7 Travel Tips To Ensure You Make The Most Of Your Gap Year
Gap year travel is a wonderful thing, and it is becoming increasingly popular as our world evolves and gives us easier access to cheaper international flight prices, safer and more accessible adventure travel destinations, and simple ways to maintain contact with our friends and family back home when we’re away.
To some people the thought of spending a year travelling the world staying in basic accommodation and eating cheap food is the idea of hell. To others a travel year is a dream come true, the holiday of a lifetime, an opportunity to discover what life is all about and to explore new cultures and parts of the world on the ultimate adventure… and to get it all out of your system before jobs, mortgages, children and everyday life becomes a reality.
Careful planning and making the right decisions can make or break a great trip, save you money, and make the experience that little bit extra special. Here’s our top tips on what things to think about to ensure you make the most of your gap year…
- Keep Your Travel Itinerary Flexible
Real life is all about routine: wake up, get washed, get dressed, go to work, come home, go to bed… repeat. One of the most enjoyable things about travel, and a gap year in particular, is the freedom it brings, delaying the daily routine for one more year. When you travel you can let life take care of itself, and free your mind of normal concerns – not worrying about what you will do tomorrow until tomorrow arrives, making spur of the moment decisions on where to visit next, finding the adventure as it finds you.
Although it is possible to pre-plan your entire gap-year through travel holiday companies and pay in advance for all your tours, excursions, and accommodation – don’t do this!
On a gap year the best option is to keep your itinerary free, fluid, and flexible. You may hate a place and want to leave early, you may love a place and want to stay for an extra week, or you may hear stories about an amazing place you weren’t planning on visiting so you need to change your plans so you can visit it yourself. If you’re pre-booked on a rigid itinerary, you’re locked in to that itinerary and all these options are lost to you.
Of course certain things do need to be booked in advance, such as flights, or reservation tickets for any activities you want to complete that are likely to get booked up months in advance (e.g. scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, or trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu). For flights most gap-year travellers book round-the-world tickets, so ensure that date-changes are possible during the trip so can make changes if needed, and for pre-booked activities space them sufficiently far apart that you have the time to flex your itinerary if needed. It is also a good idea to book the first few nights accommodation, so you at least know you have somewhere to stay when you first arrive in your first destination… but other than that, live free, roam wild, and enjoy your gap year without the restrictions of a fixed itinerary!
- Choose The Right Travel Partner(s)
Choosing the right travel partner can be a tough and difficult decision. Some people prefer to travel solo, some people prefer to travel with their partner or spouse, and some people prefer to travel as part of a group. Whatever option you choose, put a lot of thought into ensuring you have chosen the right option and the right partner, otherwise a gap year travelling with a person or people you don’t really get along with will be a very expensive disaster!
Many travellers choose to travel solo, and this can actually be an incredibly rewarding journey as it forces you to speak to fellow travellers, which in turn can create life-long friendships. However if you are planning on travelling with somebody you know as a travel companion be sure to choose the right travel partner, either an individual or group of people that you know well and that have similar travel expectations to yourself. Remember that you may be spending the next 12 months with this person or people visiting iconic landmarks, capturing incredible memories, fulfilling life-long dreams, and living life to the full with experiences you may never ever get to repeat – you want to make sure you share these experiences with a life-long friend or companion.
- Keep a Diary or Travel Blog
This may seem like an obvious choice of things to include on list of Gap Year Travel Tips, but it is something that many people forget to do or are simply too lazy to bother doing! Travel diaries have been part of the essence of travel since travel began, and travel essays, journals and diaries are part of the history of the pioneering travellers and explorers that first ventured forth into the undiscovered destinations of our great planet.
Keeping a daily travel diary is an excellent way of helping you remember your experiences long after you have returned to your home country. Sure, you will very likely remember forever that you visited Uluru in Australia, or Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but will you remember the specific smells, sounds, wildlife, people you met, and the detail of the experience? Photos only tell part of the story. Keeping a diary retains the detail of your trip in a more personal and detailed way.
