There’s something magical about summer break when you’re still in school.
The weather gets warmer, the sun stays out longer, and suddenly you and most people your age have so much free time.
Not to put a damper on the magic of summer, but once you leave home and start living on your own, it does lose some of its glamour. Sure, the change in weather is still nice—but unless you’re a teacher, all that free time in the summer will likely be dedicated to your job.
So now is the time to make the most of your summers. You may never have this much free time on your hands again (not counting vacations, of course).
And let’s be clear: This article is not going to tell you to give up your summer break for some gloomy or tedious low-paying job or to study all summer long instead of having fun.
Quite the opposite: This article will show you how to identify what you really want to achieve this summer in all aspects of life and how to get there in the next few months.
Creating a summer bucket list
Whether you’re reading this just as the flowers are starting to bloom or well into the dog days of summer, it doesn’t hurt to plan for whatever time you have left before school begins.
Creating a summer bucket list will help you prioritize your time while leaving room for that special brand of summer spontaneity. Don’t just create this list in your head—write it down and pin it to your wall, put it in your planner, or save it in your notes app. Whatever works for you.
Make sure your list is balanced to help you make strides toward your goals while also having fun and relaxing this summer. And do your best to tie your bucket list to rough deadlines so that you maintain your motivation all summer long.
You may want to wait to fill yours out until after you’ve finished this article, but here’s an example of how to structure your list to get some good balance:
Set a new summer routine
Now that you’ve set your summer goals, it’s time to set a routine.
Do this early on if you can—because once classes end, the lack of structure can make time slip by quickly.
Start by making a casual schedule containing the things you know you want to happen at specific times and dates. In the example above, you might block off Saturday afternoons for yoga and set aside the time you need to prepare for your road trip for Mother’s Day.
Then, find other ways you can develop a routine to suit your goals. Again using the example above, you might:
Wake up an hour early twice a week to research colleges
Set aside $25 every Friday to spend at the end-of-summer festival
Listen to an audiobook during your morning walks
You get the idea. But for more inspiration, check out these articles:
Get creative and step outside your comfort zone
Got a good plan and steady routine for summer? Good—now it’s time to ditch the structure and do something spontaneous, adventurous, and new.
Though it may be scary, trying something new is the best way to learn more about yourself. You may discover a hidden talent or a passion for something you never considered before.
For bonus points, try something new that also advances the goals you’ve outlined for your summer.
Taking up painting, for example, can help you develop your creativity and improve your attention to detail.
Learning to cook can teach you patience and the value of experimentation (and even a bit about chemistry).
Trying out a new sport can improve your physical health and help you develop teamwork skills.
Think about how good you’ll feel when you’re back at school (or heading off to whatever’s next) with a new set of skills and experiences. That sounds a lot better than a summer that comes and goes with nothing noteworthy, no?
Build up your income and your resume
There’s nothing wrong with slowing down and relaxing during your summer break. But if you really want to make the most of your summer, it’s wise to dedicate some of your time off to advancing yourself professionally—even if you’re still a few years away from entering the workforce full-time.
Even if you don’t need a summer job right now, there are benefits to working over the summer that you should consider. And it’s not just about money (though that’s obviously a huge benefit).
A good summer job is a great way to expand your network, meet new people, make new friends, and build up experience on your resume. Putting in the time now will give you a leg up when you apply to colleges or jobs.
And a summer job doesn’t have to be something stereotypical—though if you want a job at an ice cream shop or mini golf course, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Working during the summer also gives you a chance to learn about budgeting and financial planning. And the money you save during your summer job can help you enjoy more activities next summer, and the summer after that, and the summer after that…
In fact, for many lucky people, the friends you make in high school and college are the friendships that last the longest.
Unfortunately, when you’re in school, the stress of balancing schoolwork and social life can make it difficult to maintain relationships. Furthermore, everyone is constantly moving between hometowns and college towns, which can put a strain on friendships.
Which brings us to summer; with more free time on your hands, it’s important you take time throughout the summer to deepen your relationships, especially with close friends who may not be in the same town as you this summer.
There are lots of apps, beyond simply Facetime and texting, that make it easier to connect with friends who you can’t see in person. For example, Marco Polo is excellent for group video calls, and Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie.
Make an effort to see friends who are close by on a regular basis, too—make a weekly movie night with friends, go on a camping trip, or join a social club together. Whatever you choose, focus on providing opportunities for you and your friends to get even closer over the summer.
It’s also important to seek out opportunities to meet new people. Joining clubs, attending social events, and volunteering are great ways to expand your social circle. Do it now while you have free time.
Test-drive life as a digital nomad
In many countries around the world, it’s common for young folks to take a “gap year,” where they spend a year after high school and before whatever comes next to explore new places and cultures.
Where and how you travel this summer will largely depend on your personal circumstances. However, as long as you have some free time and a bit of extra spending money, you can plan a trip somewhere new—even if it’s just a short road trip to a nearby city you’ve never been to.
Traveling with friends or family is an excellent way to spend your summer weeks, but don’t shy away from solo travel either—as long as you do your research and travel safely, going to a new destination on your own can be a life-changing experience.
And who knows? Perhaps your summer travels will unlock your wanderlust and prepare you for life as a digital nomad once you finish school.
Cosplay life as a grown-up
If you’re still living at home, it can be easy to let other people take care of the “grown-up stuff.”
Maybe your mom still does your laundry. Or you rely on your sister for help when you have car trouble. Or your roomie does all the cooking, and you just help with dishes.
These may seem like boring chores to do during summer break, but try reframing it this way:
Each basic but important task you master gets you one step closer to independence. Start slowly with things that seem manageable and do your best to enjoy the process of learning new skills. Your future self will thank you.
Use summer to explore what you want in life
Part of making the most of summer is enjoying yourself, relaxing, and having plenty of fun. But that’s not all summer is about when you’re in the latter stages of your school career.
These few months are your chance to have new experiences, deepen your relationships, achieve your goals, and explore who you are and what you want in life.
Take advantage of summer now, and you’ll see big benefits in your life before the leaves start to change again.