Planning the best year of your life

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So you’re thinking about taking a gap year?

Your studies are over, the stress of exams is behind you and you’re free, so why not? Perhaps you always wanted to take one, but to avoid those fee rises you went to university straight out of school. I however, was the other way around; I had an awesome plan in mind, so threw caution to the wind and those damn fee hikes. Now, to the more financially sensible of you out there, the time is ripe to do a spot of travelling.

First off, a gap year is awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll end up part of the “gap-yah” parade, constantly bragging about what happened with nobody really listening. Perhaps you will, but hey, you went halfway around the world on your own whilst they sat in nowheresville wondering what to do next. There are several ways to approach taking a gap year; you could just decide you want to travel, dot across a particular continent – or even the world – taking in the places you swore you’d see. You can also look into organised opportunities such as teaching abroad (teaching English as a foreign language is a very popular option and is supported by lots of companies), or you might want to volunteer for a charity, or perhaps go somewhere to learn the language because it will be useful to you in a future career. In each case you have to decide what’s best for you, not only what would be most pleasing to you, but also what would show potential employers that it was worthwhile. On that note you have to get a little creative. Even if you don’t go and teach and/or volunteer, simply travelling to different places shows a willingness to be independent, organised and self-motivated… it’s all in the way you frame it!

There are a multitude of other things to consider when planning a gap year. A big issue is often finance; a gap year is not cheap, mine probably cost in the region of £6,000-7,000 – if you don’t count minor purchases. This included my around-the-world-flight, which is an excellent thing to look into if you’re planning to go to lots of places: you have to travel in the same direction at all times and you must be in certain places at certain times, although you decide when. The figure above might seem rather high but I did go to places such as Australia, and California which are notoriously expensive. Other places, such as certain parts of Asia, will undoubtedly bring costs down, although having said that a gap year can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it. One way to offset this cost is to work as you go. When I was in Aerlie Beach, Queensland, there were lots of post-university students around and upon chatting to them they told us that they had worked ad-hoc jobs in bars and the suchlike in order to fund parts of their travels. This is a great idea, and if it works then that’s fantastic, but don’t plan for your money to come from a job, always have a back-up plan just in case you can’t secure anything.

The next issue to think about is what exactly you’re going to be doing; if you’re going to settle in a place for a while – say six weeks – then this will lead to a different preparation than if you’re going to be constantly backpacking. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that no matter what you’re doing – pack light! The memory of a friend and I jogging through Sydney in the pouring rain whilst trying to haul about 25 kilograms of luggage each behind us will stay with me forever. We arrived in Melbourne and all of our clothes were wet- lovely. In the end it didn’t matter because Melbourne was to be our base for the next three-and-a-half months, but a little forethought about how we were going to get from hostel to airport in adverse weather conditions probably wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Taking a gap year was one of the best experiences of my life, I got to see things I never thought I would see at the age of 18 and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Of course, there are times when it can get scary – when you can’t find your transfer in Hong Kong airport – or exhausting – the 15 hour flight from Sydney to LA still gives me nightmares- but the little moments of worry or tiredness were offset by some of the best memories I have. I urge you, if you’re even dreaming in the direction of a gap year, to grab it with both hands and wander.

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