ways to document a gap year

10 Creative Ways to Document Your Year Abroad

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Have you ever returned home from a trip and realized that you spent a lot of time taking photos of your breakfast and selfies in front of historical monuments? It’s not a terrible thing to ditch the phone and be fully present in a place. It’s admirable even. But, there is something to be said for the inevitable nostalgia when looking back on a moment in time. We can thank our technology for that.

If you’re about to embark on a gap year, study abroad, or other adventure, it may be worthwhile to consider how you’ll record and store the resulting memories. Fortunately, there are many ways we can create a collection of moments to document your year abroad.

1. Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal can be as simple as writing down one or two sentences about the day, or as intricate as writing a short story about something extraordinary that has happened. I’ve found that writing down bits about my experiences abroad help me retain my memories of particular places and moments in time.

Besides that, the very act of writing is known to be therapeutic, a way to nourish our wellbeing. According to URCM research, journaling can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, or cope with heightened emotions.

Sometimes our travels have a way of challenging us physically and mentally—like sitting in a foreign airport all day because of a missed flight or getting an ear infection from sticking your head out of a moving vehicle in Mumbai—and writing can help us navigate such obstacles.

2. Use Phone Notes

With a smartphone or tablet, you can use the notes app to jot down your immediate thoughts. I did this while hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru and wanted to remember the names of specific flora and fauna that our guide was pointing out along the way. You can always put these notes into a different format later.

3. Start a Blog or Vlog

If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog or vlog (video blog), taking the deep dive during your gap year or study abroad is an excellent time to do it. For sure, the thought of creating content and putting it out there can be a bit daunting.

But because travel, by its very nature creates storytelling avenues, you are bound to have consistent and exciting content.

I use WordPress for blogging, but other user-friendly sites include Wix, Medium, and Squarespace. For vlogging, you can use a video host such as YouTube or Vimeo. Motivate yourself by assigning a self-determined project with a deadline. When I visited Croatia for one week of solo travel, I challenged myself to create at least five vlogs. It was awkward at first! But, I’m happy for the memories embedded into those cringe-worthy clips.

Creative Ways to Document Your Year Abroad
Vlogging on the rooftop of Chill Out Hostel in Zagreb, Croatia

4. Make an Actual Scrapbook

Long before the digital age, we collected photograph prints and put them into photo albums and scrapbooks. We don’t see this often anymore, because it’s easier to let Google Photos store our chronological albums or use Shutterfly’s seamless software to make digital books.

But, the fond memories that jump out when you pick up a tangible scrapbook lives on. It just takes a little bit of work.

5. Create a Travel-Related Instagram Account

Instagram at its core is a community-based photo-sharing platform. With Instagram’s explore and hashtag features, it’s effortless to share moments or short videos with communities of like-minded individuals.

If you don’t want to saturate your feed with daily travel updates, consider making an entirely separate account. You can create a theme, like the storyteller behind Humans of New York or check out Rolf Potts, who aims to change the narrative behind “Insta-worthy” travel posts.

6. A Picture in Every Place

A fun and unique way to document your travel is to take the “same” picture in each place you visit. Your face or full-body pose stays the same, but the background changes as you travel to new cities and countries. Check out a great example of this in “This is not a beautiful hiking video” by Peter Hochhauser below.

At about 9:00, you’ll see a flood of self-portraits from his trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.

“This is not a beautiful hiking video” by Peter Hochhauser

7. Start a Collection

I love to collect postcards from different cities. I can always count on finding them at souvenir shops or local flea markets, and they make a reasonably inexpensive collection.

A friend of mine collects beer labels from different cities and writes the date and that evening’s happenings on the back. He hopes to use all 100+ labels to make a coffee table someday. Whether you collect train ticket stubs or receipts from your grocery store trips, you can find ways to incorporate these things into long-lasting memories. How about decor for your scrapbook?

8. Create Playlists

Whenever I hear Ginza by J. Balvin, I’m instantly transported back to my time spent in Central America. Music is a beautiful way to reminisce about travel and stay connected to a certain place.  

Whether you use Apple Music, Spotify, or SoundCloud, you can create playlists that will take you back to the quiet countryside of Switzerland or the cobblestone alleys of Granada. If you happen to be traveling to Latin America any time soon, check out Pimsleur’s Guide to Latin Music series.

9. Keep a Phrasebook

Keeping a handwritten phrasebook about words and phrases learned throughout your travels is a great way to save a little bit of culture in your back pocket and document your year abroad. It’s something you can continue to add to or pull out when you need a reference.

If you’re the handwritten lifestyle is not your thing, create a Google Doc or online document so you can have access at any time.

10. Master a Language

There’s perhaps no better or more practical token of your year abroad than a new language. In fact, more than 63% of North Americans planning to study abroad cite language as their primary motivator. Your language skills will not only make you more employable but will forever connect you with the land and people in this chapter in your life.

Pimsleur’s research-backed language learning app is the place to kickstart your language-learning journey. Listening to Pimsleur audios while you’re driving, out for a run, or on a plane makes learning easy, convenient and fun.

Free unlimited access to Pimsleur – for 7 Days. Only $14.95/month thereafter.

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