It’s been smooth sailing up till now. You’ve completed the first three gap year P’s – planning, plotting and preparing – in style, and you’re ready to take on a fourth and final challenge. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to PACK your bags!
Sounds easy enough, right? And yet, packing everything you need for a year’s worth of travel can be a rather traumatic experience, all the more so if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Fortunately, we have plenty of tips and tricks to make your life easier and keep your excess baggage fee at a minimum.
The Quality Backpack
While it may evoke stereotypes, a backpack is the only way forward for those embarking on a gap year of travels.
Remember: quality is essential and comfort is key. Considering your luggage is a 24/7 appendage, the last thing you want is a pack that will fall apart, or have you hobbling to the nearest physio after a few months. Avoid the temptation to skimp and save by getting a cheaply-made budget pack. Ideally go for a large sack with padded shoulder straps and a belt that you can tie round your waist.
What to Pack
It’s tempting to think that packing your entire wardrobe is a means of organisation – a way to prepare for every possible eventuality.
Take our advice: don’t.
Honestly, you are going travelling here, not trying out for Miss Universe, so please make a valiant effort to forget those designer clothes and stick to the bare essentials.
Immediate cuts should be made to any fancy dresses, designer denims and killer stilettos. Stick with practicality and go for essentials like underwear, T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops and a comfy sweater. This is definitely one of those occasions when less is more. Remember you can always buy things along the way!
Top Tip: Don’t forget to pack a mack- it might not be the coolest item you’ll take but it will certainly be amongst your most useful when the heavens decide to open.
Toiletries and cosmetics
Once again, leave everything but the bare essentials at home. In your wash bag should be things like toothpaste, a toothbrush, shampoo, shower gel and deodorant. Out of your wash bag should be larger bottles of perfume/aftershave, expensive moisturisers and non-essential cosmetics.
Top Tip: A first aid kit with travel essentials like plasters, aspirin, tweezers, scissors and anti-inflammatories is always a good idea.
While you may fear withdrawal symptoms, it’s best to leave your iPad and lap-top at home, if only due to risk of theft or damage. Most hostels have computer rooms and internet cafes on offer so you can keep up-to-date with the online world.
On the other hand, electrical items you should consider taking on a gap year are a pocket torch, a mobile phone, a digital camera and an iPod stocked up with a healthy music selection.
In addition to this, consider bringing a sleeping bag and mat, insect repellant and, for girls, a fake wedding ring to help ward off over-eager men.
The Day Sack
In addition to your backpack, a sturdy rucksack is another gap year essential. This is one to carry around on a daily basis, storing things like sun cream, cameras, towels and insect repellant in addition to essential travel documents like your passport, air tickets, photo ID, accommodation details, credit cards and medical documents.
Given the regularity of day sack usage, make sure once again that you buy yourself a quality pack with comfortable straps to avoid any pain or inconvenience.
Essential Travel Documents
Regardless of how organized you may be, if you don’t have each and every one of your essential travel documents, you’re not going anywhere!
Here’s a list of the items that you cannot leave without:
- Photo ID
- Flight Tickets/Details
- Insurance Documents/Medical Cards
This is not an exhaustive list. Other extras that you may need to remember include receipts for accommodation, visas, travel guides and bank account information.
Top Tip: Keep all your travel essentials in a single file stored in your hand luggage rather than a main backpack.
Mobile Phones & Calling Abroad
While international dialling codes are typically common knowledge, information about time differences and calling rates often require a little more research.
You can always check out the former on websites such as timeanddate.com.
As for the latter, remember that mobile companies charge higher rates for phone usage abroad – that includes sending messages and browsing the Internet as well as making calls. In saying this, some providers are significantly cheaper than others. It’s important that you know what the costs are so you avoid running up a hefty gap year phone bill.
On that note, if you do decide to use the same number overseas, do not forget to set your phone up with global roaming…or, if you happen to have a dinosaur handset, check that it works overseas at all!
Too much of a hassle? Don’t worry too much. There are plenty of other ways to keep in touch with loved ones that don’t involve the requisite mobile phone. How about trying…
- An International Phone Card: Available all over the world, these provide a cost-effective alternative to the mobile phone. The only downside when it comes to the phone card is that you can run out of cash at any minute. You’re also restricted to where you can find the nearest working phone box.
- Skype: Your best bet on the communication front is to join the Skype revolution. Signing up for a free skype account will allow you to talk to your friends and family over the internet for FREE. All you need to do is arrange a time, log in and dial a number!
Okay, so you’ve decided upon a route, booked some accommodation, packed your bags, checked and double checked essential travel documents. You’ve even notified the bank that you’re going away and sorted out some kind of travel insurance. What more could you possibly need to do?
Not a lot, thankfully.
There are, however, some essential safety tips that would be useful to keep in mind throughout your travels. We’ve teamed up with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who provide a great checklist to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered:
Look after your passport! It’s always useful to keep a few spare photocopies of this on hand, or at least to make a note of the passport number, date and place of issue. Keep this information in a separate place to the original, or else leave it with a friend or family member. If your passport does happen to get lost or stolen overseas, report it to the local police immediately and get a statement about the loss.
Organise your travel money! A mixture of cash, debit cards and, depending on your destination, travellers’ cheques is best for security purposes. Opt for an out-of-sight security wallet to keep most of your money in. If you’re using cards, make sure they aren’t nearing an expiry date and are accepted in your destination country.
Practice sustainable tourism! Try to make a positive impact through your travels. Things you can do include shopping at local markets or grocers, respecting local culture (e.g. learning a few words of the language), using water, firewood and fuel sparingly, and perhaps offsetting the carbon emissions from your flight via websites like Climate Care or Carbon Neutral.
Be aware of drugs! Penalties for those caught in possession or dealing in drugs are severe worldwide. Make sure to take precautions like packing all luggage yourself, keeping your backpack with you at airports and carrying a doctor’s prescription for any medications you may require.
Be aware of security threats! As the saying goes, be alert not alarmed. Keep a close eye on FCO Travel advice and stay abreast of the local and regional political scene in the media. Use common sense and avoid political and other demonstrations or gatherings regardless of how harmless or exciting they may appear.
Know who to contact if things go wrong! Support for British Nationals in difficulty overseas is provided abroad by British diplomatic missions such as High Commissions, Embassies and Consulates. It’s always useful to find out your closest British embassy in advance.
So travelers, there you have it: our guide to planning and preparing for your gap year abroad! Remember, this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you need to do, but it should help point you in the right direction all the same.
There’s only one thing left to say…
Fancy some further gap year inspiration? Check out our pick of Top 3 Career Break Ideas and create your own ‘Eat Pray Love’ style adventure.