Preparing for Your Gap Year

Take off!

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Many students finish their final exams with one thought in mind – the epic “gap year” that awaits them. A gap year is a year you spend traveling, before entering the job world. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do this, it will pay off to prepare properly before you get on that plane.

Itinerary

Creating a definite itinerary is important not only for you as the traveller, but for your friends and family, who’ll want to know where you’ll be and when. You’ll certainly get more support from your parents if they know where you’ll be.

Visas

Passport & visa

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Getting visas in order can be the most time-consuming and stressful part of the planning process. The best starting point is to consult the local embassy or consulate of any country you’ll be visiting to find out what the procedure for obtaining a visa is and what the cost will be. Typically you’ll need to pay a fee and complete specific paperwork. You may also need to have a medical examination done.

Accommodation

Many travellers opt for tried-and-tested backpacker accommodation, where you can find cheap beds and interesting people. For good options, you can check websites like www.hostelworld.com.

As an alternative, increasing numbers of travellers are turning to crowd-sourced options like www.couchsurfers.com, where travellers are connected with willing hosts who let them stay in their homes free of charge. With more than 600,000 members around the world, it’s a great option for those on a shoestring budget.

Other options that many may not consider at first are homestays, which involve staying with local families, and working for board, via groups like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Money

Traveller's cheques

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A foreign currency card can save you exorbitant charges on ATM withdrawal fees overseas and currency exchange. You simply obtain the card and load money onto it, online or by phone. You’re then free to swipe and withdraw from it as you please, without absurd banking fees. Traveller’s cheques are another option; they’re not as popular as they used to be, but are a very safe way of carrying your money. Each cheque can be tracked – and if your cheques are stolen, you’ll be refunded their full value.

As well as figuring out how best to carry funds, you should budget carefully for your trip. Look into the cost of living in the cities you’ll be visiting as well as major transportation costs, and estimate your needs accordingly. Even if where you’re going is likely to be very cheap, it’s always a good idea to have some backup funds in case of an emergency.

Health

It’s essential to find out what health risks are associated with the areas you’ll be visiting and what precautions you should take before arriving, including having any recommended jabs. If you do need any inoculations, it’s a good idea to carry a record of the inoculations you’ve received with you – some countries may demand proof of them at border crossings.

It’s also important to arrange travel insurance, to cover you in the event of a medical emergency that your budget doesn’t allow for. For example, a broken leg is likely to set you back at least R200,000 in the United States. Shop around for the best deal, making sure that you’ll be adequately covered for worst-case scenarios. Often travel agents offer travel insurance packages, but be sure to read the fine print!

Working abroad

For some people travelling is not only about seeing new places, but really living the lifestyle they offer. There’s no better way to achieve this than by working abroad. Many young people choose to teach English abroad, while others opt to work in the hospitality industry. Depending on where you’re travelling, outdoor work can be a great idea; skiing and snowboarding jobs in the US and Canada are especially good choices because they often include accommodation. If you’re travelling to Australia or New Zealand, picking fruit is another good outdoors choice.

If you plan to work, make sure you plan ahead and find out whether you need to acquire a working visa for the country you’ll be visiting.

Storing your things

Storage

Image by XtraSpace

Once it’s almost time to head off, you’ll need not only to pack but to store stuff you won’t be taking with you. If you don’t have a safe space to leave your things, a flexible-lease self-storage option may be best option. You can rent a storage unit of the appropriate size for the duration of your trip, knowing that your things will be safe and waiting for you upon your return. XtraSpace is one local storage provider who has branches nationwide: http://www.xtraspace.co.za/

Staying in touch

These days, keeping in touch while abroad is easier than ever. Your life will be simplest if you have a smartphone with Wi-Fi capabilities. You’ll then be able to use e-mail, Skype, Facebook and whatever other instant messaging service you need. However, if you’ll be “off the grid”, you may want to look into buying a phone card or a local SIM card so that you can stay connected even when you’re out of range of a Wi-Fi network.

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