Ask the Experts: Taking a Gap Year Q&A

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Written by: Andrew Tipp

Ask the Gap Year Experts

On Tuesday 6 December took part in a live gap year Q&A on, with questions ranging from budgets, scams, photography, sex, ethics, accommodation, working abroad and round the world tickets. Here is an introduction to the panel and the highlights of the web chat.

The Panel

Macca Sherifi

Macca is a writer and editor on He writes on a myriad of topics, giving the best travel advice in an easy-to-read style. He travelled for 20 months non-stop and has experience of working abroad. In his spare time, he reads about travelling, thinks about travelling, and then travels.

Specialist subjects: Independent backpacking, working abroad and South East Asia

Andrew Tipp

Andy manages the social network, promoting and featuring cool things that site members are doing. He has experience of volunteering from his gap year from when he worked in a school in South Africa. He has also spent time travelling on a more recent backpacking journey around South America.

Specialist subjects: Ethical Volunteering, Southern Africa and backpacking through South America

Tim Fenton

Tim is the general manager of He started out as a print journalist and went on to work for the BBC. Tim has taken a couple of gap years. One when he was 19 driving round Europe in a 2CV with a blow-up tent in the back. The other was with his wife and children when he was 45. His current travel plan is to pioneer the ‘late-career gap’.

Specialist subjects: Career gaps, making breaks and work fit together and travelling with children.

Becky Penfold

Becky works for Round The World Experts (RTWE), the UK’s biggest round the world flight specialists. Becky and RTWE offer prospective gappers a personal service and the widest range of flights along with adventure tours, accommodation and transport for their big adventure.

Specialist subjects: Round the world tickets, deals and group travel.

The Chat

On Tight Budgets…

Lex asked: “Classic Gap Year destinations such as Australia now have a reputation as being pretty expensive places to travel, which are the best countries to travel to if you’re genuinely on a tight budget and want to do things on a shoe string?”

Controlling your budget is important

“Hi Lex, thanks for your question. Yes, you’re right, Australia’s economy is booming at the moment making it expensive to travel around. However, that means other destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia are picking up the slack when it comes to backpackers. One of the cheapest countries is SE Asia is Laos – you can get away with £350 a month if you’re on a tight budget!” – Macca

“Latin America is great value if you’d like to look beyond SE Asia. Bolivia and Peru have some great sights (and sites) to explore. I’d still recommend Australia, but on a shoe string these countries could be great for getting off the beaten track!” – Andy

“Don’t forget there’s plenty of work in Australia. And once you have your Aussie dollars they will buy a lot of fun in Asia.” – Tim

On Avoiding Tourist Traps…

Sarah asked: “Hi everyone! I’ve booked tickets to go to Thailand in the new year but I want to avoid the obvious tourist traps. Do you know of any little gems that I should visit that are not so well known? I’d be quite interested in doing a home stay too.”

Avoid the usual tourist traps

“Hi Sarah, We have some great itineraries around Thailand that include homestays, in particular between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the heart of the countryside. I have done this before and is a great experience I would recommend! South East Asia offers fantastic value for money on accommodation, travel by plane, train or bus!” – Becky

“There are some really good homestays in Kanchanaburi, just four hours west of Bangkok. As regards to islands in the south, I would say Koh Lanta or Koh Chang. Up north, Chang Rai is a really up-and-coming place. Also, another little gem – Lot Buri. Amazing and hardly a tourist in sight!” – Macca

On Travel Photography…

A guest asked: “I’m quite a keen photographer and looking to travel taking photos? Any of you into photography and can suggest some good countries to visit. Can’t go to too many places as on a bit of a budget…”

Where can you get the best travel snaps?

“My tip would be some amazing natural locations. An overland tour of Africa could take you past some awesome places like Victoria Falls, Table Mountain, Safari Parks, etc. Here’s some great advice on travel photography.” – Andy

“Travel and photography come hand-in-hand. It doesn’t matter if you’re travelling all the way to New Zealand or to Norfolk, as long as you’ve got your camera with you you’ll be able to take some amazing photos. Remeber the magic hour – an hour before sunset and the lighting will be just right!” – Macca

“If you look in any Lonely Planet Magazine at their Traveller Souvernir’s pictures, the destinations range from UK, to the plains in Africa, to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s city lights. You need to have your camera to hand anytime, in any location, you never know what moment is round the corner!” – Becky

On Finding a Bunk…

Helen asked: “Hi guys! How do you go about finding accommodation when travelling?”

