How to Travel Alone On A Gap Year

You start finding opportunities everywhere and in everything. You open up to things. You program yourself to find awesome experiences. You seek for more. You need more in order to feel fulfilled.

Throughout this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s one of the reasons why we love to travel so much. Because you push yourself, you surpass your limits and you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you just laugh and move on. You live everyday to the fullest waiting for something crazy to happen, it’s almost as if you went for it.


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I could relate that to how you should change the way you live day-to-day and make life an experience that you want to share and remember. But, that’s extremely cheesy, so instead I’m just gonna write about my process of deciding what I wanted to do for my Winterline Independent Study Project (ISP).

The way Winterline does it, they give you the budget and you can do whatever you want.

Whatever.

Go learn Flamenco in Sevilla, work at a cockroach farm in Greece, hike El Camino de Santiago, or go to Switzerland and learn the art of chocolate-making. There are almost no limits. You just have to go get the experience, because in the end, that’s what it is. It’s the perfect opportunity to do something completely new, that you might end up loving, or practice something you already love.

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So, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do during this week, many ideas came to my mind. (Learning Flamenco was actually one of them, believe it or not). I could go work with refugees in Hamburg, do an internship in an environmental organization (maybe?), start learning a new language or practice German while doing engaging and fun activities. All of them seemed nice and enjoyable, but none of them really, truly, excited me. I wasn’t thrilled by any of them.

I started making up “excuses.” (I can work with people in my country. I already dance a lot and no one would dance Flamenco with me anyways. I want to be outdoors not at an office!).

And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I had an idea. Biking. In high school, a friend and I tried to promote their use, we created a logo and did research on it, and I love bikes — yes!

They’re a beautiful human-propelled machine. But, I’d never done a biking trip before. The closest experience to a “bike trip” I’ve had was this one time when I was in France with my homestay mom.

It was Sunday. Sunday morning. I was having breakfast at around eight, still trying to wake up, my eyes half open, my brain trying to understand why I was awake.

She invited me biking and I said yes. I almost died. She was going so fast, her legs were so strong and she still managed to have this BIG smile on her face. I was in the back, far away, almost crying and cursing, thinking that I could be in my bed reading and drinking tea or sleeping. She kept on motivating me and pushing me to finish and make it to the house. We finally arrived. I was sweating, my legs were hurting and my butt… I couldn’t feel it.

And yet, somehow, I felt good. I felt accomplished and happy. I even said I was glad I went instead of being in my bed “doing nothing”. We did twenty kilometers and I had survived. This was four years ago, and I can still remember that one time I went biking in France.

So, somehow, this idea of biking for my ISP made me feel happy and motivated. There were endless possibilities! I could go to a big city and study urban biking and how it looks to have biking as one of the main ways of transportation. I could compare a bike friendly city to Bogotá. Or even better — I could go from one place to another on a bike.

That last idea got stuck in my head. I wanted to bike. I wanted to travel even more. And, I wanted to do something crazy and difficult. I had made my decision.

Now of course, I had to choose a location. I had all of Europe to choose from. Copenhagen? Amsterdam? Spain? Portugal? France?

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I finally decided to go to Italy. I was really open to any location, but one thing I was sure of. I didn’t want to go on a tour. Tours are boring, and I’d have to follow people and maybe even a guide that will talk and talk… Maybe even keep on talking…

I wanted to be by myself, alone. I wanted Freedom.

I did extensive and exquisite research until I found this thing called “a self-guided tour”. The bike company stated: “we will provide you with accommodations, breakfast included and a perfectly detailed route, many maps, a bike AND luggage transfer” (What type of magical sorcery is this? Could it get any better?).

It sounded perfect, except that I have to confess I’m terrible when it comes to reading maps. Pieces of paper full of lines and names and sometimes even numbers. I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by friends that know exactly where they are by literally looking at the sun and the tree next to them.

But, as long as I could be alone on my tour I didn’t really care. I was willing to pay the price of getting lost once in awhile, asking for directions with my poorly poor Italian and even probably riding the bike with the Google maps lady loudly embarrassing me by saying: “Wrong way. Turn left and go the complete opposite direction you useless human being”.

Bike companies offered many tour options, so I ranked them and analyzed the situation for a couple of months, until I decided to go with the one that offered a “free pistachio gelato” (that was the main reason why I chose it, of course).

