The gap year is a choice that some of us make in order to figure out if the university thing is really worth doing…well, thats what we may tell our parents, but its honestly more about just forgetting the whole university thing all together. As a 19 year old, I made the choice to work hard in Australia for 5 months, so that I could travel to North America for 5 months. I travelled around most of the continent, saw some amazing sights, made new friends, felt lonely, felt enriched, saw some great music, ate some great food and felt better by doing it all. Upon my return, I realised that the gap year experience helped me to see that the streamlined 21st century idea of vocation and entering the workforce isn’t the only worthwhile decision a young person can make. If you are about to embark on a overseas gap year, then make sure you think about the following, as it may be the difference between a positive and negative travel experience.

1. Planning

If you love the freedom of being without a schedule, are not stressed about making advanced bookings, and are just happy to ‘go with the flow’, then your travelling style may become stressful for your travel buddy (and vice-versa). There are benefits to planning ahead: you have a clear understanding of your schedule, which makes it easier to organise particular activities or events that you would like to attend. Bear in mind that once you have this schedule, it becomes pretty difficult to shuffle things around. If you’re more flexible, then maybe all you need is a return ticket, a bus or rail pass and no further plans. The one’s who are flexible also happen to be opportunistic, so chances are they might find some cheap prices on last minute flights or tickets to a local event.

2. Travelling Solo

Travelling solo is great, as once again, you can do whatever you want and don’t have to stick to somebody else plans. It also forces you to be outgoing and make the most of meeting people, whether that’s in a hostel, in a cafe or just chatting to a local down the street. If you travel with a group of mates, you may end up just forming an exclusive clique’ and not even think of the opportunities to meet others. Travelling solo also develops your independence, as it’s up to you to be on time for your flight or bus or train and to figure out how to get from A to B.

If you’re travelling solo then you can plan to go to do whatever you like! This kind of freedom allowed me to have some wildly diverse experiences such as: getting lost in the crowds at Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago, trekking summits in the Canadian Rockies, being overwhelmed by the metropolis of New York City, experiencing the grandeur of Niagara Falls, driving through the deserts of Arizona, canoeing the freshwater lakes of Ontario, checking out the country music scene of Nashville, climbing the steep streets of San Francisco, snowboarding the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb, road tripping through the national parks of Montana, and indulging in French Canadian delicacies in Montreal.

However, there is a downside to travelling solo. There are times when you are on your own, which means you can’t say “hey, check this out!” at the museum or art gallery. You also can’t help but look like a loner when you’re ordering food at a restaurant. And there is the aspect of safety which you have to consider. The US and Canada are (for the most part) safe countries, and are incredibly easy to travel. There was really only one instance where I felt unsafe during my travels – some drunk guy started cursing at me before walking off to talk to a wall; which to be fair, happens all the time in Australia. If you know the places to avoid (especially after dark), are street savvy, and are doing your best to not stick out as a tourist then you should be fine.

3. Accomodation

This can have a big impact on your travelling experience. If you are travelling on your own, then you might want to consider staying at a hostel. Hostels are full of like minded travellers from all walks of life, and chances are they’re also on the look out for some buddies to go day-tripping with. You’d be stupid not to make the most of that! Alternatively, if you are travelling with a good mate or a group of friends, then maybe an Air BnB will be more appropriate, as it tends to be more spacious, comfortable and secure than a hostel.

4. Flying vs. Wheels

Flying allows you to jump quickly between cities and across continents. It can be more expensive in places, and cheaper in others. The downside is that you don’t get to see any countryside, if that’s your thing. Buses or trains can be a good alternative in that you get to experience the countryside and get a bit more of an insight into the lifestyle of whatever country you happen to be in. But remember that a 24hr overnight bus ride is a killer, and maybe the 2hr flight may be the better option.