HOW TO – Plan the Ultimate Gap Year Experience

| July 5, 2012

HOW TO – Plan the Ultimate Gap Year Experience | It’s said that the easiest part of a gap year is the actual travelling and the hardest part is the planning. You might think that trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro or trying not to get killed riding a rickshaw in India would be the hard part, but I assure you, that type of thing is easy compared to wading through the mountains of paperwork, visa applications and spreadsheets required to plan a really good gap year. Here we present the 7 practical steps you should take to ensure your gap year is as good as it can be.

Starting out

This is probably the most fun stage. You’ve made the decision to plan a gap year, the adrenaline is flowing and you can’t wait to get started, and you should let that enthusiasm run. Make a list of places you want to visit, don’t think too logically about timings or routes, just get where you want to go and things you want to do on paper. Then start doing your research. If you want to see Victoria Falls, quite rightly a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most spectacular waterfalls on Earth, great! But you’ll need to research the cost of a visit, transport to the falls, the cost of food you might eat that day, where you’re going to stay in the area, what you particularly want to see, are you going to meet up with anyone…? Then do this for each place you plan to visit. It takes a lot of research, but this is the most exciting part. Research world famous clubs, museums, natural wonders and basically anything in the world you’ve ever wanted to experience. We can work out the logistics of it later!

Being practical

Now we get to the logistics of it all. Having a list as long as your arm is a very exciting thing, but not very practical. Unless you have bottomless pockets or your dad is a banker. Now comes the time to get your list in some sort of order. A good idea is to go on Google Maps and pin every location where there is something (or someone) you want to do (or see). Then spend a few hours playing join the dots! Linking all of the pins on your map will hopefully not be too difficult and start to bring together some sort of route. However, this can also be a difficult time if there’s something you really want to do but is way out of line with everything else. For instance, if you have a nice, semi-straight line down the west coast of North, Central and South America, but Hawaii is also on your list, you might have to reconsider. Yes, Hawaii would be a great addition to your route, but is it worth the 6 hour flight and expensive cost? This is where you have to be harsh and take out your big red pen!

Who is going and who is staying

This is also a good time to decide whether you want to travel alone and make friends on the road, or whether you want to go with a partner, relative or group. Both have advantages and disadvantages that you don’t need me to explain, but it does need serious consideration before you get too involved in the planning stages. You don’t want to plan your ultimate gap year experience only to find out your potential travel companions have the complete opposite idea of where they want to go. Also, when planning your route, consider your worldly contacts! If you have a friend who has been a volunteer in Nepal for the past three years, for example, with their own apartment over there, meet up with them! It’s a great way to save on accommodation costs, catch up with old friends and get an insight into a place that only a local can provide! Try to incorporate your long-lost friends, family and traveller friends in your route as much as you can.

Money, money, money

Unless you love planning to give money away, this is probably the worst part of the whole process, but without doubt the most important phase! The biggest reason why people get into difficulty when travelling abroad, or why they have to cut short their trip, is because they have failed to budget properly and end up penniless. Nobody wants to plan a great trip but end up coming home before they’ve completed it because of money problems, so make sure you do it carefully. Make a spreadsheet on Excel, or even use an app or online software if you want, and detail carefully what you think you will spend. List the biggest costs you know you will encounter, such as flights, visas, passes to tourist attractions, etc. Then do some research online in gap year forums or travel websites to find out average costs of food, accommodation and living expenses at the destinations along your route. Make a spreadsheet as big and complex as you can so you don’t have any nasty shocks abroad.

Getting organised

Next comes the time to put your budget and plan into action. Buy your flights (Skyscanner is usually the place to compare the cheapest flights) and train or bus tickets, apply for your visas and book accommodation you might need in the first few days of your trip. If you’re planning on a safari, a trek or an expedition somewhere exciting, you can often buy the tickets online in advance with a slight discount. Obviously this will restrict your spontenaity somewhat abroad, as it means you will have to be in a certain place to avoid losing money, but it can be a great way to make savings.

This is also a good time to think of exactly what you want to do when abroad. Do you want to be a complete tourist or be more of a productive traveller? Many people volunteer abroad on their gap year, I was a volunteer in Kenya for three months as an example, and some others find short term work in tourism, hotels, bars and clubs at destinations they want to spend a bit more time in. Volunteering or working abroad for a short time can be a great way to boost your funds, as even some volunteer schemes provide subsidised accommodation or food, and give you a better insight into the areas you are travelling through. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you want to do in your gap year.

Hit the books again

The final stage is where we get back to the fun. Now, your gap year is probably not too far away, so get researching again. Verify exactly what you want to do, where you want to go and enjoy the excitement again. Ok, so nowadays we don’t so much hit the books to research our travel plans as much as we flick through our friends photos on Facebook of the places they went to on their gap years, but any research is good research. Finally, pack your suitcase and head to the airport. Hopefully, it will be the start of the best year of your life!

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Category: Travel

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