Making the decision to go on a gap year abroad requires quite a bit of thought, but the process doesn’t end there. It’s important to also think about what will happen both during and after your gap year too.
Luckily, we’ve put together a list to help you strategising how to best approach the before, during and after stages of your gap year, so that you make the most of your time abroad.
Further reading: Three key reasons why international experience is a career must
Steps to take before your gap year begins
1) Plan Ahead
Research your options carefully and thoroughly, even if it seems tedious. The work you put into planning your trip now will pay off later. You don’t want to resent your past self for not thinking ahead!
2) Share your plans
Tell your parents and friends about your plans and promise to keep in contact regularly so everyone knows that you’re okay. Take plenty of pictures and videos or start a blog as a way of looking back and remembering your gap year.
Trust us, you’ll love looking back on the memories and friends you made while on your gap year abroad. You’ll be so glad you documented it all for yourself..
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. Set yourself goals. Maybe you have a skill or two or even three in mind that you’d love to develop while you’re abroad. This could be anything from learning a language to finally mastering your fear of scheduling, time management, or airports.
Be realistic with your goals. It’s important to remain conscious of yourself, your abilities, and what you want to gain from this time when setting attainable goals.
If you’re planning to go abroad with volunteer organisation, many of the hard details will likely be taken care of for you. Make sure you check in with a representative with any questions or concerns you may have.
Think of ways you can make the most of this time off to develop into the person you want to become.
Let your mind roam. Write down all your hopes, dreams, or fears.
Make a map of what you want to gain, why you want to gain it, and what you want to avoid. Then whenever you feel overwhelmed or homesick during your experience, you’ll have something tangible to look back on and remind you why you started this journey in the first place.
Further reading: Seven steps to become a global citizen
What to do during your gap year
4) Let go of the plan
Remember before, when you made a plan for your gap year abroad?
Well, you did your research, and you’ve pre-planned enough. Now be careful not to cling to the details so tightly that you can’t go with the flow during your experience.
Don’t be afraid to run with the wind a little and see where you end up. Obviously be sure to maintain your safety and keep track of important scheduled commitments, but also be mindful to take advantage of this time. Stretch yourself by stepping outside of the painted lines a bit. After all, stepping outside of your comfort zone is the best way to 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. And of course, it will let them share in your excitement as you update them on all the awesome stuff you’re doing!
However, it’s important to also keep in mind all of the effort you put into planning 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! Not only will it be good to document your experiences to look back on later in life, but you’ll also learn valuable new skills – writing and blogging!
Try to keep up with it as regularly as possible, but don’t make it a chore. You will naturally have better things to do than worry about consistently updating your blog, but as long as you enjoy the process, the reward of doing it will be well worth the effort later on.
If writing really isn’t up your alley, don’t force it. There are plenty of other ways to record your memories and experiences from your gap year abroad. You could keep your ticket stubs, leaflets, receipts, brochures, foreign newspapers, etc from the places you visit, for future scrap-booking or just for keepsakes.
So your gap year experience is over, now what?
7) Stay connected
If you joined an organisation for part (or all) of your time abroad, keep in touch with the staff and international friends you made through their alumni services.
This is a good thing to investigate about an organisation before you sign up, 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 travelled independently or met up with other travelers while traipsing around the globe during your gap year, then you are in charge of your own alumni network.
If you find yourself missing sipping Aperol Spritz’ in Italy, why not reach out to the backpacker you met and travelled with in Tuscany. See what they’re up to, if they’re still traveling, and maybe even dream up your next trip together… which brings us to our next point.
8) Dream a little
Wondering why you came back at all?
That’s ok. It’s part of something called reverse culture shock. Be patient with yourself and don’t rush the process of settling back into 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’re likely to have 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 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.
Further reading: Know your skills: How to explain your abroad experience on a resume
Feel ready to start making an impact and travel again?
Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships for when you can travel again, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.
To see the Spanish version of the blog on Travolucion, click here: Cómo Hacer un Año Sabático: antes, durante y después