School leavers have been doing it for decades, taking a year off to travel before starting university or getting a “real” job. The gap year was traditionally seen as one last burst of freedom before the weight of adult responsibility came crashing down around your ears. Generations of kids coming out of their teenage years used their thumbs, euro-passes and money scrounged from their parents to see the world – often through the bottom of a beer glass.
What began as an option for the privileged became a necessity in the recession as jobs became scarcer and university placements were harder to get. Taking a year to travel was a way of filling in time until things (hopefully) turned around. Fast-forward to the present, and the gap year has become much less about wasting time, and all about helping others. That precious year “off” has become, for many, a more meaningful voyage of self-discovery.
Gap year travel has become a multi-million-dollar industry with hundreds of websites dedicated to providing suggestions of places to go and things to do. The age-old benefits of travel are still there, but there are also a few surprising new ones for those with an adventurous spirit and a year to burn.
1. See It for Yourself
You can’t capture the majesty of the Grand Canyon on Instagram or appreciate the mastery of the Sistine Chapel by playing a video game. Taking a gap year to travel will ensure you haven’t just viewed some of the wonders of the world – you’ve experienced them.
2. Learn a New Language
Learning new skills becomes harder as you age, and you’ll never have a better opportunity to gain another language than by immersing yourself in a foreign culture for a year.
3. Do a CHAD
Charity Adventures are all about raising money for a worthy cause by fulfilling a challenge. Trek in the Himalayas to fight cancer or cycle Britain in support of medical research. Organize your own CHAD, or join one of hundreds held every year around the globe.
4. Animal Welfare
Even if you weren’t one of those kids who always wanted to be a vet, you can indulge your love of animals by helping out in dozens of different countries. Protect the baby turtles in Costa Rica or live in residence at one of several African wildlife refuges that welcome volunteers.
5. Acquire Some Medical Skills
Volunteering in a medical clinic for a year is a unique opportunity to pick up some life skills while helping others. Countries throughout Africa and Asia will feed and house you in exchange for helping some of the world’s neediest patients.
6. Gain a New Perspective
There’s a big, exciting world out there where most people don’t speak English and have never heard of the Kardashians. Traveling to another country is the only way to get a perspective on your own, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn by seeing the familiar through a different set of eyes.
7. Make Meaningful Friendships
Some of the people you meet and work with during a gap year will stay with you for life. Locals who invite you into their homes, and fellow-travelers who share your sense of wonder. These are the faces you’ll remember, long after high school is a distant memory.
8. Make a Bit of Money Along the Way
It’s not hard to earn a little spending money while you’re exploring new boundaries. Go all out and teach English in Asia, or pick up some cash with a day or two of manual labor. Youth hostel notice boards are a great place to find casual work.
9. Get a Head Start on University
If you’re taking a year off before going back to school, there are huge benefits from taking a course abroad. Not only will you get a credential, but you’ll be immersed in a different culture with an instant circle of friends to help you make the most of the experience. It’s hitting two birds with one stone.
10. Find Yourself
The oldest benefit of gap year travel is still the greatest. In that year, you’ll learn more about who you are, what you want in life, and how to achieve it than in any other. No matter how you spend it, your gap year will not only be life-changing but also self-revealing.
No matter what your intentions are in your gap year, may you make the most of it by choosing to get out of your comfort zone. Sure, there are these little inconveniences as you go along but these things that you will encounter along the way will be worth it and worth sharing to the world when you finally get back. You learn to appreciate your life at home and expand your circle of friends and understanding of the world.
Happy travels and enjoy the adventure.