As you’ll know, there’s a lot to think about when planning a gap year. You want to be able to enjoy it but you’ll also want it to be an experience that will be worthwhile. For many people it will be the only time they’ll get to do some substantial travelling, so it’s important to make the most of it.
One advantage to gap year travel is the fact you have the time to be away for longer; you’re able to spend more time in one area than you ever could on an average holiday. This gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the everyday life of locals and leave with a true impression of the country and its people. You may even end up leaving with a better understanding of other cultures, which in turn could help you to find new meaning in your own or at least help you decide what to do next.
A good way to experience how the locals live is to eat with them or at least try the food that they eat. Venturing off into the unknown areas can be daunting and care should always be exercised, particularly if you are travelling alone, but it doesn’t mean you should dismiss the idea. With a little asking around and a bit of common sense, you never know who or what you might come across that could end up having a lasting impact on you. After all, they say life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Getting to know the locals can seem impossible, especially if there is a language barrier but volunteering can be a great way to get around this. If you are with a group then it will feel much less intimidating, but you will still feel much more a part of the community than you would have done otherwise. Adding a bit of volunteering into your gap year will also allow you to add it confidently to your CV and ensure employers/universities know you didn’t just have a great time – you did some good and learnt new skills too!
If volunteering doesn’t appeal then another way to make the most of your experience is to find exciting and unusual activities to do. Depending on country, there will be various adventure sports or activities to try out. Joining an adventure trail will help you to find such opportunities, taking the hassle out of your trip. Trekking Machu Picchu, exploring salt flats or discovering Angkor Wat for yourself can be proud achievements you take home. Whilst canopy tours and zip wires through the forest allow you to get high up in the trees and see the world from a whole new perspective. Similarly river tubing or kayaking gives you a different view of your surroundings whilst getting your heart pumping. If you’ve really got a head for adventure you’ll find opportunities to sky dive or bungee dump in most countries, or if you’d rather something in between try riding down the side of a volcano on a wooden board or scuba diving in the ocean!
Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure it’s what you want to do and that it will benefit you in some way, whether that be personally or by helping to get you into the University or job that you want. At the end of the day, your gap year is what you make of it.
Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an international non-profit NGO with over 300 volunteering projects across the globe in teaching, wildlife conservation and gap year adventures.