So, you want to embark on your gap year but have no idea where to start? Nobody panic, this is totally normal. At first it can seem like a bit of a mountain to climb getting everything lined up and it’s really common to think ‘everyone else makes it look so easy’ but they all start with similar questions - where do I want to go? What type of travel experience am I after? How do I make it happen? What’s the first step? Take a breath, grab a coffee and let me unravel the who, what, where, when and why of it all.
Step 1: Type of experience?
Firstly, you need to think about the type of experience/s you would like to have on your gap year. This starts with asking yourself who you want to travel with. Can you see yourself travelling with friends, going solo and meeting new people along the way as you hostel-hop across the globe or do you like the half-way house version we offer where you can travel in a team with us on our volunteering programs as we take you to remote locations off the tourist trail – here you start off as an individual not knowing anyone in the team but finish the trip as a tight-knit group of friends.
Each type of experience brings with it a different vibe, you should also ask yourself what you want to actually do while travelling – do you want to hostel hop or volunteer – arriving in a new exciting country is very different on your own compared to with 10 other backpackers. A little bit of insight – when I was travelling, I went as part of a team and found that I was more confident and braver about trying new things because I was in the safety of a group and we were all in the same boat. So, decide whether you are a pack animal or a lone wolf and let the adventures begin.
Step 2: Where in the world?
You know who you would (or wouldn’t) like to travel with, and you’ve decided on what type of experience you are looking for so now you need to think about where in the world you would like to go, without this you will not be getting off the ground. Think about what really sparks your interest – are you a wildlife lover desperate to get stuck into conservation projects to protect the turtles from plastic pollution on the beaches of Costa Rica? Perhaps you’re interested in getting some work experience teaching in Sri Lanka. It’s time to really think about where excites you and just has to be on your bucket list – after all, it’s unlikely you will get this amount of time to travel once you are in the 9-5 job. Travel far and wide and don’t have any regrets. So many places to travel, so little time – why not add options to your wishlist here to weigh up the options – South America, Asia, Africa, Austalia await.
While planning the destinations you would like to travel to, you don’t need an A in Geography to realise that you don’t want to be dashing from one side of the world to the other and back again – trust me the jet lag will kill you if the cost of the flights doesn’t. You need to decide on what continent you would like to visit so that you have efficient flights in and out and can really make the most of your time in country without wasting time and a lot of money going from A to B. It’s not as fiddly as it sounds and it can lead to some really exciting opportunities for example – planning on flying to Australia for the trip of a lifetime? Well you’ll be stopping over en route anyway as it is such a long flight so why not turn it into an adventure and explore Dubai, Hong Kong or beyond for a few days.
Ask yourself how long you are comfortable with being away for. A gap year doesn’t always mean a full year – most people will work for 6 months and travel for 6 months, some are university students who can only travel during those long summer holidays for 6 weeks and some want to do back to back adventures. Work out what you can budget for, how long you are comfortable being away for and go from there. Lots of our programs are flexible and can be for varying lengths of times, we’re nice like that.
You might ask yourself why pay to go in a group when I could do it cheaply on my own. Valid question let me explain. Our programs are risk assessed ensuring your safety is paramount, have team leaders to ensure programs run smoothly, efficiently and that all Leapers are happy and as a team we provide 24/7 support. If you’re travelling solo and get into a sticky situation – who would you call for assistance?
We also have long term connections with local communities who really value your help meaning you can get volunteering and making a difference as soon as you land while working in a fun friendly team to create a real difference.
Step 3: Your Travel Admin
I know it’s not the most glamorous part of the adventure but necessary none the less. Rome wasn't built in a day and all that, get it started in good time and it will be much easier – no one needs a mad dash to find their passport…
Now that you’ve worked out the who, what, where of your gap year travel plans it’s time to get into the nitty gritty admin (oddly satisfying I promise). Starting with flights, once you’ve decided where you are jetting off to it’s worth getting your flights booked well in advance to avoid any nasty last minute price hikes, some even have the option of just putting down a small deposit and paying the balance nearer the time – even better. If you’re unsure of exactly how long you want to be away for then welcome to the wonderful world of ‘flexi tickets’ – meaning you only pay a small fee to change the date of your flight without paying those nasty change fees.
Insurance is a key player when it comes to planning your gap year. This is not something to cut corners on or go for the cheapest option. It is your lifeline should you have an accident overseas. Ensure you pick the option that covers all activities you intend on taking part in while travelling and make sure you read the small print and ask questions – don’t just assume you are covered for all activities. You don’t value the importance of your insurance policy until you really need it.
Another crucial part of your travel admin – no visa equals no entry so do the necessary research before you go. Research the embassy requirements of the country you are flying to and see whether you need a visa to enter as well as any other supporting paperwork. Get this done ahead of time as it can take a while to process paperwork and can be costly so don’t leave it until the last minute.
Wherever you are travelling it is important to stay safe and healthy abroad. Websites like Fit For Travel (for UK travellers) will be able to tell you what vaccinations are advised for the destinations you are travelling to. Book an appointment with your travel nurse 6-8 weeks before you depart to ensure your vaccinations are up to date as well as get any new ones you may require. They are also able to advise on malarial tablets and other travel health advice.
If your passport is nearing its expiry date, get it renewed in plenty of time. Typically, you need 6 months validity left on your passport – do not cut it fine, renew it and take it on its merry way ready say aloha to new adventures. Simples.
There you have it, the very basics to get you thinking along the right lines for your gap year. It’s important to remember through the stress of it that actually it’s something to be really excited about! When you’re on that beach, desert, mountain whatever it may be, you won’t remember the admin and will be ready to do it all over again. You have my word.
Excited to get the ball rolling? Take the next steps to get inspired here. Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask me any questions you might have or to chat all things travel, I’m here to help you plan the gap year you’ve always dreamt of.
on 13 / 12 / 2019