So it’s time to take that gap year! Here are some quick tips to help make sure your adventure is the trip of a lifetime - and then some.
Eek! When it comes to travel, few things are as exciting as a gap year. It’s all about discovering new places, new people, new cultures - and learning a thing or two about yourself while you’re at it.
That’s one serious adventure. And a serious adventure requires some serious planning. Here’s a speedy run through of some invaluable tips that will help you save time, save money and get the very best from your year on the fly.
Our 27 tips are based on official advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office - plus a few words of wisdom from the team here at World First. Because we’re travel-lovers too!
1. Decide where to go
Sounds obvious? A lot of people just go where they think they should. Or where their friends have been. There’s a big world out there that’s begging to be explored. Take the time to think about the places, people, cultures, climates and activities that really tickle your excitement receptors.
2. Avoid border disorder
Before you settle on your dream itinerary, find out about the entry requirements for each of the countries you want to visit. You may need to apply for visas. Best done sooner, rather than later.
3. Travel with the best
If you’re going to book your trip through a travel organisation that specialises in gap year holidays, it pays to do your research. The company you hand over your hard-earned money to has the power to make or break your experience. Choose organisations that take good preparation, planning and safety seriously. Find out how they vet the accommodation and activity providers they work with. And cast a discerning eye across reviews from previous customers. It’s time well spent.
4. Get good backpacker travel insurance
Where you’re venturing into the great unknown, it’s essential to have a level of protection against the unexpected. Medical expenses abroad, for example, can quickly run in to hundreds of thousands of pounds if you need treatment while you’re in the back of beyond. Then there’s the cost of your trip - if you were forced to cancel everything at the last minute, you could lose a fortune. Add in things like missed airport departures and cover for your baggage and it’s obvious why a backpacker travel insurance policy makes sense.
Oh yeah, about that. We’re award-winning travel insurers and offer comprehensive gap year cover at fabulous prices for those who want to travel with peace of mind. Go spread your wings. Whoever you decide to insure with, keep a copy of your policy documents on your phone or in the cloud so you can go through see exactly what you’re covered for whenever you need to.
5. Make medical plans early
Do you need any specific vaccinations for any of the countries on your itinerary? Check well in advance - eight weeks before you leave at least. Find out what you may need. Then go get ‘em. If you are taking prescription medication, talk to your GP about how to cover your needs while abroad.
6. Avoid passport panic
Lots of countries will need your passport to be valid for at least six months from the date you arrive. If you need to renew that all important travel doc, don’t leave it until the last minute.
7. Budget like a boss
A gap year adventure is not something you want to be scrimping on. Be brutally honest with yourself about what you can afford. Being too skint to do anything while you’re away is no fun. Set a reasonable weekly budget (with a little wiggle-room) and do your best to stick to it. If you need to rein-in your expenses, prioritise what’s important. For example, if you’re not too fussy about where you collect your forty winks, you could consider spending less on accommodation to free up money to spend on activities and experiences.
8. Make friends with a pre-paid currency card
If you don’t yet know about pre-loaded currency cards, now’s the time to find out. Think of it as a debit card that allows you to save on exorbitant exchange rates and card fees. You can top it up at any time online and - best of all - if you lose your card you can get a replacement, complete with the funds that were on your previous card, for a fee of around £10. Take a look at the FairFX Everywhere card. It’s a good idea to take an emergency credit card with you too. Just remember it’s for emergencies, not to be used as a buffer.
9. Don’t overplan your trip
Leave a little flexibility for sweet, sweet spontaneity.
10. Getting active? Do it safely.
One of the best ways to make your travels even more memorable is to enjoy some action-packed activities. Whether you’re skydiving or snowboarding, make sure you tell your travel insurer - and make sure they can cover you. Many insurers refuse to cover sports and activities. At World First we cover hundreds, often at no extra cost to you.
For the real high-octane, heart-skips-a-beat stuff, do your research on the activity provider to make sure they are safety-conscious and reputable. Do they follow certified safety standards such as BS 8848? If they look a little dodgy, trust your instincts.
11. Pack light
You can get stuff on your travels if you need it. Seriously. You don’t want to be lugging around half your life in your backpack.
12. Conquer the call of nature
Loo roll. Toilet paper. Bathroom tissue. Whatever you call it, you’re going to be glad you had it. Because the likelihood is that some pretty grisly bathroom facilities are coming your way. While we’re at it, take some sanitising hand gel too. Nice one. Onwards.
13. Tape your toiletries
A little bit of electrical tape across the tops of your toiletries is a fiendishly simple travel hack. Because you don’t want your expensive moisturiser leaking all over your underwear.
