With every passing year, more and more people are taking the opportunity to disappear for 12 months and explore the world. Sometimes it will be the year before heading to college, others will choose to take a year-long break before the final year. And some people just need a break from work for a while. Whatever the reasons for your gap year, here are 14 tips for what you’ll need to do before heading off on your adventures:
1. Make Sure You Have All Your Visas in Check
If you’re traveling to the other side of the world, you need to make sure that you have done all your research into any travel documentation that’s required, and purchased any visas that will prevent you from entering the country if they’re not in your possession.
2. Double Check Your Passport Expiry Dates
Unless you’re going away every other month, there’s a chance that you’ll lose track of the expiry date of your passport. Many countries won’t allow you to travel unless you have at least six months remaining, so make sure you keep track of when it expires, and get it renewed where required.
3. Inform Your Bank That You’re Going Abroad
Banks can cause trouble for travelers if they’re not informed that you are going abroad. Technically this is a good thing, as it means that they are keeping on top of their fraud checks. But to prevent any embarrassing card turndowns while you’re away, let your bank have plenty of notice before you take your trip.
4. See Your Doctor Before You Leave
Fingers crossed you’ll go a full year without any need to see a doctor, but in order to avoid any surprises that you can’t avoid, best to make an appointment to see your doctor before you head away. Hopefully you’ll be in and out in a few minutes, with a clean bill of health and peace of mind.
5. Visit Your Dentist for One Last Checkup
Alongside your doctor, a trip to the dentist is another important visit before you head off on your gap year. You might not be able to find a good dentist while you’re on the other side of the world, and you can ask your dentist for any advice you might need to keep your teeth and gums healthy on your travels. View here for more details on the kind of treatments and advice you could ask about.
6. Get Your First Few Nights Accommodation Booked
Arriving at the first destination on your travels without any accommodation booked beforehand is not the best idea, especially if you arrive jet lagged, exhausted and late in the day. The way to avoid any painful evenings walking around in 35-degree heat searching for accommodation with a heavy backpack. Book a few nights’ accommodation before you leave home. At least that way, you’ll have a room ready for you when you arrive.
If you’ve travelled more than 10-12 hours on a flight, it might be a good idea to book a hotel or private room rather than a bed in a shared dorm full of snoring fellow backpackers. A good first night’s sleep is incredibly important. It can make or break the next few days, weeks and maybe even the whole year. After all, first impressions mean a lot.
7. Learn a Bit of Lingo Before You Go
The majority of travelers will have an idea of how to say ‘Hello’ in a few different languages, but if you’re traveling far and wide, it’s a good idea to buy yourself a book on the lingo you will be hearing every day, and try and teach yourself a bit.
You don’t need to be fluent, or learn phrases you’ll never need, but the basics are always useful, including: Where are the restrooms? What time is the train/bus/boat?
Learning some of the language will give you added confidence and allow you to communicate with the locals on a basic level, and you will find that they will make more of an effort with you if they see that you have made an effort with them and their language. Who knows where that could lead?
8. Pack Your Bag With The Right Clothing
There’s nothing worse than packing your bag to the rafters, lugging it around when you’re hot and exhausted, and then finding that the majority of the clothes that you’ve brought and that has made the bag too heavy is not even required.
If you’re traveling for a year, you should know that you will be replacing clothes as you go – underwear and T-shirts especially – and depending on where you’re heading to, you should pack weather appropriately.
For example, a year in Thailand means that jeans and sweatshirts are out, shorts and T-shirts are in. But a year in Australia might require a mix if you’re traveling all around the country, where the weather changes considerably.
9. Make Sure Your Bank Cards Are In Date
If you’re going to be away for a year, you want to be prepared enough so you don’t have to keep contacting home to deal with banking issues, paying old bills, etc. You want to focus on the 12 months in front of you.
One point to remember is to ensure that all your bank cards have at least 12 months left on them. It can be a pain to have to get new cards issued when you’re traveling, so talk to your bank about the possibility of having new cards issued to you both you go away so that you can avoid this problem.
10. Learn the Currency Exchange Rates
Everybody who has travelled before will have had a friend who was constantly saying ‘How much is that in dollars?’ for everything from a bottle of water to a night’s accommodation. To avoid being that annoying friend, get to grips with the currency rates in advance.
As well as preventing asking questions constantly, you’ll also be able to pick on whether something is a good deal, or whether your tourist status is being taken advantage of. This is especially the case when getting taxis and paying for gifts. Understanding the exchange rates will help you make snappy decisions rather than working out that you’ve been ripped off two hours later when you’ve got access to a calculator.
11. Research the Laws of the Land
There have been a number of stories of fun-loving backpackers taking selfies in sacred places, or acting inappropriately because they don’t understand or don’t care about the culture. It gives tourists and travelers a bad name, and it’s a great shame that people who do their research beforehand, and who respect the traditions and laws of the land, get tarnished with the same brush.
In order to avoid any embarrassing situations or possible arrests, make sure you do your research into the customs, laws and traditions of the countries you will be heading to. The information is readily available on the net, and you will have a far more rewarding experience on your travels as a result of adhering to and respecting these traditions.
12. Take a Basic First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit is a travelers’ best friend, especially if you find yourself on mountain or rainforest treks. Accidents happen, cuts and bruises occur. Even allergies and headaches can give you trouble if you’re not prepared.
Plasters, painkillers, allergy tablets, antiseptic creams – these should all be in your bag, along with any medication that you take on a regular basis. If you’re on a prescription, talk to your doctor and pharmacist before you go away to discuss taking extra medication, or advice on how to get it while you’re away.
Hopefully you will never find yourself in A&E or even a doctor’s office while you’re on your travels. It can be incredibly scary, especially when you don’t speak the language. In more extreme circumstances, the best you can do is have a copy of your medical records to hand. If you have something like diabetes or epilepsy, at least they will have that knowledge and be able to treat you accordingly.
13. Prepare for the Weather in Advance
Research is always advised when traveling abroad, especially when it comes to places where assumptions can be made about the weather. It’s easy to just expect South-East Asia to be roasting hot and sunny all day every day. However, it also has incredible storms that can last for days, which makes shorts and t-shirts redundant.
Wherever you’re traveling to, research thoroughly including year-round weather for your entire trip, so you’ll be fully informed as to what to take with you – clothes, hats, rain gear, trekking shoes, etc.
14. Remember Your Chargers/Converters
Before the age of cellphones and the web, postcards, phone cards and letters were used to keep in touch with loved ones back home. These days, with smartphones working abroad and Wi-Fi readily available across the globe, it’s easy to keep in touch with family and friends, update your social media feeds and keep your photos stored safely on the Cloud.
All of this will be ruined, however, if you forget to take your chargers and converters with you. If you find yourself staying in a cabin in a beautiful rainforest and it’s your only chance to get your phone/camera fully charged before a three-day wildlife hike, you’ll be kicking yourself if you haven’t got the ability to charge your tools. Thinking ahead is always the best bet in these situations.