One of the best decisions I ever made was taking a GAP year! It allowed me to meet new people that I would otherwise never be able to meet if I had stayed home in Australia.
I was enjoying myself so much that my GAP year in France, turned into 4 years. I ended up completing my entire University degree in many different cities including London, Paris, Bordeaux and Monaco. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!
Where will your GAP year take you?
The fact that you’re reading this article is great because it means that you are interested in spending some time abroad.
I know that it’s scary even thinking about dropping everything and moving overseas.
You may be thinking:
- I have responsibilities that I can’t put on hold for a whole year
- I can’t afford to just quit my job and move to a foreign country with no plan
- I will fall behind all my friends who are progressing in their careers
- What if I don’t like the place I move to after putting my life on hold to move there?
- I’m not even sure if I like traveling because I’ve never been overseas before
Fortunately, these thoughts are all normal and certain steps can be taken to ensure that this process of organising your GAP year is as stress-free as possible.
Firstly, it is important to get out of the mindset that you need to do what everyone else is doing. The majority of people aren’t happy with their lives and are living the life that is designed for them by their parents and teachers, not the one that they design themselves.
The reason why taking a GAP year is crucial is because it allows you time away from the people that you would normally spend time with and lets you meet new people from different cultures with different mindsets about life.
So now that you’ve decided to take a GAP year, what do you need to do?
1. Choose A Location
Choosing a location is a big struggle for many because they think that once they arrive, they have to stay there for a year, even if they aren’t enjoying themselves.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. We are lucky to live in a world where travel is ridiculously simple and reasonably cheap. If you aren’t enjoying yourself you can always book a flight, train, bus or car to another country.
In fact, I strongly recommend during your GAP year that you spend time in different cities and countries and get the most out of your time abroad.
I suggest choosing a country that speaks a foreign language because this gives you the chance to learn a new language and look at the world through another perspective. For
For English speakers who want to learn Spanish, Central America and South America are great options because while you learn Spanish, you can swiftly move from country to country quite, and see how each country has its own traditions and culture.
The steps to take to choose a country are as follows:
a) Decide What You Want to Get Out of Your GAP Year
This is often the hardest step because you have to ask yourselves questions you may not be comfortable with.
Do you want to learn a particular language, skill or sport? Do you want to be far away from home? Do you need a good internet connection to run your business?
These questions are sometimes difficult, but by answering them you’ll have a clearer view of what you want to get out of the year.
b) Research The Countries That Match Your Criteria
As an example, if my criteria is that I wanted to learn to dance, learn Spanish, grow my online business and be far away from home, then I could potentially go to Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile etc.
Once you have narrowed down the countries that fit your criteria, research each country individually and see what the benefits of each are and ask yourself more questions.
Is Spain a better option if I want to travel around Europe? Is Colombia too dangerous for a solo traveller? What type of visas can I get for these countries?
A great place to get country and city specific information is NomadList, where they analyse each country and city in terms of fun, danger, cost, internet speed, friendliness etc.
c) Choose A City
This step isn’t too important but it’s necessary. Once you have your country specific visa, moving to a different city is as simple as getting on a train, plane, bus or car. NomadList narrows down the main cities in each country to give you a better idea of which city you may prefer.
d) Contact The Embassy of Your Preferred Country
Start the application process to organise a one year Visa. This process can often take a few weeks/months so it’s best to start early.
e) Book Your Flights and Accommodation
I suggest using Skyscanner to book the cheapest flights. It’s great because you can search from your departure location to the country of your destination, without specifying the date or city, which means you can look for the cheapest options.
Hostelworld is great to book the first week of accommodation when you arrive until you discover which areas of the city you like and the cheaper options for long-term accommodation.
Airbnb is a great option if you prefer to stay in an apartment, rather than a hostel.
Choosing a location may seem like a long and tiring process, but it is extremely fun learning about different places and starting to think about moving to a different country and getting ready for a whole new experience
2. Learn The Local Language
As I have mentioned already, I think that learning a new language is a great way to experience a new culture. However, there are so many options out there, that often it becomes confusing and tiresome.
My advice is to start learning the basics of your desired language a couple of months before you leave.
I recommend doing this on a site called duo lingo where you are given the opportunity to learn basic grammatical structures and basic vocabulary.
Once you have arrived, there are many different ways to learn a new language; each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
The two main options are:
a) Language School
This is the most popular option because most people are familiar with learning in a classroom setting. It’s a good option if you want to meet other travellers and instantly gives you the opportunity to make new friends in a new city.
However, this becomes problematic when you end up spending most of your time with these foreigners and not socialising with the locals.
These language schools can often be overpriced with the promise of a Diploma, which usually doesn’t mean anything.
b) Private Lessons
This is my preferred method to learn a language because you are given the opportunity to spend one on one time with a native speaker.
This local can not only help you with your writing and speaking but give you great advice on what to do around the area. These lessons are normally paid hourly and are more often than not, cheaper than going to a language school.
Another important aspect in understanding a new culture is learning one of their national hobbies or traditions. This could be learning a sport, dance, cooking style or even a video game.
Learning a hobby not only allows you to spend time with the locals but also learn a new skill that you would never have had the opportunity to learn back home.
3. Find A Job
There are many different ways to work while you are overseas. If you have a visa that allows you to work you can work in retail, hospitality, teaching English or countless other ways.
If you only have a holiday visa where you aren’t able to work, then I suggest looking into SEO writing, or another form of online freelance work.
Working abroad was extremely beneficial for myself while living in France because it gave me the opportunity to interact with French people on a daily basis.
I was able to have conversations, practise speaking french, learn about the area and form some great friendships with the locals.
I can honestly say that I learned more French working and interacting with the customers than I did at the language school I was attending at the time.
If you are looking for a hospitality job, try and target English and Irish bars for work, because they are often looking for English-speaking staff.
This may seem silly because you will be speaking English with your co-workers all day, but in fact, you spend most of the time speaking to the local customers in their native language, which is a great opportunity to learn and improve your level.
One of the most important things to do during your GAP year is to travel.
You will most likely be moving half way across the world when moving abroad, so be sure to spend time visiting neighbouring countries and islands.
The problem a lot of people have when taking a GAP year is they settle in too much, and don’t take every opportunity they have. Remember it is a “GAP year,” you are not relocating full time.
Of course, you can relocate in the future, but the aim of a GAP year is to explore new things and have new adventures that you wouldn’t have at home.
Travel doesn’t necessarily have to mean travelling to different countries, it could just mean going to different cities for the weekend, going to the mountains a few hours away or doing a wine tour in the countryside.
The best way to travel on a budget is by bus, train, flights or car. I’ve often found that travelling on a whim and seeing where the wind takes you is an amazing experience because you are living in the moment, not knowing where or what is going to happen next.
Remember to be open minded and when opportunities arise, take them.
I hope this article has helped shed some light onto why taking a GAP year is a great way to develop yourself and experience things that you wouldn’t have ever dreamed of.
I know it might seem a bit daunting at first, but lucky for you, there is a massive community of travellers and expats online that can help give you endless amounts of information.
Be careful not to over complicate the process of planning a GAP year and just enjoy it. This is a once in a life opportunity and you should be enjoying every second of it.
If you have anything you would like to add to the discussion or any other tips that I may have left out, then please leave a comment below.
Have you taken a GAP year? Where did you go?