A gap year is an amazing, once in a lifetime adventure! But it can also be a little overwhelming and daunting to organise. Have no fear though, because this essential guide will see you through your journey from start to finish – let’s dig in!
Where do I start?
Once you’ve decided that you want to embark on a journey, your first decision is to pick somewhere you would like to visit. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to one place – go out and explore loads of countries, and tick off those bucket list items. Or why not explore the unknown, and check out some destinations you’ve never considered? We’ve got plenty of suggestions when it comes to travel destinations right here.
Taking a gap year can significantly improve your CV: you can learn a new language, gain cultural knowledge and become a more confident person. Whether you want to go abroad to relax or gain work experience through paid employment or volunteering, you’re bound to have the time of your life, all whilst developing some amazing life skills. A gap year could be the best decision you ever make.
When planning your travels, you need to focus on the basics such as your passport, visas, accommodation and flights. But remember that spending money on food and experiences can also add up, so be prepared to do some careful budgeting. There are countless options and ways to travel, the important thing is to do your research beforehand and make a plan. This essential gap year travel guide is a good place to start…
What’s included in this guide?
5 Important things to consider
1) HOW LONG TO GO FOR?
Deciding how long to take off work so your travel dreams can take shape is an important factor in determining two important factors: the cost of your trip and where you have time to visit.
2) BUDGETING AND COST
Before you get too excited, it’s important to make sure that you have everything budgeted for – accommodation, transport, insurance, enough money for food and essentials, as well as some cash put aside for you to enjoy yourself. Don’t forget to find out the currency of where you’re travelling to and the subsequent exchange rates. You don’t want to get to that Hawaiian bar and realise you don’t have enough money to buy a drink.
3) FINDING THE BEST DEALS
Seeking out the best deals before you book those all-important flights is one way to save yourself money down the line. Skyscanner is a great website you can use to browse the cheapest flight and hotels, and it also helps to identify the cheapest day for you to fly out. Checking the luggage allowance for your airline is crucial no one wants to pay that hefty fine! Looking at budget airlines and travelling during term time are also two great ways to reduce costs.
4) BE PREPARED, BE SAFE
It’s a good idea to research the place you’re going to, especially if you have never been there before. Understanding whether there have been any recent conflicts and respecting local customs is the best way to be fully prepared for when you arrive. Also, knowing the local emergency numbers of the region and making sure you have travel insurance means that you are less likely to panic if anything does happen.
Some areas are prone to natural disasters – earthquakes and hurricanes – so it’s imperative that you prepare yourself in what to do in those situations if necessary.
5) WHO TO GO WITH
|FLYING SOLO||WITH FRIENDS||AS A COUPLE|
|PRO||Travelling on your own is a great way to gain independence. You can go wherever you want and it gives you time to think and space away from your life back home.||Spending time away with friends is clearly going to be a lot of fun! Not only can you share adventures together, but being in a group can mean shared travel costs and responsibilities||Holidaying in a couple is the perfect way to spend quality time together, make special memories and you'll feel safer knowing that your significant other is there with you.|
|CON||Travelling solo might get a little lonely. You are experiencing wondrous things without the people you are close to. Also, you must be extra vigilant keeping safe since you don't have someone there to look out for you.||But everyone has their own expectations on what they want from this experience. For example, partnering a party animal with an early-riser could lead to some arguments or tension and that might taint the fun.||But one downside is that if you get into an argument, it needs to be resolved ASAP you can't escape each other. Having no time to yourself can be an issue too - you're going to be with your partner all day and all night.|
Yes, travel is famously not cheap! But there are plenty of ways to keep costs down and plan ahead to keep your gap year plans financially feasible. You’ll need to thoroughly research the destinations you’ll be visiting and the activities that you’ll be doing to get a rough idea of how much money you’ll need to take. It’s a good idea to plan a daily budget to keep track of your spending.
Your savings goal might seem daunting at first, but once you start saving you’ll realise that it’s much easier to reach than you think. Things, like cutting back on your spending and staying at work for an extra hour every day, will eventually add up.
SAVING TIPS: Open up a limited access savings account, and then set up a standing order to transfer money into the account each month. You’ll gain interest on your savings and you won’t be able to dip into them. Another way to save is by putting every coin of your choice – either £2 coin or even a 50p coin – into a jar whenever you get change.
Before you go…
Phone costs: Texts, calls and data charges are now free in most parts of the EU, but if you are heading somewhere further, double check your plan to see how much it would cost you to use your phone abroad. If your provider roaming charges are too pricey, take a look at an international SIM card which may work out cheaper in the long run!
