'Be realistic and plan carefully'

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The Independent Online

Most gap year students see their experience in glowing terms, but what happens if yours doesn't live up to expectations? A year out can turn sour for a number of reasons, the most common of which are making unsuitable choices, lack of planning or unrealistic ambitions, as Charlotte Thomas, 19, from London found out when she went travelling round the world on her year out:

Most gap year students see their experience in glowing terms, but what happens if yours doesn't live up to expectations? A year out can turn sour for a number of reasons, the most common of which are making unsuitable choices, lack of planning or unrealistic ambitions, as Charlotte Thomas, 19, from London found out when she went travelling round the world on her year out:

 

"I felt pressure to spend a good year as far away from home as possible, but to be honest I didn't feel ready to go to university or go travelling. I travelled independently to Fiji with a friend, having been inspired by a talk, and the place did seem amazing. Unfortunately, my travel preparations had failed to take into account the minute-to-minute details of the trip.

"From the outset I found each day was a constant round of worrying - where we would be sleeping, what we would be eating or doing. I was constantly tired, homesick, concerned about money, with stomach problems on top of it all and, crucially, I didn't get on as well with my friend as I thought I would. I also didn't have any energy to meet people - and despite being in the South Pacific, most of the people we met were British travellers whose sole aim was to get drunk - not exactly the scene I was expecting.

"I tried to convince myself things would improve, but after flying to New Zealand for a week, I was deeply unhappy. I was due to teach in Nepal with an organisation, but not until February which was months away. I was having difficulties surviving physically and emotionally, and just wanted to go home - which I eventually did.

"Back in England I felt lost and depressed because I'd planned a year which had fallen through. I ended up working for the rest of the year, but I didn't want to talk to friends loving it at university or sending emails from around the world. When people started coming home and asked what I'd been doing, I felt so ashamed that I fudged it - although I have never regretted coming home.

"My advice is to be realistic about your gap year. It requires careful planning - most people can't take a 'make it up as you go along' approach and you have to ask yourself some important questions: 'Is this really what I want to do?', 'Is it right for me?', 'Who am I going to travel with?' and 'What am I expecting to get out of the whole experience?'"

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