January marks the beginning of the end for some students, as graduation and convocation are just around the corner. For some, this means hitting the pavement with resumes; for others, it means setting off on the adventure of a lifetime — sometimes for an entire year. This is commonly known as a "gap year."
My own adventure came about almost by accident. I completed university in 2009; it was the heart of the North American recession and graduate jobs were few and far between. A friend suggested I take a break to travel; before I knew it, I’d booked a one-way ticket to Auckland, New Zealand. Having never travelled before, I set off on a one-year, 36 country, six-continent trip around the world and kept a travel video blog of the journey (it’s called Backpack With Brock, and it’s still going).
That experience opened my eyes. Now, more than 7.5 years and 90 countries later, I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about travelling. Below are some of my top tips to consider when planning your gap year abroad — however long it may be.
1. You can't see everything
Spin a globe or thumb through Google Maps and you’ll find millions upon millions of places to explore. Most travellers, myself included, are so keen to see it all that we overload our itinerary, packing every day with activities and moving locations every other night. This approach will cause you to burn out — and burn through your money.
No lifetime would be enough to explore all the world’s corners, and the same applies to your gap year. Accept that you can’t see everything and allow yourself to really delve in to the places you do visit. Be sure to leave room in your itinerary for unexpected opportunities present themselves — these are often the best experiences.
2. It will work out
It’s natural to feel anxious before heading somewhere new. But remember: it will work out.
Different currencies and language barriers can still feel overwhelming, but each time I am reminded to trust that it will work out, and more importantly, to trust myself. Travelling can be a tremendous way to boost your confidence; before you know it, those butterflies are less about anxiety, and more about excitement.
3. Pack less than you think you'll need
No matter how much space is in your luggage, you will likely fill it. Over the years I have downsized from a 60-litre backpack to a 40-litre carry-on yet find I still have everything I need, and rarely tire of what I’m wearing.
The key here is to start with a smaller bag. Then, pick clothes that can be mixed and matched a number of ways. If you’re missing something, you can usually get it wherever you’re going. Leave spare room, too, for when you find something special on the road you want to buy. My pro tip: buy compression bags.
4. This will not be a gap on your resume
One of the biggest concerns when taking a gap year is the gap in your resume.
This is simply not the case. Look at your gap year as a chance to improve your resume by seeing other parts of the world, learning about a variety of cultures and seeing how things can be done differently. Travelling abroad will also strengthen your personal skills, such as communication, confidence and problem-solving. This should help make you a stronger applicant and, once you’re hired, a better employee.
5. Don't be afraid
Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind is that you do not need to be afraid to travel. The world is a complicated, at times scary place, but shouldn’t prevent you from setting off to explore.
One of the most common questions I get asked is whether I am scared something bad will happen. Sure, something could occur while you’re abroad, but the same could also happen at home. Most people I meet on the road are helpful, welcoming and kind. Treat others as you wish to be treated, and you can’t go wrong.
My gap year changed my life. Do your research, trust your intuition, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Planning your gap year? Check out our roster of 18-to-thirtysomething trips here.