A snap year is quite simply a shorter gap year of anywhere between a month to six months or so, and they are becoming increasingly common in the gap year industry.
Backpacking doesn’t necessarily have to fit into the stereotypical gap year or even an extended trip of 6 months or so, many people, especially professionals fitting travel around a career or those fitting it around a family, are now taking shorter trips – dubbed snap years – and are spending anywhere from one to a few months exploring just one country or part of a particular region. Planning a shorter backpacking trip is in many ways exactly the same as planning a long gap year, but there are some fundamental hints and tips you should be aware of to make your trip successful.
Pre trip planning.
This is essential regardless of what length of trip you go on, and I’m sure after reading all the essential advice in previous pages you all know the basic drill by now, right? Make sure you have comprehensive insurance, get any health issues checked out in advance and ensure all your vaccinations are in place. Get your visas and passports in order and get your budget planned. Got that? Good. So now what do you need to do to make sure your short trip is a good one?
Choose wisely and travel slowly.
Where you choose to go on a shorter trip is essential. Obviously the world is your oyster and which particular country or region you choose to visit is down to you and your own individual tastes and wants, but getting the location right, and more importantly the time spent in that location, is essential to a successful fun and life changing trip. This means picking one specific country to visit, maybe adding another neighbouring country if your visit lasts beyond 2 months, but generally no more than that.
Remember that you are only on a short trip, from 1 to 3 months on average, so that feeling you are getting at the moment where you just want to visit everywhere you possibly can is impractical at best. Getting tickets to Paris, then Thailand, then Sydney and then a few places in South America just because you really want to see it all is best left for a much longer backpacking trip.
That means that backpackers who are only travelling for a short period of time and still want to visit more than one country should stick to regions with countries located next to each other that are quite easy to hop over the border. Europe, South East Asia and South America are perfect for this, which is one of the reasons they are so popular with many backpackers.
On average, I always recommend taking at least (and I do stress that word) one month per country. That should be extended for larger countries such as India or Brazil for example. One of the biggest mistakes many backpackers make when going on a shorter trip (and even some experienced backpackers have been guilty of this), is to try and fit far too much in in far too little time. So many people have a month or maybe two, and try and fit three, four or sometimes even more places into their itinerary, spending a day or two in each place! Sure it is possible, but you will spend most of your time in transit, will be completely exhausted, and won’t be able to see much of the places you are visiting.
Remember, these short snap years are just that, short. So take your time and explore one or maybe two places really well rather than trying to fit it all in. The beauty of snap years is that you can take as many of them as you like, it is easier to arrange the time off for these than it is to take an entire year out, so save the other destinations you want to see for another trip!
Consider your flights.
Short snap years are perfect for exploring one or two places, and this means that which type of flight to get becomes a much simpler choice for you.
There is no real need for an RTW ticket, or a series of connected single tickets, this is a short trip remember?
You could either get a simple return ticket to and from a particular city, then do a loop of the country before heading back to the city you flew into to fly home again. This is one of the most common routes. A popular alternative is to get an open jaw ticket, where you can fly into one city, travel around that country, head overland to another country and fly home from there.
Keep things flexible.
It’s a good idea to research where you want to go beforehand, have a good idea of what you want to see and do and a rough itinerary in mind, but you can go overboard with planning.
I meet a lot of people who have planned for a day here, two days there, and filled up their entire itinerary with a mad dash from site to site. That is mental!
I understand you don’t want to miss anything, but it is my experience that you miss so much more by not being open to the options of changing your plans as needed. Imagine if you hear about an amazing island with a great beach and want to head over there, or meet a group of other backpackers and fancy taking a trekking tour into a jungle with them but you can’t because your booked on a flight somewhere that afternoon. Imagine you find a place and instantly fall in love with it and want to spend an extra couple of days to explore it properly, or maybe you simply want a day to rest and recharge your batteries, but you can’t because your itinerary is solidly fixed and you have to keep moving!
By all means do some planning and have a rough route in mind, but keep things a little flexible too so you are open to new experiences as they present themselves.
Explore more thoroughly.
One of the best things about shorter breaks and taking your time in one or two countries is that it can really feel like you can explore a place more thoroughly. Your entire trip (or most of it) is devoted to that one place, you have more time to specifically spend there and you can really get under the skin of it rather than just seeing the major sights then hopping onto a plane or boat to the next destination. Take your time to explore properly, get lost in a few back streets and find all those little hidden places that most tourists don’t get to, people watch from a cafe or a food court frequented by locals, learn a little of the language and try to speak to people. Your trip will be much more rewarding as a result.