How can you find a hostel abroad?

“It depends what accommodation type you are looking for whether it’s backpacker hostels, campervans, hotels or motels but internet is everywhere worldwide to jump onto websites such as Don’t forget to ask Round the World Experts about accommodation deals before you leave!” – Becky

“Hi Helen, your guidebook will always give you hints and tips on accommodation. Also, speaking to people on the road always helps and they’ll direct you to some of the best hostels / guesthouses.” – Macca

“For European accommodation, Generator Hostels offer quite a cool-looking app. Ideal if you’re taking a smart phone but not a laptop.” – Tim

On Ethical Volunteering…

Rosie asked: “Hi everyone, as a final year tourism student, I’m researching the ethical issues surrounding volunteering in tourism. What’s your opinion on tour operators offering volunteer opportunities to work with vulnerable people or teaching English, with no previous qualifications, experience or training? Also, do you think these particular opportunities should have a minimum time length applied to them? Thanks!”

Research your volunteering company

“Hi Rosie. This is a great but huge question! Ethical volunteering is a hotly debated right now. To help we’ve written a guide trying to help people differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ volunteering companies. The bottom line is, ask any company to be transparent as to what they’re about and get as much information as you can. You can then make an informed decision!” – Andy

On Managing Your Cash Abroad…

Kate asked: “What is the best way to take money on a long trip abroad? Is it worth getting a credit card? I’ve heard some horror stories involving lost or stolen cards!”

Manage your cash abroad

“I would have a debit card for your main funds, credit card for backup and keep these seperate. Traveller’s cheques though offer insurance are not widely used these days. Check you bank’s policy on charges abroad. Also, take at least £50 cash conveted into the currency of the country you enter to start you off, save a panic on trying to find a cash machine on arrival!” – Becky

“Hi Kate, great question. Credit cards can be quite expensive when withdrawing money and you’ll always be worried about whether you’ve paid it off at the end of every month. It’s best splitting your money up in a number of different areas. Carry some on your in cash, store some in your backpack, have one or two debit cards and a pre-paid card can be really useful too. Moneycorp is probably the best of the pre-paid cards. Here’s a really useful guide to travel money tips – give it a read!” – Macca

On Avoiding Scams…

Lexi Q asked: “How can you avoid getting conned/scammed during your trip?”

How can you avoid being ripped off?

“Really good question. Common sense applies here more often than not. For me I think the important thing is to not take risks that you wouldn’t take back home. Don’t make yourself a target by flashing money or cameras. Don’t venture into riskier parts of cities. Don’t be overly trusting of strangers. Use your instincts. You wouldn’t wander home drunk alone through inner city London, so you shouldn’t do it in La Paz or Buenos Aires! Sometimes people can forget to be sensible as they are out of their normal environment.” – Andy

“You have to be streetwise. It will take you a couple of weeks to settle into backpacking but if you’re safe in the UK then you’ll be safe while travelling. It sounds strange, but sometimes getting conned / scammed can be a good thing because you’ll learn from the experience and won’t let it happen again!” – Macca

On Gadget Safety…

A guest asked: “Is it safe enough to take a netbook on a gap year?”

Take care of your gadgets

“I’ve travelled with an Acer netbook that cost me less than £200 for a couple of years now and it’s been fine. Just don’t expect it to do everything a full-size machine can do. I like the proper keyboard. And don’t forget to back up to memory sticks. And you need a nice, padded, water-proof-ish bag.” – Tim

“As long as you keep it safe, lock up and most importantly – get a comprehensive travel insurance policy to cover this item!” – Becky

On DIY Volunteering vs. ‘Go with a Company’…

Rachel asked: “I’m really interested in volunteering abroad esp. helping with outreach projects. I’m not sure really where to start. Plus should I be paying to volunteer, if so how much? Or is it better to arrange your own volunteering projects?”

Should you pay for volunteering?

