Planning your first gap year, snap year or round the world adventure is an exciting time. It’s one of the best parts of the whole experience because your head is full of dreams of adventure and plans for where you can go and what you can do! It’s intoxicating! But hold on just a minute, before we get to the exciting part there are a few things to keep in mind before you start that will make the whole planning process easier and will allow you to concentrate much more on the fun stuff!
These are the very basic components of a good travel plan, but are still essential things you need to consider before anything else.
Visas and Routes.
It can be very tempting to collect all the destinations you have ever want to visit and throw them into your travel plan in an attempt to see them all, but that isn’t always the best way. Ask yourself first of all if the time you are taking for your trip is long enough to take in all those destinations, and also consider whether it is practical to fly a route that sees you covering a large amount of distance, but actually seeing very little. Sometimes less is more on a big trip, and there will always be other travel adventures! Visas are another consideration. Try to plan a route for your trip that will minimise the amount of visa hassle – and costs – you will have to contend with.
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 other regions and countries you wanted to visit, 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.
Before you even start saving for your flight, leave some room to save for this too, because here’s the one and only thing you need to know about travel insurance. Get some. It is absolutely essential.
I know you don’t want to, 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.
Are Your Vaccinations Complete And Up To Date?
Travel health is an important but often neglected part of the travel planning process, and it is extremely important that you make sure that you have all the relevant information from a qualified medical professional. Vaccination considerations are essential, and it is important to consider them very early on because if you do need to get some, you will need time to do so. There is no point in leaving it to the last minute. When you have decided where in the world you want to go, go and visit your GP, nurse specialist or travel clinic straight away.
Have You Packed Too Much?
So you have your plan sorted, your vaccinations are all up to date and your insurance and tickets are in hand. It’s time to get your brand new backpack and fill it with all the stuff you’ll need to live on for a few months or even years. But do you really need so much?
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 personal 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 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.
Are You Rushing Too Much?
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 few 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.
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!