14. Be copy conscious
The photo page of your passport. Your visa documentation. Your flight confirmation. You are going to be carrying a fair few important documents around with you on your travels. If they get lost, photocopies can make your life a lot easier. Make two copies of everything that matters, leaving one set with your family or a trusted friend at home and taking the other set with you. Having a photocopy of the picture page of your passport will make it far easier to replace your passport promptly if you lose it. It’s also lots safer to carry around the photocopy of your passport when you’re out and about, unless the local law stipulates that you must carry the original.
15. Accessorise your baggage
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but a lot of baggage tends to look pretty darn similar. Adding a funky coloured ribbon to the strap will make your bag way easier to spot while it’s on its solemn procession around the baggage conveyor belt.
16. Share your itinerary with family back home
There should be someone back home who has a rough idea of your general whereabouts at all times. Share your itinerary with them and if you’re deviating from the beaten path, tell someone. If there’s an emergency, people will know where to start looking for you. Plus if you start feeling homesick, it’s reassuring to know there’s someone at home who is rampantly envious at the amazing places you’re going and people you’re meeting.
17. Be smart with your phone
Keep it charged. Keep it with you. Keep emergency contacts saved.
You can find international emergency services numbers here. Find the number for your nearest British embassy or consulate here (they will help you if something unexpected happens). Also save the emergency contact details of your travel insurer. For World First customers, that’s +44 (0) 203 829 6745.
18. Don’t leave accommodation until the last minute
Always try to book your accommodation in advance. At least for your first night or so in a new destination. Wondering around an unfamiliar place after dark when you’re already knackered is not the kind of adventure you’re looking for.
19. Take a pair of ear plugs
Take it from us. If you’re staying in hostels, your sleep will get disturbed. Loud snorers, drunk revellers and chatty couples are zzz-inhibitors that you can nix with a pair of half-decent ear plugs. You’ll thank yourself once you’re out there.
20. Respect the local way of things
You’ve heard the saying. In the age of information, ignorance is a choice. Bone up on the local laws, customs and traditions of the place you’re visiting. Guidebooks help, so does the FCO website. You don’t want to look rude and sully the backpacker’s reputation. Remember, you’re a guest in the places you’re visiting. Dress respectfully. If in doubt, conservative modesty is the way forward.
Deference for the local culture extends to having a stab at the local lingo. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to the reception you receive from the locals. And locals are the best people to be on the right side of. They often hold the key to the most amazing adventures, conversations and memories.
21. Do what you want!
Do what you want, not what you feel you’re supposed to do. It’s your adventure! Guidebooks are incredibly helpful. But when it comes to the crunch, they are just that: a guide.
22. Grab a pen, keep a diary
Your camera can capture images. But how are you going to capture your feelings? It’s easy to forget the little things that colour your emotions while travelling. The people you meet. The seemingly mundane places you go. Keeping a diary will make you way more alert to what’s happening around you - and give you something special to look back on in years to come.
23. Gap years and gadgets? Watch out...
Backpacking and valuables: unfortunately they’re not the most natural bedfellows. Of course there are some things you probably won’t want to be without - such as your smartphone and your trusty DSLR. Good news: you can extend World First’s backpacker travel insurance to cover your gadgets, so at least you won’t be out of pocket financially if one of your gizmos goes walkabout.
24. Work, work, work, work, work
Chances are Rihanna probably wasn’t singing about working behind a bar in Sydney, but it’s as good a subhead as any. If you’re planning on working to help fund your adventures, try to sort something out sooner rather than later once you’ve arrived. You won’t be the only person - or gap year traveller - looking for work. Exploration will feel lots better knowing that you’ve secured yourself a source of income in the short-term future. Make sure you have a copy of your CV accessible in the cloud or on your smartphone and print off a few copies for your job hunt. Take note that in some countries you may need a certain type of visa to be able to work.
25. Go easy on alcohol, avoid drugs
Of course you want to let your hair down while you’re on your gap year. But drinking to excess isn’t a good idea in a place you’re unfamiliar with. It will also invalidate your travel insurance policy, meaning if something unfortunate happens while you’re under the influence, your insurer won’t pay out. As for drugs, different countries have different laws on possession. Some penalties can be incredibly severe. Ask yourself if it’s worth the risk.
26. Stay savvy
Travelling is incredibly liberating. Sometimes it can make you feel ten-feet tall. But don’t forget that you are a visitor in an unfamiliar place. It’s important to stay vigilant to your safety, security and welfare. Don’t make yourself an easy target for criminals and keep your wits about you.
27. Don’t bring dinner back home with you
Did you know that it’s illegal to bring certain foods into the UK from non-EU countries? Besides, it’s not likely to travel well on a flight halfway across the world. Avoid meat and meat products, milk and dairy products and fish and plant products. Otherwise an upset tummy might be the least of your worries.
Don’t go without us...!
World First is an award-winning travel insurance provider. Want to find comprehensive cover for your travels without breaking the bank? Start here.