I was horrified to see recently that the gap year guide on well known website was by a tutor and coach recommending the various travelling projects that his company offers… for the right price. This, understandably, troubled me. Shouldn’t we take our gap year advice from the poor sods actually taking them? And why focus purely on travelling gap years?
This is my 5-point plan for all gap years. No endorsements. No sale pitches. Just practical advice - before the students leave to settle into halls and the gappies are left rubbing their eyes as they start another day of moping about the house.
Make a routine.
Sleeping in past 2pm every day isn’t going to help as you’ll be unproductive in your search for travels, experience or employment. Much better to get up and go for a walk or a run. This routine will be helpful if and when you find work experience or a job. After all, starting a 9-5 job after a month of lie-ins can be a bit of a drag.
Keep intellectually busy.
That bar job really won’t be making you any smarter. Keep reading; books, newspapers, magazines and of course Kettle Mag! Anything to keep the brain ticking over. Use it or lose it. Your brain will turn to mush if you haven’t read anything longer than the label on a packet of Pringles for 12 months. You will be in for a shock when you return to university and are expected to get through Wuthering Heights and Plato’s Symposium in two days.
If you are aiming to travel, do your research. Documentaries, guide books, even ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 can help you pick a safer, cheaper option. Moreover, having a destination you really want to get to will motivate you so much more than just thinking you’d like to travel to… anywhere hot.
Do something every day
Do not (even for a day) do nothing. Walk the dog, paint the fence, tidy your room, tidy your brother’s room anything to stop you becoming part of the furniture. Having one empty day will encourage another one, and another and another. Be a gap year shark and don’t stop moving. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun as well, but it does mean you need to keep looking ahead. A diary of future dates or a travelling countdown can help.
Don't give up
If you don’t get what you want, keep trying. If you’re really stuck, do it yourself with blogs, article pitches, even projects on the side that relate to your subject of interest. If you can expand your understanding or knowledge, even about a seemingly esoteric subject, then you can bring that knowledge to bear over coming years. Tutors will be more frustrated with “Oh, I just like everything.” than “I’m fanatically obsessed with J.S. Mill please debate with me about him!” Equally, volunteering and work experience can later turn into paid work so don’t underestimate their value. Ensure that you make your gap year valuable!
Gap years shouldn’t be just about spending thousands of pounds to save poor African children, although in theory there is nothing wrong with doing that. Just make sure you come away from it more experienced, more employable and more likely to succeed in your chosen field.