WORRIED ABOUT TRAVELING ALONE?

Sasha L. | Fieldston '15 | Stanford U. '20

FIND A BUDDY

Try to plan your travels with a friend. Ask if anyone in your high school is taking a gap year, or convince a family member to come along for some of the time.

TAKE SELF DEFENSE LESSONS

Although finding a travel partner can help to feel safe, many gappers report that the most rewarding part of the year was spending time independently. In order to feel safe before traveling alone, I took self defense lessons for several months while working over the summer. 

READ ALL THE REVIEWS

Whether you're staying in an Air BnB or living with a host family through WWOOF or HelpX, it's best to chose a place with lots of good reviews.

When going abroad with a program, it's also best to talk in-person to people that did the same program and travelled in the same countries. I was able to speak to two people that did RCDP in Nepal, which gave me a much better idea of what to expect from my host family as well as best practices for safety in Kathmandu.

WHY TAKE A GAP YEAR?

As I sat in my room on April 30, agonizing over whether or not to do a gap year, I found that I was extraordinarily good at thinking of reasons not to. I worried that I would get distracted from schoolwork and struggle upon returning to college, that my desire to travel wasn’t productive, and that I would fall behind my friends. On top of the excuses I came up with, other voices echoed in my head. Family members found my travel itineraries too dangerous, teachers wondered whether I would return to school, and peers questioned whether my interest in volunteering wouldn’t devolve into tourism. Fortunately, among this din of anxieties, I was able to recognize my instinct. I realized that college would be there for me no matter what, and I couldn’t imagine regretting taking a year to see some of the world first. 

Among all my concerns, I was especially nervous about whether I could really create meaningful experiences on my own. I was in a mindset of optimization and maximization--used to fitting meaningful pursuits into small chunks of time under guidance (eg. sports, academics, music). When traveling, I was forced to adopt a different outlook. Especially in the wilder countries I was interested in, engineering the perfect trip proved impossible. In many cases the activities I did plan failed to live up to expectations--I was not particularly successful at teaching Nepalese monks--but the experience of fully immersing myself in a completely foreign environment was still immensely growthful. I just can’t communicate precisely why. 

This sense of inarticulable value is one of the greatest gifts I took from my gap year. I found that suddenly, I was able to tune down the surrounding din to understand what I, myself, found important. I learned to let go of the concrete insights that I expected from each trip and embrace the moment. In times that I was fully present, I caught glimpses of local life--fleeting moments that resonated with me. The collection of glimpses expanded my perspective far beyond what I might have hoped on April 30.

I can’t tell you concretely what I learned from waiting in the Kathmandu airport for six days while my flight was delayed, and I certainly didn’t get a grade for dealing with the flock of birds that ate all my food while I was backpacking in the depths of Patagonia. All I can say is that living through these situations independently gave me far more pride and satisfaction than any grade. There will always be reasons not to go on an adventure, but I found the experience of living by my own lights inexplicably joyful.