A gap year can be one of the most memorable years of your life. If you plan it right, it can set you up for lifelong success. But it shouldn’t be worrisome. You shouldn’t feel like a failure if you haven’t got your entire life figured out at the end of it.
Let’s see what a gap year is, how to make the most of it, and some things you can do during this time of adventure.
What is a Gap Year?
A gap year is the time period after you graduate high school, but before you head to college or start your career.
First, a gap year isn’t always a year. It could be much shorter or longer than a year.
The goal is to use this time productively, while also relaxing a little, and possibly doing some things you may never otherwise be able to do.
Let’s dive into some ways you can get the most out of your gap year…
How to Maximize Your Gap Year
These are some ideas to make the most out of your gap year…
1. Think About Your Resume
When deciding what you’ll do, consider the long term.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
Try to stick with things that will be fun, but also help you reach your goals.
2. But Don’t Think Too Hard About Your Resume
While it’s best to do things that contribute to your longterm plan, don’t forget to have fun.
You have so much time to do everything you want to do.
This year is about finding yourself and your calling.
3. Embrace the Experiences
Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
Appreciate and be grateful for the things you’re able to do.
Take in the experiences when you’re traveling the world, doing mission work, learning new skills, or doing whatever it is you decide to do.
4. Make Connections
You could make lifelong connections during your gap year.
Don’t forget to keep track of them.
Facebook and other social media sites work well for keeping up with people, but don’t forget about good ole’ phone numbers and emails.
5. Stay Openminded
During the course of the year, be open to changes in your life and your life plan.
You don’t want to be so openminded that you believe everything everyone tells you, so protect yourself, but be open to new ideas and concepts.
A gap year is also a good time to jump headfirst into apologetics and figuring out what you believe for yourself. You may have grown up in a super conservative household or one where religion was never mentioned, but you’re the only one who can ultimately figure out your beliefs.
Do the research and see where it leads you.
As a follower of Jesus, I ultimately believe it will lead you to Him, but it’s important that you are led and not coerced to Him. And of course, there’s always the possibly it will lead you to something you never expected.
What to Do in Your Gap Year
These three areas have unlimited options within each area.
These are only some ideas to get you started…
Possibly the most popular option. There are some homebodies out there, but it seems like the majority of people are falling in love with traveling.
And if you’re like most people, you don’t have the extra four or five digits of cash sitting around for travel, but you still have lots of options:
- Au Pair – If you like kids, you can become a nanny for a family overseas through an au pair program like AuPairWorld or AuPair.com.
- Mission Work – This would be a great year to become a missionary. Work with your local church network to see what your options are here. You may just end up falling in love with mission work and sticking with it for life.
- Work Abroad – You may be thinking your gap-year goal is to not work, but if you’re interested in traveling overseas, you could consider getting a job abroad, even if it’s just for this year. You could end up with travel experience and work experience. Check out websites like OverseasJobs.com or GoAbroad.com to find overseas job opportunities, or USA Jobs if you want to find a federal job abroad.
- Study Abroad – Again, you may be taking this year to avoid work and school, but if you’re really interested in learning about other cultures, consider studying abroad. Places like StudyAbroad.com and Educations.com can help with this.
- Military Families – You may not know anyone serving overseas in the military, but if you ask around, you may be surprised by who does know someone. Whether you move in to become a nanny, or simply to experience the overseas lifestyle with another family, you may be surprised at how willing military families are to take you in. This is really only a 90-day guarantee, depending on the country, because standard visas are typically only that long. But if 90 days isn’t enough for you, you could try multiple families. Imagine spending 90 days in Europe and then moving to Asia for another 90. It could happen. And remember, after six months, you can typically go back for another 90 days. Just ask around. Or post the request on Facebook and ask people to share.
There are even travel programs designed specifically for gap years. You can see some here.
With the coronavirus still heavily impacting travel, this could change your plans. be sure to stay up to date on travel restrictions and information on the Department of State website.
