At home or abroad, taking a gap year needs careful planning. Follow our advice to get the most out of your time away…
1. Choose your destination
The first thing you need to do is decide what your aims are. This will help you to choose a country as not everywhere will offer every experience.
Before you settle on a destination you need to look at country alerts from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It's also worth checking if there are any special entry requirements as some countries require you to have at least six months left on your passport at the date of entry.
When deciding what time of year to travel, think about when monsoon season is and if there are any festivals or religious observances that you should be aware of. You should also make sure that you're back in the UK for the start of the university year and to meet course or job application deadlines.
You should loosely plan your itinerary, including any must-see attractions, activities or work abroad experiences' that you definitely want to do. However, it's important not to plan too much, as you'll need to build in time to discover new places and change your schedule.
Get some help deciding what to do with our gap year ideas.
2. Decide who to travel with
You could travel alone, which sounds quite scary, but there are lots of benefits including…
- not being held back by other people, other budgets or other expectations;
- vastly increased confidence, communication and people skills, all of which are highly sought after by employers;
- the chance to meet people and make friends. Joining organised groups or projects can help with this.
Find out more about the highs and lows of solo travel.
There are also benefits if you head off with a group of friends. These include:
- not feeling lonely as there will always be someone there to pick you up when you're feeling down or homesick;
- being able to share the cost of everything from cabs to meals and rooms. There's also someone there to cover you if you lose your wallet or cash card.
- feeling safer having someone watching your back in places where you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings.
3. Raise the money
There are lots of ways to pay for your gap year, including:
- organising a fundraising event and asking friends and family to sponsor you;
- selling items you no longer need online or at a car boot sale;
- getting a part-time job;
- taking a bank loan or borrowing from family and friends. You need to find out how much interest you'll pay and the deadline for repayment.
If you have any regular payments such as monthly standing orders or direct debits, make sure you finish paying for these before you leave or that you have enough money in your account to cover all outgoings while you're away.
To make sure you save as much money as possible you'll need to keep track of each pound. So whenever you go to buy something think about what the same amount of money would get you on your gap year, e.g. £1 will buy you lunch in Thailand while £3 will buy you a night's accommodation in India.
4. Book your travel
If you're heading to Europe then an Interrail pass might be the right choice. If you intend on travelling within one country by train then the One Country Pass is your best option. Prices start from £29 and there are 28 countries to choose from. For those who want to travel across a number of European countries there's the Global Pass, which gives you access to 30 countries and prices start at £136.
Those heading further afield should consider a round the world ticket, which allows you to tick off all your must see places in one trip. Many companies have tried and tested routes but you can also plan your own route; you'll just need to decide where you want to go and how long you can spend in each place. Expect to pay on average around £1,200 for a round the world ticket.
5. Pre-trip essentials
- Healthcare - visit the doctor for vaccinations (some up to a year ahead). You will also need malaria tablets, medical tests/chest x-rays to work in some countries. Get a European Health Insurance card (EHIC) if you're a European travelling in Europe.
- Travel insurance - check that you've got adequate coverage, e.g. adventure travel insurance if climbing or bungee jumping.
- Passport - make sure that it's valid for the duration of your trip (some visas require your passport to be in date for additional time after you plan to leave).
- Visas - apply for tourist and working holiday visas. You need to check specific embassies for information on how far in advance they need to be bought and how long they last for.
- Banking - cancel standing orders or make sure you have enough money in your bank to cover the payments, notify Student Loans and your bank that you'll be abroad, and redirect your mail.
- Safety tips - make a note of your passport, bank and insurance policy details and leave them with a friend or family member back home along with your mobile phone number and email address.
- Prepare for a culture shock - read up on the country's religion, culture and customs, chat to other travellers/check online guides and forums.
6. What to buy before you go
When you set off you only need the basics, including:
- a rucksack that fits and won't hurt your back (a good weight is between 10-12kg). Pack it and try walking around with it on for several hours;
- limited clothing as you can buy items there;
- comfortable, practical shoes that you wear in before you leave;
- a travel towel;
- accommodation for the first few nights; try Hostelworld.com, HostelBookers, Hostelling International.
To make sure you’ve got everything take a look at this packing checklist.
7. Plan for your return
After having such a great time on your gap year you'll need to make sure you have plans in place to avoid the post-holiday blues.
- Make sure you keep money aside for a return flight home, plus money for rent and living costs while you're looking for a job. You will need to be back in the UK for at least three months before you can claim Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).
- Find time on your gap year to update your CV with the relevant skills, jobs and experience from your time away. This means on your return you should be able to apply for jobs straight away, but remember to tailor it to each company and job.
- To stop you from getting depressed it's also a good idea to have something lined up to look forward to. This could be an internship with a company you're interested in working for or a course to develop your skills or knowledge of a topic.