A gap year can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of your life. A year spent abroad working, volunteering or just travelling and discovering new cultures can really broaden your horizons.
If you are planning on heading to college for several years of hard graft, this may be the last time that you experience this kind of freedom for a long time. However, planning a gap year trip can be just as daunting as it is exciting. If you have never planned a trip like this before, you may feel that you have absolutely no idea where to begin.
Our top tips below should help to point you in the right direction.
There is a whole world of opportunity out there and deciding how you would like to spend your gap year is no different. Maybe you want to volunteer with a cause or organisation which is close to your heart. Perhaps you like the idea of taking a working holiday and picking up some valuable experience for your future career. Or maybe you just plan to do some serious travelling and see the sights.
No matter how you decide to spend your gap year, it is a good idea to try and make a decision as soon as possible. If you plan to take part in a volunteering programme or work with an organisation there may be deadlines for applications which you may miss if you spend too long making a decision. It is also necessary to have a good idea of what you would like to do before you can move on to the next stages of the planning phase.
Once you have a better idea of how you would like to spend your gap year, the most significant question to ask yourself is where you would like to go. Do you want to stay close to home and travel around Europe, or would you prefer to get as far away as possible and spend a year working in New Zealand? Maybe you are lucky and you can do both.
Either way, it is important to get a good idea of where you will be travelling as a trip to a Pacific island will have very different requirements to a volunteering holiday in Africa. It is very important at this point that you really research the location as much as possible.
Among other things you will need to consider how expensive the location is, is it easily accessible and is it safe to visit. Of course you will also need to identify any visa requirements the country may have which can be tricky and in some cases expensive. Perhaps most importantly of all, you will need to consider if you will be happy living there for an extended period of time before you commit.
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There are a number of businesses out there that will help you to plan and book your gap year trip. And if you are planning on volunteering, there is a good chance that this will be arranged through an organisation of some kind. If you do decide to use the services of a booking agent or a volunteering organisation, it is essential that you research them thoroughly at this point.
You will need to find out if the organisation is trustworthy, especially before you hand over any money. Ask yourself if they can truly deliver what they promise and do some research online to see what others who have worked with them have to say. The last thing you want is to show up on the other side of the world to find that the organisation you plan to volunteer with is no longer in existence.
Make no mistake about it a gap year trip can be expensive. This is especially true if you plan to mostly volunteer and travel and will have little or no regular income. There are quite a lot of things that you will need to budget for and it is important that you do not underestimate your costs. Expenses for travel, food and accommodation and of course entertainment will all need to be considered and budgeted for as accurately as possible.
A piece of old travel advice is to take half the clothes and twice the money you think you will need. While the number of socks you pack is really more of a personal decision, planning for a contingency budget is definitely a good idea. A gap year trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you don’t want to find that you miss out on some great experiences due to a lack of funds. Having an emergency budget at hand also comes in handy for those nasty surprises which may occur.
Travel insurance is an absolute essential if you plan to go abroad for an extended period of time, especially if you plan to travel outside of Europe. Missed flights and connections, the theft of your personal belongings or even the loss of a passport are all common occurrences which could unexpectedly eat into your budget and potentially spoil your trip.
And remember, in most cases if you become sick or injured abroad and are uninsured, you will have to foot the bill for your medical expenses, which can be very expensive indeed.
Once you have a better idea of your budget, you will need to think about your currency arrangements. If you are planning to visit a number of countries it is important to consider all the different currencies you will require. Also, keep in mind that currency exchange rates can and do fluctuate regularly and this could significantly impact upon your budget.
You will also need to decide how you want to access money while abroad. Carrying thousands of Euros in currency probably isn’t a great idea but using your regular debit or credit card abroad can prove costly. Fortunately, there are a number of foreign currency cards available today. These cards are secure as they are protected by chip and pin and can even be replaced if they are lost and stolen. You can also preload these cards to lock in the exchange rate to avoid incurring unexpected foreign exchange costs.
If you plan to find work while you are abroad you should make some preparations before you leave. Write a standard CV and store it online so that you can quickly print it or email it to potential employers. It is also a good idea to save copies of any certificates or references you may need to support your application. Finally, you will need to make sure that you have the legal right to work in the country you are visiting and ensure you have any necessary documentation to prove this.
Even if you plan to spend part of your gap year working, there will without doubt be plenty of time for fun. Research and plan the different sights you want to see and activities you want to try well in advance. In some cases it may be best to book before you leave, but it is often possible to get a better deal once you get there. However, being flexible is just as important as planning. You don’t want to have too strict an itinerary or try to pack too much in. Who knows what kind of opportunities will present themselves once you arrive at your destination.
It is never a good idea to assume that everyone can, or wants to for that matter, speak English. Yes, if you are travelling the beaten track and visiting locations accustomed to tourists and backpackers, there is a good chance that locals, particularly in the service industry, will have at least Basic English. However, if you are planning on spending a year travelling across Latin America, it’s not a bad idea to at least know your olá from your hola.
Before you head off on your adventure, it is also good idea to do a little bit of research about the history and culture of the country or countries you are visiting. Having at least a basic understanding of local customs and etiquette can help to make your trip all the more enjoyable and help to make sure you don’t inadvertently upset or offend the locals. Remember, simple things which may be completely acceptable at home could be considered rude, offensive or even illegal in other countries.
Depending on where you are travelling, there may be very specific medical requirements you will need to take care of. For example, some countries may require you to have a medical check before granting you a visa. In other cases, it may be necessary to get vaccinated against common diseases such as Yellow Fever or Tetanus or obtain antimalarial medications. These processes may be time consuming and expensive, so it is important to plan for them well in advance.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions you will need to think long and hard about whether you can access quality healthcare abroad should the need arise. If you require any regular medication, you will also need to be sure that you can easily access this in the countries you are visiting. More generally, you will need to consider your general health and wellbeing and be confident that you are both physically and mentally capable of completing your itinerary.
Hopefully your trip will be an enjoyable experience and one you will remember for all the right reasons. However, if the unexpected does occur, it is important to have a contingency plan to deal with this. For example, think about what you will do if you find you do not enjoy your job or volunteering position as much as you thought you would. It is also possible that the country you choose to visit does not live up to your expectations or you even feel homesick once away from friends and family.
Worse still, an unexpected event such as a serious illness or bereavement may mean you have to cut your trip short or even cancel before you have left. Fortunately if the worst does occur, our travel insurance includes a host of great benefits including cover for cancelling or cutting short your trip. So, make sure to include getting a quote for AIG travel insurance on your list of planning essentials.