Deciding that you’re going to go travelling is the easy part. Working out where you’re going; how you’re going to get there; how you’re going to use your time and stay safe and happy while you do so can strain your brain if you’re not a seasoned traveller with harem pants and a backpack plastered with country flag patches.
Luckily Gapforce is here with 30 years’ expertise in gap year and adventure travel to help clear the fog. Here we distil the combined lessons of thousands of young travellers in every corner of the globe until one easy, go-to guide to help you prepare for an adventure of a lifetime. Whether you want a gap year to be engraved in your memories or CV-boosting experience in the summer before uni, thorough planning is everything.
Before You Leave
Unless you plan to swim you won’t get overseas without them! Probably the single most important aspect of your travels will be your flights. Simple enough to shop and compare with the convenience of the internet at your disposal, the trick to getting the best prices is to get organised well in advance. Leaving it too late to book can cause prices to skyrocket, so looking into flights should go hand in hand with your research into destinations.
Although not a legal requirement, travel insurance is absolutely essential. Medical treatment in another country can be very expensive, and depending where you go, public medical services can be basic. In the event of a medical problem, your embassy cannot pay for treatment or fly you home. However, a standard travel insurance policy can cover your medical costs while abroad, and even arrange repatriation flights if it’s medically necessary.
As well as medical costs, travel insurance policies may also cover:
- cancellation of a pre-booked holiday due to unforeseen circumstances missed flights,
- cancellations and delays
- repatriation if it’s medically necessary
- loss, theft or damage of baggage and personal items
- 24/7 assistance
To make sure you get the appropriate cover, you’ll need to consider:
- the type of trip you’re taking
- where you’re going
- how long your trip is
- your age
- your medical condition
- what kind of activities you intend doing on your trip
Fortunately, price comparison websites or insurance providers can do most of the thinking for you. Many are able to tailor insurance policies to your unique trip, or can provide ready-made backpacker’s policies that cover everything you need.
Depending on your destination, there may be mandatory or recommended inoculations against common diseases. You should always seek professional medical advice over which jabs to get. UK citizens may be able to get some vaccinations on the NHS, however usually you have to go to a private clinic.
As a place to start your research, the NHS Fit for Travel site (https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations) is a good source of advice and info on vaccinations by destination country.
It’s always your responsibility to check and conform to the entry requirements for the country or countries that you want to travel to. This used to involve a visit to the nearest embassy of your destination, queues and waiting for confirmation in the post. More and more countries now have their visa application process online.
We don’t expect you would wander off into the great unknown without letting someone know, but still: it’s very important that someone back home knows where you’re going! Give your friends and family a basic itinerary of your travels, letting them know where you should be on a given date.
If you’re travelling as part of an organised tour or expedition, you must provide an emergency contact – your nearest and dearest who can be called on your behalf by the venture organiser should anything go wrong.
Back it up! We’ll explore travel documents in more detail in the next section, but it’s smart to have paper copies of everything, from your passport to insurance policy to any bookings for accommodation. That way if the A.I. turns against humanity (or your smartphone goes missing) you’ll still be armed with the proof need to continue your travels. Collate it all in a folder and have it stashed in your luggage. Of course, you should also have digital versions of everything, where possible.
As discussed above, it’s recommended to carry at least two copies of each of the following pieces of travel documentation in different formats (i.e. digital and paper copies).
Passport– check that is still valid and if expired or about to expire, bear in mind that it can take 3 weeks or more to replace
Travel Insurance – your insurance policy summary including the policy number and emergency medical contact number
Booking confirmations for any accommodation, charter transport etc
There’s a science to packing for an extended trip – condensing everything you need into baggage that’s manageable to transport. And it’s easier said than done! Ever found yourself staring helplessly at all your worldly possessions trying to work out how it’s all going to go in? Yeah, we’ve been there too. Below are the golden rules for smart packing for travel, learned from hard experience.
#1 Get the right bag
Start with the basics. The bag containing all your belongings is arguably your most important item when travelling. Let’s get something clear right away – the backpack beats the suitcase every time. A shiny hard body suitcase with wheels might keep your clothes wrinkle-free, but wait ‘til you encounter the first patch of gravel, dirt track, or hectic city street. A backpack can go anywhere you can – since you’re carrying it.
With that in mind, don’t go for a backpack that’s too big. While it may seem tempting to buy a large one and fill it with things you ‘might’ need, don’t forget you’ll spend a lot of time carrying your backpack around. So the lighter it is, the better for you.
#2 Pack smart – pack light
Remember – you’re not travelling to another planet. No need to pack the contents of your favourite clothes store and a Boots. Take the essential toiletries but remember you’ll be able to get hold of these things in most of the world too, for a fraction of UK prices.
Save space for souvenirs by packing what seems like the bare minimum of clothes. Because a) you’ll likely wear the same few pieces most of the time and b) no one will care if you do.
As a rule of thumb, pack all you think you need. Then, get rid of half of it.
#3 Lock it down
A small travel padlock is an essential item for securing your bag – or at least the compartment that contains valuables – against thieves. Many hostels across the world provide lockers for your personal gear that can be secured with your own padlock.
…makes the world go round, or more specifically, you go around the world.
While cards are widely accepted in many countries, cash is still king in developing nations, small businesses, and many forms of transport.
- Buy your currency before you leave – bureaus de change and ATMs abroad can have high commission levels and poor exchange rates compared to those found at home, as well as hidden fees
- Take a little more money than you think you need – because you never know
- Don’t keep all your cash in one place – a sensible precaution to avoid financial disaster while travelling is to divide your cash into separate stashes within your baggage. Carry enough on your person for the day-to-day, and stow the rest safely in your accommodation
Cards are an increasingly smart option as a way of managing your finances. Compact and PIN-locked, cash withdrawal fees are the price you may pay with a card for not having the anxiety of carrying stacks of bills around with you. Nowadays many banks can offer accounts that don’t collect withdrawal fees abroad.
- Consider fraud protection – some banks and building societies will automatically lock accounts connected with debit or credit cards if they detect unexpected spending outside of your home country. Make sure you inform your card provider in advance that you will be travelling and using your card overseas
- Prepaid cards – a prepaid card only allows you to spend the funds loaded onto it from an external account. These have obvious security advantages
- A smart strategy when using a credit, debit or prepaid card is to set a member of your family as a second cardholder. That way they can add funds to your account in a cashflow crisis.
- The safest way to manage money while travelling is to use cash, have a card with your main funds in reserve, and potentially a third card ready to be loaded if you misplace the first. Each should ideally be kept in a separate location on the day-to-day (e.g. wallet, hidden security pouch, baggage)
Thinking of taking a gap year?
There’s a lot to think about! Hopefully this guide will be a useful starting point, but we also have decades of industry-leading experience to share with you.
At Gapforce we’re committed to helping you achieve the adventure of a lifetime. With our range of organised travel programs, project placements and outdoor training courses, we make unforgettable adventures easy and accessible.
Like to know more? Reach out to a Gapforce advisor now!