We know a thing or two about backpacking at gapyear.com, and over the years have amassed something of an encyclopaedia on all things travelling. Although us travel-obsessed folks lucky enough to work at HQ produce a fair amount of content ourselves, the vast majority of what appears comes from you, the readers and fans of the site, and sometimes the odd health professional here and there.
All the articles on gapyear.com are awesome, but we thought it would be a good idea to reveal what we believe to be the crème de la crème, the articles which are totally outstanding in one way or another. These are the absolute must-reads, whether you’re thinking about taking a gap year, are on one right now, or have returned back to the real world.
- All You Need to Know About Gap Years
- Learn to Develop Mad Skills
- Get Inspired by Beautiful Photo Essays
- Fundraising and Creating a Travel Budget
- What to Take in Your Backpack
- Gappers’ Guides to Amazing Destinations
- Articles about Travel Safety and Travel Health
- The Best and Worst of World Cuisine
- Staying in Backpacker Hostels
- Male and Female Travel
- Ethical Travel and Volunteering
- Truly Epic Adventures
- Earning, Spending and Managing Travel Money
- Snap Back to Reality: After a Gap Year
- Complete Randomness
So, what exactly is the real world? This question was answered with extraordinary eloquence by Ben Allen, who says in this article: “You could argue that the person shunning the job and stable existence for an uncertain life on the road is experiencing more ‘real life’ than the person coming home at 5pm to the same TV show every night and to the same pub every weekend. They’re merely existing, not living.”
Read now: What is the Real World
Insights like that take plenty of thought, which is something Jemma Laing was aiming to get done when she quit her job and travelled to the other side of the world to take a vow of silence in a Thai monastery. In true Eat, Pray, Love style she completed the 10-day meditation course, and although by her own admission she didn’t figure out the meaning of life – “or even learn how to really meditate for more than five minutes” – it’s still a fantastic read.
Read now: 10 Days of Silence
So, What’s it All About?
Find out how all this gap year lark first started, take a look back at gapyear.com itself and see the reasons why you should take a gap year.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. What exactly is a gap year, and where did they come from? Macca Sherifi does a fine job of answering just that: “A gap year is about new challenges and new experiences, seeing new countries and meeting new people. It’s about living life to the full and realising there’s a world of opportunity out there just waiting to be explored.” Read the rest of the article to see the history of the gap year.
Read now: The History of the Gap Year
Gapyear.com has been around so long it has a history of its own; in fact, 2013 marked its 15th birthday! In this article, Cormac Scanlan, who joined ten years ago and is now the COO, takes us through the story of the site, including screen shots of how it looked all the way back in 1999. He says in the article: “I still get excited every time a new piece of content gets added to the site, or we help enable a potential gapper to take the trip of a lifetime… I still get that same buzz out of visiting places vicariously through the eyes, cameras and keyboards of our members.”
Read now: Celebrating 15 Years of Gapyear.com
Like everything else, gap years have certain stereotypical connotations attached to them. These were parodied to hilarious effect in 2010 by viral YouTube video star Matt Lacey, aka Orlando Charmon, the public school buffoon who has amassed more than 5 million views for his chundering exploits around the world. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview Mr Gap Yah himself, and this is what he had to say…
Read now: Gap Year Vs. Gap Yah
Right, so you know what a gap year is, you know what gapyear.com is and you know what to expect in terms of piss-taking from your mates if you decide to go on one. But why exactly should you take a gap year? Well, obviously we’re a bit biased, so Victoria Philpott spoke to five of the world’s most famous travel bloggers to find out (though to be fair they’re probably a bit biased too).
Read now: Should I Go on a Gap Year?
Learning New Skills
Find out how to perfect your writing and photography techniques, and amaze and entertain your friends and family back home with your creativity.
