The Scary and Amazing Truths About Taking a Gap Year

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The thought of taking a gap year – a year away from school, college or work to travel/work abroad – can seem like the most wonderful thing.

Although I firmly believe that taking a gap year to do something amazing is one of the best things a person can possibly do, there are a lot of uncertainties and perceived difficulties that taking a gap year brings, as you leave behind the safety of home and the support of your friends and watch the size of your bank account rapidly diminish.

On this page we’ll be taking a look at some of the scary truths about taking a gap year (i.e. the ones that will make you wonder whether taking a gap year is a good idea), as well as some of the amazing truths (i.e. the ones that make it all worthwhile in the end).

The Scary Truths About Taking a Gap Year

1. Planning a Gap Year is a Massive and Difficult Task
With so many options available to you (as you can do pretty much anything in a year) the simple act of deciding what to do (let alone plan it) is a stressful one (FYI, here are some tips for deciding what to do on your gap year).

If you’re going traveling, you’ll need to plan out a rough route (including what you want to see along the way), estimate costs, work out who you’re going with, what items you’ll need, what vaccinations you’ll need to get, etc.

Whether you’re volunteering overseas, doing a conservation program, teaching English overseas, doing an expedition or taking a gap year course, there are plenty of great organizations out there that can arrange accommodation for you and sort out a lot of the logistics. Even with the help of these organizations, however, there will still be a million and one things you need to sort out (especially if you’re operating on a shoestring budget).

Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to work out what to do with all the stuff you’re leaving behind (such as your car and your apartment).


2. You’ll Most Likely End Up Penniless
If you’re off traveling or volunteering somewhere, the chances are you’ll not be making any money during your gap year.

Even if you do work for a portion of your gap year (whether it’s through getting a job at home, working as a ski instructor in Canada or picking fruit on a farm in Australia), the chances are that you’ll then spend that money traveling or anyway.

Even with the best budgeting skills in the world, you’ll almost certainly spend more money than you expected (especially if it’s your first time traveling) as there are so many miscellaneous costs you’ll never initially account for.

All this usually (and somewhat inevitably) leads to one thing: Being broke at the end of the year.

This can be tough to take for some people (especially those who worked their backsides off to save up for this year of freedom).

At the end of the day, however, you’ll realize that a lot of the experiences you’ll have during your gap year are priceless, and although you might be broke right now, you can always earn more money wherever you are, whereas you can never get back the time you lost and the experiences you might’ve missed out on by not taking a gap year.

3. Your Family and Friends Might Not Understand
Once you’ve decided what it is you want to do, the time will come to tell your friends and family about it.

Your parents might you the same questions: “Will this lead to you getting a job?” or “Will this help you get into university?” over and over as they fear the worst.

Your friends might question whether you’re taking a gap year because you’re too lazy to get a job or because you’re running away from something.

No matter how much you try to explain, some people will just simply not understand what it is you’re doing as they’ve never done anything like it themselves. All you can do is to show them how diligently you’ve planned out your trip and how you’ve taken every precaution to ensure your own safety.

Of course, not all friends and not all parents are like this, and even if they are, it’s just because of a lack of education (about what you’re actually doing and the benefits it’ll offer) and because they’re worried about you.

4. You’ll Feel Like You’re a Year Behind All of Your Friends
After taking a year out from your ‘normal life’, you’ll come back to reality and find that all of your friends who were in your year at school/college are now a year ‘ahead’ of you in their lives. Some of them may have stable, well-paying jobs and some of them may be a year into their college/university course. This can be hard to take for some people, as they’ll feel like they’re a year behind everyone else.

Of course, your friends who you now perceive as being ahead of you are most likely jealous of the amazing year you’ve just had!

5. Even Though You’re Doing Something Amazing, You Might Still Wonder if You’ve Made the Right Decision
Although a gap year, done properly, will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life, there is a chance that you’ll wonder whether you made the right decision putting off whatever it was you did (i.e. starting university/college/work/a business venture).

You might wonder whether you could’ve better used the money you spent (whether it was for starting up a business, buying a house or whatever)

You might question you reasons for taking a gap year in the first place. Was it because you wanted to have an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, or was it because you were delaying starting work/university?

These kind of “Did I make the right decision?” questions are likely to come up whenever you make a big decision in your life (so they are by no means exclusive to traveling/gap years) and they are perfectly natural questions to ask.

Of course, these kinds of questions are far more likely to be raised if you didn’t make the most of your gap year, so make sure you squeeze every last drop of goodness out of it!

Hopefully by now I haven’t depressed you and completely turned you off of the idea of taking a gap year! In addition to what I’ve just mentioned there are actually some pretty amazing things about taking a gap year (that well outweigh the negatives).

Yosemite National Park

The Amazing Truths About Taking a Gap Year

1. Taking a Gap Year Gives You the Time to Decide What to Do With Your Life
Taking a year off from ‘regular life’ will give you some time to think about what it is you actually want to do with the rest of your life. Instead of rushing into a college course or career that you’re not sure about, taking a year off gives you the time to really think things through and come up with the answers.

2. No-one Ever Regrets Taking a Gap Year (Providing They Did Something Constructive)
Let’s be clear – when I say ‘providing you do something constructive’, I don’t mean you have to go out and build houses in Africa. I just mean that you aren’t spending your gap year sitting on the couch at home playing video games. You don’t have to do something altruistic or join the Peace Corps to have a ‘constructive’ gap year, you just have to get out there and experience the world; however that might be (whether it’s partying on a beach in Thailand or working on a farm in Australia).

For many gappers, their gap year is one of the high points of their life. It’s an adventure that’ll leave permanent marks upon your character and will help to shape you into a better person.

Traveling, volunteering and/or working abroad will all give you insights into how other people live and how other cultures operate. You’ll be required to test and challenge yourself in ways you’d never thought about, and you’ll develop into a better person as a consequence.

3. It’s a Whole Lot of Fun!
Traveling to the other side of the world and doing a bunch of amazing things is pretty great. You’ll meet a bunch of amazing people and have experiences that you’ll remember forever.

As well as having a fun time while you’re on your gap year, you’ll build a collection of stories that you can tell your friends/family when you get back. It’s great to be able to share and relive these experiences over and over (and to see other people’s reactions as you’re doing it).

Hot Air Balloon

4. If You Don’t Do it Now, You Probably Never Will
How often in your life will you have virtually no commitments (mortgage, kids, jobs, etc.) and a whole year free with which to live out your dreams in?

This kind of opportunity only comes around once in a while, and if you don’t act on it now the chances are you might never get another chance to.

Of course, gap years aren’t just for young people (as I’ve written about here), but when you’re young, free, single and straight out of school/college/university, why not go and live out your dreams?

4. It should be noted that this article is not an attempt to deter you from taking a gap year, but to open your eyes to the realities of what lies ahead in an attempt to prepare you for them (and to make you realize that most of the things you’re worried about aren’t actually as bad as they seem).

Related posts:

  1. Will Taking a Gap Year Cause You to Lose Motivation?
  2. Why Taking a Gap Year Before College is Good for Students
  3. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking a Gap Year
  4. 6 Great Gap Year Ideas
  5. Will a Gap Year Change Your Life?

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