Going on a solo gap year is often the first taste of freedom young people get. The opportunity to escape the norms they’ve become used to after a lifetime of living at home, and being friends with the same people you were since you were at play school. It’s your chance to shape your life based on who you are now, rather than who you’ve been in the past.
A gap year is a huge thing for some people, and planning your gap year – even bigger.
If you choose to go on your gap year solo, there are a few more things you need to consider than going with friends too. In fact, you need to read this guide.
My gap year experience
I didn’t actually go on a ‘gap year’ after school, but I did make the most of my second and third university summers as a camp counselor at summer camp. I went into the work place for a few years and then, since starting this blog, I’ve been travelling for over five years.
One of my past jobs was to work for a gap year planning company so I think I’m well placed to advise on planning gap years and everything you need to consider.
– Post in collaboration with Travel Insurance Explained
1. Money for your gap year
Usually the first thing anyone considers when leaving for a gap year is the money.
Budgeting is an important aspect of travelling abroad, especially if you’re travelling alone for a long time. How much you will actually need to save depends on your destination, and how much you like to spend on food, drink and activities. You will ALWAYS need more than you think though.
I’d definitely recommend having access to some cash, somehow, in emergencies. Maybe take a credit card that you promise yourself you won’t use.
Prepaid cards are also a good idea, just to help you budget.
Always carry an emergency amount of cash in case of a lost or stolen card and it should be hidden and kept safely. Keep a few dollars tucked in your make up bag.
If you’re doing your gap year solo, you really need to make sure you have a few different access points to cash. If anything bad should happen, it’d make it all a lot worse if you don’t have any money to cover you.
2. All your vaccinations
Vaccinations are essential for some countries and should be booked in advance of the trip – at least 6 weeks before departure depending on the type of vaccine required. The Malaria vaccination, for example, requires tablets to be taken a few days beforehand and a month following return.
The costs of vaccinations can soon mount up too if multiple are required so don’t forget to include this when setting your budget.
Being ill when you’re travelling solo is NOT fun, trust me.
Make sure to check the NHS website for advice on which vaccinations to get for which country.
3. Clothing and accessories
Be sure to pack enough clothing to get you through your trip, but remember if you are going for the true backpacking experience you may need to spend a lot of your trip carrying this around with you.
Work out the essentials needed for the country you are visiting and take a few extra items – just in case. Learn how to roll your clothes as this can vastly reduce the space they take up in your bag.
Don’t forget the essentials like a first aid kit, mosquito repellent, mosquito net, anti-bacterial gel and sun cream. Also, think about the size you are, and the size of the people in the place you’re going, and whether their locally produced clothes will even fit you. As a size 14 and 5ft 9 I couldn’t really fit in anything in most of Asia.
4. Fun accommodation
While some people enjoy the idea of playing everything by ear when travelling, there’s nothing worse than arriving at a destination and not having a place to stay. Simply researching a few well-known hostels should be enough; if you know where and when you will be in an area why not book in advance if this is available.
Hostels can be a great place to meet other backpackers who can also provide tips and good places to visit in the area. If you are looking to meet people and make friends then make sure to look for ones that mention they’re social and fun. Join tours offered by the hotel to meet people and open your travelling social circle.
5. The logistics of your gap year
Working out how to get to and from each destination is important, flights are obviously booked in advance, but getting around a country is the tricky part. If you’re travelling to a well-developed country like Australia, then transport links will be ample, but in less developed countries such as Papua New Guinea or Samoa public transport may be less available.
Buses are commonly used by those on gap years, and the location and prices can be researched in advance. Again, bear in mind you may not be able to book seats and plans can change when travelling.
I’d strongly recommend just having a rough plan and not planning every week out in advance for your solo gap year. When I travelled Central America for three months I booked too much and it meant I couldn’t change plans when I met fun people.
Silly thing to do!
6. Sort your visas
Who knew you needed a visa for a holiday to Australia hey? Not me. I got stung for £30 at Heathrow whereas if I’d got it in advance it would’ve been free.
And then there was the time I tried to go to India hoping for a ‘visa on arrival’ which it turned out you had to organise before. I ended up missing my flight and just had to turn around and go home.
Make sure to book your visas well in advance. Then double check.
7. Check the local laws
Spend some time researching local laws for the country or countries you are planning to visit. Some things that are legal in the UK may be banned or illegal abroad so it’s best to check these out beforehand rather than landing yourself in trouble.
Even things we take for granted in the UK, like the way you’re not allowed chewing gum in Singapore, or to stay in a room with someone you’re not married to in Qatar.
8. Get travel insurance
Take your time to research suitable travel insurance policies. Gap year holidays will require a Longstay Policy and while these are offered by most insurers, the cover available will differ greatly. Key things to check on your Longstay travel insurance policy are; medical cover and the amount, cancellation cover and the amount, return journey cover, connecting flight cover, personal possession cover and amount and activity cover.
More information on finding the right travel insurance for your gap year can be found here.
Make sure to choose one that will cover any extreme sports you plan to do while you’re on your gap year.
This post is sponsored by Travel Insurance Explained. They’re a consumer awareness campaign created to be an impartial voice to help us understand travel insurance.
Their goals are to:
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– Explain insurance jargon in everyday terms
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Check out their website for more information.