Speaking of bloggers, you’ll probably want to document your trip in some way and these days the best way to do that is through a travel blog. They’re very easy to set up (WordPress is a popular platform) and a really creative way to both record your experiences and keep your family and friends up to date with what you’re doing. In this article Monica Stott (aka The Travel Hack), a hugely successful travel blogger, tells you how to write the perfect blog post.
Read now: How to Write the Perfect Blog Post
Another great way to document your trip – either in conjunction with a blog or as something entirely separate – is photography. In this article Cormac Scanlan, a supremely talented photographer, gives a wealth of advice on how to create amazing travel photography. In his words: “Travel inspires photography and photography inspires travel.”
Read now: The Art of Travel Photography
But what to do with the photos once you’ve taken them? For many, snapping the shot is just the beginning of the creative process. In this article Cormac Scanlan steps in again with his guide on photo editing for beginners. He says: “Digital editing is surprisingly quick to learn. It can be a little daunting if you’ve never done it before, but with a bit of practice it’ll soon become second nature.”
Read now: Photo Editing for Beginners
Amazing Photo Essays
Shots like this are what most amateur travel photographers aspire to: click through and be inspired.
If you need any more inspiration, check out these amazing photo essays. The first is from Louise Denton, whose beautiful shots will convince you that the city of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory is a must-see. Louise says one of the reasons she loves living there is because: “…just half hour out of town is really quite remote, rugged and essentially untouched wilderness.”
View now: A Photo Essay of Darwin
The second is from Tina Thorbun who shares her master class of portrait photography from around the world. Tina says: “You can’t just go up to a stranger and ask to take a close up photo of their face. No, there must be a relationship. The photograph is not just about capturing a moment, it’s about the moments before that make it possible.”
View now: Faces of People Around the World
The third is an interview with Colin Summers, who used photo journalism to bring Cambodian landmines to everyone’s attention. Speaking to Kate Messer, he says: “On the surface the country seemed stable, but still hidden in the countryside were millions of landmines. Unfortunately the landmines can become relocated during the rainy season, so there is no such thing as a safe paddy field.”
View now: Bringing Cambodian Landmines into Focus
The fourth reveals some truly stunning shots which show the culture and scenery of Papua New Guinea in a blaze of exotic colour. The country is one of the most culturally diverse and rural in the world. A staggering 841 separate languages have been recorded for the island nation, and 82% of the population still live off the land.
View now: People & Scenery of Papua New Guinea
Budgeting for Your Trip
Find out top advice on how to create a budget and then how to manage a budget. Very important.
Once you’ve decided to go on a gap year, the next thing to think about is money. How much you need will depend on where you want to visit and what you want to do. Some destinations, like Southeast Asia, are cheaper than others, like Australia and New Zealand, but the initial ticket alone is likely to set you back something in the region of £1000. Fortunately Tori Oram is on hand with her rather epic A – Z of fundraising ideas.
Read now: A – Z of Fundraising Ideas
And once you have that all important cash, you need to figure out some sort of budget; it can be frighteningly easy to blow enormous amounts of money very quickly when you set off on your gap year. In this article Tom Griffiths steps in with top advice on how to budget for your big adventure.
Read now: Creating a Travel Budget
What do I Need, What do I Leave?
Consider these articles the antidotes to the enormous headache that packing for your gap year can create.
Packing. Just one little word, but a world of stress if you don’t do it properly. When deciding what to bring with you, it’s initially tempting to stuff the kitchen fridge into a side pocket, but sooner or later you’ll realise that you’re actually pretty limited. But fear not: Will Jones has put together an A – Z list of backpacking essentials.
Read now: A – Z of Backpacking Essentials
One of the items on that list is, funnily enough, a backpack. First time travellers are usually amazed – and then bewildered – at the sheer array on the market, so gap year veteran Lexi Quinton created her very own guide to choosing a backpack. One less thing to worry about.
