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A Guide to Taking a Gap Year

Looking for the perfect combo of globetrotting and enlightenment? Take a gap year! A year off between high school and college is a healthy break from monotonous school life. And a gap year after college can give you time to figure out life when you’re not quite ready to dive into the work world. Gap years are a super cool way to sharpen your knowledge, nurture your personal growth, and reevaluate your goals. You’ll gain skills and experiences to slay all your ambitions. So wait—how do we make all this exciting stuff happen? Let’s have a heart to heart about how to take a gap year!

Step 1: Pick a Place & Experience

You’ve decided you’re ready to do a gap year. High-five! So, where do you want to go and what experience do you want to have? Now, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. There are a lot of different programs and countries you could gap in. You might also feel unsure about when to take a gap year, and wonder to yourself, “Is taking a gap year a good idea?” So first, let’s talk it all out.

Is taking a gap year right for me? Definitely! There are advantages of taking a gap year no matter what stage of life you’re in. Teenagers can do a gap year before college to really hone in on what they’re passionate about majoring in. They can then continue on to applying to college after taking a year off. Research even shows that gappers do better in college! Teens can also do high school gap year programs before they actually graduate. How cool is that? Once university life begins, they can go overseas again and do a gap year for college students. You’ll just need to sort out your school leave with your academic advisors. And for all you post grads out there, don’t feel left out! You can certainly take a gap year after college or as a seasoned professional. There are so many flexible options of how to take a gap year!

Where do I want to travel? Is there a certain country you’ve always dreamed of seeing? Or maybe there’s a particular language that you’d love to be immersed into. Think about what places fascinate you the most. Read through travel sites like Lonely Planet and GoAbroad (hey, that’s us!) to get a feel for your favorite destinations. These reflections will help you narrow down the location of your gap year. Decide if you want to explore an entire region or focus on a single country during your gap year. The possibilities are endless!

What do I want to do? What kind of experience are you aching for? The good news is there are gap year options to match tons of interests!

Types of gap year programs:

  • Volunteering. Does your soul spark at the thought of helping a needy cause? Then gap year volunteering is an excellent choice. You can do anything from mentoring underprivileged kids in Thailand to rehabilitating cheetahs in South Africa. Pick your ambition, pack your bags, and get ready to make a meaningful impact on the world.
  • Internship. Geeked to do a gap year but nervous about taking a siesta from your career development? You can have it all with a gap year internship. These are well structured programs in fields like medicine, journalism, and education — there are plenty of subjects to choose from. You’ll get to shadow local professionals and have unmatched experiences abroad. And, your internship will be a five-star bullet point on your resume. Opportunity of a lifetime, huh?! 
  • Working gap year. Ready for a gap year but can’t afford a dip in your funds? No problemo! You don’t have to be broke while abroad — just do a gap year work program. These schemes hook you up with a paid job so your wallet stays strong overseas. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada offer excellent work abroad opportunities. They often include organized social events and find you a sweet accommodation. You can totally save up money while having an epic overseas experience!

Keep in Mind:

  • Solo gap years are a thing too. Is traveling on your own more your style? You’re not the only one. Many gappers actually choose to design their own gap year and travel alone. It’s a great option for introverts or people looking for experiences independent of an organization’s structure. Now, planning your own gap year is definitely no cake walk. But take comfort in knowing that it’s been done by many gappers before! Make sure you’re clear about whether solo or group travel is best for you. 
  • Gap years aren’t necessarily a year. Gap year programs offer so many options. So don’t take the term “gap year” too literally. Your program will be at least three months but can also be an entire year—the choice is yours. You can even squeeze in taking a gap during college if that floats your boat. Length also has a strong correlation with program fees. So, if you have a lower budget, you can take a shorter gap year. There are affordable gap year options for everyone! 
  • You can gap in more than one country. Are you itching to globetrot? Then consider a gap year “backcountry” program. These packages offer sightseeing and adventure itineraries through multiple countries. You’ll be voyaging by bus, train, plane, and who knows what else (how cool does a camelback ride through the Moroccan desert sound?)! Short term volunteer programs and internships can be also fused into your country-hopping. 
  • Accommodation options vary. Gap year housing differs from program to program. You might share a crib with other gappers in Nepal or bunk in a room in the South African bush! So think about what works best for your personality. And whatever your living situation is, arrive with a sense of flexibility. A positive and easygoing attitude will always work in your favor.

