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Written by The Leap on 09 / 02 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

Just a little preparation can go a long way…

Exams period is on the way. The weather refuses to improve. Politics, honestly, are a mess.

Take a break and plan out that adventure you’ve been day-dreaming about through the classroom or office window.

For many of us, trips abroad are arranged as the perfect solution to a seemingly endless spell of misery and misfortune. However, a total neglect for research and preparation could just add to that increasingly heavy burden you carry.

For those looking ahead to a gap year, put aside the revision for just a moment. Travel-planning will clear your mind and get you feeling positive. Most importantly, it could save you from some embarrassing blunders when overseas.

I’m not saying you should have a detailed itinerary on my desk by Monday morning, but please don’t totally wing it!

Don’t you want those wanderlust fantasies to come true?

4 of the finest Gap Year gaffes around:

Here are some of my favourite traveller slip-ups which, while often indisputably entertaining for us, cost these unfortunate souls chaos, misery and sometimes a whole lot of money. Read up and let’s all try to learn from their mistakes…

1. Wrong destination

Don’t skip! Sounds ridiculous, I know. I’m sure you instantly thought ‘yeah right, I’m not that foolish.’ Yet it is far, far easier than you would think to turn up in completely the wrong city, country, continent or even hemisphere.

As awkward as it is, the unimaginative of the human race have left us with cities, and thus airports, with the same (or deceivingly similar) names. Some particularly ill-fated individuals found this out the hard way: upon their arrival to frosty Sydney, Nova Scotia, with a suitcase full of shorts and swimwear.

Other holiday horrors have occurred thanks to:

  • Salvador in Brazil and San Salvador in El Salvador
  • San Jose in California, San Jose in Costa Rica and San Jose (del Cabo) in Mexico
  • Dakar in Senegal and Dhaka in Bangladesh
  • Grenada in the Caribbean and Granada in Spain
  • Melbourne in Florida and Melbourne in Australia
  • Lesson to learn:

    Be sure to check the airport’s unique three-character code. When you search for cities on many travel sites, all the options will appear. If you’re in a rush, it’s frighteningly easy to select the wrong one.

    Phone bookings are the worst, so make sure to tell them the country too!

    2. Unexpected events

    Arriving in the midst of a cultural celebration, student festival or sports event sounds like a party. In reality, it could mean a travel disaster.

    Picture turning up to a quite beach-side town, ready for some well-earned rest and relaxation. Your journey has been filled with dreams of peaceful yoga sessions, slow days by the pool and cocktail-sipping by the shore.

    Now imagine pitching up to find all the hotels and hostels booked, every bar filled with drunken sport fans and roads jam-packed with traffic. Finally you find availability: 30 minutes out of town and four times the price you budgeted for. Ouch.

    Lesson to learn:

    Research your destinations. If you’re hopping from place to place, just be sure to check ahead to what’s going on in your next stop. Knowing means you could book ahead and catch an incredible display of culture, or even just a once-in-a-lifetime party.

    On the other hand, it could allow you to rearrange your schedule to save money and mayhem!

    Ready to get gap year planning underway, but lost for ideas? Fill out our What Type of Traveller You Are Quiz and we can point you in the right direction.

    3. Too ‘go-with-the-flow’?

    A gap year is the ideal time to fully immerse yourself in a culture worlds away from your own. However, it is possible to get too carried away with it all.

    A friend (…boss) discovered this after 12 hours in the Sulawesian jungle with no provisions besides an emptied water bottle. What started out as a cheap, ‘simple’, overnight journey on a local bus soon became a famishing, sweaty nightmare!

    I believe the question ‘what on Earth was I thinking’ still comes to mind when Milly remembers being sat alongside that broken-down bus full of English-language deficient locals. Oh, and suffering a persistently unhappy digestive system, if you know what I mean.

    Lesson to learn:

    It is paramount that you keep in mind that you are thousands of miles from your comfort zone. One of my favourite quotes is Neale Donald Walsch’s “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Nonetheless, please remember that family, doctors and help are generally back in that zone.

    Sometimes we face adversities that are unpredictable and unavoidable. However, staying alert and prepared (with sufficient insurance) will allow you to dive into every incredible opportunity, content with the knowledge that it won’t be the last!

    4. Money, money, money

    Finding yourself short of cash could spur you into all kinds of crazy, exhilarating decisions and opportunities. Or, on the other end of the scale, it could render you hungry, immobile and homeless for the night.

    Even if you’ve been saving for months and know you’re on budget, being off-the-beaten-track often means no ATMs. If you know this in advance and stock up, all is well. If not, it could mean missing out on activities and wasting precious time backtracking to the last point of civilisation!

    The Namibian desert is a mystical and mesmerising place. It cannot be enjoyed, however, when your pockets empty out halfway through your adventure. The lack of ‘hole in walls’ (or walls at all) created a hauntingly memorable trip for one unlucky traveller.

    First came the cancelled safari, then the eight-mile trek. Of course, there was the night in a questionably hospitable local’s house and the terrified, uncontactable and unaware family. And finally, after 36 hours surviving on a single Pringle packet, the smelly re-emergence in the city he departed 5 days earlier.

    Lesson to learn:

    This is a pretty straight-forward one. Know your destination and outline a budget.

    This will ensure that you won’t waste time pondering expenses and bypassing fantastic opportunities as you desperately back-peddle to the nearest source of cash.

    Planning allows you to live in the Gap Year moment once you embark. No stress-filled phone calls pleading for a place to stay or hectic searches for bus stops and train routes.

    Finding Balance

    While ‘winging it’ can be liberating and seems very ‘Gap Yah’, it can also create a stressful and unenjoyable trip. The key really is to find the perfect balance between improvisation and advanced planning. After all, a gap year is all about doing what you want, when you want.

    There are undocumented adventures out there to stumble upon and a minute-by-minute itinerary won’t have time for them. You don’t want to completely limit your freedom.

    As we’ve learnt, however, just turning up doesn’t work either. Undoubtedly, time and money will be wasted and some sort of traveller mishap that you’ll never live down is near inevitable.

    Take time to give your travels a framework: a few bookings and a list of ‘must sees’.

    My number one reason to plan ahead is to maximise your time. Learning to capitalise on every moment should be first priority.

    So even if it’s just on the bus journey there, read the guide book and discover everything your next stop has to offer. You don’t want to get there to find there’s far more to do than you scheduled for. If you’re organising as you go, you’re wasting your precious, precious travel time.

    Besides, with exams looming, it’s fun to think ahead to sunnier times, both literally and mentally.

    Check out our gap year programs

    We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

    Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

    All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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    Need inspiration and direction?

    Get in contact with the gap year travel specialists.

    Here at The Leap we can help both team traveller through our programmes and/or the backpacker.

    Jot a message below or call us on +44 1672 519 9222

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    Yes please, let's keep life simple.