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15 Jan, 2024   |    Up with People

Traveling with Purpose: How to Turn Your Gap Year into an Experience of a Lifetime

Remember when you were younger, maybe as a child, when you went on your first vacation? Maybe you went to Disneyland, or maybe cruise ship? Everything about it was thrilling—seeing new places, meeting new people, and having a blast.

But then you got older, and the world seem to grow bigger. Suddenly the news interests you, and history class makes you realize that there is entire world full of culture and experience that you may never get to experience for yourself. Combine that with the longing for a purpose. . . the feeling that you could make change, real change, that has an impact on people. You have the passion, but where do you start?

Firstly, let’s start thinking about where you are and how you can make an impact. Find a piece of paper and write your name somewhere in the center. Now draw a circle around it.

Around the circle, start listing your passions: are you a people person? Do you find yourself feeling passionate about your community? Any talents or study interests that you are passionate towards?

Now draw a circle around the words you just wrote. Outside that circle, start writing out your hopes and dreams. What do you hope to accomplish? What kind of experiences do you want to have? What are your goals for the future?

Finally, complete the circle. Take a moment to read over what you have wrote.

If you wrote down anything along the lines of:

Meeting new people-traveling to new places-experiencing global cultures-making lifelong connections-working toward social action-helping other communities-performing onstage-expressing yourself through music-spreading peace and unity-playing instruments-singing onstage-writing and singing music that connects with others-volunteering in a local community-helping feed the hungry-doing service projects. . .

You may be an excellent candidate for a traveling abroad! But what makes traveling with purpose different? 

Picture this: You have just been selected for a traveling performance group. You are jet-set for India!

During this time, you will meet your fellow peers, get acquainted, then you start learning songs that will be performed onstage to a friendly audience. At first, you feel a little nervous, but everyone works together, and you have state of the art vocal and dance teachers. You also learn from your peers; everyone seems to shine in their own way!

Sooner than you thought, your new travel companions start to feel like a family. You get to meet your host families, who are warm and welcoming, and you begin to get immersed in the local culture. It is nothing like you could have imagined, and yet, you feel connected to the people, to your peers, and to yourself.

You get to try new foods, see new sights, and learn about how the local communities live and interact on the daily. On your journey, you are able to help out in areas of need, like food banks, community shelters, local schools, or charity organizations. By doing service, you and your group experience the people of the community on another level: instead of simply taking part in their local culture, you actually have the opportunity to give something in return.

Consider: this is the moment you have been leading up to for the past four weeks– the moment of actual changemaking that you knew you wanted from the beginning. Now you have cultural experiences, newfound friends, and the knowledge and skills to present your plan for action: this is the capstone project!

Along your way, you discovered your passion for helping and inspiring others. You also have seen what brings people together, what holds communities, and what helps keeps families and villages afloat. You see the community dinners, the soup kitchens, and think: that’s what I want to support!

Maybe your project has to do with a community garden, where both the young and old can learn to grow their own food. Or, maybe it’s a cultural cooking class– a space where anyone can come to use the kitchen to learn or pass on recipes. You take your plans, your skills, and your passion for change back to your own home community, where the project will take root! 

Then, it’s performance day! Somehow, with everything you have accomplished, you have also been practicing for the big concert. Now, you get to take part in something with all of your newfound companions, the people of the community, and global network of past travelers who were once just like you. . .

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