How to plan a gap year
Planning a gap year? Here’s everything you need to plan before you head off into the sunset!
So, you’ve taken the first step by deciding that you want to travel after university but you might be struggling to find a place to start when planning it.
Allow us to quote mums up and down the country when we say “if you fail to prepare then prepare to fail.” If you were just thinking of packing a suitcase and hoping for the best, you’ve got a lot more to think about than you expect!
However, it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may sound. It’s all simple when you know how…
Start with the basics
Before we really start to look into the finer details of what you’ll need to plan it’s a great idea to get an overall view of how you want your gap year to work out.
What are your goals?
There’s no better place to start than asking yourself this question. At the end of it all it’s about what you are looking for from travelling and how you can reach that goal.
Just think forward a year and imagine telling the story of your gap year. How would you want it to sound?
How long will you go for?
We know it’s technically called a gap “year” but the amount of time that you spend travelling is up to you. Many graduates plan to travel for more than a year where as some only need a month.
Once you have a good idea of what your goals are you will know how long to travel before you can achieve them.
Who will you go with?
Will you be travelling alone or with friends? Both options have their pros and cons.
Travelling with mates can be much less daunting, and it can sometimes be cheaper when it comes to hotels & travel.
Don’t be too put off if no one is up for it though. You’ll meet lots of people out on the road and could make yourself some lifetime friends, but do remember that you need to keep your wits about you. Most people are just looking for a good time like you, but you might come across some shady characters along the way!
What will you do?
Think about the goals you have set for yourself. Are you thinking of some pure hedonism, or are you hoping that your travels will help to further your career and life experiences?
Be aware that a gap year could essentially create a gap in your CV, so it’s worthwhile thinking about the future implications.
Working: Working abroad demonstrates some much sought-after skills, so it could be a great way to kill two birds with one stone. You could learn a new language and gain an insight into new cultures, plus much more.
Volunteering: Alternatively, you might want to volunteer with a charity that’s close to your heart, or use the break to pursue an interest that you’re particularly passionate about.
Shoestring travelling/holiday: If you have saved up enough throughout uni (lucky you) then you might fancy the chance of just travelling on the cheap without having to support yourself by working. This gives you a chance to see more but can be hard to sustain.
The Finer Details
By now you should have a good idea of how you can see your gap year unfolding. Are you ready? It’s time to take a look at the finer details.
Decide which countries to visit
Well, you can’t really plan to travel for a year unless you have at least a light idea of where you want to go.
There’s so much on offer for intrepid explorers and each country has its own style that caters to different people. From beach chilling to city hustle bustle, places like South East Asia or America have you covered.
As you continue to plan you might also find somewhere that you really want to go to. Plus, why limit yourself to just one location? The world is your Oyster!
Book Flights + Travel
Which came first, the plane tickets or the country? Even though you may have a rough idea of where you want to go your plans may be changed when you take a look at flight and travel options.
Round the World Flights – Plenty of companies offer backpackers the chance to book around the world flights that stop at chosen locations. You can buy tickets that will let you travel for 12 months and there are plenty of popular routes. As an example you can travel UK > Bangkok > Sydney > Auckland > Fiji > Los Angeles – overland – New York > UK for just over £1,000.
The only downside is that the dates of departure are set and if you want to change any of your flights (for any reason) you will be charged extra.
Trains – You can see a lot of the world via train. The most popular choices are across Europe (Interrail), America (Amtrak) & Russia to China (the Trans-Siberian railway). It takes a lot longer than flying but can save you a lot of money with some tickets for as little as £300.
Buses – Most countries will offer the opportunity to book bus travel once you are there but those that want to plan should check ahead for bus routes and prices.
It is possible to book your whole travel itinerary before you have even left the UK but sometimes it’s better to leave certain parts of your travel unplanned. You never know how your plans might chance once you are there.
Much like travel, booking accommodation is something that you might want to leave until closer to the time.
It’s possible to check out reviews of the local hostels and hotels in the locations that you will be travelling to on sites such as Hostelbookers and Hostelworld and you can book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
If you are on the hunt for super bargain accommodation then you can try couchsurfing for free or even a home stay (where you stay with a local family).
Decide how to pay for it
Travelling is a costly business, so if you don’t have savings, you’ll probably have to work while you’re away. You could work in a bar, teach English as a foreign language, or put the skills you learned at university to good use with a more specific job.
Do bear in mind though that it might not be as easy as picking up work on the first day that you arrive, so work out your budget carefully so you know that you can cover accommodation and travel until you find something.
If you are really keen then you could ring places ahead to see if they have any vacancies. A top tip is to ask hostels if they need any help in return for free accommodation.
Write an itinerary
As soon as you start to plan your trip, make sure that you start a list of everything that you’ll need. Every time you think of something new just add it to the list.
If you put in the work now it means that packing will be a doddle and there’ll be no last minute dashes to the shops to pick up a sleeping bag protector (we bet you just added that to your list).
We can’t stress the importance of getting travel insurance. These days it’s not too expensive (from around £100 for 12 months) and offers piece of mind.
You might think you are saving by not getting insurance but you might regret it down the line (getting ill in America could cost you £10,000+ without insurance).
Just make sure that you check the fine print to see what you will actually be covered for and how much excess you will have to pay.
Sort out Spending Abroad
There’s a few ways to spend money abroad. You will want to avoid using your bank card abroad and no-one wants to carry around a year’s worth of money in their bag. There’s a few options for graduates which include:
Credit Cards – These days there are a lot of credit cards that you can use abroad and they are the safest and cheapest way to get money on demand. The only problem that you might face is if you don’t have a good enough credit score to get accepted for one.
Pre-paid Cards – If you don’t manage to get a credit card then a prepaid card is the second best option. They are pretty easy to use. You get a card, load it up with your money and then use it abroad like a debit card.
Travellers Cheques – This option is becoming less and less popular but it’s still safer than carrying cash. Watch out if you are going to somewhere remote though as you may not be able to convert them to cash out in the sticks.
Cash – It’s always worth having a little bit of cash handy when travelling. If you can, try to take some spare £s and $s as well as the local currency of the countries you will be visiting.
For those that are scared of needles and the doctors in general, look away now!
Depending on where you plan to travel you will most probably need to get yourself vaccinated. Make sure you check out which vaccinations you need and get the done early as some need to be administered at least 6 weeks before you travel.
The great news is that most of the vaccinations are free on the NHS and if you want you can pay extra to cover yourself for more. It’s definitely worth it because getting ill while you travel can ruin your whole experience.
Find out which vaccinations you’ll need on the Fit for travel website.
Sort out an International Mobile SIM
If you’re anything like most students/graduates you won’t even want to imagine life without a mobile phone. After all, you need it for those important things like calling home, meeting up with new found friends abroad or… playing angry birds.
Keeping your current phone contract is definitely not a good idea as the likelihood is that it will charge extortionate rates for international texts, calls and roaming.
The first thing you need to do is decide on the phone that you will take with you and then make sure that it’s unlocked (some companies like 3 will do it for around £10).
Once your phone is unlocked you can buy a global SIM for around £30 which offer great value international calling rates.
Make sure you will be safe
Your gap year should be fun, but you can never be too careful when it comes to your personal safety.
Think about the practicalities of staying safe while travelling. Where will you keep your cash? Will you need to carry any medications? What will you do in the case of emergency? No one wants to think about the worst scenarios, but it’s essential to consider these questions before you set off.
This is a lot to take in but don’t let the planning take away from the fun of your travels.
Remember that it’s all about you and travelling can be flexible.
Are you thinking of taking a gap year? What steps are you taking to make sure that you’re organised?