How to Plan an Extraordinary “Gap Year” Volunteer Vacation

A “gap year” is a twelve month break many high school graduates take before enrolling in college courses. These few months mark the beginning of adulthood and can be a way for teens to discover their true interests and talents. By going on a volunteer vacation during your gap year, you can make a true difference in the lives of the people you help. Perhaps you’ll provide medical care to AIDS victims in Africa, tend orphans in Asia, or build schools in South America. Here’s how to make this once-in-a-lifetime adventure come true:

First, consider your options. There are dozens of volunteer vacation and gap year programs available. Volunteers are asked to pay for their own trip expenses, so you’ll need to take finances into consideration. Search the internet for possible programs that fit both your interests and budget. Some programs are as short as a week; others will last the entire year. You’ll find volunteer vacations aimed at helping children, improving communities, rescuing animals, and protecting the environment. There’s something for everyone.

Next, speak with a college counselor. If you plan on starting college immediately after your gap year experience, you’ll want to check your school’s deferment policies. Many colleges allow students to defer enrollment for volunteer gap year trips. Some colleges even encourage students to volunteer abroad and offer course credit. Ask your college counselor about any programs the school offers. If you will not be enrolling in a school-sponsored volunteer program, request a written copy of the school’s deferment policies.

Once you’ve thoroughly weighed your options, choose your volunteer vacation program and destination. Selecting an established, non-profit program is often the best choice. Programs that have been running for years are usually more reliable. You may also want to look into volunteer programs tailored exclusively to young adults taking a gap year trip. These programs will put you together with people you own age and often provide additional recreation excursions (such as exploring the Mayan ruins or snorkeling in the Caribbean).

When you depart on your gap year vacation, be sure to pack appropriately. The travel organization should provide you with a list of necessary items and suggested medical precautions (such as vaccinations). You will also need to take extra money for emergencies and personal items. Proper preparation will help make your trip run smoothly and help you relax when you arrive.

Your volunteer vacation is sure to be a blast, but don’t forget to take care of business when you arrive back home. Complete any necessary papers or coursework required for college credit, and sign any paperwork needed to end your college deferment. Be sure to include your volunteer vacation experience on future scholarship and job applications. Employers will be impressed with the skills you’ve developed and your ability to thrive in new situations.

Planning a gap year adventure can seem a little out-of-the-box. But, this unique experience will give you extraordinary memories that last a lifetime.

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