The Gap Year has become a rite of passage across the globe, with high school leavers taking a year out from study to head overseas for volunteer or work opportunities. It’s something that many educators and parents agree is a positive thing, giving students a well-earned break to explore other interests and arrive at the start of their college education more mature and ready to get back to work. However, not everyone has the opportunity to take an entire year off, however, whether it be for study restrictions or financial constraints. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out completely, with the opportunity to take a Gap Month instead. While it’s only a fraction of the time, it’s still a great opportunity to see a bit of the world and experience a completely different way of living, without the financial expense of living and traveling abroad for an entire year.

The Pros and Cons of a Gap Month

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The biggest disadvantage of only going for a Gap Month is that you inevitably won’t see as much as on a Gap Year. It might take you a few weeks to even get into the swing of traveling and living abroad, only for it to be time to return home and hit the books again.

But if your situation doesn’t allow you to go for longer, then you should still grab the opportunity by the horns, as a gap month can be hugely transformative and leave you with memories that last a lifetime. Strong friendships can be formed in a matter of days and dipping your toes into another culture or way of living is something that takes only weeks to experience.

If you only have a few weeks available, then select a destination that really fascinates you and chances are there will be a volunteer placement available. Because you’ll be going away for a shorter time, the overall expense will be far less costly, although the week-to-week payments may be slightly more than if you opt for a long-term placement.

A Gap Month is also a great way to get a feel for volunteering and living abroad, and if you love it, then there’s always the possibility of taking an entire Gap Year later in your studies or once you finish school. Few volunteer/work abroad organizations have age limitations or require that you be between high school and college, so you won’t have missed your opportunity all together if you want to go again in the future.

The Pros and Cons of Traveling Long-term

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Deciding to take an entire year off to travel, volunteer or work abroad is a big step, but the experiences you can pack into that time will be absolutely unforgettable. Most students return from long-term travel as a far more mature and worldly person, with their perspective on life challenged through their cultural encounters and new friendships.

While you may experience some homesickness in the initial weeks, one of the advantages of traveling long term is that this usually wears off and you really get to embrace everything that is being thrown your way. You’ll have time to push your own boundaries and venture outside of your comfort zone, taking on tasks or projects that you wouldn’t have previously. It’s a great way to boost your self-esteem and confidence, discovering you can do things you never thought possible through a new found independence away from family and friends.

But while long-term travel abroad is full of rewards, it can also be incredibly expensive if you don’t have an income at the same time. Flights, accommodation, food and activities can quickly add up and you either need to find a job to fund your travels before you go or break up your travel with some work abroad. If you opt to go with a volunteer organization, then the fees you pay will probably cover your accommodation, in-country travel expenses and even some food, with pre-paid options like this making it easier to manage a limited budget while away.

How to Find the Right Gap Month Program for You

Gap month
If you’ve decided you want to take some time off over your summer break before starting college, then there are no shortage of options out there. Simply typing your preferred destination and ‘volunteer abroad program’ will come up with numerous organizations offering short-term opportunities to select from.

You can build houses in Thailand with Build Abroad (or any of our other programs), do environmental research in the Amazon with GVI, or join a sea conservation project in Europe with GoEco. If you don’t have the funds to do a paid program and want to plan something yourself, then organizations like WWOOF-USA, Americorps and City Year are good places to start, as well as the website WorkAway which places volunteers in projects across the globe in exchange for accommodation and food.

If you do decide to take time off, it’s a good idea to come up with a structured plan of how you are going to get the funds together ahead of time. It’s easy to have big plans to go abroad and just as easy to not go because you ‘don’t have the money’ and end up spending that time doing nothing productive in your summer break.

You can still apply for a place at college and then defer your enrollment if you decide to go for longer than just the summer. It’s good to know you have something solid to come back to and reassuring for parents who are worried you’ll get the ‘travel bug’ and never come home! Most colleges are happy (and even encourage) students to go abroad, so there is little chance your deferment will be rejected.

There’s also no hard and fast rule that you have to do only one program for the duration of your time abroad and then come home. There are so many different programs out there which can be combined together and done back-to-back, or you can opt to spend some time volunteering and the rest traveling independently.

Then once you have a plan and your funds together, all that’s left to do is book your flights and start packing, because the world and its never-ending opportunities await!