Gap Years take a lot of planning! Here are 10 Top Tips to consider when you are thinking about taking a Gap Year.
Random Travel or Volunteer in a project overseas for your Gap Year?
Random Travel is one way of spending your Gap Year. This is a very ‘chilled out’ type of travel experience and you can start somewhere like Thailand where, traditionally it has been cheap and good value for money. Volunteering abroad is an alternative and you may prefer more structure and security and decide to go and volunteer in a project overseas.
An example of a volunteer placement is scuba diving and snorkelling in Mozambique (click here for more information) where you video and photograph all the megafauna you see and join a group of other volunteers. You could combine both – start off with a volunteer project and then go off and travel randomly.
You need to make this decision first of all: random travel, structured volunteer placement or both!
Flights become available 11 months in advance and booking then is the best time to get the cheapest prices. You can pay more and have the dates ‘open’. When you are abroad, once you know you want to take a flight on to the next destination or home, you can book it on line or with a local agent. You might not always be able to get the flight on the day you want but at least the cost is covered! Check if there will be any extra costs with this option.
Gap Year Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a ‘must’. Cover needs to include: hospitalisation, medical expenses, repatriation, cancellation and curtailment, death, etc. and also for any extreme activities that you are planning to do such as skiing, bungee jumping, sky diving…You can get a quote for Travel Insurance here
Take out your Travel Insurance as soon as you book your flights so that, if you need to cancel for a genuine reason, you may be able to claim back what you spent.
Countries do not like it if, when you enter their country, you have less than 6 months before expiry on your passport. So bite the bullet if your expiry date is looming in the next year, and get that new passport now! Also, some countries such as South Africa, like you have two completely free pages opposite each other. This is so they can stamp you in on one side and stamp you out on the other page. We have heard that they might turn you away if your passport is already full of entries and exits with no spare double pages! Another good reason for getting that new passport early!
Once you have your passport sorted, start looking into getting the visas for the countries you want to visit before you travel. You don’t want the visas to expire before you get to the country, so don’t apply too early but do some research and make sure you know what to do. There is usually a cost for a visa – the most expensive we have come across so far is the visa for China – £151! Some visas can be completed on line – like the Indian E-Visa – and you take all the paperwork with you and complete it on arrival – see here
Visit your travel nurse/local doctors as soon as you know where you are going on your Gap Year and when you are going and discuss with them if your vaccinations are all up to date. They will know what you need for the countries you are visiting including if malaria tablets are needed . If you have had your Yellow Fever vaccination, and visited a country where they have Yellow Fever, make sure you always travel with the certificate in your passport. In Ghana, for example, this vaccination is compulsory and the certificate has to be shown upon arrival – I’m not sure what they will do if you haven’t had the jab! They may refuse you entry! For more information on what is needed for different countries, see Fit For Travel here
You need to have enough money saved up. The last thing you want is to start your adventure and then find you run out of money. The advantage of volunteering is that you pay for all your expenses up front and allow for a little spending money. Also, you need to protect your money when travelling. Forget travellers cheques – these are out-dated and not many places accept them any more. A number of debit cards (bank debit card, money cards) – carried in different places so if you lose one you have another hidden somewhere else – is a good idea. A credit card also hidden somewhere even different, is essential for emergencies. Taking money out of ATMs abroad in relatively small amounts is a safe way so if you loose your wallet, you don’t loose too much. However you will be charged for each transaction.
Leave your mobile contract phone at home. If you loose it, you will have to continue to make the payments and it may be difficult to send you out a replacement. Instead, buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone and buy local SIM cards in the countries you visit and top up vouchers.
Photos of your Gap Year
At every opportunity, back up your Gap Year photos by loading them onto the Cloud or onto a memory stick. Losing photos is the worst thing when you have had an amazing travel experience and have nothing to show where you have been.
Safety and security in your Gap Year
Sadly things do happen abroad. As ‘tourists’ we are vulnerable to pick pocketing, scams and cons. Be aware at all times. Be wary of people who befriend you. Be wary at ATMs. Keep your passport somewhere safe. Keep your money cards in different places. Stay safe.
(Jill runs Volunteer Vacations – www.volunteervacations.co.uk – and has visited all the countries where Volunteer Vacations have volunteer placements and wilderness experiences. Check out the website and see the amazing experiences you can have abroad – marine conservation….sports coaching…..teaching…..wilderness experiences…..She takes Ladies groups to India and Ghana every year. Give Jill a ring on: (+44) 07833 208 158 or, better still, send her an email (as she is often travelling!) to : firstname.lastname@example.org