12 Things Worth the Splurge on a Gap Year

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Written by: Eleanor Aldridge

Everyone travels on a budget on their gap year. You’ve spent months saving money for your trip of a lifetime and you’re trying to see and do as much as possible.

To bring your dreams to life, you’ll need to set a daily spending target – but beware of getting caught up in counting the pennies. It’s important to allow yourself the odd treat or activity that doesn’t fall into your original plan. After all, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Want to know what’s worth that extra splurge? We’ve picked 12 things that will really enrich your trip.

1. A night out with new friends

We’ve all been there. You’ve just checked your bank balance and hastily retreated to your bunk with a bowl of cheap noodles and a trashy book. Then you discover the group you met earlier are planning a night out. Grab the opportunity before it goes – these could end up being people you stay in touch with for life. The noodles might go cold, but the friendships you forge won’t. You’ll find other ways to scrimp on your trip.

2. A tour of somewhere you can’t experience alone

Travelling solo will only get you so far. Want to go on a safari, take a dive trip, explore the jungle, trek up a mountain or visit remote villages? You’ll need a tour for that. Local guides can often offer insights you’d never get alone. This could be one of the most enriching experiences of your trip and you might meet some great people along the way.

3. An amazing journey

There’s a time and a place for cramped budget flights and 12-hour bus rides. If you’re travelling for a couple of months, you’ll soon perfect the art of sleeping in astonishingly contorted positions. But look out for memorable journeys, too. Take the Trans-Siberian railway, motor down the Mekong, camel trek across the Sahara or cruise to the Galapagos Islands.

Sea lion, Galapagos Islands

4. One really special meal

While some of the tastiest meals you’ll have will be cheap street food, it’s worth blowing the budget once or twice on a terrific meal out. Pick something unique to your destination for an authentic experience you can’t find back home. Feast on Peking duck in China, a parrilla in Argentina, sushi in Japan or tapas in Spain.

5. An unforgettable adventure activity

Spending money on experiences rather than things has never been more popular. That bracelet might fall apart and turn your wrist green, but you’ll never forget an amazing activity. Not brave enough for a bungee jump? There are plenty more thrills out there: rafting, zip-lining, trekking and surfing to name a few.

6. Tickets to a museum, exhibition or performance

Attraction and event tickets can be amazingly expensive. While it might be hard to justify spending your daily food budget on two hours of culture, try to allow time if you’ve got a few days in a city. A weekend in Paris wouldn’t be the same without exploring the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibitions are a highlight in New York, and you could even catch a performance at Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

7. A private hostel room

If you’ve slept on a bus for two days, it might be time to treat yourself. When you’re this short on sleep and sanity, it’s not worth gambling on getting good bunk mates. You’ll still get the hostel experience, just with the assurance of a good night’s kip. Really push the boat out and you could even wash off the bus grime in an en-suite.

8. A good pair of walking boots

Don’t underestimate the importance of shoes. Even if you’re not hiking, you’re going to be walking a hell of a lot more than you expect. Trust us, Havaianas will only get you so far. Invest in a comfortable pair of walking boots or shoes, and they’ll last you for years – not just this trip. No-one enjoys wet feet or hobbling on blisters.

9. Locally-made souvenirs

Be honest. That knock-off souvenir you found in a gift shop doesn’t feel like the real deal, and when you get home, you’ll know it. Buy locally made crafts and not only are you supporting the artisans who made them, you’ll also end up with a much more meaningful gift or keepsake at the end of your trip.

10. A taxi

Hear us out. We’re not suggesting this is how you get around on your gap year, but we bet there’ll be at least one occasion when a taxi is a good idea. Lost at night in a big city? Crossing a border and no buses in sight? Trying to walk along an unsafe main road? It’s time to hail a cab and hang the expense.

11. A homestay

There’s no better way to understand local life and customs than by staying in someone’s home. Whether you spend a night in someone’s spare room through Airbnb or organise a rural homestay off the beaten track, it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.

12. Learning a new skill

Whether you’re into cooking, languages, martial arts or something a bit more unusual, you’re sure to find a way to indulge your hobby while you’re away. Classes might seem eye-wateringly expensive, but you’ll take home not just the memory of the experience, but a host of new skills, too.

Eleanor AldridgeEleanor is the Senior Web Editor at Rough Guides and a freelance writer.

She tweets at @elliealdridge.

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