6 tips to make the most of your gap year

By: Julian Goetz | June 26, 2017
Topics: Gap Year Planning, Travel Skills
This goes without saying, but there are already too many people who take gap years to just travel from one beach to the next. A gap year can be way more.

Travel to 10 countries, over 9 months, and learn 100 skills?

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1. Have a specific learning objective (or two)

Every year is an opportunity to learn something new. Your gap year is no different. Take the attitude of heading out for your gap year with the possibility of learning 1-3 new life skills. Make them as measurable as possible. The less vague, the better. For example, don’t just say you want to become good at traveling. You’ll never really know if you’ve succeeded unless you can boil it down to something more specific.

Your goal could be,”I want to become certified in scuba diving.” Boom. Extremely specific and clear. You’ll know exactly when you’ve achieved this goal, and who knows, you might even become a professional diving instructor like one of our students!

You could also choose something like, “I want to be able to arrive at a strange, new place, and feel comfortable starting up a conversation with the first person I meet.” This is a social skill, but an invaluable life skill. You’ll be able to use it at work, in college, wherever you find yourself. These are the kinds of skills that matter most for the rest of your life.

2. Don’t stop at one location

Why confine yourself to a single place? You’ve probably already been doing that for years!

Your gap year is an opportunity to roam, to ramble, to wander the great unknown of our planet and of your own experience. If you’ve lived your whole life in a city, why not visit a few remote villages or explore a foreign ecosystem. If you’ve already traveled around Europe with your family, why not go to the places you weren’t able to see?

A multitude of locations will give you perspective far faster than any semester in college will. Not just on the differences between train stations and hostels, but also the differences in human societies, values, visions of the good life, and of course, your own fallibility.

And of course, if you want to visit 10 different countries in wildly different climates and regions, you could always do Winterline 😉

3. Have a detailed plan, but be ready to throw it out the window

Life demands flexibility. Your gap year is no different. If you’re doing it right, you won’t be in your hometown doing the same old same old.

So, get out into the world with enough to do that you won’t get bored and start doing reckless things to pass the time. But then be ready to throw that plan away if it no longer fits the situation. You may have drafted up the perfect travel itinerary back at home, and now that you’re in Costa Rica or Belize you realize that almost every single bus in your town runs once a week and you’ll have to set up camp for a while. There’s always a blessing disguised in curses like these. Take it as an opportunity to meet someone new, to develop a new plan, to explore the area, or to slow down and try to live like the locals!

4. Try something new

This goes without saying, but there are already too many people who take gap years to just travel from one beach to the next. It surely gets old after a while, but the problem is, if you do it for long enough, you run out of time to be doing the things that could have life-changing value for you. Life is better with a few challenges.

As Jeff Selingo, education writer for the Washington Post, put it:

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 — a meaningful work experience, academic preparation for college or travel that opens up the horizon to the rest of the world. It should also 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.

Take the time to figure out what kinds of new things would be fun, valuable, and doable for you. Try to have a balance in your gap year. You want to make it worth it, so don’t tire yourself out with only terrifying things, or only easy things. Find the balance between the two, and then keep pushing yourself further.

5. Focus on relationships

This can’t be overstated. The people you meet on your gap year could verily change your life. You might study world history in Europe and have an amazing time like one of our students did on her Independent Study Project. Inevitably, you will learn the most about your strengths and weaknesses and what you can give to the world with the help of others around you.

“I am the people I meet, the videos I take, the coffee I drink with a dash of milk and two packets of Splenda. I am my dog’s best friend, and it’s my bed she runs to when she hears fireworks in the summer.” — Callie

The quality and quantity of friends and mentors you make during your gap year will all depend on you and what you give to those relationships.

6. Be safe

Last but certainly not least. Your gap year will be full of adventure. And adventure always comes with a dash of risk. Make sure you’re being calculated with the risks you take. If it’s a small risk and high reward, then great! If it’s a small reward and high risk then maybe you want to think of ten other amazing things you could do. You can still have plenty of fun while being safe. The key is finding the right mix of fun, safety, and learning.

So do your homework about visiting a place before you get there. Every society has their own written and unwritten rules. For your safety and for the peace of mind of your friends and family, know where you’re going, and be prepared for both the best of times and the worst. Do you know CPR? First Aid? Can you build an ad-hoc shelter if needed? Do you have a communication plan? Emergency evacuation insurance? If you’ve thought through these and more, you’re on your way toward a safe and happy return from an amazing gap year adventure.

If you’d like more resources on having a safe and successful gap year, feel free to reach out to us at admissions@winterline.com.

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