This is it…the moment when your life can head out on a wonderful tangent. But working out what YOU want to do can seem impossible with the background noise of obligation, job prospects and finances(or lack of) yelling at you. Plug the earphones in, put on your favorite sounds and read on…. Studying a subject you dislike is like having a Death Eater attached to your face, every day sucking the joy from your life. So,taking a year out of education and away from home, can give you space to think, and provide plenty of new experiences that might change the direction you had been heading. Not only that, but University fees aren’t cheap…unless you live in Germany, Scotland or the other countries that truly value an educated population. So it could save you a small fortune. A gap year isn’t just for those heading off to study though. It’s for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in life up to the hilt. Sometimes scary, mostly rewarding. Pros: No regrets! A study asked older people about the big regrets of their lives, they wished they’d: 1. Left more of a legacy 2. Reflected more 3. Taken more risks So here’s your chance to live without regret. You can leave a legacy of travel stories, find hauntingly beautiful places to sit and reflect upon life and you can just do it…don’t think too much about all the things that might go wrong, take a leap of faith (with a bit of planning and insurance behind you) and discover the world and it’s wonderful people. Mature-up a bit Truly, it’s amazing the difference a year can make at 18. We just had a party for our 19th; same people, same fun, but less shrieking, less issues…it’s like everyone’s found their mojo in the last 12 months. Add a year of travel and new experiences to that and it’s no surprise that friends returning from gap years are back with a new maturity. They’ve learnt to how to use good judgment, developed that old ‘responsibility’ thing our parents always banged on about, as well as honing some pretty impressive ‘stranger danger’ strategies along the way. Nothing will ever scare you again! Your gap year may have included zipping up tents firmly so the scorpians don’t get in, entertaining dozens of kids who’ve overdosed on sugar, dealing with a medical emergency, being lost (constantly), eating food you’re not sure which animal it originates from…and so many more experiences that no one ever told you how to handle. You’ll be meeting new people and possibly having to cope with a whole new set of cultural rules. It will be alien, lonely, joyful and exhilarating. You’ll learn to adapt, think on your feet and become a receptive, observant individual. Future life just got a whole lot easier for you. Marketable life skills All these adventures have taught you self-reliance and this is the stuff of dreams for future employers. You’ll be able to dazzle them in an interview with examples of how you have kept a cool head, managed situations and shown leadership. Your gap year may also have provided you with practical skills, hospitality, languages, sports, removal of bot fly larvae..the list is endless. Gain an impressively diverse group of friends You’ll make friends that you’ll instantly bond with and they’ll become life-long friends. Thanks to social media and the wonderful world wide web, you can still enjoy their friendship even after they’ve returned home. Living at home? Better warn your folks about possible couch surfers turning up and get some ground rules and checks in place. Whilst overseas…make sure you back up that contact list, email updates to yourself. Do it immediately if you think you may have just met the love of your life. Cons: Once you get the travel bug, you’ll never be the same again It changes you forever; it crawls under your skin out of sight, then one day you’ll be in a lecture or at the office and you’ll find your thoughts drifting back to memories of stunning mountains, everyone singing at the pub…. A young child handing you a freshly picked fig. There’s only one thing to do – you need to head right over to our travel section and start planning your next trip. Gain friends, lose friends You’ve traveled the world, learnt a new language, built a school, rescued some orangutans and met the most amazing people on the planet. You can’t wait to come home and tell everyone about your experiences…. but it’s a common complaint that some old buddies just aren’t interested. Most of your mates will just be over-the-moon that you’re back and tell you how nothing was the same without you and hang off your every word as you give them your travel highlights. But, there’s going to be some that have a touch of the green-eyed monster, it’s something you may get through – or not. Your experiences have made you a different person, so be prepared and understand it’s all normal, you’re not alone and it’s part of life’s wild ride. Also be prepared for missing the new friends you made on your travels so much that you could cry and also for the disappointment when good travel buddies just don’t write. Again, it’s common, truly; just remember the good time and go with the flow. The world is a mysterious place and 40 years later in a bar you may meet again. Cash-flow capers You’re going to be a little poor when you return, so make sure you don’t hang around sorting through your photos and reliving the good times. This is a perfect time to re-do your CV (listing all those new skills) and get them out to employers. See our employment section for a head start. You’ve been out of the loop for a year, so accept any work and make sure family and friends know you’re looking too. Know yourself If you aren’t the sort to mix and mingle easily, really love your home comforts or just don’t want to be away for too long, then think hard about taking a gap year. It’s incredibly healthy to acknowledge who you are and what’s outside your comfort zone. Instead, start looking for something you’ll enjoy…. Travel should be fun remember. There’s shorter gap experiences, or try one in your home country plus there’s loads of longer adventure tours that are high on fun, but low on risk due to the presence of a capable tour leader. Not everyone can take the gap year plunge, others need to dip their toe in first. The main thing is that you end up swimming, not sinking.