’re a teen, in college, or living with the ‘rents, then you’re in the clear. But think of it as a good time to get organized and donate stuff to Goodwill.
Cancel everything. Say goodbye to any ongoing subscriptions or payments, your beloved Blue Apron, Netflix, gym memberships, or whatever else racks up your monthly bills in expenses. “But, but, but what if I NEED NETFLIX when I am lonely or bored?” You don’t need Netflix; you need a book.
After hours of online research and dozens of trips to REI, finalize your backpack. You can’t pack til you know what kind of space you’re working with. Now is a great time to use some of the money you’ve saved up (nice job!) to invest in a high-quality, durable, and stylish pack to call your “home” for the next year.
Start breaking your shoes in. Those shiny new hiking boots are gorgeous, but they can do a little number on your heels, ankles, and toes if you’re not careful. Instead of blistering it up on the trail, start breaking in your hiking shoes now. Wear them a few hours a day and your tootsies will be happily knocking out 10+ mile days in no time.
2 weeks out
Going abroad is feeling even more real now although it hasn’t quite fully hit you... The checklist for preparing for your gap year is shrinking as you get closer to jetting off! Here are the next steps for your gap year prep.
Stuff your face. You have exactly two weeks to eat as many breakfast burritos as you can before you may never see them again. Load up on all those comfort foods that bring a smile to your face and a “why did I do that” to your belly. Your diet is about to change and you may feel a tad nostalgic when looking at friends #instafoodiepics from back home.
Scan all of your important documents and have a family member or trusted friend file away some copies. This includes your passport, visa, ID, travel insurance, and any medical documentation. Although the chances of you needing to worry about losing your passport are slim, you have to err on the side of caution when it comes to those important docs that allow you to pop across the world.
Spend time with granny, your dog, or anyone close to you. Before you head off for the best adventure of your life, you need to hang out with loved ones and reassure them that even though this is the best thing ever, you will miss them.
Call your program provider! They might have last-minute info for you to consider or new developments to keep in mind for your airport pickup. Most importantly, they’re awesome and can provide a sense of calm and understanding (the kind that not a lot of other folks in your life frankly can at this point). So, let them ease your nerves and re-invigorate your excitement for your trip. It’s actually happening!!
Finish reading that book about your gap year destination. We’re proud of you for following through on best practices for meaningful travelers. Reading and learning about your destination prior to travel is paramount to successful gap year preparation. Just make sure you finish that book (or those articles, podcasts, documentaries) before you travel!
1 week out
Like as in, ONE WEEK UNTIL YOU LEAVE FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR! High fives and status updates all around. But although you are super duper insanely excited, don’t forget these important last minute gap year tips.
Call your bank and let them know that you are going abroad. If possible, give your parents access to your accounts in case an emergency comes up. You don’t want your account locked up when abroad and allowing a family member’s name on your account could be useful when you are gone for a year. This is an important step of your gap year prep, lest your accounts freeze and you’ll be without cash-money abroad!
Start packing! Pack your bags, weigh them, and then take out half of what you piled in and repack 'em. No seriously—take out half. Do you really need to bring that vintage hipster top that you wore to a music festival three years ago or every Harry Potter book? NO. LESS IS MORE. The cool thing about traveling to other countries is that the actually DO have basic day to day necessities that you need, like shampoo and towels. You’re not planning a trip to Mars.
Don’t feel stressed about having every absolute thing you might need for any possible situation while traveling. You learn to make do with what you have, or you figure out ways to procure those items while on the road. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and ultimately feeds into your ability to adapt to life abroad.
Throw a going away party! Gapping abroad for a year is a HUGE DEAL. And who doesn’t love an excuse to throw a party? People will miss you and want to hug and smooch you goodbye.
“Tomorrow! Tomorrow! You’re leaving tomorrow, you’re only a day away!” You are so excited that you can’t sit still! And you know you aren’t going to sleep. Getting your body all ready for crazy sorts of jet lag. Your brain is scrolling through its mental checklist of any last minute gap year tips you need to get done.
Double check your flight info. Did you check in for your flight? Has anything changed with your flight status? Does the flight provide meals? Can you upgrade your seat for free and get next to an exit row or window seat? Oh, no, you need the aisle seat because you’re going to pee a lot and take stretch breaks.
Pack your carry on bag(s) for the airplane. Earbuds, check. Music, check. Chargers, check. Book, check. Super comfy airplane clothes, check. PASSPORT, double check! Do not forget a toothbrush and extra undies in your carry on in case your checked bags are delayed. It happens and you don’t want to arrive abroad with bad breath.
Give mom and dad a big hug. Or two. Or 12. They are mixed with feelings of excitement, worry, and maybe even jealousy as they see their baby all grown up and heading out into the REAL world. Reassure them that they will survive without you and that you will send them a message when you land on the other side of the world and find WIFI.
Eat your last supper! What’ll it be? Chipotle? Triple chicken, double guac?
BONUS: Tips to help you mentally prepare for a gap year
Your checklist is all in order and everything is going according to plan. Excellent! Even though you won’t admit it, you’re nervous! It’s perfectly normal to get a case of “what am I doing?!” before trekking off on an adventure across the oceans and into unknown land. The best part of traveling is taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone. Here are some ideas to help you have the best time.
Prepare for homesickness
You’re going to be away from home. For a long time. How does that make you feel? What are some ideas of ways you can handle any bouts of homesickness? Brainstorm some solutions with the help of friends and families, or just a little ol’ “me” time. NOTE: Hulu marathon sessions are NOT considered healthy homesickness cures (but no worries if you need a little Winston and Schmidt from time to time).
Start your phone detox now. It’s not going to work as well abroad (internet can be spotty or 3G) and you don’t want to spend too much time mindlessly scrolling anyway. There’s a great big world to be seen!!! Make a mental note to avoid being glued to your phone, iPad, or laptop on your gap year.
Go with the flow and relax. Not everything will always go as planned and that’s completely ok.
Brainstorm a rough plan for community building
Make a shortlist of ways you can connect with with other adventurers and expats while abroad—online forums, Facebook groups, apps built for travelers. They’ll be a great source of community for you, and the connections could translate from the digital world to the physical world! They’ve all been through the same thing you are going through.
Mentally prepare to always say “Yes” (when safe and appropriate!) to new adventures and don’t hold back.
Set your goals & review 'em
Review your goals. A good strategy for making good on these is to memorize them as you prepare for your gap year. Write them down, put them in a place you can refer to often (Notes app?), and pledge to check in on them every couple of weeks or months.
Give yourself a pep talk! You got this! You’re a total badass! Stop and smell the roses. You may be go, go, go. But remember to soak it all in and enjoy.
Now kick up your feet and relax
Gap year prep is donezo. One month and you have everything you need to make sure all goes well. Between getting all your docs in a row and storing away what you won’t need for a year, you can finally enjoy! So go on and off into the sunset with the wind blowing through your hair as your depart on your gap year abroad.