Sarah's Gap Year travel blog

Last summer came up with the idea of taking a gap year to volunteer. It started with the thought that I would spend a few months in South Africa seeing my borehole and volunteering. Boy how things have changed. At times I was planning to go to Rome, Ghana, Nepal, or Vietnam. Every time someone asks me what my plan was, my answer was different. But one thing never changed: I knew I wanted to go to Dixie, South Africa and see the borehole. Now, my trip has developed into the one month in South Africa, two months in Ethiopia, ten days in Turkey, one month in Thailand, and two months in India that I am starting in a week.

When I first started talking about wanting to do a gap year and build a borehole in Dixie my parents' took a very clear stance: if you can make it happen, you can do it. They thought there was no way I could fund the borehole, plan my entire trip, and save up enough money to pay my way through the trip. They've told me many times that when I started, they thought it would come down to a couple weeks seeing the borehole over summer at most. So when I told them that I wanted to spend six months abroad, that I'd found the programs, and that I knew I would be able to make the money work, they were shocked. But after the work I was putting into making it happen, there was no way they were going to stand in my way. They decided to give me their blessing and support me so long as I could do enough research to make them feel safe about me being abroad for six months.

For many months I started organizing the Dixie Project to raise money for the borehole and researching exactly what I wanted to do while abroad. It always seemed so far away, especially because the dates kept changing. Which is why, as I print off the itinerary for my parents of exactly where I will be every day for the next six months, I am in shock. How could this dream I have had for so long be approaching so quickly? Every time I walk into my room and see the pile of things I need to pack, I think to myself, "is it really already time to leave?"

With the 22nd so close, I have been experiencing a lot of emotions. First and foremost, I am beyond excited. Like I've said countless times, I can't believe it's finally here! I've been planning this trip for so long, and I'm so excited that it's time for me to leave and actually experience the things I have been talking about for the past year. In just over a week I will be stepping of the plane in South Africa and starting the adventure of a lifetime.

Though ninety percent of my emotions revolve around excitement and disbelief that this is all happening, there is that remaining ten percent. I can't say that much of that ten percent is nerves. Everyone expects my other main emotion to be nerves, but I'm really just not nervous. I know there's the possibility that something will go wrong, but I've taken the precautions and if I'm nervous and anxious, that will just raise the probability of something happening. Plus, my friends and family all seem to be nervous enough for me, so I figure I'll just leave the worrying to them.

That last ten percent, not excitement and not nerves, is two-fold: sadness and guilt. Saying goodbye is never easy, and this week I've had to do a lot of it. In the past week I have had to say goodbye to some of my best friends as they left for college. I also just visited my sister and had to say goodbye to her. I said goodbye to my cousins in L.A. I have my last day of work this Saturday and just had my last day of volunteering on Tuesday. I am having some friends over to say goodbye on Sunday and I won't see them again after that. And then next Thursday I have to say goodbye to my dog, my house, Danville, my room, my brother, my parents, and California. Then on the 23rd, when I fly from New York to Johannesburg, I will say goodbye to America and to all the luxuries I've grown used to. Though I am way too excited to let this get me down, saying these many goodbyes can be overwhelming. It's felt a little unreal. When my friends left for college, I wasn't fazed because I could still text or call them whenever I felt like it. Plus, my life hadn't changed at all. But suddenly I'm the one throwing myself into six months of a world I've never known, not to mention minimal contact with the people I love. It's amazing how six months can go from seeming so short to so long depending on how I look at it. There are times when I sit in my family room laughing at my family being silly while petting my dog, texting my friends, updating my Facebook, watching T.V. and eating my mom's homemade dessert that I think to myself, "I will have none of these things for six months." It is all completely worth it and there hasn't been a second of doubt over my decision, but that doesn't make saying goodbye any easier.

The other emotion that takes up that ten percent is guilt. I have been so focused on what I am doing for these six months and how it will affect me that I have failed to think about everyone else I am impacting. It hit me when I was saying goodbye to my sister, Amy, this weekend. She was telling me how worried she was and how much she was going to miss calling me whenever she wanted. I had thought a lot about how hard saying goodbye was for me, but I hadn't thought a lot about the fact that it was hard for other people to say goodbye to me. I hadn't thought about anyone but my parents being worried about me either. And then I started thinking about the time I've spent with the people I care about. Should I have spent more time going out with friends that I won't see for six months? Have I visited all my family enough? Should I have made the time and found the money to drive to L.A. more or fly to Seattle and see everyone? What about my family at home? Do my parents feel like they've had enough family dinners? Should I have made an effort to be home more often? I have been so focused on working to fund this trip and doing the things I wanted to do before I left that I worry I let someone I care about feel neglected. I feel guilty that I'm leaving in a week and haven't spent every second up until now showing my family and friends how much they mean to me and how much I am going to miss them.