Read: How to Travel Light (written for families, but even easier to do if you’re single)
2. Start or Continue a Hobby
Are you an artist? Or a musician? Maybe you’re a writer… or you want to be one. Maybe you like to create clothing, beauty products, or bars of soap.
Whatever it is you do or want to do, there’s never going to be a better time to see if you can turn it into a full-time gig. You may come to the end of your gap year and realize you can turn this into a career. Or even if it stays a hobby, it will be something fun for the rest of your life.
Some ideas include:
- Music – Have you ever dreamed of being a famous musician? Or even just a musician who can make a living at it? Personally, I quit my band and joined the military, because I knew I’d be home more in the military than I would as a traveling musician. But for some people, especially if you’re single or playing music with your spouse, this could be a good year to try your hand at it.
- Art – Being an artist can be a hobby or a full-time job. It’s no surprise that the term “starving artist” is commonly known and understood, but some people are able to turn it into a full-time job. This is a great year to dive into it. Start by selling pieces out of your home and you may just sell enough to acquire your own studio.
- Sewing/knitting/crocheting – As a hobby, you’re likely making things like socks and wash cloths, but if you can transition into clothing, you may be able to use this year to turn this into a full-time thing.
- Writing – As a writer, I understand the struggle. But this is a good year to write a novel or even start a blog. Blogging takes a year or two to start earning money, so this is a good time to get started.
- Beauty Products – If you make your own makeup, soap, or cleaning products, you could use this year to try going full time with it.
- Scuba – If you’re a water person, you may enjoy scuba. Not a lot of people turn this into a full-time job, but it’d be a fun gap-year experience, and you could use an instructor certification to make some extra income once you start your career.
- Language Learning – This has never been easier, with tools like Duolingo, Open Culture, Busuu, and Babbel. This could also lead to job opportunities and more travel opportunities.
- Coding – There are plenty of uses for coding. It’s great for bloggers to know. It’s fun. It could be turned into a full-time career. You can get started for free at Codecademy and Code.org. You may decide to keep going and go to college for this after your gap year, or maybe you get so good you can go straight into business for yourself.
3. Try an Internship
You’re likely still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Don’t worry, at 33 years old, I am too.
An internship could be the answer. Or it could show you that you didn’t want to do what you thought you wanted to do.
More and more companies are actually offering paid internships now, so this could be a win-win. But even if you try an old-fashioned, unpaid internship, it could lead you to what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Prepare Financially for Your Gap Year
A gap year can be costly, especially if you don’t have a plan where it pays for itself, such as a working internship or working abroad opportunity.
But fortunately, there are some ways to make your gap year affordable.
1. Count the Costs
Before you venture in and fully commit to your gap year, you need to identify all possible costs. Review your budget and see what you need to do to cover these costs. We’ll talk more on that next.
You’ll need to check the major costs first. Where are you going to live? What will your gas and grocery budget look like? Find these answers and then…
2. Prepare a Gap-Year Budget
Now it’s time to budget.
Write down all the areas you may be spending money in, along with estimates of how much you’re going to spend (preferably overestimates). See what you need to do to fund everything.
Try a zero-sum budget where you spend every dollar on paper before you actually spend it. You may have money in savings or you may be planning to earn an income throughout your gap year. Either way, you need to make sure you can cover the expected costs.
3. Avoid Credit Cards
If you’re using credit cards for rewards points and paying them off in full every month, more power to you. But if you’re doing the standard fund-my-gap-year-with-credit-cards plan (or lack thereof), with no actual plan of when/how you’re going to pay them off, stop it.
Too many people start their adult life with debt and a gap year is a primary culprit making that happen. If you can’t afford your gap year without turning to credit cards that you don’t plan to pay off at the end of the month, change your plan.
