From choosing the destination and deciding what you'll be doing, to the practicalities of planning the trip, read these gap year tips on how to make the experience one that you'll never forget
1. Consider the places to go on a gap year
If you're wondering how to go about planning a gap year, the first thing to do is work out what your goals are, and whether these are linked to a particular country or activity, as not everywhere will offer the same type of experience.
Before you settle on a destination, you'll need to read the government's foreign travel advice for specific countries. It's also worth checking to see if there are any special entry requirements, as some countries expect you to have at least six months left on your passport at the date of entry.
When considering the best time of year to travel, do your research to discover whether there are any seasonal weather conditions you'll need to account for, such as monsoon season in South Asia or hurricanes in Florida during the summer months. You can also read about any festivals or religious observances you should be aware of.
If you're still at university, make sure you're back in the UK for the start of the academic year and be sure to meet any course or job application deadlines.
Unless you're embarking on a structured gap year programme, you should plan your itinerary with a degree of flexibility - including any must-see attractions, activities or experiences you've set your heart upon. This is because you'll need time to explore new places and account for changes to your schedule.
Find out what work and internship programmes are currently available at gap year opportunities.
2. Decide who to travel with
If you have friends with similar interests, you may wish to go travelling together and coordinate the trip. The advantages of this include:
- not feeling lonely, as there'll always be someone there to pick you up when you're feeling down or homesick
- being able to share the cost of everything, from taxis and other forms of transport to meals and rooms
- feeling safer having someone to watch your back in places where everything's unfamiliar to you and where you don't speak the language.
However, even though it can seem a daunting prospect, there's nothing stopping you from going it alone. In fact, there are many benefits to this, including:
- not being held back by other people, varying budgets or different expectations
- increasing your self-confidence and independence, while developing strong communication and interpersonal skills - see the skills that employers want
- the chance to meet new people and make friends, and joining an organised group or project can help with this.
3. Raise the money
According to GapYear.com, a luxury gap year could cost you £5,000, although this will depend on if you're travelling and working or have signed up to a structured programme.
Either way, there are plenty of ways to fund your trip, including:
- getting a part-time job
- organising a fundraising event and asking friends and family to sponsor you
- selling items you no longer need either online using a site such as eBay or at a car boot sale
- working abroad on a gap year programme or taking on seasonal jobs as you travel.
If you have any regular payments such as monthly standing orders or direct debits, make sure you finish paying for these before you leave. Alternatively, check you have enough money in your account to cover all outgoings while you're away.
Budgeting is important to keep track of what you're spending, even before you set off on your travels. Whenever you go to buy something in the shops, consider what the same amount of money would get you on your gap year - for example, £1 will buy you lunch in Thailand, while £10 should cover 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, the One Country Pass is your best option. Prices start from €67 (£60.50) for France, €105 (£95) for Italy and €148 (£134) for Spain - and there are 32 options to choose from. For those who want to travel across a number of European countries, there's the Global Pass. This gives you access to 33 countries and prices start at £167 for a standard youth (aged 12-27) four days within one month pass.
For those heading further afield, you should consider a round the world travel ticket, consisting of multi-stop flights. This will enable you to tick off all your must-see places in the one trip, with the ticket lasting up to 12 months.
Specialist gap year travel companies such as STA Travel and Trailfinders offer a selection of tried and tested routes, but you can also plan your own journey - you'll just need to decide where you want to go and how long you wish to spend in each place. Expect to pay from £750 all the way up to around £1,800 for a round the world ticket, which is based on where and how far you wish to travel.
5. Gap year travel essentials
Your gap year checklist should cover the following areas:
- Healthcare - visit the doctor for vaccinations within plenty of time, as they may need to be administered up to a year ahead. You'll also require medical tests (x-rays) or certain medication (malaria tablets) to work in some countries.
- Travel insurance - check that you've got adequate coverage - for example, adventure travel insurance if climbing, jet skiing, bungee jumping or zorbing.
- Passport - make sure that it's valid for the duration of your trip. Also, some visas require your passport to be in date for even longer after you plan to leave. To enquire, visit GOV.UK - Passports.
- Visas - apply for tourist and working holiday visas. You need to check specific country embassies for information on how far in advance they should be purchased and how long they last for.
- Banking - you'll need to notify your bank and the Student Loans Company (SLC) that you're travelling abroad.
- Safety tips - make a note of your passport, bank and insurance policy details and leave them with a friend or family member along with your mobile number and email address.
- Prepare for a culture shock - read up on the country's religion, culture and customs, speak to other travellers and check relevant online guides and forums.
6. What to buy before you go
When you set off, you only need the basics, so your gap year packing list should only really include:
- a rucksack that fits and won't hurt your back (a good weight is 55 or 65 litres, but don't go above this as 75 litres is too heavy). Pack it and try walking around with it on for several hours
- limited clothing, as you can buy items while you're 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 and StudentUniverse. You could also take a look on Airbnb.
To make sure you've got everything, take a look at this packing checklist from GapYear.com.
7. Plan for your return
After having such a great time on your gap year, you'll need to have plans in place for when you get back, 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'll 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 - you should then be able to apply for jobs straight away. Always remember to tailor each application to the specific job and company - see CVs and cover letters and applying for jobs.
- So you don't feel down, 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.