Whether you’ve bundled up your 10-week-old baby to go backpacking or are headed through the dusty Steppes of Central Asia in a post-war Citroën 2CV, taking a gap year is no longer the preserve of the spotty school leaver who seeks to find himself at the bottom of a pint of Fosters in London.
Over the past decade, thousands of South African youths have headed north in search of fun, fortune, and a bit of adventure to boot on a gap year. While earning enough to travel the world, making new friends – in some cases, even marrying them and ending up in far-flung parts of the world – and saving so that when they come home with their hard-earned pounds, euros and dollars they have a foothold on the ladder of adulthood. Sometimes they never come back.
The term ‘gap year’ recently made worldwide headlines with the White House announcement that Malia Obama would take one before attending Harvard as a member of class 2021. Harvard reported at the time that it had seen a 33% increase in the number of students taking a gap year. And similarly, MIT has seen deferments double between 2009 and 2010.
Find your purpose whether you’re 20 or 60. A gap year has become attractive for anyone seeking a fresh perspective on life…
In addition to a once in a lifetime experience, a gap year allows the traveller to figure out what they’re passionate about, and sometimes even helps them find their purpose in life.
Today’s gap year traveller takes the form of all ages and contexts, and they travel for entirely different reasons. In fact, research recently released by Sainsbury’s Bank Travel Money reveals that people aged between 26 and 40 are actually the most likely to take a gap year. Reasons vary but include a desire to see the world, wanting to take a break from school, university or a career to gain a fresh perspective and searching for a fresh experience.
Research shows that the most popular destinations for gap years are Europe, USA, South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand and that these adventures are usually funded through savings, working throughout the gap year or through financial support from family.
So you’ve made the decision to take a gap year. Here are some of the key considerations to ensure you get the most out of your trip:
The history of the destination will tell you a great deal about the context and culture you will encounter when you’re there. So, take the time to brush up on a place’s cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies, in addition to learning a bit more about the dos and don’ts. Planning a gap year shouldn’t be rushed. Take the time to plan it properly and become a paper-based expert on where you are going before you don that backpack.
Gap year travellers report that one of their greatest stresses while travelling is whether they’ll have enough money. Among the measures you can take to save before and during a gap year, include giving yourself a weekly budget so you know how much money you need for each week, try to cut out vices like alcohol, clothes or cigarettes, and work while you’re on the road or volunteer for free things.
Travel insurance, and the right travel insurance, is one of the most important considerations for any gap year plan. If anything happens while you’re away, you want the peace of mind that if anything does go wrong, you will save a lot of money, hassle, and time. Ensure that your travel insurance takes into account age limits, trip duration, destinations, adventure activities, and working and volunteering for example.
Speak to an accredited tour operator and travel agent to ensure you have the right travel documentation and entrust your travel arrangements in the hands of an expert. An accredited travel advisor can ensure that all the details like connecting flight times, transfers, vaccinations, visas, and other travel advice are taken care of before you embark on your once in a lifetime adventure. Pre-empting any possible pain points on the road can be the difference between incredible memories and days wishing you had stayed home.
Whether you need a quick introduction to your chosen destination to get the lay of the land or are taking a break during your gap year to see other destinations, group travel is a great way to go when you’re ‘flying solo’. Everything is organised on your behalf, and you’ll get to see elements of the destination you would ordinarily not experience if you were travelling on your own. There are hundreds of guided holidays offered by trusted organisations like Contiki for younger travellers and Trafalgar, ideal for all ages, revealing a myriad of experiences, destinations, and opportunities to make lifelong memories and friends. Want to have dinner in the Vatican? How about lunch on a pirate island? A Trafalgar guided holiday offers a range of specially crafted itineraries that feature exclusive experiences you’ll get to enjoy with new friends.
Travelling solo often makes one more cautious and reticent than you really need to be. Taking into account your safety and sensibility, do not miss the opportunities meeting new people and experiencing new things. Ask questions, be curious, and be open to adventures you wouldn’t necessarily pursue at home, but above all be safe.