Taking a gap year—a pre-college detour to travel and/or work—isn’t just a European and Australian thing anymore. In fact, it’s now considered a huge plus by some colleges, such as Princeton and the University of North Carolina, who are even offering money in the form of scholarships and fellowships to students who opt for a gap year. For the growing band of Americans getting on board with the idea, here’s a mini-guide:

1. Don’t sweat the deferral. Type A sorts may stress about falling behind classmates who dive straight into freshman year, but college admissions officials counter that a gap year pays off, giving students a dose of chutzpah and focus when they return. Just apply for a deferral before you graduate from high school; they’re almost universally approved.

2. You don’t have to start from scratch. To give you a sense of where to go and what to do, gapyear.com and americangap.org are full of ideas. If you want to cover a lot of ground, Projects Abroad’s Global Gap program sends groups of 18-year-olds on a voluntourism trip through Ghana, South Africa, Peru, Nepal, and Thailand.

3. Study a romance language. Falling in love with someone is one of the quickest ways to immerse yourself in a new culture. Which is why you should check MySingleFriend’s interactive map of European dating customs. In the Netherlands, splitting the bill is simply expected; in Italy, it’s an insult to your date’s manhood. Kissing in public is a no-no in Lithuania, whereas in Iceland, you might end up naked by the end of your first date.

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4. Do it again! Why should the 18-year-olds have all the fun? Other legit excuses to duck out of regular life and hit the road: You’re between jobs (#grownupgapyear), you decide your kids’ next school year is skippable (#familygapyear), you want to kick off retirement in style (#graygapyear).

Photo by Flickr user Shena Tschofen