The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Gap Year

Melissa Presti
April 21, 2020

Historically, gap years have been a rite of passage for students across Europe, Australia, and the UK, and it’s beginning to become more and more popular among American students in recent years. 

Imagine that you’re about to graduate from high school and you’re expected to jump right into university classes with a definitive career objective in mind. That’s a lot to ask of an 18-year old - to know exactly what you want to be when you grow up when you still have a lot of growing up to do. A gap year has the ability to grant you more time. Time to learn about yourself, the world around you, and where you want to see yourself in that world.

Similarly, a college graduate may not be mentally prepared to jump into an office environment to kickstart a career after spending four years with their head in books and not applying much thought to what happens when you’re finished. You might be craving a little more life experience and freedom to figure out what to do next. Taking a gap year - whether that means an entire year or a few months - might be the answer to some of the uncertainty you’re feeling about the future.


Planning Stages

It’s important to give you plenty of time to plan your gap year, particularly if you don’t already have the finances figured out. Giving yourself six months at a minimum will at least allow you to plan ahead both financially and mentally.

It really all comes down to research, research, and more research. A gap year is usually a very personal mission and it will be formed by your own limitations and expectations regarding:

  • Budget
  • Trip length
  • Gap year goals
  • Safety and concerns


We’ll hit each of these points to make sure you’re taking all of the important details into consideration as you begin your research, and dive into more details later in the series. 


Budget

Before you can even turn this travel idea into a reality, we need to get realistic about how much money you’re planning to work with. There are a lot of variables we’ll get into as we go on with planning, but this is the time to assess your savings, how much you can potentially save over the coming months/years, and if you’ll have any financial assistance from your parents.

We can’t assume everyone will have the same financial situation or travel goals, and there is no one-size-fits-all gap year cost, but you can do a lot with a little! The more planning time you have, the more opportunities you’ll have to save.

  • Are you employed with a part-time, full-time, or summertime job? See if you can increase your hours or add on another side gig.
  • Are you expecting graduation gifts? Can you specifically request contributions to your gap year fund?
  • What about your tax return and that government stimulus check? If those aren’t already committed to other things, put it aside!
  • Do you own anything that is worth selling? You can turn a profit for literally anything on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or good old Craigslist! You could even join the secondhand clothing community on Poshmark to resell items in your wardrobe.


If your family will be helping out financially, you’ll likely want to involve them throughout your planning process.


Trip Length

A “gap year” might be the official term, but it’s not a required length of time spent on your travels. The maximum time you’ll be able to stay on the road for will predominantly be dictated by your budget, but there are many other factors that will grow or shrink that time such as the style of travel (budget, or luxury?), what you plan to do while you’re away (work or take classes?), and where you decide to travel to (some places are more expensive than others!). 

It’s best to have an ideal length of time in mind and then be open to adapting it to be realistic when considering what exactly you want your gap year experience to look like.


Gap Year Goals

What do you want to get out of your gap year? There are unlimited reasons for wanting to venture out into the world, and you should spend some time thinking about the motivations behind your wanderlust. 

This will help shape the next steps of the planning process as we move forward in the Gap Year Series, and hopefully give you a lot of food for thought!

See the world.

This is where the dreaming starts. What keeps you up at night or daydreaming (when you should be studying)? Is there a region or a country or a city that you’re particularly drawn to?

Secondly, is there a purpose or mission behind this place? Maybe you’re looking to experience culture shock in developing countries, or your passion for art is directing you toward the cultural capitals of the world. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Make a bucket list of destinations, even if it takes you across multiple continents, to use as a starting point.   


Volunteer.

If you’re specifically looking for an opportunity to give back to a community in some corner of the world, you should establish a few clear guidelines. A lot of volunteer programs require advance preparations and bookings. 

There are many programs that are only able to run by charging the volunteers for room and board - that’s right, volunteering doesn’t always equal free! But you’ll know your money and hard work is supporting the local economy/agriculture/education system/social programming etc. etc. 

You shouldn’t expect to show up in a country and find the people have been waiting for help from westerners. Philanthropic motivations are admirable as long as you go about it in a respectful and well-researched way. 

Even if volunteering isn’t the main focus of your gap year, there’s a good chance you’ll come across opportunities throughout your travels and you can decide then whether you’d like to incorporate that into your time abroad.


Learn a language.

Picking up helpful words and phrases of the local language happens quite naturally, but if your goal is to become fluent that’s a totally different ball game. If you have a specific language in mind then that will dictate the parts of the world you want to consider spending time in.

There are excellent apps like Duolingo and Babbel, and taking classes in-person is helpful, but interacting with locals over several months will impact your fluency in no time!

Learn something.

Of course we at Edumadic are champions of taking your education on the road, though that doesn’t necessarily mean online courses.

Are you interested in investing in a new hobby like scuba diving or working toward a certification in yoga? Maybe you want to learn to salsa dance or take up art classes. These activities will also help guide you toward the specific locations as you plan out your route. 


Earn money.

There are a lot of pros and cons if making money is your main motivation for travel. We’ve seen it done before - travelers will stay in a location long enough to work the front desk at a hostel, and pick up random side gigs like babysitting and bartending.

It’s not always as easy as it sounds - you have locals competing for those types of jobs too and depending where you’re at, there’s the language barrier that will benefit them more than you. And sometimes these jobs earn you free housing and meals rather than actual cash. 

Teaching English is another popular option, though it generally requires a specific TEFL certification and may keep you in one place for a while, depending on your contract. But we know of many people who have done this in locations like Vietnam and Thailand. They’ll work for 6 months to a year, saving a large chunk of their salaries and then use that money to fund further travels afterwards.

Another similar approach is getting hold of a working holiday visa for Australia or New Zealand. This is a well trodden path for European travelers, who take advantage of the high minimum wages in these countries to either fund their lifestyle in Australia/New Zealand (which is pretty amazing!), or save up just like the English teachers we mentioned before, and then travel on the savings after.


Start a career.

Yes, it is possible to start a career on the road with or without a degree. Travelers on a gap year can be a range of ages with varying school and work experience. If you’re traveling with a laptop and already have a solid skill set in areas like graphic design, social media, web development, etc. then it’s totally possible to explore your options for remote work

You might start to see yourself more as a digital nomad rather than a tourist on a gap year, and there’s honestly plenty of time in life to do both. 

Regardless of your gap year goals, you’ll be surrounded by all types of travelers and witness people actively pursuing every kind of goal you can think of. It will open your mind up to all of the possibilities that travel provides and you just might be inspired to set new goals along the way!


Safety and concerns

Lastly, as you begin your research, you might as well start making a list as you think of every potential risk and concern regarding your gap year - whether it’s a personal, parental, or societal concern.

Don’t discount a gap year as a possibility until you hear us out on these! Many commonly held concerns, particularly around safety are simply not grounded in reality. Even those that are, can be easily mitigated against by taking basic precautions.

We take several concerns and safety issues into account when we determine our program locations, and we’ll cover this subject more in-depth in this series to ensure that you are planning a trip with your personal health, safety, and general well-being in mind. 


What’s next?

In the following posts in this series we’ll be diving deeper on each of the topics above and help you put a comprehensive plan together for your gap year!

Stay tuned….