Read now: Guide to Choosing a Backpack
So, you’ve got your packing list, and you’ve got your backpack: now to get it all in. In the words of Tom Griffiths, who produced this article: “Packing your backpack is an art. We all do it differently and we all pick up tricks that help us do it efficiently. If you try to stuff everything in as fast as possible with the vain hope it may pack itself, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”
Read now: How to Pack a Backpack
Where in the World?!
You’ll most likely be seeing at least a few different countries and experiencing new cultures on your gap year. We have heaps of country advice across the site, including a series of dedicated country guides written by gappers who have become local experts in these places through extensive first-hand travel and experience. These guides are fully comprehensive, covering everything from food and drink to health to history and politics to must-see sights. The following six are our favourites, complete with advice on what travel books to read and how to become a travel writer.
“Mexico is a friendly and laid back country with strong traditional family values, and it’s welcoming to visitors. Given the massive size of the country, there are understandably hundreds of things to see and do with white sand beaches, dense jungles, gushing waterfalls, stunning colonial towns, snow-capped mountains, delicious food and ancient ruins. There is truly something for every type of visitor.”
Read now: Lexi Quinton’s Guide to Mexico
“Thailand has given me so many unbelievable experiences and I have to say I have fallen head over heels in love with the country. It has so much to explore, including tropical jungles, perfect islands, amazing food, friendly people, cities steeped in history, beautiful mountains and awesome animals. Thailand has a magnetic charm that makes you want to go back again and again.”
Read now: Adam Lunn’s Guide to Thailand
“South Africa is an awesome travel destination. The backpacker trail is well established and thoroughly worn, but there are plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track too, making this a great country for those embarking on their first big trip as well as others seeking a more independent adventure…”
Read now: Andrew Tipp’s Guide to South Africa
“Just the name Brazil can conjure up images of beaches, parties and jungle. From Copacabana to Carnaval to the Amazon, Brazil is everything you would expect and more, Miles of coastline, blue seas backed by lush greenery lead inland to the biggest rainforest in the world – natural beauty flanked by the awe-inspiring sight of the Amazon River…”
Read now: Hannah Simmons’ Guide to Brazil
“Australia is one of the most backpacked countries in the world and there’s plenty of great advice from people who have been there, done that and still not washed the T-shirt. If you have no idea where tto begin with planning your trip to Australia, the following information details the key things to think about.”
Read now: Louise Denton’s Guide to Australia
“Hallo! Und Herzlich Willkommen! Thinking of a trip to Germany? Good choice. It’s historical, beautiful and practical. Whatever your budget, travelling to Germany has plenty to offer backpackers. In many senses, Germany is the true gateway to Europe…”
Read now: Darren Crocker’s Guide to Germany
For more travel inspiration, check out what Macca Sherifi believes are the best travel books ever. He covers such classics as Shantaram, Into the Wild, On the Road, Down Under and The Great Railway Bazaar. Essential reading.
Read now: Top 25 Travel Books
Who knows, maybe once you’ve read the above list you’ll be inspired to become a travel writer yourself! In this article pro writer Andrew Tipp outlines ten tips to help you on your way. He includes everything from subject matter to catchy openings to avoiding those pesky clichés.
Read now: How to Become a Travel Writer
You won’t enjoy your gap year if your mind and body aren’t in good shape. Fortunately we have a collection of doctors on hand to advise.
Your health is one of – if not the – most important factor to consider when you’re abroad. You’ll be exposed to new bugs, climates and cuisine, and your body will inevitably need some time to get used to everything. As with most things, one of the keys to minimising your risks of falling ill is in the preparation before you go, which is why this article by Doctor Seb Kalwij makes our top 50 list.
Read now: Health Preparation Before you Travel
Doctor Seb Kalwij is also responsible for our next article, which is just for the ladies, who for various reasons can have a rougher time of it than the fellas. He gives great information on all manner of topics, including whether anti-malarials affect the pill, how you should take the pill when crossing time zones and whether or not tampons and sanitary towels are available the world over.
