Bon Voyage: How to Painlessly Leave Behind Home, Family and Friends on Your Gap Year

No matter how many times you leave, no matter how much travelling you’ve done, that airport goodbye is never easy. It’s most certainly the hardest on your gap year.

You’re heading off on your travels, leaving behind friends, family and everything you are familiar with to explore the unknown and fend for yourself.

But worry not, this is not a reason to stop you heading off on a gap year. Instead ensure to follow these tips and you’ll have a smooth goodbye.

 

Preparation Is The Key

Whilst many people think of a goodbye as an emotional airport scene like those in Love Actually, psychologist Diane Barth explains that the key to a pain-free goodbye is in part due to the preparation up to that airport moment.

 

Get Comfortable Doing Things Alone


 
We’re comfortable at home because we always have someone to do things with. This makes goodbyes harder, what are you going to do when you can’t just call your best friend to go for coffee or head out to the cinema to watch the latest movie?

Believe me, you will make new friends and you won’t spend your time alone. However to make the goodbye easier, start at home by getting comfortable with doing things by yourself.

Diane suggests doing something you really enjoy so you start to associate being alone with having a great time. Head to that movie you’ve wanted to see for ages or check out the local restaurant that opened weeks ago but you haven’t had a chance to try. There are loads of other suggestions in the video above of things you can try doing on your own!

 

Learn to Acknowledge Your Feelings


 
Whilst we all want to look brave and prove to our parents that we don’t need them, it’s completely normal to have mixed feelings.

You’re excited to be heading to a new country and you’ve got a schedule full of adventure, relaxation, sunshine and more.

But you’re also freaking out, there’s a part of you that suddenly realises you’ve made a stupid decision. Why did you think it was a good idea to fly half way round the world with no one you know?

Amy Weaver, a well-travelled expat, explains in The Telegraph that sharing these feelings will do wonders for what she terms Pre-Leaving Tension (PLT). Admitting that you’re scared by no means makes you weak or proves you’ve made a bad decision.

It’s a great decision you’ve made but naturally you’re nervous about how everything will pan out.

In the same article, Australian expat Liana Liston reminds us that we all have our own coping mechanisms that can lead to unusual behaviour. My un-conscious coping mechanism before every trip is to become extremely irritable and ignore all elements of planning – naturally this only makes things worse and the goodbye harder.

Remember, the more open you are the easier the goodbye process will become.

 

The Time For Goodbye Has Come

You’ve now prepared well, you’ve tried to do things on your own. You’ve shared your feelings and recognised your difficult behaviour. It’s now time for that farewell.

There are a few things that will help it not turn into a blubbery, drawn-out, impossible sendoff.

 

Toast Your Goodbye In A Place You Love

Ellie Baker, author of The Emotional Challenges of Immigration suggests keeping the airport goodbye restricted to coffee and saying goodbye properly in a place you love. I couldn’t agree more.

No one enjoys the airport. You desperately try not to get upset but can’t quite make proper conversation as you try and ensure you have your passport, you haven’t got that penknife/foundation/perfume in your hand luggage and navigate your way around the terminal.

Instead I always enjoy having a meal out the night before. It allows me to take quality time spent with family and friends before I leave and make peace after my manic last-minute rush.

An added bonus is that your parents are definitely no longer apprehensive about you leaving, so they are more than happy to treat you to that gorgeous restaurant you could never justify yourself!

You’ve come this far and now it’s like pulling off a plaster…

 

Don’t Prolong The Farewell


 
Yes, you have to get to the airport three hours before your plane leaves and while it’s tempting to fill this time staying with the people you know and love this will by no means help you.

A publication by Betsy Schneck about Making Goodbyes Easier for Children and Parents explains that keeping the airport goodbye short and sweet reduces the pain. You have the airplane journey to feel sad and there is nothing worse than standing rooted to the spot by security gates both holding on to each other for half an hour or so.

It is important for us to listen to ourselves. The length of time that is best will be slightly different for everyone.

As I jetted off to Australia, I sat in Costa with my mum and after about twenty minutes it got to that time where I knew I had to leave. At this point don’t drag it out, decide to head through security and go.

On this note, make sure to only really say goodbye once and leave it to the end. This makes it sincerer and allows you to avoid the unbearable time where you run out of things to say.

Whilst goodbye is conventional I like to say “see you soon” as this suggests that it’s not forever, after all being back in the airport will come around all too quickly.

You’ve parted ways. You’ve done that walk through security and you now feel very alone. The goodbye process continues…

 

That Time After The Goodbye


 
Many of us are guilty of thinking that as soon as we leave that’s the goodbye’s done and dusted. But Betsy Schneck reminds us to expect anxiety for a few days. It takes time to ease yourself into the new situation.

The airplane journey will be emotional and when you arrive those mixed feelings will hang around for a while. It suddenly dawns on you just how far away you really are.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll try to brush them off but this isn’t always the most helpful. You’re into homesick territory and whilst you deal with that (have a read of the blog from last month…) remember the best way to get over a goodbye is to soothe yourself.

You can do this by listening to music, watching a film, or writing down those feelings. It can help to get you into the diary spirit by starting the diary early and whilst it may sound emotional to start with by the end you’ll have caught all your amazing memories.

Worried about feeling homesick? Why not make sure your gap year is packed full of amazing activities to distract you from thoughts of home! 10 Weeks in Borneo: Jungle + Tropical Island + Mt Kinabalu + Philippines You can spend 10 weeks in the beautiful surroundings of Borneo & the Phillipines. It’s packed full of amazing experiences. You can explore the rainforest, spot orangutans, climb volcanoes, go rafting and live alongside some of the world’s most remote indigenous communities…

I’m Interested, Tell Me More!

 

Embrace The Change

If you follow these simple strategies, you should be in for an easier ride.

Ultimately through the goodbye you can focus on the positives. You’re off on an amazing adventure. Focus on the excitement feelings and you’ll slowly find they override the nerves.

And remember, being slightly emotional can be good it can remind you of what you have. Great family and friends often go uncelebrated but realising how important they are can happen when you have to say goodbye.

So now you have the goodbye sorted but do you have all the planning organised? I’d recommend downloading our 100% free, comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.

Jenny McWhirter
Jenny McWhirter
Jenny joined The Leap team in 2015, and is our very own in-house gap year advice agony aunt. She leaped with us back in 2012 and has now returned to help run our popular advice blog, and will also be one of the first people you speak to if you're interested in joining one of our gap year travel programs.
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