DO YOUR RESEARCH, RELAX & GO OUT AND MEET NEW PEOPLE

Jiyoung J. | Milton Academy '16 | Stanford U. '21

My parents were vehemently against my taking a gap year. On top of that, my dad felt especially  concerned about my safety when I told him that I would be working and traveling alone in China, where I’d never been before. 

WORKING IN A NEW COUNTRY & TAKING BRIEF TRIPS ALONE

I spent roughly half of my gap year “alone.” That is, though I was a part of a community pretty much everywhere I visited, I initially entered half of my experiences without knowing anyone there. I lived in China for four months, during which I taught at a high school and took short trips to various parts of the country; in March of 2017, I went to Upstate NY to volunteer at a World Peace Temple; a month later, I worked on a farm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Granada. I went to all three places alone, but did not encounter a particularly endangering moment in any of them. I also sometimes took trips with other volunteers I met through work, and had a blast. 

I think I speak for most gappers—not necessarily just women—when I say that I cannot emphasize enough the importance of traveling alone. I gained the most confidence by taking trips by myself. These are the steps I took to ensure that I would be safe on my solo trips: 

  1. Googled what the U.S. State Department has to say about my destination
  2. Read threads on Lonely Planet 

That was it. If majority of the people on online forums, with the additional approval of the U.S. State Department, say that the country is safe to travel in alone—you will most likely be okay, as long as you use your common sense of not following strangers home. Relax. Have meals with people you meet on the road at local restaurants. Some of the most exciting and memorable times from my gap year are when I walked around a city or hiked alone, and ended up sharing a train ride or a meal with all sorts of characters. I met some of the kindest people that way, and am still in touch with some of them.

EXTENSIVE BACKPACKING TRIPS

I also backpacked through five European countries in the span of a month with a friend (also a girl) from high school. We felt extremely safe during the day, but we also often wished that there was a guy traveling with us at night, especially when our Airbnb turned out to be in a rather decentralized area with less tourists. For more extensive backpacking trips, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to go with a good guy friend that you’d like to share the experience with. That being said, though, nothing dangerous ever happened to my friend and I on the trip; the most questionable instance was when a guy approached us in a crowded square, asking if we wanted to go to a night club with him and his friends. We said no, and walked away. If I were to go back to Europe, I would definitely feel very comfortable traveling alone. Just try your best to book hostels or Airbnbs in advance in popular travel destinations, so that you are in a very central location.