Gap Year Travel and Work

the pinnacles desert, australia

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand. Photo by Blueromulan.

What is a Gap Year?

Gap Year is largely a UK term so some content here is UK specific but generalisations apply to people worldwide who want to take a year off from their current activities, whether it’s school, university, college, work or on retirement.

Life can often conspire to keep you in a work routine or committed to someone or something in a way which will prevent long-term travel, and it usually starts once you begin ‘proper’ work, though it could just as well kick in when you retire, have been ‘let go’, or are between jobs. If you are still in full-time education these years could be your last chance to escape before the work ties begin to tighten.

The head of policy at the UK Institute of Directors, Ruth Lea, says that ‘going to university is not always a golden road to a golden career’ and a year exploring options can offer alternative career paths, as well as broadening the minds of those going on to university or college.

Employers and universities alike favour ‘gappers’ as they are less likely to drop out, have more self confidence, a more realistic global outlook and better personal management skills!

In fact about one million Brits every year fantasise about taking a year out, aka a sabbatical, once in their lives but most feel they can’t afford it even though, on average, gap years cost at least £4, 000 ($8, 000) which could be saved from a part time job over a couple of years or full-time over 6 months.

Alternatively, volunteering or working abroad can hugely reduce costs requiring less investment and offering future CV benefit as well as more personal satisfaction, perhaps, than spending 12 months drunk on a Thai beach.

Some wannabe-gappers even raise money by taking part in a challenging event and getting local sponsors. Again, this looks great on a CV. A good tip in this line is to get local press involved, they love a local fairy story!

Another interesting option is to sniff around charities in your area, such as (in the UK) the Round Table, Rotary or Lions Club. However, those who have been there and done that say the best approach is to create various money-making activities, a few hundred here, a few hundred there and six months later you’re in Belize (even though British Airways has sent your bags to Beijing).

Finally, an important decision awaits: where to go and what to do during your gap year travel?
a) Have a laugh b) see the world c) improve future career prospects? Or all three?

Recently more Gap Year runaways have chosen to avoid the tired old Australia/New Zealand backpacker routes which will tick the laugh box but not the other two, preferring to get involved in volunteer projects in remote areas, or have a year working adventurously – as a language teacher is a popular option, or go on a real adventure such as a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) trip to the Arctic and Antarctic, combining adventure with conservation work.

Preparing for Gap Year travel

• Plan ahead, you may never have so much time again so don’t waste it by going to the wrong place at the right time or vice-versa. You might even think about discussing potential Gap jobs with a career advisor so you can choose one that will best help your future prospects. i. e. think, ‘how will this look on my resumé? ‘ But you don’t have to work all the time! Feel free to be a beach bum for a while too!

• Consider applying for a new job or university/college place before you leave so there’s something interesting to come back to, not a bunch of paperwork. And leave a small ££ stash in the bank back home to keep you in chips after returning from abroad and before the next step is sorted.

• Arrange for your mail to be looked after while you’re on the road. i. e. redirect it to family or friends or even yourself abroad.

• Get a local driving licence, then get an International Licence. Some countries, such as Australia, are perfect for low-traffic cruising in a self-drive car rental or even better, a small camping van. Just watch out for the ‘roos!

• Take separate photocopies of family details, travel insurance, traveller’s cheques, tickets, passport, visas. Store hard copies in your baggage and e-copies online. Free at Dropbox.

Money

These days it’s easy to pay your way in far away places but banks often throw wobblies when cash is suddenly withdrawn from exotic locations by credit card, freezing your funds due to suspected fraud. Whether this happens automatically due to anti-fraud software or by human hand it can be difficult and/or pricey to fix. At the very least you’ll need to call your bank and go through tiresome identity checks, not an easy thing to do if you’re in Chichicastenango. A family member will not be permitted to sort the problem for you unless they share the account.
If a bank card is stolen the bank will probably insist on sending a replacement card ONLY to your home address. Then, if you have obliging friends/relatives there they will have to forward the card and pin code on to you.
Furthermore credit cards are a VERY expensive way to travel and debit cards almost as bad, due to bank charges (Nationwide had the lowest charge of 1% on debit cards, last time we looked), so do not use credit cards at all and debit cards only in extremis.

Note that pre-paid travel cards do not trigger frozen accounts and mostly carry no further charges so this is an increasingly popular way to carry your budget with you, though it’s best not to keep all your eggs in one basket. Consider two prepaid cards from differing organisations kept in different places so if one is lost/stolen the other is still available when you call in to cancel the first.
Have a few dollar bills sewn into a coat lining as well. An old friend almost got it right when he was robbed in Colombia. Thieves drugged him and stole everything except the clothes he was lying in, but his passport was in a secrete pocket sewn into the bottom of his jeans and enabled him to beg his way to Peru where we met.

Health

• Have a health check with your GP before departure and check necessary vaccinations/disease precautions at Britain’s free FitForTravel site. Also see Travel Health.

• Get insurance, you wouldn’t believe the costs of injury in some places abroad – mountain helicopter rescue, for example, could leave you with a £100, 000+ bill. Even a simple broken leg in USA can cost £20, 000 or more. And it’s not just down to adrenalin activities!
Buzzing around on a scooter after a couple of beers can lead to pain and repatriation, and there’s a wide selection of interesting diseases awaiting your hardly used immune system.

• Insurance companies will do all they can to escape paying costs, so:

• tell the truth on the insurance form!• ensure repatriation is included.

• check the countries and activity types listed match your choice of destinations and planned activities.

• check excess charges, limitations and exclusions on the policy.

• carry valuables with you or leave them in a safe, otherwise the insurer may claim the goodies were ‘unattended’. See travel robbery examples.

• if travelling in Europe get a European Health Insurance Card. Free for British travellers.

• consider carrying an old, fake wallet containing old cards and a few bucks to satisfy a mugger.

• finally, a cheap insurance policy may not be worthwhile!

• Don’t forget a simple first aid kit and loo roll if you’re a low rent backpacker.

Smart Phones

• mobile phone users, get your phone unlocked and buy an international sim card or a local one on arrival to keep costs down.
Calling anywhere – local or international – from a UK-based phone when you’re in Kyoto or Kathmandu is going to blow your budget. Alternatively Skype from an iPod, smart phone or laptop in a wifi area.
Do not use internet on mobile phones when abroad (unless you’re in a wifi zone) and without fail TURN OFF DATA ROAMING!

• Pack the minimum, of course. If you can afford it, new technology can help. For example there’s now an excellent microfibre towel that packs tiny, dries fast but covers a lot. Also multi-use trousers that unzip into shorts and dry super fast or camera jackets with a dozen zippered/velcro pockets. Check good online travel clothing shops.

• Be prepared for hostile police/customs/border guards/ embassy staff. They have great power to mess up your life, so be quiet, reasonable and polite even if they are complete tossers and you are a beacon of self-righteous youth.

• Take care on rented scooters and bikes, particularly if you’re not used to driving 2 wheels, gravel rash and broken bones can really cramp your style.

• Respect other cultures. Locals can have enormous pride in apparently dumb things. Restrain yourself from ill-mannered or derogatory comments and wear appropriate clothing in religious surroundings. Never refer to a king (e. g. in Thailand) in a negative fashion nor express doubts about the indigenous religion; Muslims are especially sensitive about the holy Q’uran (Koran) teachings and the Islamic prophet Mohamed.

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