Gap Year Guide Part 1: Plan

It’s summer time at last! For most of us that means barbeques, picnics in the park and maybe even a week away in the sun.

However, for a few lucky people, this summer will mark the start of a lifetime adventure: planning for a gap year.

Maybe you’ve just finished school and want to see a bit of the world before you head off to university or maybe you’ve decided to take some time off from your career. Regardless of your motives, a gap year represents the trip of a life time, so you’ll want to make sure your preparation does it justice.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive four-part guide complete with everything you’ll need to know, from plotting to packing and what to do if it all goes wrong.

First up it’s…

Plan, plan, plan!

Like many things in life, the key to a successful gap year is in the preparation. Organize your time well and chances are you will have a brilliant trip. Do next to nothing and you run the risk of a complete disaster.

Beyond booking flights, packing bags and sorting accommodation, pre-travel necessities include getting appropriate vaccinations, organising your bank account and picking the right travel insurance.

While this can all seem a bit daunting at first, it’s a relatively simple process if you manage it step-by-step.

Step 1: Save those pennies

Once you’ve made the decision to embark abroad, the next step is working out how you intend to fund your trip. The hard reality is that travel, regardless of how budget it may be, is a significant investment. And for those not lucky enough to have a spare €10,000 lying around, there is only one answer to this dilemma: save those pennies.

While individual funds will vary, it is always wise to have at least €5000 in the bank. Remember that aside from flight and accommodation costs, you will require a budget for visas, vaccinations, clothing and luggage, not to mention spending money.

In order to save this bulk sum, it will be necessary to make some serious lifestyle changes. Set yourself a daily allowance and written goals by which to track your progress. Whether it’s skipping your morning coffee, staying in on weekends or swapping to tap water, every little bit counts. Remember, the only person you are accountable for is yourself. Be brutal now and reap the benefits later.

Step 2: Chart your path

Sorting out exactly where you intend to go is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Although the whole world may indeed be your oyster, it’s a pretty darn big oyster.

If you’re at a loss on destinations, the immediate fall-back is to purchase a round the world ticket. While there is nothing wrong with this whistle stop tour it does have its limitations. First of all, the option can be pricey, with current tours costing anything from €800 to €1700. Furthermore, unless you’ve got bags of time to put aside, you run the risk of cramming in multiple destinations yet only skimming the surface of each.

The other danger with a round the world trip is that creeping feeling you are spending more hours sleeping on an airplane than delving into new cultures. A far better option in this respect is to concentrate on one part of the globe and spend your time exploring it for all its worth.

Ultimately, regardless of the region you choose, it is essential that you ask yourself the following questions: What do I want out of the trip? What’s my budget? Which sites do I want to see? How long can I afford to go travelling for?

By figuring out your motives, you will be able to narrow down the sort of destinations you’re after. So, if you’re looking to experience a completely different culture and language, Australia and America are unlikely to be options worth considering. On the other hand, if you’re after golden beaches, massive food portions and a similar atmosphere, the US or Oz could be right up your alley.

On that note, another thing you need to consider is the time of year that you’re planning to travel. The last thing you want to do is hit Thailand during rainy season or head to Delhi at the height of summer when temperatures regularly reach the high 40s!

It’s always best to do your research. Before making any hard decisions, check on everything from temperatures and travel warnings to events, festivals, sporting matches and upcoming elections.

After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and there’s no going back once you’ve plotted your final route…

Thanks to stevecadman, xlibber and alancleaver_2000 for the images off flickr.

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