Gap-Year Planning - Advice & Guidance from Projects Abroad Staff
Planning your gap-year should be a huge task; if it isn’t, then you probably aren’t doing it correctly. But where on Earth do you start...?
Well don’t worry because the Projects Abroad staff are coming to your aid with this helpful Gap-Year Planning guide! We can’t promise you that it covers absolutely every eventuality, and it certainly won’t be able to book any flights for you, but it might just set you off on the right track.
Gap Year Planning: Working out your Itinerary
First thing’s first – you need to work out how much money you have available to spend. Whether you are going to be dipping into your savings, earning the money in the first half of your gap-year, or going cap-in-hand to your parents, you need to be realistic about how much you are going to have, because this will be vital in determining both how long you are going to be able to go away, and what your expected standard of living is going to be whilst you are away.
Once you know how much money you have, you are going to want to work out where you want to go. If you are reading this page then it is probably because you want to spend part of your gap-year volunteering on one of our projects, in which case you can click on the Projects section at the top of the page; that way you can choose a type of project and see where exactly we run this type of project. Alternatively you may already have a destination in mind, in which case you can click on the Destinations section; then you can find out the projects that are available there. We also have information on travel and tourism opportunities, both within the chosen destination and beyond.
If you are planning on volunteering, it would be a good idea to sort this out first. You do not have to commit to anything at this early stage but working out in your own head what you want to do, where, and when will make the rest of the plans fit into place much more easily. A good place to start is to take a look at our Prices page, by clicking the link at the top of the screen. Remember that our prices include your accommodation, food and insurance for the time that you are volunteering.
Your flight costs are going to be another big expense and should therefore be worked out at the beginning. Again, you don’t have to commit any money at this stage (in fact we would ask you not to confirm flights relevant to your volunteering period until you have received full acceptance from us that we have a place for you) but getting an idea of how much you are going to be required to spend is going to help immensely. If you wish, Projects Abroad can sort out your flights for you; the advantage of this is that you let us do all that hard work (you can find out more by clicking on the Prices link at the top of the page and then selecting “Flight Prices” from the left-hand menu bar). Or you may be getting a “Round-the-World” ticket. Or you may be able to use collected “Air Miles” to reduce the cost of a ticket. There are many options and it can be a minefield, but take time to look around and you will reap the rewards!
When you have planned out the air-travel, you are probably going to want to work out the overland travel possibilities. There is unlikely to be too many things that you can book in advance – perhaps only the odd lengthy train or boat journey – but what you want to work out is whether it is actually both possible and realistic to cover the distances between flights in the time you have set yourself. To do this it is advisable to get hold of a comprehensive, up-to-date travel guide.
A classic mistake is to plan so much travelling that you forget to schedule in time to actually see the places you are arriving in! On the other hand a skilful trick – which is particularly helpful for those people on a tight budget – is to schedule night buses and trains in for long journeys; this way you save money that you would have spent on accommodation. Please consider the safety of travelling by night in certain destinations and avoid travelling alone at night. If you do decide that you are going to book a ticket in advance, then do your best to ensure that the ticket is flexible; gap-year travelling can be unpredictable and you don’t want to change your plans but then find that you can’t change your ticket.
So you know where you want to go, when you want to go there and that this plan is achievable. Your only real remaining logistical barrier is getting your visas sorted out for your destination countries. If you are a British citizen you are very lucky, in that you can travel to a number of countries without getting a visa in advance. But there are still many countries where it is not so easy, and every country’s rules are different. Projects Abroad will be able to assist you in obtaining a visa for the destinations that you are volunteering in; this process takes place after you have been accepted. Please be aware that some countries will charge for a visa.
The last major part of your itinerary will be looking at where you are going to be staying, as this will be a major part of your daily costs. On a gap-year you are probably going to be looking at “budget” accommodation for the most part, and the basic hostel dorm-room is about as budget as you are going to get.
However there may be days in your itinerary when you want a little bit more comfort or security – say, for example, if you arrive in a new location late at night. In these circumstances it is often advisable to book in advance. Advance bookings can usually be made by phone or online. In fact, you may find – as the internet becomes increasingly accessible to people in the developing world – that you will book more and more of your accommodation online. Please remember that all your accommodation requirements are included for the duration of your Projects Abroad placement.
Gap Year Planning: Important Considerations
Even if you are on a very tight budget, do not consider leaving the country without travel insurance! There are all manner of different types of cover and it is important that you understand what they are offering; the best way to do that is to simply start looking! For the duration of your volunteering placement you will be covered by Projects Abroad’s own insurance, and we can extend this to fit your dates if you require us to. But if not, please ensure that you find a suitable policy - one which includes cover for any activities you are planning on doing, such as horse-riding, white-water rafting, etc.
Immunisations and Vaccinations
If you have never travelled out of Europe before, there are likely to be a number of jabs that you definitely should get, and a few more besides that would be highly recommended. Some of these may be given as part of a programme, over the course of a number of weeks. For this reason it is advisable that you get in touch with your GP as soon as possible. They will also be able to give you advice about protecting yourself against malaria, if you are going to be entering a malaria-risk zone.
Medication and Repeat Prescriptions
If you are taking any medication you will need to speak with your GP about obtaining enough to last you throughout the period you are away, as you may not always be able to get hold of exactly what you require overseas. The same applies to things like disposable contact lenses.
Staying in Contact
It is becoming increasingly easy to remain in close contact with friends and family whilst travelling, but you still need to put a little bit of thought into it – not all mobile phones will work in all countries for example, so you will probably want to check with your mobile network. One of things we actively encourage our volunteers to do when they arrive overseas is to purchase a local SIM card so they can contact other volunteers cheaply, but you should consider using your old SIM card when calling people back home, just make sure before you go that you know how much you will be paying to do so.
Many people also like to set up some sort of ‘blog’, so they can update people on what they are doing without having to write lots of individual emails. And always remember – people still love receiving postcards!
You don’t want to risk losing important information like your insurance details, Projects Abroad staff phone numbers, the phone number of the hotel that you will be staying at when you first arrive, etc. So make copies of everything, ideally one to leave with a trustworthy, easily contactable person back home, and one for you to carry around in a separate bag to the originals.
In many countries you will be expected to carry some form of identification at all times, and failure to produce at least a photocopy of both the main page of your passport (the page with the photograph of you on it) and your visa card/stamp when asked to by a police officer can lead to problems.
Gap-Year Planning: Packing
The old piece of advice concerning packing for travelling is that you should get together everything you think you are going to need, lay it out on the floor, and throw half of it away. Though probably not wise to follow this to the exact letter, it does demonstrate the point that you rarely need or use as much as you think you will.
Of course everybody is different and nobody can tell you exactly what you should and shouldn’t be taking. But most people find that the best recipe for success is “variety”; pack to cover lots of different eventualities, but make sure you don’t pack too many things which cover the same eventuality! For example, what is the point in taking 10 different T-shirts when you can take 3 and a bottle of travel detergent?
It is important to realise that many of the things that you are considering buying for your trip can be easily purchased – often at a much lower price – overseas. But there are a number of key items that you might want to consider, such as: a universal electrical plug adaptor, a universal sink plug (they do exist!), a ball of string (always useful for impromptu washing lines), a sewing kit and a sleeping bag liner or duvet cover (much lighter than a sleeping bag, but affords you protection from dirty mattresses). To help you tailor your packing to your chosen Projects Abroad destination, we will provide you with a kit-list once we have set you up with your personalised “My Projects Abroad” webpage.
In our page on Gap-Year Safety we discuss a number of other items which we feel you should give serious consideration to taking with you. Please follow the link.