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How to Set Up a Happy and Productive Gap Year

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So you want to take a gap year, and you have lots of ideas for what it could look like. Perhaps you’ve lined up an exciting job opportunity for yourself. Perhaps there’s an awesome program that you’ve signed up to participate in. Perhaps you’re giving yourself plenty of time to pursue personal projects. Perhaps you’re just excited to leave school, and still have to figure out what you’re going to do.

When you’re planning your gap year, however, it helps to plan for more than just what projects you’re going to work on. You should also plan for other essential parts of life, in order to ensure that you have a happy and productive gap year. Here’s how.

Think about your finances

One of the luxuries of being in school is that you can avoid thinking about money. But this isn’t a good long-term strategy if you want to be financially secure. Especially if you plan to work during your time off from school, your gap year is a great opportunity to learn the basics of personal finance -- and by doing so, you’ll also have a better time!

Being in control of your money means that you have more freedom of choice. It means that when you’re working at a job that you don’t like, for example, you have the financial freedom to leave that job and spend some time searching for a new one. You can see how this freedom would come in handy during a gap year, as you try to figure out what it is that you actually want to do.

Having a plan for your finances (e.g. creating and sticking to a budget, building up an emergency savings, having a reliable source of income) will save you a lot of headaches on your gap year. Check out /r/personalfinance for help in creating this plan.

Plan for your social life

One of the things that I took for granted at school was the social life it provided me, in particular the regularity. I got to see my friends everyday. I was surrounded by strangers (and thus potential friends). I had easy access to professors (and thus potential mentors).

If you’re participating in a program or jumping straight into a job, this may not be a problem for you, because you’ll be interacting with lots of new people already. But will you be getting the kinds of connection you want in those circumstances? If not, you should create a plan. It can be as simple as resolving to ask one person at work to lunch each week, and getting to know them personally. Or you can try inviting other participants in your program to cool events, and have other adventures you can bond over.

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time during your gap year alone, creating systems to give yourself an adequate social life is crucial. Some ideas: join a gym and make friends with the regulars, work at a coffee shop and talk to strangers, participate in an online community and meet up with others in person.

Plan for your daily routine

One of my favorite blogs is Mason Currey’s Daily Routines. On it he describes the varied lives of well-known creatives. I love Currey’s blog because it highlights an important fact: there is no “right” routine. There is, however, enormous value in having a routine. Having a good routine means that on a day-to-day level, you are actually doing the things that matter to you. That’s important.

What things might you want to include in your routine during your gap year? Well, normal things: when are you going to wake up? When will you spend time working on your projects? When will you exercise? When will you hang out with friends? Creating this structure for yourself means that you get to set up a system that works for you. Take advantage of that.

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