The unknown can be scary when you’re thinking about taking a gap year—especially if you’ve never spent much time away from your family. But it’s not just scary for you. For many parents, the first question that pops up when their kid starts talking about a gap year revolves around safety—and for good reason.
While the majority of experiences are safe, any type of travel (or living!) involves some element of risk, so it’s important to try and lessen the chance that something bad will happen while you’re on a gap year. Bringing the issue of safety to the table could also help to ease your parent's fears...well, maybe.
The first priority when we’re talking safety should be to define the level of exploration you and your family feels comfortable with. This means different things for different families, so having an honest conversation with your parents about how they see your year unfolding, how much interaction they need to have with you, and what level of support and supervision you’ll have is really critical to figure out early on.
To start this conversation, you can talk about the goals you want to achieve and the skills you’re looking to develop. That will naturally segue into the types of experiences you’re looking at.
Jason Sarouhan, Vice President at the Center for Interim Programs says thinking through basic scenarios can help here, too: ‘What happens when you have to go through customs and immigration? What are you going to do to keep yourself safe hailing a cab, even to go from the airport to your hotel? How are you going to approach going out at night in a city that you don’t know? How are you going to keep your money and your body safe? What is the protocol that we're going to have together, as a family, about how frequently we're going to check in? And ultimately, what are the consequences if that doesn't happen?’”
After you’ve defined the boundaries together with your parents, making sure the basics for international travel are accounted for is paramount. This includes getting up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations, purchasing travel insurance, checking the state of conflict in the country or city where you’ll be staying, and learning about how to identify common dangers like predators and pickpockets. You should also register yourself with the State Department before you go, and with the U.S. Embassy once you get in-country.
The Centers for Disease Control website has a comprehensive list of vaccine recommendations broken up by country, as well as danger warning levels; illness prevention tips; and information about food, water, and road safety. Additionally, every state has a Department of Health that’s available to answer questions surrounding national and international travel. For an easy guide, check out this link.
Vetting a Program’s Level of Care
If you’re looking into programs, you should also vet out your safety concerns with the staff during this process. Asking questions around the structure of the program, the faculty, the admissions process, and the program rules will give you a good idea about the level of care and supervision.
Keep in mind that when we talk about safety, it’s not all about earth-shattering dangers like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Even smaller issues can derail a traveler. For example, on one gap trip, a stray dog bit a program guide. Luckily, the guide spoke the language, knew what he had to do, and found medical attention right away. A completely unforeseen circumstance like this can come up at any time, and if there’s not someone there who’s experienced and knows the lay of the land, problems can arise.
Selecting a gap program supervised by an experienced adult, who will be right there with you will likely give your parents a sense of reassurance, which is obviously a massive win for you.
Tomorrow, we're talking about the decision to drink or party on your gap year. Have a question? Tweet to us @GapToGreat and follow along on our cross-country roadtrip by searching #aloftgapyear.