Exchange your money: Start looking at the exchange rates a few months before you travel. Don’t wait until you’re at the airport as you’ll be faced with the worst rates. Keep an eye out for the highest exchange rate possible to get the most out of your money.
Prepaid currency cards and travellers cheques: These can be a safe way to take money abroad – especially if you do not want to carry cash around with you – however, read the small print because some cards will charge you to use ATMs, or if you do not use it for a period of time, and even for spending more than a certain amount daily!
Contact your bank: You can always use your own card abroad, but remember that charges will apply. Don’t forget to let your bank know, as they can freeze your account if they think the transactions look suspicious. Don’t forget to make note of the 24/7 contact number for your bank just in case of an emergency.
Price alerts & comparison sites: You will never miss out on a deal if you set price alerts with travel companies as you will be notified via email if prices drop on your ideal booking and you’ll be able to snag yourself a deal. Comparison sites such as Skyscanner and Trivago are also amazing tools when searching for a bargain.
When you’re there…
Find work: Working whilst you’re travelling can be a great way to earn some extra money or to trade work for food and accommodation. Some jobs come with perks too! If you work in a hostel, you could get free accommodation, meaning you’ll be saving cash.
Off-Peak travel: Prices of transport vary massively depending on the month, day and even hour you intend to travel. Being flexible is hugely beneficial when it comes to booking your holiday, so if it’s possible to avoid weekends and holidays you will be cutting down the price of travel and accommodation significantly.
Buy tickets separately: Buying two single tickets for a journey can sometimes work out cheaper than buying a return. Try flying back with a different airline or splitting a train journey into several tickets, as the cost can surprisingly save you a small fortune!
Alternative accommodation: Before splashing all of your cash on a hotel, look into alternative accommodation. With sites like AirBNB offering places to stay in at more affordable prices than many hotels, you are likely to save some of your much-needed cash.
Transport and accommodation
How to get around?
The best part of the modern world is arguably, our ability to get from A-B in so many different ways! You won’t be hard done by when it comes to travel options and you’ll often find that a lot of the fun is the journey and not just the destinations, so be sure to pick the best-suited transport for the experience you want.
PRO: You get to your destination a lot faster than any other option and if you’re travelling to the other side of the world to do some exploration then flying is the easiest and quickest way to go about it.
CON: Flights can often be quite pricey so be sure to search sites such as Skyscanner and Cheap Flights to make sure you get the best deals possible. Also, keep your options flexible like travelling at unholy hours or during weekdays made also help keep the price down a little.
PRO: Cheaper than planes and faster than buses, going by train from place to place is a nice compromise. Interrailing around Europe is a very popular option since you can very easily hop from country to country via the train and the infrastructure is really good with near constant trains so your trip can be very flexible.
CON: The price of interrailing is still a little steep so if you’re trying to be budget-conscious this might not be the best option. Also, be sure to investigate whether it is actually worth the price of buying an interrailing ticket or better to pay for individual tickets. Many have found the latter to be cheaper, especially if they aren’t going to more than 10 destinations!
PRO: Cheap and if it’s a long bus ride, you’ll also have the option to stop off at other places on route to your next destination which will give you a chance to stretch your leg and take in more of the country you are exploring.
CON: The constant stops can make your journey a lot longer than it may need to be. Also buses tend to be overcrowded and you may not be guaranteed a seat next to your fellow travellers if you go with company.
PRO: Travelling by ferries or cruises is definitely the way to travel in style. There’s plenty of places to explore on board, lots of food and entertainment options and you aren’t confined to a seat for hours on end.
CON: It isn’t always cheap and you have to take into consideration the potential delays that can be caused by unpredictable sea conditions.
RENT/BUY A VEHICLE
PRO: The freedom you gain because you are not restricted to anyone else’s timetable and you can travel entirely at your pace to exactly where you want to go without any compromise.
CON: It’s expensive and can be high maintenance. You have to be able to look after the vehicle well especially if it is rented and you also need to feel comfortable enough to drive in other countries with different road rules.
Where to stay?