Help! I’m still feeling overwhelmed by gap year options!

Okay, first, woosah. So your top choice is teaching English to inner city Costa Rican kids, but mountain climbing through the Himalayas also sounds amazeballs. Wanna make the selection process even simpler? Get in touch with our online advisors to be matched with the gap program of your dreams!

Step 2: Figure Out How to Pay for a Gap Year

Let’s have a chat about the “m-word” — money (groan)! Gap years aren’t free, so you’ve gotta figure out your finances. Program fees can cover visas (we’ll chat about those in a few), airfare, accommodation, transportation, food, employees, trainings, and more. So, whether you’re taking a year off from college or jet setting after graduation, you’ll need to figure out what type of program you can afford. An online cost of living calculator can also give you a feel for expenses in specific countries. Now, what if you don’t have enough money yet for your program? Not a dealbreaker! Whether you’re gapping with a group or solo, there are several ways to raise the cash

  • Humbly ask family for help. Don’t be afraid to hit up fam for support! Give them all the deets on the awesome program you want to join. Now, your parents might be terrified about their baby trekking around the world. Understandable. Just explain to them why taking a gap year will be the best decision of your life. Then nudge them for help with program fees if they can.
  • Create an awesome fundraiser. Don’t limit your begging to close family members. Reach out to family friends, mentors, companies, former bosses — anyone who’d be willing to support your venture. Fundraisers are the perfect way to showcase your travel plans and ask for financial assistance in a convincing way. Not sure about how to plan a fundraiser? Use this FundMyTravel tool to create a bangin campaign. 
  • Save up some coins! If you plan in advance, you can save up and fund your own gap year. Pick up a side job or work over your school breaks. A little side-hustlin can make your wanderlusting dreams a reality.
  • Apply for aid. Grants, scholarships and need-based financial aid are offered by some gap year programs and other orgs. The application essays often revolve around a passion for traveling and volunteering. So fill out those aid applications and see what happens!
  • Consider a working gap year. For some, gapping without an income just isn’t an option. But don’t forget that you can do a gap year and make bank at the same time. You can even score a paid internship. With these programs you won’t have to save up for as many in-country expenses. You might even return home with money left over. Cha-ching!

Step 3: Get Prepared

Whew! The final countdown to starting your gap year is officially on. So what should you be focusing on pre-departure?

  • Visas. To legally stay in the country or countries you’re gapping in, you’ll need a visa. It’s usually a stamp you get in your passport after landing at the airport. Different countries have varying visa application procedures. Your program advisors will take care of this and give you the details on what to do on your end. If you’re not traveling with a program, you’ll have to research and apply on your own. Either way, you can find out what countries require for their visas applications via the GoAbroad embassy directory.
  • Plan for health and safety. Depending on where you're heading, you might need to get some vaccinations. Because coming down with Yellow fever is not the business. So gather info on required shots and recommended health insurance from program coordinators and travel clinics. And follow safety tips your advisors and foreign affairs sites like the U.S. State Department’s dish out.
  • Packing. You’ll need to pack all your essentials like clothing, medications, and toiletries. Gadgets like a camera, laptop, and cell phone are also clutch. And bring along some family pics to show your new friends abroad! Volunteering at that South African bush camp means you might also need to pack some camping gear. Get helpful packing advice by asking program advisors or former gappers. 

Traveling tip: Many airlines allow you check in a total of two luggage for free. So, you’ll want to pack wisely. Plus, lugging around less stuff overseas feels so much better on your biceps. And don’t panic too much about not bringing everything you think you need. You’ll have opportunities to buy extras in-country. Or, you might discover you never needed to pack some things at all!