If you aren’t the type of person who would be able to keep a hand-written diary, then having an online travel blog is a great option. Giving your friends and family a link to the website allows them to read your adventures as you travel, and also gives you a reason to have to keep it up to date for your avid readership!
- Make an Effort to Speak to Locals
Travel is all about discovery – discovery of yourself, discovery of the destinations you are visiting, and also discovery of the cultures and people of those destinations. Although it is important to meet fellow travellers during a gap year and make new friends along the way, it is equally important and often more rewarding to engage with the local people in each of the destinations you are visiting.
Local people have far more knowledge about the local area, and can show you their way of life in a much more immersive way than is possible through simply reading a guide book. Talking to locals can open doors to experiences you can never experience through only engaging with fellow travellers. Through talking to local people you may learn about unknown travel gems, the best local bars, nightlife hotspots, hidden beaches, cheaper travel options, and so much more.
- Take Lots of Photos
Photos are a very evocative medium. An old photograph can return you to an experience, a feeling, a smell, a sound, or an adventure. Travel photography serves a dual-purpose: to friends and relatives looking at the photographs they help share an element of the experience, whilst to the people in the photograph they help capture a memory and encapsulate it forever. This is why travel and photography have been so tightly linked ever since the first adventurous explorers in the early years of photography climbed Everest, trekked to the South Pole, or discovered Machu Picchu with their bulky photography equipment on-hand.
In our modern world photography is both affordable, and easy. Gone are the days of bulky cameras, film which limited the amount of photographs that can be taken when on holiday, and poor quality imagery. In our modern world of digital photography images are better quality and cheaper to produce and store, so when on your gap year or extended holiday take as many photos as possible to help tell your story, and capture your memories – there is no excuse!
- Travel Off The Beaten Track and Choose Exciting Destinations
Choosing travel destinations is entirely a matter of personal preference, and different people can have wildly varying choices. These days there are countless gap-year options such as Europe-wide train tickets hopping from capital to capital, working-holiday visas in places such as Australia spending 12 months slowly working your way across the country, more adventurous expeditions in places such as South East Asia or South America, or the full blown round-the-world extravaganza.
The best advice, whatever travel option you choose, is ensure that wherever you go you make an effort to travel off the beaten track and visit exciting destinations – remember you may never ever return to some of the places you will visit on your gap year, so make sure you see as much as possible.
For example if you are planning on going to Australia don’t just visit Sydney and the Gold Coast but head into the desert and visit Uluru and the Australian outback; if you are going to South East Asia venture away from Bangkok and explore the lesser-known highlights; and if you are planning a round-the-world trip ensure you at least consider visiting some countries and cultures you may never again get the opportunity to experience.
- Budget Correctly
You don’t want to run out of money half-way through the trip and have to return home early do you? Many travellers can tell true tales of meeting fellow travellers who had arrived in places such as Australia for their gap year who had spent all their money in the first few months drinking and partying in Sydney without actually travelling anywhere, and who had to spend the remainder of their “gap year” working to survive without ever actually travelling anywhere.
Working is definitely an option to help fund your trip, and can actually be a very rewarding and memorable experience, teaching new life skills and helping you meet lifelong friends, but don’t rely on work for the full duration of your trip – ensure you actually allow some travel time to see the world.
Budgeting correctly, and sticking to your budget, is therefore one of the most important parts of any gap year trip, and is key to the success and enjoyment of this important year. Take a little time before your trip to work out an approximate daily spend, factoring in things such as exchange rates, then make an effort to keep track of your expenditure and bank balance every week or so during the trip to ensure you are on track and not over budget.
The costs you need to think about include things such as accommodation, travel, tours and excursions, entry fees, visas, food and drink, souvenirs, clothing, and spare spending money.
Most people only get one gap year – so although budgeting may be boring, make sure you put a little thought into it to ensure you get the greatest gap year experience possible!
This guest article was written by Jonathan, who first embarked on his own gap year in 2002 visiting Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, and managed to do so without running out of money! Since then Jonathan has spent time living in South America, and now works for Go Andes, a tour operator specialising in tailor-made holidays to Peru and South America.