How to Plan a Short Gap
A gapyear.com guide to prepping your concentrated gap year
So you know what a short gap is and you've decided that it's for you. Awesome! But what do you do now? How do you go about planning your short gap? Here's some advice for getting a big return on your short timeframe.
The planning stage of the short gap is perhaps the most important, because it allows you to make the most of the limited time you have. Planning a short gap doesn't mean sticking rigidly to a set itinerary, but having a plan in mind which includes your must-visit locations and doing plenty of research to make the most of your time is really important. Of course, once you arrive you can throw all your plans out of the window if you want!
To make the most of your short gap it's best to research flights as far in advance as possible. Airlines occasionally offer special last-minute discounts, but these are unpredictable and are usually the worst route options - possibly incorporating long or multiple stopovers, touchdowns or tight connections. Special discounts are worth looking out for just in case you're to take a spontaneous trip away though, or just to inspire you for the next trip!
Flight schedules are released 11 months prior to departure so as soon as you know when you want to travel, start your research. Check out comparison sites like Skyscanner.net which instantly check the prices of flights across many airlines. You can save hundreds of pounds this way and it saves you time-shopping around on lots of airlines (but watch out for added extras that aren't included such as checked baggage fees).
However, depending on the type of short gap you're interested in you may wish to consider what's known as 'open jaw flights'. These are flights that arrive into one destination and depart out of another. If you're travelling to a country like Vietnam, for example, you could fly into Ho Chi Minh City in the South and travel overland north to Hanoi and fly home from there.
Depending on your timeframe and destination this can be the best way to explore more of the country without having to backtrack to your original airport. Open jaw flights may be slightly more expensive than standard return flights but it offers much greater flexibility for you.
Trains and Boats
A short gap doesn't have to involve flights. Overland trips across Europe or even into North Africa can be a fantastic way to enjoy between two and four weeks of short gap adventure!
The most popular method of transport through Europe is InterRailing. Train tickets can usually be purchased no further in advance than three months before departure, but you can check train timetables online to start making plans and thinking about routes. For train travel inside mainland UK, RedSpottedHanky.com is currently the best value online train ticket vendor. It doesn't charge any fees and is easy to navigate and purchase tickets which can be printed out for free at the train station of your choice.
Travel by ferry is also a worthwhile consideration, with lots of options to the Channel Islands, Ireland France and many other destinations. Again, check sailing schedules as soon as possible so you can make plans and remember that weather has a much more obvious impact on travel by sea.
Taking advantage of accommodation-booking tools such as HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com is ideal for the short gap as it enables travellers to book accommodation days, weeks or even months in advance to save precious time searching for accommodation on arrival. This is particularly important if you plan to travel from place to place in your destination country rather than staying put in one city or town, or planning to visit a certain place during a popular festival or celebration (such as Christmas in Sydney or Rio Carnival).
You could also keep your costs down by considering CouchSurfing, which is a great way to meet local people and enjoy a cultural exchange as well as a free couch or floor to sleep on! It is best that you make your arrangements as soon as possible in advance with your potential host, to give them plenty of notice.
The short gap, taken over a daily average, works out slightly more expensive than the average round the world trip because of the initial transportation costs, but the daily cost can be identical to that of the classic gap year.
The main chunk of expenses for your short gap will be the flights or main transportation costs to and from your destination. However, for the short gap you are likely to know your definite departure and return dates so you can book these up early to get the best possible deals.
One of the next most expensive considerations is vaccinations and relevant medication, such as anti-malaria medication. If you're on a very tight budget you may wish to consider carefully where you plan to visit, as the more 'exotic' the country the more vaccines or medication you might need. For example, four weeks travelling through East Africa independently will require almost all of the expensive vaccinations as well as anti-malaria medication. However, if your budget is flexible you might consider these vaccinations an investment for future travel!
Don't forget to factor in the cost of travel insurance. Fortunately for short gappers the insurance policies for two-to-four weeks are generally cheaper than those for longer gaps. Of course the same rules apply; if you want to do any extreme sports or dangerous activities you may need to pay a supplement so check your policy!
One of the bonuses of a short gap is that you can plan visits to many of your places of interest in advance and research prices online so once you arrive you will have an idea of how much to pay, to avoid paying more than a fair price.
To make the most of your short gap you'll need to be smart with your transportation. Save time and money by travelling overnight on sleeper trains or buses. Not only does this mean you don't waste a precious day travelling but you save yourself one night in a hostel! If you can, select direct buses and trains which will save time but may be a little more expensive. Weigh up cost versus time when you arrive.
As with accommodation, there are some times of year (or even times of the week) that it can be very difficult to arrange the transport option you want. For example to get a train in China at the weekend between major transport hubs (e.g. Beijing to Shanghai) you should consider booking as far in advance as possible because the cheapest seats sell out fast. On routes in some countries you find that the next available seat on popular routes is a standing space amongst the luggage and livestock - certainly an adventure, and great for keeping your expenses down!
Consider flying internally. Some countries, particularly in Asia, have an excellent network of budget airlines that operate internally and internationally. Some routes may be competitively priced and rival the cost of other transport methods, particularly when you factor in the time saved travelling but look out for hidden costs such as checked luggage, booking fees and so on. Some of the most useful budget airlines for UK short gappers are Ryanair, easyJet and Air Asia, but research airlines specific to your destination.
Be aware of potential scams and price-hiking with taxi drivers at transport hubs like train and bus stations. Research in advance and, depending on the country, be prepared to negotiate a price before departure. If you have booked your hostel in advance, call or email them for advice on how to get there.
And don't forget your feet! Some of the most memorable gap experiences and memories come from walking to a destination. If the train station or bus station are within walking distance of your hostel, forget the cab, save the pennies and get walking!
Want to know more? Check out this guide about short gaps.
Need to go further? Read more about short gaps.
About the Author: Lexi Quinton
Lexi Quinton works for Different Travel, a charity challenge organisation based in the UK and part of her job includes leading charity challenge expeditions overseas.
Lexi is a gapyear.com moderator, and a very experienced traveller. She's visited more than 40 countries since she started travelling in 2000. Lexi's favourite trip to date is her first gap year, aged 18, when she spent three months living and working in Kenya and is where she fell in love with Africa.
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