I know that the excitement of planning your first round the world adventure has taken hold of you, and that you are racing ahead thinking of all the places you want to see and things you want to do, but hold on there a minute! There are just a few things you should keep in mind before you start planning your trip.
These are the very basic but still essential things you need to start planning for before anything else.
Here’s the one and only thing you need to know about travel insurance. Get some. It is absolutely essential. I know it’s expensive, I know you probably won’t need it, but it is an essential part of travel. Sometimes accidents do just happen, you may lose your bag or become ill, maybe even seriously injured. It is unlikely, but not impossible, so don’t take the chance. It seriously isn’t worth it. Medical costs abroad can run into the tens of thousands, even more if you need to be repatriated. If you travel without insurance, then you can’t complain when you get stuck with a medical bill the size of an average mortgage.
Make sure that the policy is specifically right for you. Read the fine print and make sure that it covers you for all the activities that you want to do when you are on your trip, and ensure that it lasts the full length of your trip too. There is no point in getting insurance for a month if you are going away for two or three, you simply may as well not be covered at all.
An important note to consider is that many insurance policies do not cover you for electronic items, so if you plan on taking your camera, laptop or fancy new iPad with you, you may need a separate insurance policy.
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
Travel health is an important but often neglected part of the travel planning process, and it is extremely important that you start thinking about what vaccinations you need to protect yourself from dependent on where you are going and your past medical history. If you have not had any travel vaccinations at all, then now is the time to start getting them, while you are in the initial planning stages of your trip. Some vaccinations may require booster shots spaced weeks apart, and if you need more than one vaccination then you are talking even more time. So don’t leave it till a few days before you are about to leave, it will be too late. When you have decided where in the world you want to go, go and visit your GP, nurse specialist or travel clinic straight away.
There is a general rule amongst backpackers when packing for their trip, pack what you think you need, take half out, then halve it again.
As a general rule, I only ever travel with about a week’s worth of clothes, plus a few extra essentials such as my first aid kit, small wash kit and so on. Obviously your own personal packing list will be unique to you as an individual as well as dependent on where you are going, but you should be able to fit it all into a small to medium sized backpack with room to spare.
Remember, you will be carrying your home away from home on your back for a long time, you don’t want to lug anything about that you can barely carry.
One of the most fundamental mistakes most people make when they start out planning their trip is to try and fit way too much into far too little time. They may only have a month off, but they’ll still try and fit an entire round the world trip into it.
Sure it’s possible to travel the world in a couple of months. Phileas Fogg did it in 80 days, right? But you’ll only ever see a snapshot of each country or continent you visit, you will rush through the places you do see and will spend half of your time in transit. Do you really want the memories of your backpacking adventure to be of airport departure lounges and long trips on overnight coaches? On top of all that you will be exhausted if you try and rush through everywhere, you simply won’t have time to recharge yourself before having to run off to the next destination.
Instead of rushing through every destination, take your time, travel slow and explore it thoroughly instead. Of course that means you won’t pick up as many stamps in your passport, but it also means you will get to explore the countries that you visit fully, you get to see the whole country and really get a feel for the place, get a deeper understanding of the people and the culture and see sights that most tourists never do.
Travelling smart is about much more than just travelling slowly, you also have to think about your route and limiting the places you visit on any one trip too. I know that sounds counter intuitive, surely you want to visit as many places as possible right? Well not necessarily.
On average I only ever suggest spending one month minimum, and I do mean minimum, per country. Some places such as Brazil or Indonesia are so vast they require even more time. To try and see them in less time than that is impractical at best unless you limit yourself to one region or a place or two within that country and accept you will not see it all. In practice, that means if you have 6 months or a year to travel, you should limit yourself to 6 or 12 countries maximum, one or two less if possible. Just give yourself time to relax (it is still a holiday remember) and see and take in some of the amazing places you are visiting.
Most traditional round the world routes will take you to one country on each continent on a pre set route and this is the mindset that a lot of backpackers have been programmed into. A very typical route involves flying to one country in the Middle East, one city in SE Asia, Australia for a bit, then onto LA and back home. There is nothing wrong with this of course if this is what you choose to do, but there is a better way. Round the world does not have to be taken as gospel. You really don’t have to literally travel around the world. That is not what backpacking is all about. If you have 6 to 12 countries to visit in 6 to 12 months, why not cluster those countries together instead of taking long jumps across oceans and continents? Consider exploring one (or maybe two if you have 12 months) region thoroughly instead. In 6 months you can explore the majority of South East Asia, South America or sub Saharan Africa, but not all three.
Yes this way you will miss out on seeing those other regions, but you will have seen the whole of SE Asia or South America instead of just seeing Thailand or Peru, and those other continents will always be there for another trip.
Travelling this way minimises your transit time, cuts down significantly on the cost (it is much easier getting a boat, bus or train across the Thai border into Malaysia as it is to fly from Bangkok to LA for example)! Cuts down on culture shock and allows you to explore countries much more thoroughly and easily.
Keep things fluid.
In keeping with the travel slow theme, when you are planning your trip you also have to plan not to plan. It sounds strange but it is actually quite simple.
A lot of people try to pack a lot into every single day before they even leave. It is understandable I suppose, you want to see as much as possible in the time you have. But don’t forget to factor in the transit days between places (getting from place to place can take an entire day sometimes), or even rest days. The longer you travel, the more of these you will need. Some days you may just want to sit on a beach and read a book. You may find that you arrive on an island and love it so much you want to spend an extra week there just to relax or get your PADI certificate, or you may find that you don’t like a particular city as much as you thought you would and want to leave earlier, all of these are fine and valid choices, and they happen a lot when you are on the road. Plans do change, often. And a fixed, tight itinerary does not allow for that. So be flexible.
There is nothing wrong with having a rough plan in mind, in fact it is a good idea to have a rough idea of what you want to see and do in any given country, but leave the plan fluid. Keep a lot of days free to just do with as you please. They will get filled up easily on the ground believe me.
I hope this has given you a basic understanding of the things you need to consider before you start to plan your gap year. So what are you waiting for? Decide where you want to go and get planning!