11 Life Lessons That I Learned From My Gap Year Abroad
Apart from some nicks and scrapes, major throwback worthy memories, 64 GB full of awesome pictures, a few wrong turns and awful decisions and of course a whole lotta great traveling, my gap year was also 365 days of life school for me. True, I’ll admit, I only set out for a gap year to shake off the stress of my college finals and all I was looking forward to was a good bit of traveling, some fantastic parties and meeting new people. But, seemingly my gap year had a mind of its own and it seriously took me on a roller coaster ride. Thank God, that I came to the realization of working in a volunteering stint into my travel routine when I did or I would have, I fear, missed out on a big part of the ‘living and traveling abroad for a year on my own’ experience.
Yes, my gap year did a serious number on me and made me live through some wise life lessons, and imbibed them right into my ever curious little grey cells! Some good dose of volunteer work and some weird callings of my adventurous spirit, my gap year taught me life lessons like a cool college professor. Though it has been more than 2 years since my return, those are still fresh in my memory like yesterday. My three-legged trip through the backpacking paradise of Southeast Asia during my gap year was the perfect way to kick-off my post-college, adult life in a dog eat dog world if you know what I mean.
11 life lessons strong, here’s what I learned:
Lesson No. 1
You can save up a storm when there are right reasons behind it. My gap year experience taught me I can be a super saver and made me realize that I have no need of shopping therapy anymore. That period of 1 and a half year, I didn’t even meet up much with my friends because I was dead set on saving even the last drop. My friends started taking me out once they realized that. I had become a thrift master and that was a trait which even helped me during my time abroad.
Lesson No. 2
It's all about experiencing new things and making memories. But trust me when I say, You might have to say NO to good things also sometimes. If I have learned YES to things, I have also learned when it’s time to say NO as well during my travels. Be it to that 3rd bottle of beer, or a midnight jetty out to the sea near Ko Pha Ngan with a few fellow travelers. No matter how appealing things might look and how much your heart is calling out to you, it’s always good to have a healthy balance between your head and your heart and listen to your head instead sometimes. I knew my safety is in my own hands and here I am the one responsible for myself. So, it didn’t matter if I missed out on an experience or two, I knew there’s something right around the corner that’ll take up its place.
Lesson No. 3
It is very important to comprehend the fact that you’ll be away from your home for a year or even more maybe, traveling far away from your friends and people you love back at home. People who want to stay in your life will stay in your life no matter what. Don’t keep holding on to the wrong people. I had a huge fallout with my then boyfriend just within 3 months into the trip point being I wasn’t there enough and not much available. You could say I got really selfish and thought about myself first in this scenario. Later I realized maybe it’s not so bad to be selfish sometimes if it can show you ultimate who’s there to stay and who’s not.
Lesson No. 4
A balance of planning and flexibility is the perfect recipe for a great gap year. A gap year is not your run of the mill vacation where you know when you going out and when you coming back. Unlike these traditional travel plans, gap year goes more along the lines of ‘wherever the road takes’ kind. As appealing and exciting as these spontaneous travel plans sound, it is always better to have a mix of planning in that as well. Trust me some basic planning and not just going out there and making your own road as you go is the wise decision. Let the adventurous one in you handle the impetuous side of things and let the wise one handle the planning part. Truth is spoken plans do change when you’re on the road and it’s better to do it freestyle but having a travel itinerary never hurt anyone!
Lesson No. 5
12 months, 365 days is a long time to travel, though some might even feel it’s not enough. You’re bound to have many kinds of plans on your gap year, some bucket list activities that you will try to fulfill. Make peace with the fact that all of your plans are not going to be a success. Some of them will be a hit and miss! For me, it was absolutely my cockroach eating experience in Thailand. Though I didn’t have much expectation from it and I knew that I wasn’t gonna like it much, but still I had learned to say yes to things I thought impossible. The turning point of the event when I certainly realized the cockroach in my mouth is kicking me with its tiny feet, I don’t know if it was some kind of a phantom limb movement. This was one of my plans during traveling that was an utter failure.
Lesson No. 6
Traveling abroad for a year on a budget means you have to survive on limited means. No grooming sessions, the same old pair of clothes, traveling in uncomfortable buses (with uncomfortable stares) and what not. What I realized during my time away is that lifestyle is a concept that is changeable. From doing my own eyebrows to becoming a vegetarian for straight three months due to money issues, out there I learned to adapt and accommodate and it was my thrifty lifestyle, which is a stark contrast to my lifestyle back at home that made my experience a successful one.
Lesson No. 7
Against popular opinion that says experiencing travel is an education in itself, actual education also matters! Travel can be rewarding and so can a University degree. Both prepare you differently and for distinctive things in life. If one makes you open-minded another makes you a thinker and if both are put together it makes you a powerhouse. Speaking from my own experience I saw first hand my University degree working its charm when I got a job at a local magazine during my time in Vietnam. Their lack of English resources made me somewhat of a special employee and my certificate was an assessment of my experience in journalism which is all they needed. Though the money was not that good, still it helped me save along the way!
Lesson No. 8
Cultural traveling is a popular concept these days and many believe that travel plans are incomplete without it. Cultural immersion while traveling in a country is a big part of your experience and the best way to learn the local way of life is hanging out with local people. Your interactions with the local people will influence your perceptions about the country. Luckily, the local friends I made throughout the course of the trip came to be a really precious part of my experience and made me fall further deeper in love with the countries I traveled to.
Lesson No. 9
During my time in Laos for a few days, I spent some time in a small town a few hours out of Vientiane. Seeing as I had some free time I tried to include a volunteering experience into my itinerary. Seeing as I am not half bad in English myself and there’s a need for English teachers I decided to take a teaching program in a small school. Volunteering during gap year can be much more than just helping a community in need. Though that is inevitably the impact everyone’s making, but those few days I forgot about the big picture and those children and their experience became an important part of my journey. What mattered to me the most is the impact I am making on them, the benefit they are getting and the love they shared with me.
Lesson No. 10
A Gap year is all about finding yourself and indulging in introspection. During my travels, I did many things that I never thought was capable of me and discovered a completely different part of myself. Experiences like this often bring you back to things that you once loved but then you grew up! For me, it was sketching. During my school years writing and sketching were a way for me to let off steam and though I kept holding on to writing through the years, the other one got lost in the way somewhere. I rediscovered this passion while traveling through marvelous landscapes and now I have further grown into chalk pastel painting as well!
Lesson No. 11
Many people tend to believe that taking a year off can turn out to be disastrous for their careers in the long run but it’s quite the contrary. The life experiences that you gain through this course of travel makes you a unique individual in the eyes of hiring teams. Employers never criticize a gap year experience in the CV. As per personal accounts, these experiences are lauded and often employers are really curious as well to know how it made it all possible. The drive and passion that they look for are reflected on marvelously through challenging experiences like these.
"Your experience is in your own hands and depends on what you make of this long time on your hands."
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