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Written by Milly Whitehead on 06 / 10 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

Explained by the UK’s Leading Gap Year Company – The Leap

Leap Towers is a grotto full of gap year mementos and we love every one of them as they take us back to our carefree gap year days. Hats, pots, wall hangings, carvings and dodgy clothes - we love them all.

In fact, we might go as far in saying that mementos are just as good as photos in jogging the memory of those dreamy gap year adventures. So our message here is pretty simple - seek out and bring home all the mementos you like from your gap year - in years to come the extra weight in your back pack will be long forgotten.

To help you slim your shopping list down, we have compiled a list of the most popular gap year destinations and noted down what the one winning memento from each place should be.

All you have to do is practice your bartering skills.

Thailand – Thai Silk

Starting with one of the worlds’ most favorite gap year destinations. Thailand is known for many things (full moon parties and Bridget Jones' underpants) but one thing not to miss whilst on your gap year here is the chance to get your favorite shirt, suit or any other item copied in 100 different shades of silk.

Seriously the silk in Thailand is utterly stunning and best suppliers (+ prices) will be found in the rural areas where you can see the silk being grown, harvested and spun, like in San Kamphaeng. Definitely worth popping on your gap year itinerary.

Look out for: Cheap silky accessories being sold in the markets – they’re cheap because they are not 100% silk, despite what they tell you.

Peru – ‘Chullo’ Andean Hat

Pronounced tchoo-yo, I guarantee that every gap year traveler amongst you, who touches down in Peru, will leave with a full collection of Chullo’s. Super warm, which is a lifesaver in the Andes and super cool, made from the softest baby alpaca wool.

They make the best presents, so I say barter for a trunk load and DHL them home. Hard to find on home soil (apart from in hippie markets) but I can promise you they won’t be the real deal. Expect to pay about $20 for a super soft, patterned design.

Watch out for: Fakes. Some may be marked as 100% alpaca but are often only 60%, especially in markets and these ones will be scratchy and smell of wet sheep. Don't say we didn't ward you.

Did you know that Peru is a hot to trot gap year destination? Have a look at this program which includes volunteering in the Andes and at Lake Titicaca before trekking to Machu Pichu.

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Ecuador – Alpaca Jumpers

God these are nice. Being 100% Alpaca they are super soft and wash like a dream. Best place to buy these is in the indigenous market in the Andean town of Otavalo held every Saturday. Forget the adventure to be had in Otavalo – this is a shoppers dream. Cost wise they range from $10 - $20 depending on your bartering skills.

Watch out for: Fakes. If they are being sold cheaply in the bigger cities they are bound to be interwoven with cheaper blends of wool. Test by their softness and the smell.

India – Darjeeling Tea

They say 'tea is the new black' so I have decided to ditch the jewellery purchase in favour of this one - more original.

It obviously comes from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal and it's weirdly a Chinese tea growing in India with flavors of French grapes and Himalayan mountain air. Apparently it tastes more like wine than tea. Better get brewing.

Watch out for: Found in most markets and tea selling vendors in the Darjeeling district but seeking quality and the knowing the harvest time is key. Apparently the same tea from the same plantation will taste different depending on when it's harvested. These periodic harvests are called flushes and influence the flavors big time. Find out more here.

However, if jewellery is more your thing head to Rajasthan.

Cambodia – Sampot

The sampot – (a sarong to you and I) is the national garment of Cambodia. So cool and relaxing you can see why Beckham loves them. However, in Cambodia they say a lot more than stylish lounge wear - the style, fabric and design actually depict one’s social class so consider carefully what you are bartering for. Always opt for the basic, plain cotton sampots to not cause offence. Expect to pay about $15-$20 but can easily be double depending on quality and design.

Watch out for: Synthetic fabric, which in the Asian climate can be a hideously hot, sweaty experience.

Australia – The Boomerang

Ok, so this has the sombrero souvenir feel to it but come on who doesn’t want ones of these babies to play with back at home? Used for hunting and tribal warfare by the Australian Aborigines for the last 50,000 years. Now that’s a piece of heritage you need to bring home.

Watch out for: They come in 101 different shapes, sizes and patterns to suit all tastes. Don't go for the cheap and tacky as they won’t be “balanced” so the return will be useless. Remember you get what you pay for.

Heading to Australia and need a plan? Look at this itinerary which combines a job in Sydney with traveling up the East Coast.

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Costa Rica Coffee Beans

You can't bring a turtle home so coffee is the next best thing in Costa Rica! Coffee took ‘root’ in Costa Rica near the end of the 1700s in the Central Valley, where there was fertile soil, a high altitude, and a cool climate. It has played a major role in the development of Costa Rica, shaping it’s social, cultural and political climate.

Nowadays, Costa Rican coffee is prized as some of the world’s best and is shipped everywhere from Austin to Amsterdam. In fact, Costa Rica is the 13th-largest producer of coffee in the world, churning out around 1.5 million bags every year. Go Costa Rica.

Watch out for:Ground coffee mixed with anything but coffee. Best to look for is the Café Britt and Café Doka coffee plant near San Jose. It should cost about $2 for half a pound bag and I promise this is a cut above anything you will have tasted at home.

If turtles are you reason for going to Costa Rica then look at the Leap's program which includes turtles conservation, surfing and much more.

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Practise your Bartering Skills

So important to get your bartering skills up to speed before you go near a market. The best advise I can give you is to half the original asking price, smile at all times and be happy to walk away. If they follow you - you have them in the palm of your hand.

Good luck!

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

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