I emailed them and told them what I wanted — my budget, my dates, and they made it happen. We did the business and I was ready for my ISP. They gave me my hotel list (I thought I was going to sleep at hostels or a “biker’s bed and breakfast” full of smelly shoes in the entrance and a bathroom or two for everyone; instead, I was offered four star hotels everywhere I went. Single room, king size bed).

Now we’re in Frankfurt and I leave to Italy tonight, at midnight. I have a six-hour train to München and then another five-hour train to Bolzano. This is where my tour starts.

I’m clearly nervous. But the idea of traveling alone and being by myself makes me extremely happy. I feel confident transporting myself from one place to another and blending in multitudes (unless I was in India, that’s another story), but biking with paper maps and no one around me? That’s new.

I kept doubting and asking myself questions like, “Daniela, will this be too hard for you? Maybe you should’ve chosen something less complicated. Are you really prepared?”

But then I got tired and realized it was too late to ask myself those types of questions. I was wasting my time. There was nothing I could do at this point. I decided to change the questions for statements instead and make myself believe that I was ready for it. (I had to be ready).


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Help us Win the GoAbroad Innovation Awards!

The GoAbroad Innovation Awards are the premier source of recognition for innovation in the study abroad and gap year space. Molly’s video series culminated this month in two hyper-condensed visual narratives on the lasting value of a gap year, and more precisely, the value of the relationships acquired while taking a gap year.

UPVOTE HERE

Her 9-months in five minutes video, “Around the World,” was selected as an Innovation Awards Video Finalist for illuminating the courageous fine line between learning and fear, comfort and growth. Molly’s entire video series on her time spent in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe, as well as her 5-part vlog series on independent travel in Croatia, highlights the powerful dynamism of a gap year abroad, as well as the nuance of personal growth in this unique moment in life.

According to the GoAbroad contest moderators, the winner of the award will be determined by popular vote, so please share widely! It is a one person one vote system, so remember to fill out the form. The winners will be announced at the GoAbroad Reception during the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles, on Thursday, June 1, at 5:30PM.

Please take a second to upvote Molly’s video series by visiting the voting page here and filling out the form!


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20 Colleges That Encourage A Gap Year

The benefits of doing so have been highlighted by numerous studies as well.

“For a gap year to have a significant impact on success in college, and later in the working world, it needs to be a transformative event, quite distinct from anything a student has experienced before. It should be designed to help students acquire the skills and attributes that colleges and employers are looking for… maturity, confidence, problem-solving, communication skills and independence.” Jeff Selingo, author of There Is Life After College.

Many universities and colleges support gap years and semesters with varying deferral policies, often allowing a student to keep their accepted status and return a year, or sometimes two years, later. This list of twenty US colleges and universities highlights some of the many ways in which universities support deferrals for college gap years.

If you are interested in doing a college gap year, we advise you to speak to an admissions officer at the school you’re applying or have been accepted to.

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1. Harvard

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“Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way—provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college. Deferrals for two-year obligatory military service are also granted. Each year, between 80 and 110 students defer their matriculation to the College.”

2. Yale

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“Request for deferral must be submitted in writing to the respective associate dean who will communicate with the Graduate School’s department or program. An admissions deferral may be requested for either one term or one academic year.”

3. University of Richmond

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“Students must send their postponement requests in writing to Gil J. Villanueva, dean of admission. Gil, in conjunction with the Admission Committee, will review the requests on a case by case basis. If approved, students have exactly one year to postpone their enrollments, provided of course that they do not enroll in post-secondary coursework elsewhere. Normally, the non-refundable enrollment deposit is $600. Postponed students must pay an additional non-refundable deposit of $1,900 (total of $2,500) to secure their space in the following year’s class. If students were awarded merit-based scholarships, current policy states those monies would carry forward to the following year upon enrollment. However, postponed students would have to reapply for need-based financial since aid analysis is contingent upon an updated aid application.”

4. Washington and Lee

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“Students should write to the Admissions Committee to request a deferral after paying the required reservation deposit to secure a place in the first-year class. Requests should include detailed information about how the year will be spent. All requests are reviewed individually on their merits, though typically, deferrals will not be granted to students who propose a year of full-time college or post-graduate secondary school study.” Need-based awards must be re-applied for. Merit-based do not require reapplication.

5. New York University, New York. ” If you’ve been offered admission as a freshman to NYU, you may request to defer your enrollment for up to one year. If your request is approved and you meet the requirements listed below, you do not have to file a new application and are guaranteed readmission for the next fall semester.”