  • Plan out your gap year goals. Before you fly out, think about what you want to accomplish during your gap year. Would you like to become fluent in a language? Is climbing the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro on your bucket list? Or maybe you just want to Youtube to showcase your travels? Whatever you’re thinking, try to stay fluid. Soon after you arrive, you might realize a certain goal is over your head. Don’t feel let down — understand that it’s all part of living abroad and re-evaluate your objectives. You’ve got this!
  • Tie up those loose ends. It’s easy to get swept up in all the excitement of moving overseas. But sooner or later, you’ll return home; and no one wants to be greeted with chaos! So, if you’re taking a gap in college, defer those students loans. Speak to loaners about payment options for bills like car notes or mortgages in advance. 

Lifehack: Definitely let your bank know ahead of time that you’ll be overseas. Otherwise your card might get declined as you try to buy that cute bikini in Bali. Awkward! So don’t go gallivanting abroad without organizing your responsibilities back home.

Step 4: Live Your Best Gap Year Life

Wowzers! You’ve finally arrived. You’ve met your gap program supervisors and are settling into your cozy new home. Now the real fun begins! Here’s how to have a larger than life gap year experience. 

  • Take it easy. Getting used to a new country doesn’t happen overnight. Living abroad is a constant rollercoaster ride of learning and adapting. So give yourself time to settle into your new environment. You probably won’t master the local language in the few months. And while you might wanna hit the ground running, a healthy transition is also important. A balance between measured cultural immersion and genuine enthusiasm is your sweet spot. 
  • Curing homesickness. Many travelers abroad deal with homesickness at some point. It may hit you on your first night or kick in once the newness of being abroad wears off. Totally normal! Sharing your feelings with your advisors and fellow volunteers is a healthy homesickness hack. They’ll probably give you some great advice too. And remember, your gap year is only temporary. Before you know it, you’ll be saying a bittersweet goodbye (tear). 
  • Document your experience. You’ll definitely want to record all the incredible tales of your gap year. So take lots of video and pics and consider journaling your experiences. Reflect on what you really enjoy each day and how you overcame certain challenges. These are excellent self-reflection tools to measure your personal growth. And they’re an eye into your future studies or professional endeavors. You could even turn your gap year journal into a book one day!
  • Socialize and immerse yourself. Gap year friendships are the recipes for lifelong BFFs. Even the most introverted gappers will connect with cool people from different walks of life. You might meet your brother from another mother while riding a bodaboda in Rwanda! So while abroad, make extra effort to meet new people. You’d be surprised what can blossom out of a simple “hello” or introduction. 

While it may feel awkward sometimes, it’s crucial that you try to immerse yourself into your new community. Try learning about the country’s history and the local citizens’ everyday life. People will really appreciate and respect your effort! So get your feet wet and step outside of your comfort zone. And if that means showing off your two left feet at a local wedding reception, go for it!

Step 5: SOAR!

So, your gap year program is coming to a close. Just yesterday you were stressing about how you’d survive months away from home. Now, you’re facing emotional goodbyes. Although it’s time to head home, your experience doesn't have to end. So how do you keep the good times rolling back on home turf?

  • Keep in touch. Don’t forget about your old program coordinators and gap year friends. You don’t want to lose touch with these pals. Remember, you share a special a bond that very few will understand. 
  • Flaunt your experience! You’re now a gap year guru! And there’s someone else out there with the same hopes and fears you once had. So drop those gap year gems with the newbies. Your insight will amp up gappers-to-be about their upcoming travels. Add your experience to your resume and show it off! Your gap year is sure to impress recruiters so don’t be shy about marketing yourself. You’ll be the crème de la crème of the resume batch! Go further and share your gap year experience with the world. Why not dust off that tattered journal and turn it into an eBook? Sharing your gap year is also excellent publicity for your program and the country you lived in. Dope!

So, is taking a gap year a good idea? Absofreakinlutely! Now that you know how to take a gap year, it’s time to get rockin’ n rollin’! If you’re ready to kick life into high gear, this will be a priceless investment into yourself. Your global background will shape you into a stronger, more well-rounded person. And, you’ll gain unparalleled life experiences making you a boss traveler, student, intern, or employee. After taking a gap year, you’ll be crushing it no matter where life takes you! 

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