“Hiya Rachel. In my opinion, one of the best volunteering companies in the UK are Projects Abroad. They’re really ethical and put a lot of money back into the community. The best place to start is to come to our volunteering section – there are loads of advice guides and information on volunteering and volunteering placements.” – Macca

“You can arrange your own placement or go with a good company. It’s not wrong to pay to volunteer, as in the right hands this money funds infrastructure, wages and development of projects around the world. I’d like to second Macca’a suggestion and also put forward GVI – they’re top guys and volunteering with them would be a great experience.” – Andy

“By booking a volunteer project through a tour company that we can offer will give you not only the best experience, but support network whilst you are away, assistance in your time spent helping in your project, great prices and more. We also book all flights for Projects Abroad – who Marcus has recommended!” – Becky

“It is reasonable to pay, unless you have a highly demanded skill like being a doctor. Effort and involvement are good but what a lot of these projects really need is money. But you can get a bursary.”  – Tim

On the Dangers of South America…

Angie asked: “I want to go to South America next year but I’ve heard that it can be quite dangerous, it’ll be 2 girls travelling so do you think it’s safe enough? Are there any areas we should avoid?”

is South America dangerous?

“Most countries in South America are very safe. Like any countries and cities, there are pockets that are not safe, but you can find out where these are just by asking in hostels, reading online and speaking to locals. You’ll be surprised by just how non-dangerous places can be. They even do very safe tours of the favela slums in Rio de Janeiro now! As mentioned above, just try not to take risks you wouldn’t take at home. Be adventurous, but don’t throw caution completely to the wind! Travelling with a friend will help you feel even more secure. Here’s a range of advice on travel safety.” – Andy

“As with most large cities in South America and around the world there are areas to avoid. So travelling in larger groups and staying aware will always help. South America can be imtimidating at times with language barriers etc but it is such an amzing place never let this deter you. It is one area of the world where I feel a tour can make travel safer, easier and get you to places cheaper than you could do yourself. Recommend G Adventures, Contiki and Intrepid Travel!” – Becky

On Round the World Tickets and InterRailing…

Simon asked: “Is a round the world flight still the cheapest way to travel round the world or is the real advantage it’s convenience? I’m also looking at seeing Europe and wondering about InterRailing? Anyone done it?”

Do we recommend InterRailing?

“Rail Passes are best for travelling around Europe which Round the World Experts can arrange for you! Good prices, good for advance travel budgeting and a real adventure! For round the world travelling, Europe is best done on one trip to and from the UK by flights/rail pass then seperately a Round the World Flight ticket from £749 incl all taxes.” – Becky

“InterRailing is an awesome way to see a lot in a holiday timeframe of a few weeks. We call this a ‘Short Gap’. I’m hoping to do some InterRailing soon too! Here’s a nice little beginner’s guide to InterRailing.” – Andy

“InterRailing is a great experience and a fantastic way to see what Europe has to offer. Make sure you don’t miss Slovenia – it’s an absolute gem!” – Macca

On our Favourite Places…

Tim asked: “I’ve never travelled outside Europe but I’m really keen to when I leave uni. I’m not sure where to go, where would you recommend based on the best places you’ve visited?”

What are our favourite places?

“Wow! What a question! Everyone’s different Tim. My favourite to country to is India. It’s an amazing blend of culture with vibrant colours and the cuisine is out of this world. It’s cheap too – basically, it ticks all the backpacking boxes!” – Macca

“Ghana is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been. I think it offers a taste of real Africa, the people are friendly, there are lots of connections with the UK and it’s getting easier and cheaper to get there. Make sure you eat a bowl of fu-fu!” – Tim

“For a great compact experience of exotic culture, history, sites, food Sri Lanka is awesome.” – Andy

On Africa vs. Asia…

A guest asked: Hi, I am struggling to decide to between Asia and South Africa for my year out volueteering. Do you have any recommendations?

South Africa or Asia?

