If you’re reading this post then it probably means that you are thinking of taking a gap year.
Yay! Good choice, probably one of the best choices you will ever make. (If you’re in two minds then check this out).
But where to start?! The world is a big ol’ place so attempting to tackle it can seem daunting at first.
Never fear! As ‘gap yah’ alumni myself (check out my credentials here), I’ve put together a few simple steps to help get your adventure off to the best possible start.
For first time gappers, I would always recommend leaving as much time as possible to plan so everything is ship-shape before you jet off into the sunset.
So here goes…
Step 1 – Pick your dream destinations
Where have you always pictured yourself visiting? Can you see yourself hiking to Machu Pichu or relaxing on a beach in Bali? Your gap year can turn these daydreams into reality.
When I first started thinking about my 2011 gap year I knew I wanted the thrill of South East Asia, the backpacking community of Oz and New Zealand and a couple of deserted beaches thrown in. This cobbled together selection ended up looking like this:
London – Los Angeles – Cook Islands – Auckland (NZ) – overland – Christchurch (NZ) – Fiji – Sydney (AU) – overland – Cairns (AU) – Singapore – overland – Malaysia – overland – Thailand – overland – Cambodia – overland – Vietnam – overland – Laos – overland– Thailand – Hong Kong – London.
Be inspired by routes on the STA Travel website, chat rooms and other blogs. My route was a well-travelled one with my own personal preferences chucked in. The best thing about your gap year is that it is all yours.
Top Tip: It’s always easiest to visualise the journey you’re about to take by using a globe or a map and pin-point your must-see countries. This way you can start to formulate a rough route for your epic exploration.
Step 2 – Time Frame
A typical gap year is usually anywhere from 3 months to the whole year. The route I chose took 6 months but I could have easily stretched it to a year.
Saying that, every trip is different and shorter adventures usually require just as much advanced planning.
With your dream destinations picked out you will have to think about how much you can realistically pack in.
If you’re taking a year out before or after University or employment then consider how much time you will need to save up for your trip and the dates of your commitments afterwards.
Which segues perfectly to…
Step 3 – Budget
Some people may make this the number one priority, but hey I’m a dreamer and also a firm believer in making things happen – no matter what.
After you have a rough route and time frame down, it’s time to get some cold hard facts.
For me, this meant a visit to my local STA Travel who offer a wealth of travelling knowhow. Have a sit down with one of their advisors or check out one of their destination-specific evenings. Most of their advisors will have travelled to the countries you’ve been dreaming of so can give you the best insider info.
When you’re at STA ask them to quote you a price for your journey. They can save your details so you can think about it before committing.
Once you have a figure to aim for you have two options:
- Go back to the drawing board if it is way out of your league, narrow down your pick of countries and see how far your budget can stretch. If time is on your side, why not consider working on your travels? As British citizens this is relatively easy in countries like New Zealand and Oz.
- Start some hardcore budget-busting. How long will you have to save for the flights? How much spending money will you need when you’re there?
Top Tip: Always shop around before committing yourself. Places like Trailfinders and RTW Experts offer a similar service to STA.
Step 4 – Saving
Now for the boring bit. Hopefully by now you will have some dosh coming in and a source of reliable income. It is now vital to save every single penny you can.
Top Tip: Put your spending into perspective. So that t-shirt you’re craving is £15? That could buy you 30 local beers in the Philippines. Food for thought, eh?
Step 5 – Book your Flights!
Ok, it’s getting exciting now. You’ve shopped around and found the best deal for your flights, you’ve saved that first chunk of cash and now it’s time to start spending it!
It will be painful parting with so much money but a lot of flight providers may only require a deposit which is a lot less hair-raising!
Top Tip: If your flight route includes transferring in another country then this can be another opportunity for exploration. Instead of waiting in transit at the airport, schedule a couple of days to have a look around. You can tick off another city and break up a long flight in the process!
I did this with Hong Kong on my flight home from Bangkok and Los Angeles on my way to the Cook Islands from London.
This initial phase of traveling is, in my opinion, the hardest of them all. But once you’ve saved some cash and booked those flights the real fun can begin!
Obviously there’s a lot more planning to be done but once you’ve ticked off these first few steps then you can knuckle down with things like visas, insurance and currency. Good luck and enjoy your perfect gap year!
Are you planning a gap year? Let me know your plans! Leave a comment below or say hi via my social media pages.