By Sarah Pike
The more you’re looking forward to your long-awaited gap year experience, the less you want to wait, especially if you’re stuck in the middle of seemingly endless classes, dreaded exams, or just the drudgery of everyday work.
But if you can change your thinking and take a few steps in the right direction, you can make the time spent waiting more productive and enjoyable. Here’s how to make the most of your travel anticipation:
1. Pack your bags early
Packing your bags can be more than just a necessary part of preparation. Doing this can also be a way to start enjoying the faraway places you’ll soon explore even before you’ve left home.
Just as you often lay out and try on clothing in your “regular” life, you can start trying things on and making outfits days or weeks before you leave home to make sure everything fits and feels comfortable. Packing for your time abroad will make the upcoming adventure more real in your mind, and will let you start to savor the experience even before it begins.
The packing list for your gap year semester or gap year may seem intimidating, but you can start early and check things off the list one by one. Plus, the earlier you start, the more chances are you can find good gear free or slightly used so you don’t have to spend a ton – try looking at garage sales, used gear stores, and reaching out to adventurous friends and family for items you could borrow.
Bonus tip: Make sure to leave room for any clothes, gifts, or other souvenirs you may purchase while away.
2. Do your research
Studying a place before you get there can greatly help you enjoy it. You’ll already know many of the things you want to do, having read about them, seen pictures or videos, or talked to people who have visited where you’ll be traveling.
You’ll also be more comfortable with the local people, foods, and sights, so culture shock will be minimized thanks to your planning ahead. It also provides a more thorough context of the region you are traveling to to really maximize your experiential education potential.
And remember, researching doesn’t mean reading history textbooks or a stack of maps. If you’re headed to headed to India for the first time and want to know more about Indian culture, you could read novels by some of the most famous Indian authors like Arundhati Roy, or binge-watch some Bollywood films with friends.
3. Plan to Unplug
One of the greatest things about a gap year experience is not just being somewhere new, but being away from the endless responsibilities confronting us at home. When you board that airplane, you’re saying goodbye to your class schedule, work routine, and basically any other responsibilities that don’t come with you on your travels.
A digital detox, where you put your smartphone and laptop away, is a crucial element of your gap year education. So in preparing for your trip, soak up the sun, read a book, go for a hike, or just relax and enjoy the lack of mental clutter for a while. It’s okay (in fact, it’s encouraged) to disconnect from your daily life and be away for a while.
4. Let the countdown begin!
Research has shown that anticipation actually has positive effects on both mental and physical health. Use the time to set intentions and goals for yourself for your time abroad. All the time you spend planning, packing for, talking about, and just looking forward to your experience abroad can be very therapeutic, so make sure you enjoy the anticipation.
It’s good to have fun packing your bags, enjoying some of the pop culture, literature, and foods from the places you’ll visit, and generally starting to savor the trip before you’ve even left home!
5. Stay present
It’s a fine balance between anticipation and staying present with what’s happening right here and now. We know you’re excited for your trip – but now is also a great time to connect with family and friends as much as possible, to enjoy the comforts of home, and to dive in to a new hobby or interest. Part of the point of travel after all is to learn how to be fully present in the moment. And of course there’s no better time to start practicing mindfulness than right now.
Sarah Pike is a freelancer, teacher, and wanderlust sufferer. When she’s not writing, teaching, or traveling, she’s probably binge-watching Travel Channel and planning her next vacation. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.