“Both South Africa and Asia offer different types of volunteering such as working in Orphanages, working with Animals, teaching English and more so depends what you want to get out of this and we can work out what is best for you. Any option is defiantely rewarding!” – Becky

“I’m going to say Asia, more specifically Nepal. You can volunteer in some of the most beautiful little mountain villages with the Himalayas in the background. Also, when you’ve finished your volunteering placement, you can travel around the country and try and tackle Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Base Camp.” – Macca

“I would recommend South Africa for the volunteering – it’s what I did! Absolutely loved it! Great wildlife, culture, food, friendly people. I’ve written a guide to the country here – hope it helps!” – Andy

“For volunteering with animals check out the Great Projects in Malaysian Borneo. It’s a bit different”  – Tim

On Sex and STIs…

Nathan23 asked: “I know it’s a bit of a taboo subject, but having sex whilst travelling is a reality for many people (and not something I want to completely rule out). Is it too dangerous in high risk STD areas (parts of central Africa for example) or is modern contraception a good way of mitigating the risks? Are the high risks in certain places a reality or a myth?”

Make sure you rubber up

“Sex is a reality for travellers. Not for me, as I had a girlfriend (and now a wife) when I was travelling, but yes, backpackers have sex. Sex with each other. Sex with locals. It’s all going on. Safety is the key here. Central and southern Africa have the highest HIV rates in the world. Really do use condoms if you’re going to be getting intimate with anyone – not just in this part of the world but obviously it would be wise to be especially careful here. Here’s some advice on sexual health on your travels.”  – Andy

“Ohhhh! A sexy question. The majority of people who have sex while travelling have it with fellow travellers. The same mantra is used all over the world – WEAR PROTECTION. If you want a better phrase, don’t be a fool; wrap your tool.” – Macca

On the Meaning of Gap Years…

A guest asked: “Does a gap year have to be a year?”

What is the meaning of gap years?

“No! It doesn’t! It can be any thing, any where for any time. I would say this but there’s a really fantastic guide, aptly titled What is a Gap Year? That pretty much answers all your questions!” – Macca

“Gap Year can be as long as you wish, a month, 3 months, a year or more you decide! Most Round the World Tickets are flexible to change whilst away allowing your freedom and flexibility.” – Becky

On Epic Travelling…

Amy asked: “Is seeing all seven continents a realistic goal these days, or is Antarctica still too expensive and difficult to be realistic?”

Can you see all 7 continents in one trip?

“You can certainly see all seven continents, but be make sure you’ve saved up a lot more. Antarctica is still speciality travel, and a single trip there can cost thousands on its own.” – Andy

“It’s totally achieveable, but budget around £4,000 for a vsiit to Antartica from Argentina alone excluding all other flights around the world.” Becky

On USA Adventures…

Agnes asked: “Hi I’m looking to blend a year of travel around the USA visitng friends with some work before (maybe) getting a real job! What, in your opinion(s), are the advantages/disadvantages of trying to tailor any work I do towards my potential career? I.e I would like to work in Culture/cultural management – should I try to enhance my CV with festival/theatre/gallery work or just do what I can find? Also, any general advice on travelling/working/visas in the US much appreciated.”

You can travel and work in the US

“Getting good experience of working abroad on your gap year is a great idea. It’s harder to do than, say, working in a bar, but well worth it if you’re serious about pursuing a career in that field. It’s brilliant on your CV and could give you the edge over other candidates going for the same thing! Random work may not help you with this. I’d recommend attacking as many relevant people as you can and get that experience!” – Andy

“Working on your gap year to further your career is a really great thing to do and further your CV. We did some research on this – basically, going for a working gap year is a good thing!” – Macca

On Meeting Up with Other Travellers…

Clare asked: “I am travelling for a few months with a friend, then they go home… how easy is it to hook up with other travellers and travel along with them do you think?”

How easy is it to meet up with travellers?

“Very easy! You’ll be rusty at first but after awhile you’ll get into the swing of things. Essentially, you’ll ask yourself the question “Do I want to go home to bed early, guilty for not speaking to anyone or am I going to force myself to speak to that intimidating group of travellers? You’ll always find the courage from somewhere…” – Macca

“I’m sure you will meet lots of people before your friends go home, but get involved, what Marcus said!” – Becky

“It is VERY easy. Just being sociable, friendly and talkative with other travellers is the first step. You’ll find you are heading the same way and want to do similar things and suddenly you have a brand new travel buddy. We’ve put together some tips for meeting people on your travels here. I travelled with people I met at hostels from anything from a few days to a few weeks. It’s like picking up a new best friend every month or so!” – Andy

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