Before we start, here are the answers to your first three questions...
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, ABSOLUTELY, and YES!
Jane Stanfield, a regular volunteer and Where She's Heading blogger, explains how she knows your questions and what the answers are. She had the same longings you are experiencing and was where you are just a few years ago. That was before she pursued her [now] favorite way to travel - as a volunteer. Jane continues;
To make a long story short, I received a legacy, I planned for one year, quit my job, rented my townhouse, stored my things (car, valuables, and my cats with a pet sitter) and left for 366 days. I traveled to five continents, 12 countries, and volunteered in eight of them on 12 different volunteer projects.
"The place to start your preparation is understanding why you are taking a break."
During my trip, I came across people who were living someone elses dream trip, or who had signed up for something without thinking it through. A gap year/career break is a special time and you dont want to waste a minute or disappoint yourself with insufficient planning. The place to start your preparation is understanding why you are taking a break. As long as you understand why you want to go, then the answers to your 3 questions fall immediately into place.
Read more about Janes volunteer experience, I've Had a Wombat Sit in My Lap.
1. How Can I Make Sure to Get The Most Out of My Time Away?
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF!
Choose one or several of these whys and determine what percentage of each you want to include during your time away. For my trip, my ratio was 60% volunteering, 30% learning, and 10% relaxing.
Relaxation It sounds so nice to do nothing but relax on your gap year or career break. I am sure it can be done, but if you are like me after one week, I am bored and need something to do. You might consider developing a theme for every place you visit such as an informal survey about a type of art, sport, food, etc. as that gives you a mission wherever you land.
Help or give back There is nothing like connecting with a community and coming together to accomplish a project. From educating children, building a structure, an archaeological dig, protecting the environment, rehabilitating animals, working for social justice, womens equality, or cleaning up after an extreme weather event, service work or volunteering is a great way to spend at least part of your time.
Education You can go explore something you know very well to see how it is done in another country. Or use the time to explore something you have always wanted to try in order to expand your skills and enhance your CV. Similarly, if you are in the middle years of your career and are searching for what is next for you, the trip can offer you a chance to dip a toe into a new hobby or an entirely new career. Whether it is paid work abroad, an internship, or as a volunteer, you can gain great insight.
Complete a project I know people who get away from their routine and retreat somewhere so they have uninterrupted time to finish a project (a book, script, write their thesis, or finish a project for work.)
Live Internationally By doing any of the above, you will be living and connecting with a different community and exploring a foreign locale. If you are looking for a second home or a retirement option, your career break can help you experience a place you are considering for your future.
2. Will it Change My Life?
"When you return - your view of life, your country and the world will be different because of things you have seen, done and the people you have met."
No matter if you go away for three months or two years, you can have an amazing experience that will change the way you see the world and yourself, as long as you have learnt WHY you want to go, and address what areas of your life youre wanting to explore.
When you return home your view of life, your country and the world will be different because of things you have seen, done and the people you have met will have changed you and your perception. Even if you never travel expansively again, expect it and enjoy it.
3. Can I Do it?
But how? I can hear you saying that in your head. You can do it because after working out WHY you want to go, you can then set about finding the resources you need to create a trip that fits your interests, time, budget and heart.
I encourage you as you start to explore your trip, select a wide variety of travel inspirations (books, movies, restaurants, lectures). Even if each exploration only gives you one thought, it is fodder to help add the details and colors to your trip.
Enlist your most encouraging family members and friends to support you as you plan. They will be your biggest cheerleaders and keep your focus on your goal and heading out the door.
Contributor: Jane Stanfield
Jane Stanfield stored her belongings and quit her job to travel and volunteer all over the world. She now heads up her own company Where is She Heading, writing, presenting and hosting workshops on how to find volunteer options that suit your time, interest, budget and heart. Contact Jane on Twitter @JaneStanfield.