Where to go, what to do, how to pay for it, how to get there… it’s no wonder planning a gap year can leave you feeling a little flustered! Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Check out this step-by-step guide to help you get started:
1. Decide on your budget
‘But I haven’t even decided where to go yet!’ I hear you cry. You just need to draw up a realistic plan of how much you think you’ll need (just a ballpark figure) and how long you’ve got to save up/beg/borrow the money you need.
If you’re thinking about earning money while you’re away, you can factor this in so you won’t need as much savings as you would do if you want to just travel.
2. How long do you want to go for?
The term ‘gap year’ is something of a misnomer, as very few people head out for a whole year – some people will spend months working in a certain country, whereas some will hop from country to country and only spend a few weeks there. Some people have even been known to stay abroad for a lot longer than a year. But just pick whatever suits you!
3. Where do you want to go?
All people belong to one of two schools of thought. One half of people like to fly by the seat of their pants, hopping from one place to the next, stopping off in random towns along the way, getting lost and generally bumming around. The second kind of person is the type who gets everything planned in advance, has all documents kept in triplicate and never runs out of clean underwear. I’m passing no judgement whatsoever on which is better, but if you belong to the first school of thought, planning where to go is not so much of an issue, so pick a country you’ll start in, then mosey along to step 5. For those in the second camp, start by picking 10 places you want to visit, then plot them out on a map. Work out how much (roughly) it’d cost to visit each one (budget around £1,000 for a round the world plane ticket), then if you can afford them all, great, but if you can’t, start crossing them off the list until you can afford to fit them all in.
4. What are you going to get up to?
The opportunities of things to do in your gap year are pretty endless, it’s worth organising a few things (such as teaching work/volunteering work) in advance to give your gap year a bit of structure. There are loads of shorter term TEFL jobs and Internships which are perfect for funding your year out.
If you’re using your gap year to help you with your university/job applications, make sure what you’ve got planned will be seen as ‘constructive’ – so sitting on a beach drinking pina coladas won’t give you any brownie points compared to helping 5 year olds in Thailand learn to speak English!
5. How are you going to get there?
If you’re doing a massive round-the-world trip, your first step will be getting yourself a good deal on a round-the-world plane ticket. Gapyear.com has a great guide to these bad boys, which you can check out here: http://www.gapyear.com/rtw_flights. If you’re just going to one particular place and need one return ticket, make sure you shop around using sites like skyscanner.net, which searches all available flights to give you the best price. Plus, if you’re booking a volunteer placement through a company, ask if they partner with any companies/airlines to give you preferential rates. While, you’ll probably get to most of your destinations by plane, don’t ignore the extra fun and adventure (as well as green brownie points) you can get by going overland on trains and buses. Seat61.com is a great resource for planning train trips in far-flung places.
6. Get the boring stuff sorted
So you’ve decided where you want to go, how you’re going to get there, what you’ll be doing once you’re there – surely that’s enough planning?! Not quite, I’m afraid! They are just the all important vaccinations, visas and insurance to sort!
Apply for visas as far in advance as possible – sometimes the cogs of bureaucracy move painfully slowly. For your jabs and anti-malarials (should you need them), just call your GP surgery and make an appointment at their travel clinic. They’ll be able to tell you what jabs you need depending on where you’re off to. Be warned: you may need to pay for them. For insurance, as with anything else, shop around for the best deal, but keep in mind that lots of gap-year-esque activities like volunteering abroad, diving, bungee jumping etc, are not usually covered on standard travel insurance policies.
So, decisions made, now it’s time to start planning your amazing gap year. Whatever you do, wherever you go, just make sure it’s going to be one you can tell your grandkids all about it!