Choosing where to rest your head is an important decision, but with different types of accommodation available, which is right for you? Booking a hotel is the obvious choice but there are all kinds of other options.
|RECREATIONAL VEHICLE (RV) CAMP|
|An RV is a small home on wheels. They're available to buy or hire and allow you to travel with all of your possessions. You can pitch for the night at campsites along your route and use the services they offer.||Motorhomes and campsites are mainly available around Europe, Australia, New Zealand and North America.||With a large vehicle to control, you need a confident driver (and potentially a specific driving licence). The group also needs to be able to cope with living in such close proximity and love the outdoor lifestyle!|
|A motel is a hotel for motorists. They offer basic amenities to drivers who need to rest during long journeys.||Motels are known to be beside American and Canadian highways and interstate systems as well as in rural areas.||If you are in need of a bed for the night and can cope without the more luxurious facilities a hotel can offer, then a motel is a great pit stop to break up a long journey.|
|Hostels are aimed at younger people on a budget. They offer shared dormitories and often a common room and activities.||Similar to hotels, hostels can be found international with many available to book online.||If you're a social butterfly who doesn't mind basic accommodation then a hostel is great value for money. However, a higher price can be paid for a private room at some hostels.|
|Rentals include houses, apartments, villas and cottages. A home away from home, you'll have full use of all amenities.||The types of properties vary depending on their location. Airbnb is a great place to find rental properties.||Renting a property is ideal for groups looking for a money-saving alternative to a hotel - you don't have to dine out for instance. It's a more private kind of accommodation. Try not to break anything because you'll probably be responsible for fixing or replacing it!|
|Essentially, couch-surfing is the idea of sleeping on someone's sofa/sparebed/floor for free. You could be with relatives, friends or complete strangers.||Contracting people directly is the easiest way to secure a spot but thanks to sites like couchingsurfing.com, connecting with home-owners has been made easier and safer.||If you're desperate to travel, are willing to be helpful to earn your stay and don't have the budget for extravagant accommodation then perhaps couch-surfing should be considered. Beware of the risks - always have a plan B!|
Although this may seem like an unnecessary cost, it is definitely a small fee when compared to what you would have to pay out if anything were to go wrong. From lost luggage to medical attention, travel insurance can be a lifesaver.
Top things to keep an eye out for…
Make sure all your destinations are covered
If you’re planning to jump from country to country you definitely need to check that your provider will keep you covered everywhere. For example, some policies include countries such as Turkey and Egypt under their European cover, whereas others don’t. Similarly, ‘worldwide coverage’ doesn’t always mean the entire world and some policies will exclude places like the USA, Canada and the Caribbean in this category.
Tell them about all pre-existing conditions
Even if the condition has not been prevalent for a while, you must still be honest and upfront about any medical issues that have affected you past or present. Failure to do so could invalidate your policy and should you need medical assistance abroad this could result in the insurer refusing to pay out, which would ultimately be very costly for you.
Double check the limits on claims
Don’t purchase a policy without making sure that you’ll be able to claim back an amount equal to the loss you would experience in the event of your purse/wallet and belongings being stolen or going missing. Work out the exact worth of everything you are bringing with you beforehand.
You must report a theft
Most insurers will specify within the policy that in the incident of theft you must report this to the local police within 24 to 48 hours. If you miss this deadline or decide not to report the crime at all then you may not be covered and will not be able to make a claim.
Don’t miss a flight
Unfortunately, even if you miss a flight through no fault or your own, most standard travel insurance policies won’t cover the losses from this. If you do find a policy which covers missed flights, you may be required to prove that you set out to catch the flight in sufficient time – so you’ve really got to keep on top of time management on those flight days.
Passport, VISAs & documents
If you need to update your passport, get it sorted sooner rather than later. Similarly, with visas, sort them out ahead of time in case anything goes wrong. Some countries allow you to apply for visas upon arrival, but do your research!
A visa is an official document that allows you to legally travel between foreign countries, but if your home country has a visa agreement with the country you’re travelling to, then you don’t need to apply for one.
How to apply? To apply for a visa, all you need to do is find the official government website of the country you intend to visit and fill out the application forms they supply.
Types of VISAs
There are lots of different visas to suit your travel arrangements. Be aware that there are limits to how many times you can apply for certain visas per year – take note of this when planning your trip.
|TOURIST VISA||WORKING HOLIDAY VISA||STUDY PERMIT|
|This allows tourists to travel to foreign countries for leisure, over a short period of time. Take note if your visa is for single entry only, if you plan to re-enter a country you'll need a multiple visit visa.||This is required if you wish to take employment or engage in business activities during your travels. They are popular with travellers who are intending to work abroad for one to two years.||A study permit allows you to enrol in post-secondary education in that country.|
When going through Border Control in certain countries you may be required to show certain documents that will grant you access.
For a visitor visa, you may need to send supporting documents with your application. These may include travel insurance and a photocopy of your passport.
TOP TIPS: It’s always good to prepare for worst case scenarios. Make sure that you have copies of your travel documents, and write down emergency contact details or any information that will help you if you are unfortunate to lose those documents.
Double check that your plane tickets, accommodation confirmations and pre-booked transport documents are printed out and ready so that you don’t panic whilst you’re preparing to leave.