6. Middlebury College

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“Middlebury has long been at the forefront in endorsing the concept of taking time off between high school and college through our February admissions program. The students who enroll here in February typically bring more to their college experience and, as a result, derive more from it. They also hold a disproportionately high number of leadership positions on campus and, on average, perform better academically. Every year some students who are admitted for September choose to defer their enrollment for an entire year and step off the academic treadmill. Many benefit greatly from the opportunity to travel, work, or pursue other interests, and all of those options can help contribute to an even more enriching college experience, much as happens for our ‘Febs.’ Students admitted for the September class (we also have a class that enters in February, and they have a built in gap-semester) need to deposit at Middlebury, and then need to submit a proposal to our office requesting a gap year. The gap year plans should be communicated in writing to our office by no later than June 1st. Students can submit gap year proposals to deanofadmissions@middlebury.edu. We do not have scholarships. All financial aid is need-based. Students will most likely need to reapply for financial aid at Middlebury, but unless there are significant changes to the financial circumstances, most often the aid award will be similar to the original aid award.”

7. Texas Christian University

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“For deferrals, all that needs to be done is to submit a request in writing, then to pay the $500 Tuition Deposit. No need to re-apply for scholarships. All students everywhere in the US, though, would have to re-apply for financial aid. That’s done on an annual basis everywhere. We are VERY supportive of gap years.”

8. University of Pennsylvania

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“You can apply to Penn after a gap year. You would apply as a freshman with all the same requirements, including test results, transcripts, etc. In addition, you would need to submit a supplemental essay to your application explaining why you needed to take a gap year and what you did during that year.”

9. Carnegie Mellon

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“Students must first and foremost submit a deposit after being admitted and send us a letter requesting to defer for a year. Students will have to reapply for financial aid. We do not offer merit-based scholarships. Students who are deferring for a year are not allowed to enroll in a degree-granting program at another institution.”

10. Florida State University

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“FSU is proud to be one of the few universities in the country (and the second public university) to offer financial assistance to students taking a gap year. Students applying for a gap year deferment will automatically be considered for a scholarship of up to $5,000 to support their gap year. FSU is committed to helping make the transformative opportunities afforded by a gap year accessible to students regardless of their family’s income. … Students admitted for Fall semester who are approved to take a gap year would defer until the following Fall; Summer semester admits would defer until the following Summer semester. High school seniors offered admission to start at FSU in the Spring semester are not eligible for a gap year deferment. Students undertaking a gap year will be invited to participate in structured group activities and reflection upon returning. Once matriculated at FSU, gap year students will be encouraged to build on their gap year experience and connect with the vast curricular and co-curricular programs of FSU, with assistance from offices such as the FSU Center for Leadership and Social Change and the Center for Undergraduate Research & Academic Engagement. Other requirements for students granted a deferment of matriculation can be found online.”

11. Lewis and Clark College

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“Students offered admission off of the waitlist are not allowed to defer their enrollment. The deferral option is not intended to allow students to begin or continue their college career elsewhere. A student may not attend another institution on a full-time basis during the time of deferral. Full-time status is considered to be enrollment in 12 or more credits per term. It is assumed that any academic work pursued during the time of deferral will be at a level consistent with or above the student’s record with which she/he gained acceptance to Lewis & Clark College. The College reserves the right to reverse a prior admissions decision based on poor results of academic work completed during the time of deferral. Any student deferring enrollment to the fall semester of the next academic year, who has applied for need-based financial aid, will need to file the necessary forms for the new academic year sometime after January 1 and before our priority filing deadline of February 15. Any student deferring enrollment to the next academic year remains eligible for merit-based scholarships, assuming satisfactory performance in any subsequent academic work. Neely Scholarship recipients must compete with candidates for the new academic year and are guaranteed at least a Trustee Scholarship. Music and Forensics scholarships cannot be deferred; recipients of those talent-based awards must compete with candidates for the new academic year, as well.”

12. Vassar College

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“Vassar College welcomes students who wish to do a gap year between high school and college. Here is the wording from our FAQ for prospective students on this topic: Admitted freshman students may, with the permission of the Office of Admission, defer entry to Vassar for one year. Students must first confirm their intent to enroll at Vassar by submitting the Candidate’s Reply Form and the required enrollment deposit by May 1. A written request outlining specific plans for the gap year should also be submitted, preferably along with the enrollment deposit, but by no later than June 1. If deferral status is approved, a formal letter stating the conditions under which the deferral has been granted will be sent to the student. However, students who may be offered admission to Vassar from the waiting list after May 1 are not eligible to request a deferral of admission. In virtually every case, the gap year is approved and the students are told that (1) they may not enroll at another institution as a full-time student during the year, and (2) they must write to us by the end of February of the gap year to re-confirm their intention to enroll the following fall. About 10-12 students defer their admission and do a gap year each year.”

