Are you considering a gap year? A little time away from school (for most students, the first time since kindergarten!) is a great opportunity to get outside the United States, meet different people and learn about completely different cultures.
You’ll also learn a lot about yourself and have time to think about who you want to become!
You can wander the globe during your gap year, join a structured gap year program, take part in a summer program for high school students, or live with a foreign family in a homestay. No matter which course you choose, you will change dramatically over the year. You will be smarter and more confident in yourself and you may even speak a new language!
In order to have a great gap year experience you’ll want to be prepared with the right gear. Not too little and not too much! Here’s a list of some essentials.
1. A Little More Money, A Little Less Stuff
“Stuff” is heavy. An ATM or credit card is light. If you’re asking, “will I need this over a gap year?” and the answer is, “maybe not…,” then it’s best to leave it at home. Of all the things you leave at home, you can buy the one item you actually need at a store in your new location.
One important item: your student ID. It will get you discounts at a lot of museums and national parks, as well as for transportation and other necessities.
2. A Set Of Nice Clothing
Slacks, a nice collared shirt, a tie, skirt or dress, dress shoes. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to attend a networking event (you’re looking for a great job out of college, right?) or maybe a Thai wedding!
3. Power! (Adapters, Banks, and Cables)
Make sure to have an international adapter so that you can charge your devices on local outlets. Bring a power bank that holds enough power for three to five full cell phone charges because there is nothing worse than running around town with 2 percent cell phone charge and your brightness turned all the way down, frantically trying to find your homestay, hostel or hotel. Get a power bank with a built-in flashlight and a solar panel if you’re going into rural areas.
Bring multiple charging cables. Constantly pulling cables in and out of your bag wears them down quickly.
I pack all my valuable items inside a daypack that I then put inside my big pack on top of all my clothes and nonessentials. The small daypack holds my computer, money, passports and chargers, so I can quickly grab it if a bus driver tells me I need to stow the big bag below the bus.
5. A Padlock
Most hostels will have lockers to stow your stuff and will conveniently “rent” padlocks for a dollar or two. Bring your own padlock so that you can save money and have a secure combination.
6. Old Fashioned Tree-Pulp (For When The Power Dies)
You can watch videos and talk to your friends on your phone, but if you’re ever without Internet or if your battery dies, then you’ll be glad to travel with at least one book to read! (I also travel with a nearly destroyed Spanish-English dictionary.)
Also, take a printout of phone numbers and other contact information for your family and friends (in case your phone dies). Print out your plane tickets and never rely completely on the QR barcode ticket on your phone. Just to be safe, also print out copies of your passport that you can show in an emergency or use to get a replacement. Keep copies of documents in a different spot than the originals.
7. A Journal (Online Or Tree-Pulp)
You’ll have a lot of things to write about on your trip abroad. Keeping a journal is a great way to remember everything for years into the future. An online journal will never be stolen, and you can even write a public blog to let others follow your gap year adventures.
8. First-Aid Supplies
I’ve seen other travelers advise taking everything from hypodermic needles to “oral rehydration packets” to 10 different kinds of pills, just in case you have an emergency. But after being bitten by an unknown snake in Thailand, dealing with food poisoning multiple times in Vietnam, and getting a nasty infected coral scrap in the Philippines, I can tell you the long list of supplies isn’t necessary.
There are hospitals and clinics everywhere and if something happens to you, then it’s happened 1,000 times to locals. They’ll know how to handle it best. Just bring some antiseptic wipes, disinfecting hand gel and some Band-Aids, and leave any other gap year emergencies to the local doctors.
9. Waterproof Gear
Take a rain jacket (and maybe pants) that doesn’t take up a lot of room, a rain cover for your backpack and plastic bags to keep your wet clothes and unclean laundry away from your fresh shirts and socks.
10. A Friend!
This is the only item you won’t be able to stuff into your backpack.
In all reality, if you’re not with a gap year program or internship, traveling with a friend can be a lot of fun, safer and reassuring if you’re a little nervous about traveling or studying abroad for the first time.
One Important Thing NOT To Bring On A Gap Year
A towel! I don’t know why so many people recommend bringing a towel. I never go anywhere that doesn’t have clean towels. Towels take up a lot of space. If you shower every day then your towel will always be wet and you can’t put a wet towel it in your bag without it growing mildew.
Check the Checklist!
Whether you’re spending your gap year with a homestay family, starting with summer program for high school students, or are just traveling freely on your own, I can almost guarantee you will have an incredible experience.
Use this blog post as a “checklist” and remember to take common sense with you as well. With a little planning you’ll have a fun, educational and safe gap year.