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How to Plan a Gap Year (and Why You Should Do It)

We scoured the globe and created this guide to make it easier for you to plan a gap year that you won't soon forget.

Whether you see yourself whizzing down the snowy slopes of the alps or snorkeling through the turquoise waters of Thailand, you’ve decided that taking a gap year in some far-out destination is exactly what you need to hit refresh. Don’t get too carried away with daydreaming about your time off – you need to get into planning your gap year first.

You *panicked*: “But how do I even start planning my gap year?”

Me *chilled*: “Don’t stress. We’ve got you covered.”

Keep calm and read on. Planning a gap year doesn’t have to be as stressful as it sounds. So if you’re ready to jump in, here’s the skinny on how you can plan an international gap year – and have fun at the same time.

Is a Gap Year Really a Must?

Besides getting a chance to see another corner (or three) of the big wide world, taking a gap year offer many other benefits to those brave enough to answer the wanderlust calls. So, if you need to motivate your reasoning (and parents) as to why it’s a good idea to take a gap year. We did our research, and this is what we found.

While we already know that nothing beats experiential learning, sometimes you need some data-backed insights. Thankfully the Gap Year Association – featured in Forbes – conducted a survey on students who decided to take a gap year. And the findings are more eye-opening than you think. Let’s have a look!

  • Taking a gap year means you get time to prep for college or before you start your career, and when you do decide to study or work, it boosts both your student life and your job prospects. Gap Year Association reported that taking a gap year increases college GPA scores and improves job satisfaction, 73% of respondents said that their time abroad helped them prepare for college, 75% said that it helped them get a job, and 84% said it helped them learn skills that helped them become successful at work.
  • You discover new passions, and who knows, maybe those passions lead to other avenues that help you create a healthier and happier life. The Gap Year Association study reported that 77% of respondents said their gap year helped them find their purpose in life.
  • You develop life skills and hone your global competency. The study also revealed that 93% of survey participants said they have an increased interest in people from around the world, and 94% said it helped them learn to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
  • You get to experience different cultures. 90% of Gap Year Association survey respondents stated that they have a better understanding and respect for cultures different from their own.

Nuff said. Now that you know why you should take a gap year. Let’s get stuck into planning yours.

Planning My Gap Year

There are two primary ways to travel during a gap year – you can gap abroad with a program, or you can travel independently. If you decide to join a program, things like accommodation, daily schedules, sightseeing, visas, and transportation are likely to be organized for you. This differs from program to program – but it is possible to find companies who take care of all of this for you.

Or you may decide to take charge of your gap year experience and plan it all on your own. You can totally decide to do this, but you’ll be responsible for all the planning for your gap year.

Which track should you take? Well, that depends. Would you prefer a more structured travel itinerary with guidance and accountability? Or would you prefer overall freedom where you can create your own travel itinerary?

Let’s take a look at your options. You might also want to save these top tips for traveling internationally.

Step 1: Decide How You Want To Spend Your Gap Year

Whether or not you’ve made your mind up about going with a gap year program or traveling solo, you need to have some idea about what you want to experience during your gap year. Do you see yourself having a working holiday or maybe doing an internship? Or perhaps philanthropy is more of your thing, and you want to give back by volunteering abroad. Or maybe your idea of the perfect gap year is just sightseeing. Whatever you decide, you have lots of options. In fact, the world is your oyster.

Gap Year Program Itineraries:

So, if you opt for gap year programs, the good thing is that Google will have many options for you to choose from. And while you won’t need to create a whole itinerary, you will need to select a program and apply. Here’s how:

  • Think about what countries have piqued your interest and what you want to spend your time doing. Do you want to learn a language, mentor children, or make some nice tips while bartending? Or maybe interning at an animal shelter fits perfectly into your dream of being a veterinarian.
  • Match your travel interests with the gap year programs that best fit your goals.
  • Check out those program reviews. They’ll have the low down from former gappers about what the program was really like.
  • Tip: Use MyGoAbroad’s online tool and have an online advisor pair you up with a few programs that match your interests. Once you’ve chosen the one, it’s time to look at program fees and requirements and send that application in.

Solo Gap Year Itineraries:

If you decide you’d prefer to go it alone and plan your own gap year, you can easily scour gap year websites and online travel communities to confidently organize a year tailored to you. Here are some pointers:

  • Make a list of all of those incredible places that are on your travel bucket list. And some ideas of what you’d love to spend your gap year doing.
  • Figure out what you can afford to spend during your travels and decide how long you want to travel for – you know it doesn’t have to be a year? In fact, it could even be two! Who knows, maybe you decide you’re going to be the next Indiana Jones.
  • Research the costs of visiting your chosen destinations and start making a budget. Don’t worry. We go through that later.
  • Match up your schedule, places, and activities with your budget.
  • And finally, start designing the gap year program of your dreams.

Need some itinerary inspiration? Google phrases like: “gap year program Thailand” or “planning a gap year in Greece” to spark your gap year ideas.

Step 2: Make A Budget

Whether you save up money through a part-time job, organize a fundraising event for sponsorships or decide to take on seasonal jobs while you travel, you’ll need to save up and have a budget.

