Whether you’ve dreamt of meeting the elephants in Thailand, interrailing from country-to-country in Europe, surfing on Bondi Beach or backpacking the classic south-east Asia trail, a gap year is the perfect way to fulfil your travel wishlist.
If you’re considering a gap year either before university or after your degree is complete and don’t know how to begin planning, we’ve got your back - and here is our 5-step guide on planning your gap year.
The first step to any gap year trip is deciding exactly the trip you’re looking to do as the options out there are limitless and the world is your oyster in terms of travel, experience and making the best memories.
Booking a gap year tour
The easiest and simplest way to do a gap year is my booking yourself a tour. This could be a few months to a year and include all the countries you’re looking to visit. There are plenty of websites out there offering tours such as Gap 360. These tours are the perfect opportunity to fulfil the travel dream on a set route laid out for you, and meet lots of like-minded individuals from all over the world.
Booking your year independently
If you’re more of a spontaneous individual or have looked into tours and nothing really tickles your fancy, then booking a trip independently may be the way forward. Booking independently gives you a lot more freedom as you’re able to go with the flow and spend longer in places you fell in love with and cut your trip shorter for the locations that didn’t really live up to expectations.
Booking independently is easier than you think with comparison flight websites including Skyscanner and the many accommodation websites such as Booking.com, HostelWorld and AirBnb. And, a lot of key backpacker destinations have lots of travel agents in the towns and cities to book your next flight/train/boat/taxi ride or excursion whilst away.
Volunteering/working vs pure travelling
Most gap year travellers have one or the other idea in mind when they set off for the year: either they’d like to spend the year working and volunteering with a mix of travelling thrown in, or they’d prefer to solely travel from place to place. It all depends on the individual's budget and their desire to see the world.
Volunteering or working abroad will give you a completely different experience to travelling around. Working will allow you to finance yourself to continue to travel more but also offer a wealth of experience and knowledge working in a different culture. The working abroad opportunities are endless, whether it’s taking up a hospitality job whilst you’re out there to continue funding your travels or teaching English to children.
Volunteering opportunities are widely available, especially in key backpacker destinations. Whether it’s looking to rehabilitate animals, working in developing communities or protecting the rainforest, there’s lots to choose from - and it’ll offer an experience like no other, seeing the rural side of the globe.
A year of travel is exciting, exhilarating and full of adventure but it doesn’t come cheap. Even though you can travel cheaply, you need to keep in mind that you'll have to be able to finance a year of living somewhere, eating and travelling around. It’s an exciting prospect and if done right, you’ll return back to the UK with a wealth of knowledge, experience and stories.
Once you’ve decided on the type of trip you’d like to go on, you have the fun decision of picking where exactly to visit. Whether you’d prefer to stick to one country and really get to grips with it for a year, roam across a continent or even attempt to do as many countries as possible in the scope of 12 months, that’s down to you.
Picking a location is where the adventure really begins as then you’re able to start researching the beauty of the world and the wonders out there to see and experience.
Gap years don’t have to be really expensive, however, this all depends on the type of trip you choose to take, the countries you're visiting and how long you’re planning to stay for.
With a budget, the first thing to consider is to decide how much you’d ideally like to spend over the course of the year and then you can begin your research in keeping to that budget - and working on a saving plan to be able to finance your travels.
The bulk of the costs of your travel will come down to accommodation, flights, transport and food. However, you also need to consider funding experiences you’d like to do whilst away, the spontaneous adventures you’ll go on and also taking a bit extra with you incase the unforeseen happens. Unfortunately you can’t always plan everything that happens whilst you’re away and an unexpected cost may rear its ugly head and that means, back up cash or a credit card will come in handy.
You’ll also need to budget for everything prior to your trip including backpacking gear, health costs (including vaccinations), toiletries, clothes and anything you’re looking to bring with you.
Booking your trip is a very exciting step as this is where the adventure starts to feel real. The booking process is again all dependent on the type of trip you’re going to have. If you’ve picked the tour option, then it’ll be quite a simple process. However, if you choose an independently-booked route, this is where the real research comes into play and you’ll search around for the best flight and accommodation deals, for the other transportation and the wild experiences you may want to book in advance to secure your place.
The best advice we’d recommend when you get to the booking stage is to shop around via different comparison websites - as that way you're able to find the best deal and save yourself some money to put towards other areas of your gap year.
Booking your trip is only half the preparation to actually setting foot on your gap year. When the bulk of the trip has been booked, this is when the real, more mundane preparation has to happen.
The most important thing you need to sort prior to your gap year is finding out which vaccinations and visas you need to go away. This is all dependent on the location and length of your stay. For your vaccinations, if you contact your doctor, they will be able to recommend which are necessary to take.
In terms of visas, this varies, especially if you’re looking to take out a working visa. You may need to submit copies of your ID and return ticket for your work visa. Or for a tourist visa, some countries will simply ask to apply for the visa at their embassy in your home country, or you can even buy an entry visa on arrival to the airport. Visa applications vary from country to country. However, if you’ve booked a tour, your advisor will tell you what’s necessary and if you’re travelling solo, do your research before heading off.
Different currencies/travel card
New countries mean different currencies and it’s important to be aware of what currency you’re going to need before departing. When travelling for a long period of time, your best bet is to purchase a travel money card which you can pick up from your local post office. This card will allow you to put money on it from a variety of different currencies, meaning you can spend it in various countries, without having an additional bank charge.
We’d also recommend bringing some cash with you or when you arrive in the new country, take out some cash at the ATM. It’s handy to have an amount of cash on you for smaller purchases such as taxi rides, street vendors and buying bottles of water.
Undoubtedly, phone networks can be different from one country or continent to the next and that’s why it’s really important to have the appropriate phone network when away, to be able to use your phone without any additional charge. On arrival to the airport, you can purchase a SIM card for the country and buy a plan suited to your needs.
A year is a long time and that can take a lot of research to map out everything you’d like to see over the course of a year. However, it’s all part of the fun. And, if you’re not interested in planning things down to the final detail, an exciting idea is to make a list for each location and the must-see things you’d like to do there. That way, you’ll have some sort of bucket list to do for each location - and when you arrive home, you’ll be able to tick everything off.
Backpack resources/must have items
Before you go ahead and start packing for your trip, there are some handy items to consider purchasing. From packing cubes, reusable water bottles, a travel towel, insect repellent bracelets, probiotics (to get your stomach used to street food), to travel insurance, padlocks (for your backpack), a plug adapter and small backpack.
The key for any long-haul trip is to pack as light as possible. If you’re going to be living out of a backpack and bringing it from location to location, you don’t want to overfill it to the point you’re unable to actually carry it. Here’s a couple of handy packing tips:
Gap years are full of excitement and memories and if you’re booking yours, don’t forget to seal the deal and protect your trip with a policy for your travels.
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