4. Watch Out for Fees
If you’re planning to travel at all during your gap year, you need to be mindful of potential fees. This includes things like:
- ATM withdrawal fees
- Foreign transaction fees
- Currency exchange fees – not the same as foreign transaction fees
- Dynamic Currency Conversion fees – applied on credit card purchases in a foreign currency
- Mobile roaming or data fees
- Wi-Fi charges
- Airport departure tax
The little fees will add up. So be careful.
5. Plan Ahead
Now that your budget is ready to go, but before you venture out, you need to get everything settled.
You may already have some ideas for where you’ll stay, what you’ll eat, and how you’ll get around, but it’s best to solidify all of that before the journey begins.
Things to Remember in Your Gap Year
Taking all the above into account, here are some things and freedoms to remember…
1. You’re Still Young
You don’t have to commit to anything right now. Even if you try something out for a couple years, if you don’t like it, you’re still young enough to switch careers and life choices around.
Don’t feel like you have to stick with something just because you’ve already started it, or even just because you have a degree in it. You don’t want to be miserable for the rest of your life, just because you’re “invested” in something.
2. Don’t Expect Everything to Work Out
I’m not trying to be a killjoy here. I’m just being realistic.
A year is a long time. Nothing will ever go 100% right for an entire year.
Set the expectations bar low. Plan for a lot, but if you set your expectations low, you won’t be devastated when some things don’t work out.
3. It Doesn’t Have to Be a Gap “Year”
You may get started in your gap year and decide early on that you’re ready to begin a career or head to a university.
You may be over a year in and still have no idea what you want to do with your life.
However it works out, remember that the length isn’t what’s important. Setting your life up is what is important. Whether you decide early on what you want to do, or spend three years figuring your life out, a gap year should be a custom fit to your life. There’s no blueprint.
4. It Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
We already covered how to financially plan your gap year, but remember, it doesn’t have to cost $20k or more to be productive.
If you’re smart about it, you can cut costs and live in a way that puts you ahead financially once your gap year is over. If you’re able to start investing for retirement during this year, your small contributions will pay dividends later on.
5. It’s OK to Live With Your Parents
During your gap year, if you’re not traveling the world, you may find that you can save a lot of money by waiting to move out.
That’s perfectly fine.
Some parents start charging rent, but it’s unlikely you’ll be paying as much as you would living on your own.
There’s no shame in staying with your parents while planning out your life.
And by the way, if they do charge rent due to teaching fiscal responsibility, and not because they actually need the money, try talking them into investing that money for your future. It never hurts to try.
6. It’s YOUR Gap Year
It’s specific to you. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s gap year.
This is YOUR time. Do with it what you will.
It’s important to remember to make this gap year your own. It’s your life after all.
Don’t be persuaded to do everything everyone else wants you to do, even if they are all telling you they know what’s best for you. Listen to wise council, but make your own decisions.
So What’s it Gonna Be?
I’d love to hear what you decide to do in the comments. Or if you’ve already been through a gap year, share what you did to help others make a plan.
I never had a gap year. I got married at 18, the winter after I graduated high school. We had our first child less than a year later, and I’ve been a family man ever since. I’ve got a similar equivalent to a gap year by using two seven-month deployments to make a lot of lifetime plans, but that’s a pretty unique way to do it.
I’ve still created my own life and managed to do a lot of things other people seem to think they can’t do once they have a family.
Regardless of where you’re at in planning, always remember: break the mold, destroy the stereotypes, and live your own life.
Further Book Reading
- The Complete Guide to the Gap Year by Kristen White
- College Can Wait! by R.J. Vickers
- Find Your Why by Sinek, Mead & Docker
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
Further Bible Reading
- How to Save Money on EVERYTHING for Your Family: The Complete Guide
- Don’t Just Teach Your Kids to Set Goals, Teach Them to Do This
- When Should Your Kid Have Their Own Phone? A Real Conversation
- 47 Things You Weren’t Taught in School (That Our Kids Need to Know)
- Large-Family Minimalism: How We Declutter 5,000 Things a Year
- Budgeting for Kids: How to Teach Budgeting From Age 3 to 18