Be alert and stay safe
Be aware of everything around you. Keep an eye on your bags, as people can slip substances into your belongings meaning you’ll be the one getting into trouble. It’s also a good idea to keep valuables separate. If someone steals a bag, at least you will have kept hold of some essential items.
KEEP THINGS HIDDEN
If you’re carrying a large sum of money around with you, keep it in a place that isn’t easily accessible, such as in a money belt. If you don’t need all your money during the day, keep it in the hotel safe, alongside your travel documents and passport, to keep them as safe and hidden as possible.
HAVE A PLAN B
You never know when things will go wrong – you might end up in the hospital, have flights cancelled, or have your luggage stolen. It’s important to know what to do in these situations, and who to contact. Be safe, rather than sorry, and keep a note of insurance details and other contacts.
RESEARCH THE LAWS
Different countries have different laws. For example, you cannot drink until you reach the age of 21 in the USA, while in the UK, the legal drinking age is 18. In the UAE, public displays of affection are forbidden, swearing and making rude gestures can result in penalties and taking photos of the local women can lead to arrest.
TRUST YOUR GUT
If the situation you are in doesn’t feel right, leave when it is safe to do so. Don’t let the situation build up and put yourself in danger. Always report such instances to the local police, and keep copies of the files, just in case your insurance company needs details.
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE?
The government provides a range of services to help British nationals abroad: from providing replacement emergency travel documents (if yours are stolen or lost), to making arrangements in emergency situations, to providing lists of medical professionals, lawyers, translators etc. to contacting your family in case of danger. Make sure you check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Travel Advice for each country you are planning on visiting for up-to-date reports.
|Always use a condom. Whether you’re male or female, keep a few with you at all times to avoid pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Seek medical advice if you are worried about anything.||Measures are often stronger abroad, so make sure that you pace yourself and drink plenty of water in between alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration – especially in hot countries!||Make sure you understand the concepts of dealing and possession, as different countries have different laws from each, in some countries if you’re caught with drugs you can even get the death sentence!|
|Condoms bought overseas might not be made up to the standards of those in the EU, so always check for the CE logo on the packaging.||Keep drinks with you at all times to avoid them being spiked. If you leave it on the side for even a minute, throw it away and get a new one.||Your travel insurance probably won’t cover you if anything happens to you whilst you’re taking drugs – no matter if they are legal in the country you are in.|
|Some countries laws are not accepting of LGBT relationships and public displays of affection, be careful and safe.||Don’t swim after you’ve been drinking, your body temperature can lower and cause hypothermia.||Remember: you can never know exactly what you’re taking.|
|The contraceptive pill won’t protect you against STIs, and it can also stop being effective if you catch a stomach bug, which can happen quite often when you’re travelling.||If travelling in a group, it’s a good idea to take it in turns to be the ‘sober’ friend to look out for one another.||Do not give into peer pressure.|
Health and hygiene
If you are on any type of prescribed medicine then speak to your doctor about your prescription just in case you are stopped at the airport because some countries have restrictions on bringing different medicines into the country. Speak to your GP if you’ll need an emergency prescription during your travels.
It’s also a good idea to get the prescription translated into the language of the country you’re travelling to in order to make the process smoother.
Depending on how many doses you need, you will have to set time aside for this in order for your vaccinations to be effective. Research the places you are going to and see if you are required to have a vaccination before you go.
When speaking to your doctor, don’t forget to mention when you’re going, where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be doing during your stay, because all of these factors can have an impact on how vulnerable you are likely to be to diseases.
Some vaccinations will incur a cost at your local GP, such as hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, meningitis vaccines, rabies, tuberculosis and yellow fever.
1) WASH YOUR HANDS. A LOT! This seems like a given, but you’ll be surprised how many people forget. Carrying hand sanitiser is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for washing your hands.
2) STOCK UP ON ESSENTIALS: Imperative products such as your favourite brand of deodorant and sanitary products won’t be easy to get your hands on if you’re travelling in remote areas, so make sure to stock up before your trip.
3) KEEP HYDRATED: If you’re in a hot climate and your mind is occupied by all the amazing sights you’re experiencing, it becomes way too easy to forget to drink up. Drinking a lot of water can ward off urinary tract infections, and no one wants one of those mid adventure! Also, make sure it’s always bottled water.
4) WEAR FLIP FLOPS WHILST SHOWERING: In a communal shower, there’s no way of knowing what germs are hanging about, so make sure to pop some flip flops on to avoid catching some nasty germs.
