Although many people tend to view gap years as a prolonged period of carefree partying (and, to be fair, gap years are a lot of fun), there is still plenty you can take away from the experience that will help you grow as a person and could potentially impress a future employer.
Gap years generally involve a prolonged period of travel, often funded by part-time or temporary work, and it is this international life experience that can be turned to your advantage upon your return.
Even if you’re setting out mostly in search of adventure and a chance to see the world, consider the valuable life skills you’ll be developing simply in planning an extended trip and navigating your way through your chosen destination(s).
For instance, deciding how much time to devote to each region and what to see and do while there requires you to learn time management and prioritisation. You’ll become adept at scheduling, and also at rapidly reassessing the situation when delays and unforeseen obstacles occur (these are inevitable when travelling).
You will also learn the art of diplomacy and compromise – especially if travelling with companions who may have different priorities, interests and budgets than you.
Those who have never lived away from their families may also have to pick up those little everyday skills that allow people to function as adults in society – washing your laundry, feeding yourself in a healthy manner, and making sure you don’t get ill. Simple things, but essential life skills nonetheless.
Budgeting is always a major concern, and you’ll become handy at working out how much money you have left, how much you need, and what that enables you to do. Many travellers set out with a fixed amount of funds, such as those on prepaid credit cards, so you’ll quickly learn to effectively manage your finances, both while working and travelling.
Also consider the work or volunteering experience you may get abroad. Even if the jobs or projects you undertake don’t relate directly to your future career, there are still likely to be transferrable skills that will look good on your CV – plus, it shows potential employers that you didn’t party your gap year away, but successfully balanced your work life with travel.
You should consider related projects, such as a blog or photo diary detailing your experience – these can furnish evidence of your creativity and writing skill, plus show that you’re a thoughtful traveller who treated the trip as a chance to learn and grow, as well as have fun.
There are other aspects of travelling that can be directly useful for your CV. Gap years provide the perfect opportunity to learn a different language (or two!) and gain knowledge and experience of how other cultures work. Such information may prove valuable to employers who operate in international markets.
The experience of trying to communicate in a language you do not understand will make you a whiz both at getting your point across and at understanding the subtleties of what other people are saying – vital skills to bring to any workplace.
More fundamentally, gap years are the perfect time to push the limits of your experience and abilities. By challenging yourself and your view of the world, you’ll come back with a more mature understanding that will help you in future endeavours.
Your time away gives breathing space during which to assess yourself and your future – so when you do decide to carry on with your studies or career, this new self-awareness will help you find the path that’s right for you.
What did you learn on your gap year? What valuable skills did you acquire? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’re planning a gap year, check out our Pinspire board of “Gap Year Essentials” for ideas.