Thursday 24 December 2020

A Gap Year Travel Guide

Ok, so 2020 has not been a good year for gap years. Or travel. Or just about anything. But, lets cast 2020 aside for a moment, and look forward to 2021. We hope by the time summer 2021 rolls around, the world might be back on a more even keel or at least getting that way, and even if we can't physically travel, we are at least in a better place to be able to think about it and tentatively organise it. 

A gap year is a superb way of learning more about yourself, a chance to reflect on who you are and what you want to get out of life. Some people choose to do this before going to university; others decide to do it after graduating. Either way, it is a valuable experience or should be. 

There are so many different ways to spend a gap year. Of course, you don't have to travel. You can spend it in your hometown, doing some volunteering for a worthy cause or getting some work experience. However, here we are going to focus specifically on travelling in a gap year, and how you can get the most out of the experience.

Image via Unsplash CC0

What are your goals for your gap year?

Before you plan where you are going to do what you want to do, you need to have an idea of what you want to get out of your gap year. Are you hoping to use it as a way of developing new skills to use on your CV? Do you want to experience more of the world? Do you want to do something charitable? Do you want to experience new languages and cultures? All of these are very viable goals and of course, you can have more than one, but you need to have a focus to plan around.

What are your preferences?

There are generally two ways of going about a gap year. You can either follow an organised one,  where you pay an organisation to organise your travel, accommodation, activities and projects, such as volunteer projects South Africa. The benefits of this are not having to worry about the logistics, having a ready-made social group and around the clock support and staff. The downsides of this are that they can be more expensive and have more restrictions.

Your other option is a complete DIY gap year, where you organise every aspect of it yourself. This can work out cheaper if you have the time to spend on researching and planning out all of the details. It can be very flexible, giving you much more freedom. However, it can also be overwhelming if you have never planned anything like this before, and it can also be a logistical nightmare. 

Make sure you have all the administrative and logistical details sorted

Whether you organise your own gap year trip or go with a planned one, you still have to be responsible for certain things. These include:

  • Making sure that your passport is in date and valid

  • Arranging any necessary visas 

  • Having any required vaccinations or health checks

  • Sorting out currency

  • Ensuring you are financially able to complete the trip

  • Organising medical and travel insurance

  • Meeting deadlines for applications and payments

  • Finding out about particular travel or accommodation requirements

  • Organising a way of communicating with friends and family back home - does your cell phone provider allow you to make international calls?

  • Packing appropriately

Prepare yourself

It is not essential, but if you are travelling to a foreign country that does not speak your language, it does not hurt to try and learn at least a few useful words and phrases in the native language before you go. One of the biggest benefits of a gap year is that you totally immerse yourself in a new culture for weeks, or even months at a time and this gives you a great start to learning a language, but knowing a few words beforehand can make it even more enjoyable and enriching.

If you are going on your gap year before you head off to college or university, as many people do, it may well be the first time you have lived or been away from home for an extended period of time, and this can be more challenging than you realise. You need to make sure that you are mentally prepared as much as possible for this - can you cook a few basic meals and take basic care of yourself? Of course with an organised gap year there will be support and you will make friends, but it can be a huge shock to the system, to begin with.

Funding it

As soon as you have decided to take a gap year and the route you want to take, you need to make a financial plan. As well as the initial costs of paying for the travel and the accommodation and any costs such as visas and passports, you need to think about the expenses you will incur while you are out there. You need money to eat, to travel, for socialising and an emergency fall back as well. Some options for funding include:

  • Getting a part-time job

  • Fundraising

  • Sponsorship

  • Savings

  • Asking friends and family to give you money as gifts

Many gap year students or graduates also get a job while they are out on their gap year - working as English tutors, babysitters, bar work and so on. While this is a great way of further immersing yourself in the culture and earning money, it can also take you away from what you originally went out there to do. It also cannot be guaranteed - very few people manage to secure a job before they go out there.

It is also important to have an emergency fund in place, in case you suddenly have to replace a lost passport, pay for damage to your accommodation or make an emergency trip back home. 


A gap year can be an enriching, valuable experience like no other. it can give you some serious clout on your CV and with future employers and allow you to experience life in another culture or do something really valuable. Put these tips into practise and you will get the most out of your time abroad. 


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