The Ultimate Guide to Taking a Gap Year: Travelling

AFS Team·8 August 2018·10 min read
The Ultimate Guide to Taking a Gap Year: Travelling
By Elizabeth Whittingham.

The gap year is definitely seen by many as a defining moment for young people, with the one year break before university considered by many as essential time to relax, travel, work and gain new experiences before university begins.

If, like many, you would like to take a gap year yet you’re pretty confused about how to go about it all, don’t worry, we’ve got the ultimate guide for you, from budgeting to planning the great escape!

First, it’s important to recognise why you have chosen a gap year and what you would like to get out of your one year break.

For some, gap years are the opportune moment to travel, with many heading off for the whole year to explore the world.

Although it does sound cliché, for some young people, a gap year really is the best time to ‘find themselves’ and to discover what they would like to do when they get back.

Finally, some people take a gap year for the financial support and CV experience.

If you are concerned about funding your university experience, and if you’re aware that your family will not be able to help, some young people take up a gap year to earn a decent amount before heading off to university.

Today, we’re going to talk about what to consider for a travelling gap year.

If you would like to spend your gap year travelling, then here’s a quick guide on what to consider.

First of all, great choice!

A year travelling abroad is bound to be a great experience. The initial thing you need to do is to start planning your itinerary. With the whole world right there at your feet- it can be difficult to pin point exactly where you would like to go.

So, narrow down your options.

Start by listing off everything you have ever wanted to do, whether it’s walking down the Great Wall of China or visiting Machu Pichu. Once you have worked out what you absolutely need to do, it’s much easier to draw out your plan of action.

The next thing to decide is when to go.

Gap years usually stick to a pretty standard time period that flows nicely alongside the academic year, meaning that the most common approach to take is to jet off in august and return the following august for the start of the academic year, a time period taken by many who have deferred their university and therefore have already sorted their accommodation.

Despite this obvious time frame, it is important to recognise that certain places are best visited at certain times. For example, a trip to Thailand is probably best taken during May and June, as April is far too hot and July- August are the monsoon seasons- just something to keep in mind!

Next, it’s important to consider whether to travel solo or to take people with you.

This decision always comes down to the individual, as whilst some young people are more than happy to travel solo, others feel that they would like company along the way.

Clearly, both options have their perks and downsides. Whilst solo travellers enjoy the autonomy they get with travelling by themselves, long journeys can apparently be a bit of a bore- and whilst group travellers love the experience of sharing every moment with their friends- it can apparently be a little stressful working out what to do, as there is always the pressure of pleasing everyone.

The main message here is to just do what you feel happy with!

If you would like to travel during your gap year, then it’s probably best to brush up on those language skills!

Downloading a few apps can be a great way to do this; they’re pretty easy to practice with every day and should bring your language skills up to a conversational level which will be super handy to have on your travels.

If you would like to gain a skill, earn money or give something back to the community on your travels- then a great way to do this is to teach or volunteer abroad.

Teaching abroad does need to be taken seriously; the majority of teaching contracts are around one year long.

Basically, they are a commitment and need to be considered carefully, when undertaking the position; you will also have a duty of care to the children involved in the process.

The majority of jobs available to you will most likely be English teaching jobs, it’s important to ask yourself why you would like to teach in the first place and where you would like to go.

Pay is also an important factor to consider when looking at available jobs, if you have a teaching certificate you can teach anywhere in the world for a good wage- although the choices for young people without a certificate are limited, they are there. Head online to find out the best options for you.

If you would like to volunteer abroad, there are plenty of opportunities dotted around the globe for you to try.

The best place to start with finding your dream volunteering placement is on google. Have a good search and pull up a few websites of your chosen courses.

You can tell a lot about a charities’ values through looking at their website, as well as what they have achieved, who they employ and their annual impact reports. If the website is lacking in any of these, then chances are that the company is not that reputable!

Search your skill set and only search for volunteering projects that support it.

For example, if you are accepted onto a teaching course when you’ve never worked with children before, or you’re welcomed onto a construction project when you have never lifted a hammer in your life- then alarm bells should start ringing.

Choose a project that promises to provide relevant training and support, an understanding community and ample teaching and education to make sure that you leave with the relevant qualifications.

One final tip for volunteering is to chat to fellow volunteers who have already experienced the whole process.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions- make sure that all your hard work will go towards making a positive impact, not just line someone else’s pockets.

How to book your trip

Although hundreds of pounds can be saved when booking an international flight in low season, not everybody has that luxury, especially if your gap year is something you have just decided on straight after receiving your results.

You can check out Sky Scanner’s ‘best time to book’ policy to see if you can save some money during the whole process yet the best time to book would be at least ten months before you fly to really save on the funds.

Have a look around for secondary airports, for example, it’s sometimes cheaper to fly into smaller airports before getting a transfer, likewise with in-direct flights, a change over and re-fuel along the way saves hundreds.

Sorting your travel insurance

If you’re planning on travelling for around one whole year, then travel insurance is definitely a factor that you need to consider- because it’s true that more often than not- things don’t really go to plan!

Although travel insurance usually has pages and pages of benefits on the details of how you will be protected during your trip, it is important to look out for a few key highlights.

Firstly, emergency medical cover. You’re going to probably be travelling to lots of different countries, all of which have varying medical laws- especially if you’re travelling America, where the medical costs can climb to thousands of dollars.

Travel insurance policies usually cover hospitalisation, day surgery or out-patient treatment, registered medical practitioners, prescriptions, ambulances and any expenses to get home, - if it is medically necessary.

Travel insurance should also cover trip cancellation. Cover usually pays for flights and accommodation if you have to postpone your trip for medical reasons.

Finally, baggage insurance- there is nothing worse than losing your baggage on the first day of your trip, especially when you have packed enough for a whole year!

Get yourself travel insurance that covers baggage delay, damaged baggage and bags lost in transit. This way, although baggage loss can be a dam right nuisance, you should be completely covered for the inconvenience.

Despite the obvious perks of travel insurance, it’s also important to consider what is not covered- give the whole document a thorough read through before signing!

To round everything off, here’s a quick checklist to ensure that you’re ready to head off on your travels this September.

· Sort your location and know where you are going to start, it’s always good to have somewhere to begin, where you go from there is up to you.

· Have a full health check and book your travel insurance. Safety first.

· Organise all of that paper work. Whether it’s a travel VISA, the names of your different accommodations, emergency contact information of even the locations of your nearest embassy, get it all printed off and store in all in the relevant folders!

· Stay connected. Organise all of your electronic devices and make sure that you are always accessible. This will be a definite comfort to your family.

· Consider electronics. Pack all chargers, hard drives, head phones and tech devices!

· Prepare your money; let your bank know you’re off abroad.

· Do a luggage practice run. Try living out the one bag for a week to see if you have packed enough, remember you’ll probably be packing for a year so you need to get creative!

· Stick to a travel budget and work out when is best to splurge and when is best to save.

  • Store your money in a safe place.

For more information on planning your gap year, head over to World Nomads, to download their 68 page guide to travelling.