Budgeting For Gap Year Programs:

As you narrow down your programs, you’ll be comparing their fees to your budget. It’s important that you get a clear understanding of what each program costs, what expenses are covered in the program, and what outside expenses you might incur. This means you need to budget for everything (literally). Especially if you’re going to do some independent travel in your free time – you’ll want to keep track of all those meals and miscellaneous purchases.

Budgeting For A Solo Gap Year:

Whether it’s on paper or an excel spreadsheet, it’s essential that you carefully budget your solo travels. Figure out how much you can afford to spend and compare that to your potential gap year expenses. Write down anticipated costs like transport, travel insurance, accommodation, internet, food, visas, sightseeing, etc. Use online tools like cost-of-living calculators to find estimates of every potential cost you can think of and more. Keep a little cash for a rainy day or emergency fund. Here are some tips on how to shop for travel deals.

Step 3: Research Accommodation

Accommodation For Gap Year Program Travelers:

In most cases, your gap year program will arrange housing for you. To help them get it right, choose the program with accommodation options that suit your comfort levels. You might share a room with other gappers or shack up in a hip downtown flat. Another common housing option is living with a local family in their home – these homestays allow for total immersion into local society. So, think about what you would be most comfortable with, but try to keep an open mind. After all, stepping outside of our comfort zones makes for the best experiences.

Accommodation For Solo Gappers:

As a solo gapper, it’s totally up to you where you crash every night. So really consider how you like to travel. Backpacker’s hostels are best for those who don’t mind super modest accommodations and want to save some cash. But if you can’t stand the thought of sharing a bathroom, then consider surfing on a friend’s couch or making reservations at a cozy guesthouse. Location, budget, and comfort are the top factors to think about when you’re arranging your gap year accommodation.

Step 4: Plan Your Transportation

Gap Year Program Transportation:

With a gap year program, your organization will plan your in-country transport. But if you decide to do some traveling outside of the program’s schedule, you’ll have to arrange it on your own. Many gappers will choose to do this before or after their formal program schedule. If you’re already in Portugal, why not stay for longer and try the solo gapping thing. Feel free to ask program advisors’ for their transport advice.

Planning Transportation As A Solo Gapper:

When you’re planning your own gap year, you’re in charge of figuring out all your transportation in and between countries. You can decide to take rickshaws in Mumbai or reindeer sleighs in Finland. Stalk some Facebook travel groups and online guides to research your ride options.

Step 5: Familiarize Yourself With Visa Requirements

No matter where your curious heart leads you, you’ll probably need a visa to enter your chosen destination. You might need to submit copies of your ID, return flight ticket, have a valid passport with at least six blank pages, and have a travel itinerary. Some countries will require you to apply for a visa at their embassy in your home country, while others will might grant it right at the airport upon your arrival.

Visa application processes differ from country to country. With gap year programs, your advisors will tell you how to get your visa, but if you’re traveling solo, you’ll need to determine the visa requirements before you visit. Use the GoAbroad Embassy Directory to connect with embassies for details on their country’s visa requirements.

Step 6: Get Your Health & Finances In Order

Bills. . . Make sure that your bank is aware that you will be out of the country and that your payments are taken care of if you have any recurring monthly payments. While you’re there, make sure that you can still make use of your bank cards.

Get Your Shots! Staying healthy is key to enjoying your gap year experience. So make sure you get all the recommended vaccinations for wherever you’re traveling to. Also, with COVID-19 still very much a factor in our daily lives, you will likely need to provide proof of vaccination or get a negative test result before departure.

Get Travel Insurance Coverage. Traveling is all fun and games, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need extra peace of mind. Travel insurance can cover many unforeseen costs, from trip disruptions to medical expenses. If you’re traveling with a gap year program, find out if travel insurance is included in their fees. While travel insurance typically isn’t mandatory, seasoned travelers will tell you it’s not something to skimp on.

Step 7: Learn Some Local Lingo (& Culture)

Even the most adventurous of souls will go through some cultural adjustment. After all, a little bit of culture shock is what makes gap years a rite of passage. How can you have a smoother transition? Try to learn a bit about where you’re headed and their cultural norms. Learn a few basic sentences in the local language, read some destination guides, and do some web surfing. Maybe download Duolingo for the millionth time in a row.

Step 8: Pack Your Bags And Take To The Skies

You’ll probably be tempted to pack everything for your adventures. But you need to be careful about how much stuff you force into your suitcase. Airlines have maximum luggage weight allowances, and if you pack lighter, you’ll have less to carry around with you. You’ll probably find everything you need in your destination country. Feel free to ask other gappers and program staff for some advice on what to pack.

Strategies For Planning Your Gap Year

Keep leading with the same eagerness that brought you here. Push aside any negative thoughts or limitations that might deter you in the initial process. Planning your gap year is exciting! Yes, there’s a lot to figure out, but take it step by step.

Start by brainstorming to get the inspiration flowing. This step requires equal parts curiosity and transparency – curiosity to discover every interest of yours and transparency to identify what you truly need to be successful.

It’s also recommended that you dedicate a notebook or Google Doc to your planning process, ensuring all your notes and thoughts are in one safe place.

Once you have fleshed out your gap year goals and requirements, your research criteria are much more refined and, therefore, more effective. For any gap year options that fit your criteria, review their sites, follow them on social media, and, if available, attend their free webinars – these will feature program highlights and alumni voices. Go Overseas has a nifty search platform with tons of gap year programs and reviews for you to consider and compare.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.