13. Colgate University

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“While most students apply for admission with the intention of entering college the fall after graduation, some accepted students may wish to postpone entrance to Colgate for a year. Accepted students who do not matriculate at another institution may request to postpone their enrollment for one year. Students must pay a non-refundable $500 deposit and submit a signed enrollment certificate by May 1. A request to postpone enrollment should be made in writing to the Office of Admission by June 1 of the year admission was offered. Upon approval to postpone enrollment, an additional $500 deposit and a signed deferred enrollment contract are required within ten days to hold the student’s place in the class. Students applying for financial assistance must file the Financial Aid PROFILE with the College Scholarship Service (CSS) and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with the federal processor by Feb. 1 of the year of intended fall enrollment. Candidates may expect notification of financial aid awards by early April of the spring before entrance.”

14. Columbia University

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“Yes. A candidate who has been offered first-year admission may ask to defer enrollment for a year to work, travel, complete mandatory military service or pursue a special opportunity. A student may not defer admission in order to enroll full-time at another college or university. A second year of deferral may be granted upon request. Students must request a deferral in writing by May 15 after submitting their first-year response form and deposit. Transfer students are not permitted to defer their admission.”

15. Wesleyan University

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“Deferred enrollment requests must be submitted in writing (letter or email) and approved by June 1st. Upon approval, Wesleyan will grant deferred admission for one year. Typically, 20 to 25 students are granted deferred matriculation in each class. In order to obtain approval, applicants must submit a plan for their gap year. Students granted a deferral cannot make any further admission applications to other institutions or enroll full time in any other institution of higher education. Interested students must also submit their admission deposit by May 1st. Once the student’s request for deferment is received and, if approved, a formal letter acknowledging their deferred status will be sent. An essay, briefly describing deferral activities and reaffirming intention to enroll at Wesleyan is required by March 1st of the deferral year.”

16. Harvey Mudd College

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“After admission, the student can fill out the commitment form to indicate plans to enroll in the immediate next term (fall) or to take a gap year. There are also students who indicate they will enter in the fall when they make the commitment to attend in May, but later in the summer determine that a gap year is in the plans. This is also acceptable. Typically the student must meet certain enrollment obligations, must pay the commitment deposit, and must write a short explanation of what is planned for the gap year. Students must reapply for any need-based aid awards, but any merit awards can be deferred for the year.”

17. Colorado College

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“Each year, approximately 30 admitted students elect to delay the start of their Colorado College education by designing and pursuing a year-long adventure of their own making. An additional 40 students admitted to our Winter Start program will embark on a personalized semester-long gap experience in the fall before reuniting with their classmates in January to enroll in their first block. If you’re considering a year-long or semester-long gap experience, whether your gap plan is built on US soil or abroad, or both, we are likely to support your gap request because we believe that making a difference in the lives of others will make a difference in your own personal and intellectual growth.”

18. Illinois Institute of Technology

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“Students have up to two semesters to defer an offer of admission. There are some specific requirements the student has to follow for the deferral. Here is the link to our forms page which includes deferment forms for the fall and spring semester: http://www.iit.edu/undergrad-admission/apply/forms.shtml. Students are asked not to attend other universities for academic program (language or cultural enrichment classes are not included), they are asked to submit an enrollment deposit, and an explanation of what they plan to do in their gap year. Scholarships offered to the student are not lost, however financial aid may be re-evaluated.”

19. University of Alabama

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“As long as you do not receive any academic credit from another institution and meet the December 1 admission deadline for the year you are applying you will be considered. You must notify the Scholarships department in writing of your year off from school. As with any entering freshman, your GPA through your junior year in high school and your test scores from your senior year in high school will be considered. Don’t forget that the October ACT and November SAT during your senior year will be the last test scores considered for scholarships.”

20. Johns Hopkins University

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“In some cases, students are permitted to defer their enrollment for up to two years to pursue a travel, work, or family experience that does not include study at another academic institution for credit. Deferrals are considered on an individual basis and must be requested in writing from the Director of Undergraduate Admissions. To request a deferral, you must submit your Reply Form, enrollment deposit, and a letter detailing your plans by the enrollment deposit deadline.”

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