Spending a gap year abroad is a great way to prepare for upcoming university studies or life changes. A gap year can be whatever you want it to be, whether you want to spend a year exploring the corners of the globe or volunteering in a new country, you can take so many different opportunities to do something new. From learning a language to teaching new skills, experiencing a new, foreign culture is something that shapes us as individuals.
Depending on your interests, a gap year can be one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences you will go through in your life. If you plan carefully, then you will get the most out of it and make memories to last a lifetime.
If you are wondering how to plan for your gap year abroad, then we can offer some help! Scroll down and read to know about some simple steps, that’ll help you in making a good decision.
The first thing to do when planning a gap year abroad is to think about what your goals are. These will help you to choose a country, as not every destination will offer the same types of experiences and also depends on the length of time that you want to spend volunteering. Before you finalize a destination, you will need to read the travel advice for that specific country. It may also be worth checking if there are any specific travel and entry requirements in place for that country, as some destinations will expect you to have 6 months at least left on your passport from the date of entry.
When considering the time of year for your travels, try to think about whether there will be any seasonal weather conditions which you will need to account for. For example, South Asia has monsoon seasons and Florida tends to experience hurricanes in the summer months. You will also be able to find out if there are any festivals or religious celebrations in place during the time of your visit which you may need to be aware of.
Unless you are going on a structured gap-year travel program, then you should plan your itinerary with a varying degree of flexibility and include activities, must-see attractions or experiences which you have set your heart on.
Many destinations have different appeals and entirely depend on the experience that you are seeking. European cities offer a lot of different gap year programs, with many taking place in the center of the hustle and bustle. From culture-filled experiences in Stockholm to what’s on in Manchester, there’s no shortage of activities to do. But, if you are wanting something that is world’s away from what you know, check out the gap year programs in countries like Thailand, Japan or even China. These countries differ massively in terms of culture, schooling and even transport, so is likely to broaden your horizons.
Travel options can vary greatly depending on the time of year and how close to your travels you book. Try to explore all options available to you and, as you’ll likely be on a tight budget, don’t be a travel-snob and try something you wouldn’t usually. You’ll get to see more of the country you’re visiting and are likely to meet up with other travelers.
If you’re planning to head to Europe, then check out the Interrail pass. You can travel freely on the trains in Europe for up to a month, where you can visit busy cities, small mountain-side towns, and even sun-soaked beaches. Travel through olive groves or Alpine towns on trains which run on time and are pretty comfortable.
With this option, you can jump off at a destination when you fancy or, if you’re wanting to go a long distance but can’t afford flights and a hotel, book a night train. Make a vague plan of where you want to go. As you’ll be passing through numerous countries and cities, there’s nothing worse than missing out on something fun and interesting because you’ve not brushed up on your knowledge.
If you’re heading further afield on your gap year travels, then it may be more worthwhile for you to consider a round-the-world ticket which allows you to tick off numerous places in one trip and can last up to 12 months.
There are specialist companies which offer a wider selection of tried and tested routes and itineraries, but you can also seek their assistance in planning your own journey. All you need to do is decide where you want to go and how long for in each place. Round the world tickets tend to start at around £1,300, but you’ll also need to consider your travel choices within the country that you want to visit.
Gap year travels can be rewarding, eye-opening and exhilarating and often, packing for your first traveling trip can be a fun process. But, living out of a backpack for months on end can quickly become tough. There are so many different things to think about when packing for a traveling adventure but your essentials should cover some very important items.
Healthcare should be sorted out in plenty of time before you start your trip. Be sure to check that you are up to date on any vaccinations and visit a doctor or specialist for new vaccinations with at least 8 weeks to go. Some vaccinations even need to be administered up a year in advance, so research is vital.
If you are traveling in Europe and are European, be sure to apply for a free EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). It is also wise to invest in a good quality travel insurance for your trip, but be sure to get adequate insurance for the type of trip you are going on. You will need to get adventure insurance if you want to try rock climbing or bungee jumping, and you will need to get skiing insurance if you want to hit the slopes. Be sure to book your travel insurance to cover you from the date you apply for your travel insurance, as they often cover any mishaps you get into in the lead up to your trip.
You should also apply for the relevant tourist and travel visas and, if you are planning on working whilst away on a gap year, you will also need a working visa. Certain embassies like to carry out rigorous background checks, so read up on their information and check how far in advance they need to be sorted and how long they last. With Brexit fast approaching, you should also check the travel requirements in and around Europe at the time of the vote, particularly if your home is in one European country and you are traveling to another.
For your safety, make a not of your insurance, bank and passport details and save the numbers from the embassy of your home country in every country you travel to. They will be able to help you out should you lose your passport or get into any issues. Notify your bank that you are traveling abroad and redirect any important mail to a PO box or family members house is you will be away for a long period of time.
At this moment in time, you’re probably shuddering at the thought of planning the return from your gap year. Whilst out there and having fun, going back home is likely to be far from the front of your mind but, as sad as it may be, your traveling days are numbered. Whether it’s down to visa lengths or the start of University, we all need to come back at some point, and this should be as seamless as possible.
Even from the start of your trip, keep money aside for your return journey home, plus money for rent and living costs when you return and are transitioning back into real life. If you’re bad at budgeting and know you may spend it – we’ve all been there when we’re having fun – then entrust it with a friend or family member and get them to send it to you when you’re ready to return.
If, on your return, you know you will need to start looking for work, then find time during your gap year to update your CV with relevant jobs, skills and experience, especially if you worked abroad during your gap year. Doing this means that, on your return, you can start applying for jobs straight away, but remember that you must tailor each application to the job and company in specific.
Whilst on your trip, there are some things you can do to ease the transition back into reality. Many people don’t consider the emotional and psychological responses that we have when returning and a lot of travelers find themselves yearning for past travels.
Be sure to take photos, and then some more, on your gap year – you’ll never get those memories back. Record as much of it as you can, but don’t become too immersed in capturing every second as this will impact the memories you want to make. You’re likely to have made friends whilst away on your gap year, so find ways to say goodbye before you start your journey home. Do so in a way which is appropriate to their culture and collect any contact information – you never know when you’ll bump into one another again!
Lastly, prepare for the reverse culture shock that you’ll go through on your return. You may have missed out on a lot of things, whether it be news or fads, so anticipate that some things won’t be the same as when you left. During your travels, keep in touch with friends and family. On your return, meeting up and reliving the time that passed when you were away is a great way to banish the blues and won’t feel as strange.
Natalie Wilson is a freelance writer in the travel niche and can provide advice on anything from packing essentials to hidden gems. When not writing, Natalie can be found reading a good book with a cup of tea or planning her next travel destination. You can connect with her on Twitter @NatWilson976
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