Taking a gap year can be one of the most rewarding life experiences, offering an opportunity to see the world, experience different cultures, make new friends and gain new perspective on your own life and goals. With that in mind, it’s important remember that gap years aren’t just for those between high school and university, and nor that a gap year needs to be exactly twelve months. But what’s involved in planning a gap year? Where do you travel to? And how do you go about making it all happen? Here, Better Traveller’s guide to planning a gap year.
1. Ask yourself what you want to get out of it
A recent study led by Murdoch University in Western Australia found that establishing what you want to get our of a volunteering experience before you travel will positively impact the outcome, and it applies for travel more broadly. Do you want to make new friends? See phenomenal landscapes? Help under-privileged communities? Work or study? Help conserve the environment? Boost your CV? Asking these questions at the outset will help tailor what direction you take and how best to plan for it.
2. Assess your budget and save your money
Before you decide whether you go on an action-filled adventure, volunteer in an orphanage or for an environmental conservation group, or simply backpack from hostel to hostel meeting new people along the way, assess your budget. While it’s possible to see the world on a shoestring, getting stuck in a far corner of the planet without money isn’t ideal, and even before you set foot outside of the country there are costs to be considered, such as flights and travel insurance.
Work out how much you might need per food to cover basic food, accommodation (while developing countries will be relatively cheap, travelling through Europe of the United States, for example, will be more costly), travel and activity expenses.
If you’re needing to raise more funds before your gap year, think about changing your day-to-day routine by cooking more in lieu of ordering takeaway, avoid buying coffees through the day, cancel your television, movie and magazine subscriptions, and check your bank statement to see if there are any avoidable fees that you’re currently paying. A few dollars here and there will, over the course of a few months, add up to a considerable amount towards your trip.
3. Do your research
Allowing for some spontaneity in your gap year is important, but you’ll want to have an idea of where you’re going and what you want to do. And besides, reading up on your destinations is half of the fun, giving you something to save for and work towards. After checking out the legal and medical requirements on Smart Traveller, head to Google, guide books or social media to discover more. And if you’re planning to volunteer, be sure to thoroughly check out the organisation’s credentials and reviews about it online, as many can not only be unscrupulous in their use of your money and skills, but do more harm than good for the local communities intended to benefit. See Better Traveller’s guide to volunteer organisations.
4. Make your bookings
It’s time to set your travel plans in stone! Check out WebJet and Cheap Flights for, well, the cheapest, competitive flights out there. And in terms of accommodation, remember that hotels can be expensive, so look at alternatives such as hostels, as well as websites like Couch Surfing, Global Freeloaders and Workaway for affordable alternatives.
5. Plan, but avoid over-planning
Sure, it’s important to make plans. You need to get to your destination, after all, and it’s advisable to have booked – or at least have an idea about – your accommodation prior to your arrival. But some of the joy of travel comes from unexpected experiences along the way.
So if you’re planning to visit various countries within a single landmass continent, try not to set dates on the hopping around in between your arrival and departure. You might like stop more than another and want to spend more time there, and that’s perfectly OK. It’s meant to be an enjoyable journey, after all.
And most of all, try not to see too much. If you’re constantly moving between planes and buses and trains and ships attempting to pack in as many destinations as possible, you’ll just end up exhausted, jet-lagged and missing the chance to really explore each place.
6. Prepare your travel essentials
You’re young, you’re fit, you haven’t been sick in ages – you’ll be right. Right? No matter your health levels, it’s important to have a general check-up before you jump on a plane. Remember that each country brings with it a unique set of health risks, whether from food preparation, water supply, animal contact or otherwise, and so it’s important that you’re accordingly prepared. Indeed, many countries require or advise certain vaccinations, so be certain to check on the requirements beforehand.
Beyond that, most countries will require a visa – or a visa waiver at the least – and often for your passport to not only be valid, but have up to six months validity on it from the time of your intended arrival back home. And while you’re preparing these sort
While you’re at it with the administrative tasks, look into an international SIM card for your phone, check with your bank about a card that will work just about anywhere in the world and both fraud protection and international support attached too it, and by all means don’t forget travel insurance. A simple accident, loss of luggage or something more drastic can often end up costing thousands of dollars for foreigners, so you’ll want to be prepared. The best part is most plans are less than a few dollars per day, so it’s well worth the investment. Leave a copy of the package at home, and take a printed copy with you.
7. Let go
Yes, you’re going to see some of the most sights the world has to offer. Yes, you’re #blessed to be there. And yes, it’s perfectly OK to want to make your friends on Instagram jealous. But if you’re keen to really enjoy yourself, make meaningful new connections and experience the richness of different cultures, try to ween yourself of social media for the duration of your trip. Keeping in touch with friends and family and taking photographs of your trip is encouraged and advisable, but try to avoid falling into the trap of constantly updating your feed to see what your friends are doing back home. Once you let go of your pre-existing routines and habits, you’ll find yourself getting so much more out of your gap year.