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Written by Jenny McWhirter on 18 / 01 / 2018

Gap Year Advice

How to avoid the 'gap yah' on your gap year travels?

In this day and age it really is possible to explore anywhere in the world, I say it time and time again to volunteers, put your finger on the map and you will be able to explore where it lands – the world is your oyster.

But with this increase in travel there have been many to question whether authentic travel is dead – is it possible to explore parts of the world authentically?

Our answer: yes.

But let’s first explore what is authentic travel and why would you want to travel authentically?

You’ve decided to take a gap year, you’re hoping to travel, explore, have fun and have some life-changing experiences. These are great goals but it is very difficult to do this when you head off with the same people you’ve known for years, rock up somewhere and explore the main tourist sites; those buildings that are ancient, the bars that you see other tourists spilling out of each night and grabbing a comforting McDonalds (clichéd I know but you know what I’m saying).

The idea of travel links back to the “Grand Tour” of the 19th Century, but we’ve come along way from this and travel now can really focus on your interests. There aren’t checklists that you need to tick off but instead indulge in your passions.

Here are our top tips for making sure you have an “authentic” experience on your gap year.

1. Research

gap year research

It comes up time and time again but research really is the key. Find out as much as you can about the places you’re visiting before you head off. Read blogs of people that have been to the same places, find out a bit more about what to expect and great places for your interests. Whether that’s an awesome bookstore, restaurant, museum, architecture or anything else – each place will have something for everyone.

2. Get out of the city

countryside gap years

Cities are amazing places and they have lots to offer but they are often globalised hubs. Heading out into a suburb or the countryside will give you another perspective.

Local houses and surroundings will give you a real sense of the life, culture and history of a place – think of the difference between your hometown and the bustling cities of London, Manchester or Birmingham.

3. Eat local

This will sometimes require you to eat something you have no idea what it is.

The best way to really get to know a place is to eat at local restaurants. Avoid the chains and home comforts – although these are great sometimes – and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Even better head to a local market, barter for ingredients and pick up some ideas from the array of local produce and producers that are there.

4. Travel on public transport

travel on public transport on your gap year

The clue is in the name... public transport is a common way for people to travel in the place you’re in. Take advantage of the bus, walking, tuk-tuks, whatever the locals use jump on and see what happens.

When I was travelling in Sri Lanka one of the highlights was jumping on the train from Ella to Colombo (a real must if you’re in the country) I sat next to a number of people during the 8-hour trip.

From a family travelling to see their grandparents to a businessman who had taken a trip to Ella for a long weekend. The conversations and people you meet will be the building of your experience and far richer than any souvenir you’ll pick up in a local shop.

And on that note…

5. Personal connections

As I mentioned previously, truly authentic travel is personal and what will make your trip authentic is the connections you make. Head down to a local sports game and pick a local team to support.

Always try and pick up a little of the local lingo, this will allow you to communicate with local people. There’s nothing more encouraging than when someone makes the effort to talk to you in your own language rather than yelling in their “slow as possible” English expecting you to understand.

Find out the local pastimes and participate. You can chat with locals and hey if you’re on a program with us our local leaders will have all the inside knowledge to pass on about local hangouts and activities.

6. Volunteer

Volunteer and voluteering

There are many reasons why volunteering is increasingly popular. Partly because if you travel as a volunteer you know that your travel is responsible. If you pick a reputable organisation you will be contributing to the local economy, worthwhile projects and it will give you the chance to accomplish a lot of the above mentioned.

You can tailor your experience to your interests, if you have a passion for animals, for conservation or for teaching the next generation you can link your passions in to your work.

You’ll become part of a community and have a chance to communicate with locals without having to find someone who is willing to talk to you on the street. The communities we work with in Borneo love meeting new volunteers and will chat away about their thoughts, opinions and ways of life whilst showing you the ins and outs of your new home.

You’ll also usually find your volunteering placement will be located outside of the main hustle and bustle. You’ll be able to make the most of exploring the countryside whilst being able to head into the big cities during your weekends.

Finally, but possibly most importantly…

7. Travel slowly

No, I don’t mean decide to travel to South-East Asia by boat (although, hey if that’s your thing it would be an incredible journey…) but instead, take your time. You’ve got a long time on a gap year to explore but don’t fill that with 15 countries to tick off your list.

Instead spend up to 3 months in one country, allow yourself to immerse into that culture and all it has to offer and don’t try and cover the entirety of a country in just 2 weeks. On my gap year, I met many a traveller who was trying to see South America in a month – this just isn’t possible and you’ll miss all the nuances of each country.

Instead aim to see 2, 3 or 4 countries and spend your time allowing days to just wander the streets, see where they take you and you’ll be on an amazing adventure.

Authentic travel isn’t dead but it takes effort

So, it’s easy to head off with friends to well-trodden places and stick to the main sites, but the path less travelled is still out there and I recommend you find it.

Focus on exploring your interests and passions. But most importantly remember that people are not stereotypes, the preconceived ideas you have about certain places or people will most definitely turn out to be different to the reality, embrace it, get amongst it and you’ll uncover an incredible, diverse and interesting world.

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America. All include a mix of projects and adventures. All are supported. All involve team work.

Gap year programs

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.