But when I feel sad or guilty about saying goodbye I remind myself that, though six months is a long time to be abroad, it is barely anything in the scheme of things. I have spent eighteen years showing my family and friends how important they are to me and I will have many more years to do so when I get home. Right now, these goodbyes seem hard to all of us, but the truth is, it's only six months. Twenty six and a half weeks. 187 days. And when I think about how short of a time it really is, the ninety percent excitement kicks. Because let's face it, when I'm preparing to go to South Africa, Ethiopia, Turkey, Thailand, and India knowing that I will be spending this time making a difference, there's no way for me not to get excited.

I often have people ask me what I'm most excited for. I almost laugh every time I'm asked this. How do I answer something like that? First of all, there is no way I can pick one activity out of six months! Seeing the borehole that I've worked so hard to build will be unbelievable, but so will teaching English to orphaned children, working with elephants, learning with a medicine man, and assisting in an orphanage. How can I ever know what will be the "best". I don't believe I could be most excited for one leg of the trip. So then I start to think more abstractly- I may not be able to pick a place I'm most excited for, but as a whole what excites me most? But I worry my answer may be a bit cheesy. For it's not the fact that I finally get to experience what I've been planning for months, it's not the fact that I know I will change and grow as a person, it's not the fact that I get to travel to countries I've never been to, and it's not the fact that I get to learn amazing things, meet outstanding people, and become a part of enthralling cultures.

What I am most excited for is the knowledge that I will be dedicating six months of my life to improving the lives of as many people as I can. I know it sounds cliché, but I can't wait to know that I'm making a difference every single day. Some of the best days I have are the days that I volunteer with ARF or SonRise because of the satisfaction I get from knowing I've done something worthwhile with my time. And I am so excited to spend six months doing something worthwhile every minute of every day. I can't imagine anything more gratifying or humbling, and I can't wait to get started. It won't be easy and there will be times that I will the blessings of home, but that will make the impact of this trip on myself and the people around me even more prevalent.

When I started this blog post I was planning on touching on my emotions really quickly then moving on to the preparation and information for you guys about me leaving and keeping in contact. But I guess my emotions were in a sort of a Pandora’s Box, and as soon as I started to touch on them there was really no stopping it. If you’ve gotten this far I thank you for listening to me as I ramble about my feelings as I get a week away from leaving. Now I will move on to what I thought was going to be most of my post today, but has turned into a very small portion.

With the trip only seven days away, I have had a lot going on. Whether it’s starting to pack, finish my itinerary, send out some last emails or what not I have been slowly working through my to-do list. One of the items on this list was to let everyone know when and how they will be able to keep in touch with me. Obviously the best way to know what I am up to is to follow this blog. I will update it as often as I have internet access which at this point is not very predictable.

For those of you who wish to keep in touch with me personally, I do have a Skype account. My name on Skype is sarahdittmore and I will be sure to accept any of you that request me. Though I will try to Skype everyone as much as I can while I’m away, I don’t know how realistic this will be as I don’t know when or for how long I will have internet access. But I did set up a voicemail on my Skype. This means when I am not online you can go on Skype, go to my name, and click the drop down button next to “Call Phone” on Skype. Then click “Call Voicemail” and you will be able to send me voicemails whenever you want. I would love to get voicemails with all of your voices! If you want to set up a voicemail so that I can leave one for you when I am online and you are not, go to ToolsOptionsCallsVoicemail and it will walk you through how to set up Skype voicemail.

Another way to keep in contact with me personally is through email or Facebook. Anytime I am online I will check my emails and Facebook and will respond whenever possible. My email for those of you that wish to contact me that was is I apologize in advance if I am unable to keep in contact much, but know that I will be thinking of you all and I hope you will not hesitate to Skype, email, or Facebook me as I would love to hear from you all and I am sure any contact will help me on those days that I’m feeling a little bit homesick.

One way NOT to contact me is through my cell phone. Though I will have my phone with me it will be for emergencies only and will cost me, and possibly you, quite a bit to use it to stay in touch. Please don’t try to text or call me, because I can promise you now that unless it’s an emergency, you won’t get a response. Other than that, all other ways of communication are greatly appreciated and I hope to hear from you all while I am away! I will try my best to keep in touch when I have the availability and I will miss you all dearly.

So before I leave this Thursday, I just want to say thank you all for supporting me as I’ve put this trip together. None of this would’ve been possible without the love and support of every single one of you. It means so much to me to know that there are so many people who will be thinking of me while I’m gone and to know that all of you will hold me in your thoughts, prayers, and hearts. I will think of you all while I am away and once again, thank you for making this possible. I hope you all stay happy and healthy. I will try to stay in contact as much as possible, and I will miss you all so much!

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