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gap year

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hey everyone,

I'm currently a 17-turning 18 in Oct- year old girl planning on taking a year off before I head to university. I'm a pretty independent person and my parents have more or less washed their hands of the whole planning process (provided I don't head to Syria or something..) so my travel restrictions are more age based than anything. I'd like to be able to volunteer and/or work for at least part of the time (at least 3 months). I've been trying to find local organizations rather than go through an expensive program, but I also understand that I'm basically an unskilled worker and I don't want to be more of a burden than a resource (in terms of needing to be trained etc). I currently work a full time job so have got some customer service/retail experience from that. I'm also from a very, very touristy city in the US and tourists drive me absolutely insane in the summertime, so I don't want to be *that person* any more than I have to be! Obviously I will by definition be a tourist...but I'd really like to try to avoid the super-touristy parts of wherever I end up and instead actually try to learn something about the local culture and learn more about what it's actually like to live there. At least in my city, there's so much great stuff that tourists just never see or don't care about.

Transportation: I don't drive, but I bike pretty much everywhere and have done a multi-day independent/self supported tour (over my spring break). Comfortable with boats/trains/any type of public transportation (have relied on subway since age 7; have travelled independently to Chicago & NYC).

I'm not really a picky eater but I am a vegetarian. I'd like to remain so if at all possible but if I'm travelling in rural areas, I'm OK with eating meat.

I've spent 2 weeks in Alaska with Habitat (flew crosscountry alone) and spent a month in Russia with a friend at 11 (flew alone). I speak French and definitely want to learn more languages but that's not particularly a goal for this trip. I'm looking to spend about 3 months give or take in each place. Right now, it looks like I might be in Guatemala & Cameroon from Sept. - Dec. After that, I'm hoping to go to SE Asia and maybe do a working holiday visa in either NZ or Australia until June/July, then spend 2 months around Europe before heading home for college.

I know it's a lot and it's probably too ambitious, but I'd love to hear any advice you guys have on where/when I should travel SE Asia or if you have any other general suggestions. I have about $15,000 of my own savings (inheritance + salary) and my parents can match that, although I prefer to spend just my own money so will be trying to do everything as cheaply as possible.

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