adventure, fun, gap year, travel
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Expert Advice for Setting Up an Epic Gap Year

We get lots of opportunities to travel in our lifetime, but the way we do it can change as we get older. One of the best times to travel is when you’re in your late teens or early twenties. That’s why so many people take a gap year before or after university. When you’re a bit older, you can start looking for more comfort or you have to keep your kids in mind. You have the freedom to go wherever you want and do what you want on a gap year. Even though they’re usually taken before or after uni, you can plan one whenever you want. Taking a year, or just six months, out of your career can change your life. I travel whenever I can, but if I could plan a full year of travelling, this is how I would plan it.

Work or Play

The first thing you need to decide is what to do. You can use your gap year purely for pleasure, or you can combine it with work or volunteering. You need to be careful if you decide you want to work for money because it needs to be legal. Depending on where you’re from, there are a number of countries where you can get a working holiday visa. If you’re from the EU, you can work within the European Union and you don’t need a visa to do so. However, you should still check the rules regarding any earnings from your travels. Australia is a popular country for working holidays, and you can also go to New Zealand. You can work for several months in America too. Other countries that offer working holiday visas include Hong Kong, Japan, Argentina and Canada.

As well as working for money, you can choose to volunteer. There are lots of different projects you could help with. You could work with people doing things like helping to build homes or infrastructure for drinking water. There are wildlife projects you can participate in, such as orangutan conservation. Some companies take on volunteers to teach English or other languages too. Of course, if you don’t want to work or volunteer, you can focus purely on travelling.

Central America Ethical Adventure Trail 2012 by Mirlah Thornley

Choosing Destinations

One of the most important parts of planning a gap year is choosing where you want to go. If you’re like me, you’ll have a long list of destinations you want to visit. But you probably won’t be able to see everything in one go, even if you have a whole year. You don’t want to spend more time on planes and trains than actually seeing the world. Although, you can see some great things from both a plane and a train.

Firstly, you need to decide how many places you want to visit. You could choose one destination and stay there for the whole year. For example, you might do this on an Australian working holiday visa. But you might want to try and fit in as much as possible. In which case, you could decide only to stay a week or two in any one place. Start drawing up a short list of where you want to go to work out which ones are an absolute must. Remember to keep your available funds in mind.

Researching

If you want to plan an epic adventure, you need to do a lot of research. After choosing your destinations (or during), you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. There are lots of incredible resources that you can use to learn about each place. You need to find out about the best places to go and things to do. But you also need to know about how much things cost, how to stay safe and how to get around once you arrive. Read about the options you have for accommodation, check out travel insurance policies and find out the best time to visit.

Bluff sign

Photo Credit: Will Ellis

Go It Alone or with Travel Buddies?

One of the biggest decisions you need to make are whether to travel independently or go with others. You have three options: go alone, take a friend or two, or join a group tour. The idea of travelling alone might be frightening, but people do it all the time. If you choose the right places and accommodation, you’ll meet travellers and locals. It can help you learn a lot about yourself and become more confident. However, if you have some friends who could come, you can have fun with them too. Just remember that you might need some time apart now and then. Even your best friends can get on your nerves if you’re always together.

If neither of these options is possible or appealing, you can find some new friends. The easiest way to do this is to join a tour. There are group trips, like the ones offered by The Leap, which will provide you with company and a structured itinerary. It takes a lot of the planning out of your hands, which many people will find a positive thing. You could make some great friends during the trip and stay in touch afterwards. If you’re older than the typical gap year traveller, choose your company carefully. You may not want to be the oldest among a group of 18-year-olds. However, many companies have mixed groups of all ages and backgrounds.

Budgeting

It’s a fact that money makes the world go ’round. You might not want to face it, but money is important when you’re planning your trip. Even if you’re going on a working holiday, you’ll need funds at the beginning to get there and to get home. There are lots of things to think about. They range from flights and accommodation to food and travel insurance. The best way to make your money go far is to be organised. Plan spreadsheets and itemised lists to work out what you can spend. And remember always to have more money than you need, in case of an emergency.

Planning a gap year is a lot of work. It’s a whole year out of your life that you want to make the best of. But it’s an experience you’ll enjoy, and you’ll get more excited as you plan.

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