For college-minded teens and their families, the usual plan of action is to head off to college the fall immediately following high school graduation. Four (or more) years of education is the natural move to keep the learning going and the teen in a structured environment.

But what about those teens who aren't ready to go straight to college and are seeking a year to do something off the beaten path? For those who have the flexibility – be it living with their parents, saved money, or a deferred acceptance to their college or university – teens who take a "gap" year can truly benefit from the experience. Here are four reasons this time away from schooling can make an impact that will last through college and beyond.

1. Discover Passions and Talents

Not every high schooler knows what they want to do or who they "want to be" right out of the gate. Even those who look forward to the college experience may wish to head into freshman year with some idea of where to focus their studies rather than going for a liberal arts program or without a point of reference.

Teens can take this year to research, intern, or even head abroad to enlighten and expand their imaginations to give them a sense of purpose, leading to a field of study that will benefit their future. As per Go Abroad, "There are so many life paths to follow, and so many careers and academic majors that you might have never considered. There are career fields out there that high school doesn't even touch on."

This time, whether at home or away, is the perfect time for the teen to reflect on who they are as a person, leading them to make choices that jive with their personality and interests. According to Her Campus, "Although we have a lot of responsibilities by the time we graduate high school, we're still pretty young. We've only known ourselves as a part of some kind of unit." It's the perfect time to see what makes the individual tick without peer influence, parental control, and the limited surroundings of the traditional school setting.

2. Better Prep for the Years to Come

Time off can help a teen become more mature and prepared for their transition to adulthood. Going straight from the high school hallways to the college dorms is a change, but still a similar course. Having time to make their own decisions, plan their own schedules, and learning as they go, teens will have the ammo to navigate college life where many decisions are left to the students.

As per Go Abroad, "Studies have shown that those who take a gap year perform better in college and are more satisfied with their careers after college." This year to restructure could be the very reason why.

The New York Times notes, "Nationally, one-third of college freshman don't return for a second year." With a gap year under their belts, students will be more likely to remain in school due to their time off to realize why they want to attend college in the first place with a plan in place for a clear direction.

3. Reboot and Refresh

After nearly their entire lives in school, teens surely could use a break. Not to loaf around lazily, but to refresh their minds and spirits, weigh their options, and reboot and recharge their brains for some of the most intense learning experiences they'll ever have.

As The New York Times puts it, "What if college freshman arrived on campus not burnt out from having been 'excellent sheep' in high school, but instead refreshed, focused and prepared to take full advantage of the rich resources and opportunities colleges have to offer?"

As long as their minds remain stimulated and the teens are doing something productive during this year, they'll remain school-ready yet with a newfound eagerness to get back to class with a mind ready to absorb new knowledge like a sponge.

4. Do Something Impactful

Along with taking time to grow personally and take some well-needed time for reflection and relaxation, a year off can become a time for making a difference in the world. Teens can use this year to volunteer, work with kids or the elderly, help their families make money, or something else that involves a giving mentality.

This "do good" notion will not only aid those in need but can impact the future goals for the teen. As per Go Abroad, "Maybe volunteering would fire you up with a passion for public health and you'll go pre-med in college. Maybe you'll realize that what you actually love is one-on-one mentoring, and you'll return home to join a mentoring organization to work with local kids."

Additionally, the work done can be used towards college credit or fulfill certain college-recommended or obligatory criteria. A win-win all around. Check out some gap year programs that can get any teen ready for a year to remember.

If you're a college-bound teen or a parent of one, this "gap" year could be a game changer. Consider the positives before diving head-first into freshman year. One year can mean many much more productive years to come.

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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.