The ULTIMATE Guide To Planning A Gap Year | Hacks To Help You Out

A gap year is where students take time away from studying before entering the world of work to travel the world and soak up all sorts of exciting experiences and cultures. Many see it as a necessary right of passage and a formative undertaking for any young person wanting to understand the world.  

To help, which we love to do here at Universal, we have a list of essential hacks that make you stress-less and max out on fun, culture and wanderlust vibes. 

1. What kind of traveller are you? 

Before you start planning the trip of a lifetime across the globe, taking in all the sights, tastes and smells of the subcontinent, you need to check in with yourself. You need to do some soul searching and be honest with yourself about what kind of traveller are you? This makes a big difference to the type of trip and how you plan it. Ultimately there are two types of travelling open to you as a gap year student. 

Backpacking 

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The free spirit of the travelling world, wandering the earth with total freedom, no strings attached and no plan set in stone. This may sound romantic and full of enchantment, but it really isn’t for everyone.

If you’re keen on meeting people while you travel flexible with routines and itineraries, you should have no problems. Backpacking is ideal if you’re travelling alone or with a small group of two or three friends.  

Structured and diarised  

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You may want to be a freeform backpacker immediately, but it is a lifestyle that takes some getting used to. You can enjoy meeting new people and all the fun stuff of travelling whilst also enjoying a structure, a plan and maybe some organised trips or experiences.  

We would recommend you need to be really honest with yourselves here. It is one thing fantasising over the freedom that comes with backpacking, but another when you are faced with not knowing where you are going to sleep after you have missed the weekly ferry/bus/plane out of the city/town/village/mountain in a country where you don’t speak the language. 

From our experience, it is always best to plan with more detail for the early stages of your trip and get used to travelling before going complete freeform backpacker. Book some experiences and organised trips for the first week in a new place, get to know the lay of the land and the feel of a country or city. You’ll find these organised tours and trips give you more confidence being in a group and you’ll get to meet people in exactly the same position as you.   

2. Where to? 

choosing where to go abroad travelling

After you have decided how you want to travel, be it structured and itemised stays in five-star hotels or an ad hoc skip and a jump from hostel to hostel, the next thing to decide is where you will be going.  

Now this is the big one. Deciding where to go is a very personal choice. Do your research. Proper research, not just searching #travelgoals on the gram or #gapyearlife on Tiktok.  

Try to read about a country, the culture and history to find places you only dreamed existed. You don’t want to look back at this time thinking, “I wish I had spent less time in the Irish bars of the world!” 

Another option is to research potential gap year programs. There are hundreds of them all across the world which open up budget-friendly travelling options for you and offer one of a kind experiences too. Volunteering for gap year schemes is a great way to give back as well.  

3. Transport 

Flights 

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So, you know where you are going, what you will do, and who you will be whilst travelling – now it’s time to decide how to get there!  

This is where your admin skills will be tested and organisation skills fully employed. Book your flights between countries first. This forms the structure of your trip.  

Pro Tip: it’s best to book these in advance to get the best deals. It is crucial to remember the golden rule of travelling that to enter a country, you must have evidence of a ticket to leave. If you are employing a more relaxed approach, you should investigate flexi-ticket options that give you more flexibility for the return/next leg of your trip.  

Local Transport 

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How to get around once you’ve arrived is also hugely important. Getting to know the transport options for each place you are visiting each country will present its unique transport challenges. Put it this way, some countries will have better bus or rail routes than others.  

Ultimately you should probably know in advance how you intend to travel the 1,000 kilometres from Delhi to the Himalayas once you land in India! 

4. Insurance 

people getting insurance to save themselves

Yes, the scintillating and titillating content keeps on coming! A good and comprehensive travel insurance policy is vital for any would-be Philias Fogg’s among us. 

Read the entire policy, not just the summary and make sure it is applicable for all the countries you are visiting and it covers all the medical requirements you may have too! Insurance is the one thing nobody wants to spend money on but rest assured they’re always thankful when it comes time for a claim! 

5. Visas  

travelling with a visa on a gap year

Visas and international travel go hand in hand. After you’ve worked out your destinations, you should get familiar with the visa requirements for that country.

Some countries need you to apply before you travel either online or at an embassy, and others will grant you a visa at the airport. If you intend to work/volunteer, you may need a different type of visa, so you must check out the specific requirements for each country well in advance of travelling.  

6. Vaccinations 

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Check with your GP and on the NHS website for vaccination information for specific countries. They will tell you what vaccines you need and how long you should get them before your trip to ensure you are protected. You must get these in advance because there are some really nasty diseases, such as malaria, that are avoidable but also super serious if you catch it.   

7. Passport 

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Check it and renew it if you have less than 6 months left or will do at any point during your trip! Invest in a passport cover or carrier if you’re travelling around. It’s not something you want to lose, so best not keep it hanging out of your pocket.  

8. Money 

money for a foreign country

Budgeting for your trip is an essential tool. You don’t want to get halfway across the world to find you’re completely broke from partying, Ubers, hotels, flight upgrades and room service within the first month! We recommend following these simple rules to prevent your money from slipping through your fingers:

1. Do not exchange money at the airport  

It is the worst rate imaginable, and they have a big ol’ commission fee on top. Just don’t do it. 

2. Try not to carry wads of cash 

Although it can be comforting and helps feel prepared for anything, travellers are prime targets pickpockets as you’re carrying loads of stuff and stick out like a sore thumb. Limit your exposure by only taking what you can afford to lose or what your insurance policy will pay out for.  

3. Budget App 

Find a budget app you like and can use. This will help you keep track of your spending and let you know how much you can afford in each place.  

4. Currency Card 

These are amazing for travellers; pre-load them with cash and use them as and when you need. This avoids unexpected bank fees and saves you from carrying your cash-money like Pablo Escobar.  

And that’s a wrap. Gap years can be some of the most rewarding experiences and it doesn’t matter if you do it after or before uni – whatever works for you. Good luck, stay safe and remember “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu 

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