5) WEAR LOOSE CLOTHING IN HOT CLIMATES: Light, airy clothes and layers that still allow you to stay covered up are a good idea, as the floaty fabrics will keep you from overheating and prevent chafing.
What to bring: the packing list
It’s a good idea to make a list of things you would like to take with you quite a while before your travels, so that you can ease yourself into the travel expenditure and know that you will not have to rush around trying to find the out of stock items you desperately wanted but can no longer get.
Make sure you have most of the things you are planning on taking – don’t leave buying them until the last minute – you don’t want the item that you desperately need to suddenly be sold out. Make a list of what you need as soon as possible.
Make your own personal packing list for items essential to you. Get someone to double check it in case you have missed something.
Star packing and tick items off as you go. Check the forecast so you have weather appropriate clothing.
The best travel apps
The first thing which you will need to do before you go anywhere, is pack. This app helps you decide what to bring with you, by receiving information on where you’re going, what you are planning to do and what the weather forecasts say. You can then ticket the items off as you go!
The app allows for interaction between users, no matter where they are in the world, and the introduction of Snap Map means that you can see what is going on in the area around you. The ‘stories’ feature also means you can showcase your travels to your friends and keep your memories safe without filling up your phone with photos!
1 SECOND EVERYDAY (£4.99)
The app allows you to record one second snippets of your day and compiles them into one long video, so you will never forget the most important moments of your journey!
Why not learn basics of a language of the country you’re heading to? Through Duolingo, you’ll earn experience points and complete levels in a number of languages.
This app provides you with access to hostels, hotels and houses all over the world. Before booking, you can read reviews from previous visitors, and it also allows you to book experiences, such as surfing lessons and city tours.
Ever wanted everything in one place? From local gigs, to tourist tours, exhibitions, and adventures, the app shows you what’s going on in the area you’re staying in so you don’t miss out on the fun. Another perk is that you can get discounted tickets if you book through the app!
Known for its website, Kayak’s app is a portable version of a travel agent. Book flights and hotels through the app to get discounted prices, and use their scanner to see if you should book now or wait until the prices drop!
Nobody’s a fan of jet lag! Binaural is an app which aims to reset your sleep clock through the use of sounds scientifically proven to help relax. The app can also increase focus and attention, as well as reduce anxiety.
Remember that you are a visitor in every country you travel to, therefore it’s really important that you are respectful of different cultures, laws and customs. Here are a few things to consider when visiting other countries
Learning a few phrases for each destination that you’re visiting won’t just make it easier to get around, but it will also make it easier to mingle with the locals. Make sure that you are pronouncing words correctly, as incorrect pronunciation can often mean something completely different which could get you into hot water.
Lots of countries have different dining etiquette. In some countries people only use their right hand to eat to avoid food contamination. Whilst people in China find it rude when you finish all of your food, and leaving food on your plate in India is considered disrespectful and wasteful.
You may have heard how in both the US and Italy customers are required to tip in restaurants, but in China and Japan tipping is frowned upon.
If you’re heading to Japan with a cold, you might want to know that blowing your nose in public is frowned upon, so make sure you find somewhere discreet to do this instead.
Different gestures mean different things all over the world. Did you know that crossing your fingers in Vietnam is seen as rude? Also, the thumbs up gesture can be seen as rude in Australia, and handshakes in Russia are seen as very unlucky.
Read up on the different laws in the countries you’ll be visiting. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, naked hiking is banned in Switzerland, and you definitely can’t get too drunk in an Australian pub!
It’s a known fact that some countries do not tolerate public displays of affection, and you should, therefore, refrain from this to avoid being arrested. Similarly, don’t wear anything too revealing, and be aware of what you can and cannot take pictures of.
Everyone is going to have to ask for help at one point, whether that’s about directions or a query that someone might know the answer to.
|It’s important to show that you respect the local culture and beliefs, to help you get around whilst you’re travelling and to help you mingle with the locals. It’s also a good idea to learn simple phrases in the languages of which you are going to be faced with, as locals will appreciate your efforts.|
|The most important thing to think about here is to have a relaxed body language at all times – you do not want to make the person you are approaching think that you’re trouble. Smile, to let them know you’re friendly and make sure to avoid these hand gestures when abroad...|
|The thumbs-up gesture is considered rude in Greece and is as offensive as putting your middle finger up||Do not tap your finger on your temple at any time during your visit to Russia, as this might be seen as a way of you calling someone insane||Nodding our head and shaking your head doesn’t mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in every country, in Bulgaria and Albania, nodding your head means ‘no’||Pointing in Italy is considered rude, so avoid doing so even if you are just asking how to get to the place you are pointing at.|