Read now: Female Travel Health Advice
Something both boys and girls will almost certainly succumb to at some point is the dreaded travellers’ diarrhoea. This is practically a rite of passage, so to speak, and while there’s not a great deal you can do to prevent it, there are ways you can deal with it to lessen the trauma. This time Doctor Geoff Lewis is on hand with the advice.
Read now: Travellers’ Diarrhoea
And then there’s malaria, a ghastly disease which kills over a million people a year. You may be exposed to the virus on your gap year, especially in tropical regions, so taking the right precautions is essential. Although there’s still no vaccine, there are still plenty of steps you can take which will virtually eliminate your risk of contracting it. All of them can be found in this article by Rob Pineda.
Read now: Guide to Malaria
Food, Glorious Food
One of the best things about travelling is trying all those different and exotic cuisines. Even the dodgy stuff is worth a mouthful, just to say you’ve done it if nothing else.
Phew, well done for making it this far down. You must be getting hungry. Here’s something to whet your appetite and give you some inspiration in the kitchen. It’s a countdown of 11 of the world’s most disgusting delicacies, courtesy of Will Jones, from fertilised duck egg to maggot-infested cheese. Mmmm.
Read now: 11 Dubious World Delicacies
If you don’t have a stomach of cast iron and would really rather make your own food, but currently struggle to create beans on toast, then check out this article. It’s our very own guide to cooking for beginners, complete with step-by-step guides to easy recipes to make on your travels.
Read now: Cooking for Beginners
The Hostel Life
There’s nothing quite like bedding down in a dorm full of total strangers for the night. Fortunately, because of the incredibly social nature of hostels, those strangers will soon be friends.
If you’re in places like Australia, New Zealand, or North America, it’s likely that you’ll be doing most of your cooking in hostel kitchens. For those who have never stayed in a hostel before, the prospect can be quite daunting, but you’ll quickly find out for yourself that they’re incredibly social places and lots of fun! In this article Rachel Ricks has put together an awesome guide for hostel newbies.
Read now: A First Timer’s Guide to a Hostel
One really important thing to remember after checking into a hostel is to check out the escape routes. Believe it or not, over 1,000 travellers are caught up in hostel fires every year. Although most escape unscathed, some are not so lucky. Would you know what to do if a fire broke out? Tom Griffiths does, and you should too.
Read now: Hostel Fire Safety Guide
On a slightly lighter note, this guide by Warrick Howard explains what you can expect when bed time comes in a hostel. It’s hilarious and helpful in equal measure and you should read it without further delay.
Read now: Guide to Sleeping with Stangers
Battle of the Sexes
Essential reading for both males and females.
And especially for the gents, if you’re travelling with a lady friend, you may find that’s she’s less than keen to shack up in a shared hostel dorm. Apparently it’s not conducive to romance. This is just one of the seven commandments which Will Jones has put together to ensue your survival when travelling with a girl.
Read now: Survive Travelling with a Girl
Now for the ladies: don’t leave home before reading this collection of backpacking tips for girls, created by Rihanna Morton. Among her extensive advice she covers health, beauty and safety. For more articles like this make sure you check out our female travel advice section.
Read now: Backpacking Tips for Girls
There are a few things you should take into account before volunteering on your gap year, all of which are conveniently covered in these articles.
Either before they set off or while on their travels, many gappers decide to use some of their time away to do some volunteer work. This could range from caring for lion cubs in Africa to helping construct orphanages in South America. Keep in mind, however, that to avoid getting ripped off or finding yourself on the wrong project, it’s incredibly important to do your research. To that end we’ve produced our own gapyear.com guide to choosing a volunteer placement.
Read now: Choosing a Volunteer Placement
On that note, this article, written by Anne Eyre, is the most thoughtful and insightful comment on volunteering that we have on the site. This is just one her many quotable lines: “I think the assumption that it’s almost normal for so many British middle-class teenagers to volunteer in Africa too closely echoes our imperial past.” To read it will widen your perspective to a panoramic degree.
