THINGS TO CONSIDER
Why: First things first, you should ask yourself honestly why you want to take a year off. Is it to learn new things? To get out of your comfort zone? To relax because you are about to have a nervous breakdown? To make a positive impact in the world? Depending on what motivates you, there are different ways of spending a gap year. Be honest with you and don't feel forced to do something just because everybody else does it as well!
What: This goes hand in hand with the previous question. Think about it: you have got a whole year to do whatever you want. Get creative and consider options that you would normally never do. That's what this year is all about!! Do you want to spend the time travelling around the world? Do it. Do you want to work and gain experience? Do you want to go to a foreign country to learn their language? Think about your priorities and what will help you most in order to develop as a person.
Where: Again, quite an obvious question, but it's good to make clear that you want to travel far away from home or rather stay in the same town/country/continent. You should also keep in mind that you are free to choose between spending a few months in a huge city (like me in London), in a small town or even on a farm in the middle of nowhere. I can't stop repeating it: Get out of your comfort zone! It will make you grow a lot as a person.
How: Everybody has a different background and economic support, so it is always good to be honest about how much you can really spend on your gap year. What I did, for instance, is working the first half of my year in order to now be able to go to South Africa and afterwards to Lyon. I would also highly recommend keeping an eye on your outcome by writing it down somewhere (Excel and Numbers have great templates for doing so).
Thinking about the previous questions early will help making up your mind about what you actually want to do. It's a good starting point and from there, it will be easier to plan everything. It's good to have at least the first stage of your year organised a few months in advance, just because that way you know that you have at least something secure already.
But on the other hand, I have learned that overplanning isn't the way either, since a lot of opportunities will present themselves once you are there. Remember to always be flexible and open to new options, this will make it much more interesting!
As I'm doing my gap year right after school, I found it quite hard at first to be away from home for such a long time. I'm therefore very happy that I left time between London and Cape Town to be at home and see my family and friends. It helps me to know that I will be only away for two or three months, and then spend a few weeks back home again.
And finally, what helped me most is having a contact person wherever you'll be that you can call when you arrive and meet them. I have been introduced to so many locals thanks to that and it was the best experience! It's also a great way of getting to know new people and will make your stay easier.
I hope you have found this helpful! Taking a gap year has maaany advantages and is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so if you do one, please enjoy it to the fullest!
I hope you are all well.