Gap years are all about experiences, whether you’re hiking through mountains to anicent ruins, cruising around Europe on trains or scuba diving into tropical depths.
Regardless of whether you volunteer, one thing is certain: you’ll have some awesome, unforgettable adventures. In terms of what to do in terms of experiences, the list is pretty much infinite. There are some things, however, which are more popular than others, and one of these is hiking the Inca Trail to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Warrick Howard was lucky enough to do this and wrote this article about his experience.
Read now: Walking the Inca Trail
A completely different kind of trip – but no less fun and enriching – is travelling through Europe by train. Europe not only has some of the grandest cities and architecture in the world, but is also compact and has amazing scenery, making it the perfect continent to explore by rail. This article by Jess Fitch tells you everything you need to know about InterRailing in Europe.
Read now: Beginners’ Guide to InterRailing
Back to Warrick Howard again now with his awesome guide to scuba diving. If you haven’t yet tried scuba and are a reasonably confident swimmer, it’s definitely something you should consider doing on your gap year. Although you can scuba dive anywhere in the world, some places are supremely more enjoyable than others, such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Gulf of Thailand or the Galapagos Islands.
Read now: A Guide to Scuba Diving
Earning While Journeying
These articles are all about how to maintain that all important budget while you’re on the road.
As noted somewhere in the ether that is the top of this page, you can’t go travelling without having some cash to your name. And despite your best efforts at budgeting, the chances are that you’ll have to pause for a little while to reinvigorate the bank balance. With that in mind, this article from Victoria Philpott is a must read.
Read now: 19 Ways to Make Money on your Gap Year
A really cool way to earn some money abroad is to spend a season working as a holiday rep. As Tori Oram, author of this article, says: “Becoming a holiday rep is a fantastic way of working your way around the world and getting paid for it. With sites all over the world and loads of different companies all crying out for staff, it’s extremely easy to get into repping.”
Read now: Work as a Holiday Rep
An alternative way to combine work and travel is to work on a cruise ship. Opportunities abound, as explained by Sandra Bow: “Each year hundreds of people take cruises. Cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism, which is already the world’s largest industry. This means there are an ever-increasing number and range of jobs for people with vastly different skills and experience to work at sea.”
Read now: Work on a Cruise Ship
But it’s not all about making money, you’ll also need to save some too, which is why this article is so helpful. In certain parts of the world, like Asia, South America and Africa, bartering is an entirely normal and expected process when buying things, especially from markets. As a very general rule you should be looking to knock about a third off the initial price, but read this article from Michael Huxley for a full run down of what to expect.
Read now: How to Successfully Haggle
I’m Home… What Now?
Taking a gap year can be great for your job prospects. Perhaps you’ll like travelling so much you’ll get a job on your return solely to save for that next big trip!
Many potential gappers don’t realise this, but taking some time out from your studies to see the world can actually look fantastic on your CV. In this article Anne Eyre explains precisely what taking a gap year can do for your job prospects.
Make sure you also read our dedicated guide to getting a job on your return. There is a huge amount of advice in here, including a step by step guide to creating a killer CV, working out how the skills you’ve gained travelling can be applied to certain careers and finding jobs that aren’t publically advertised.
Read now: Getting a Job when You Return
Anything Completely Random?
Sometimes it’s just nice to speculate.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, lots of sex, nakedness and, um, sex features in this article, where Mary Short put her journalistic hat on and figured out precisely where the ex Italian prime minister would fiend off to if he took a gap year. Think Amsterdam’s Red Light District, love motels in Brazil and naked safaris in Tanzania.
Read now: Berlusconi’s Gap Year
And then we couldn’t help wonder where (the now ex) Pope would take his gap year, if he felt so inclined. This is possibly the only article which addresses Antarctica and Benidorm simultaneously, so you should probably read it for that reason alone.
Read now: Pope Benedict’s Gap Year