Cost of a gap year
There is nothing sexy about a spreadsheet, but it really can be useful when working out what your gap year might cost. In a nutshell, you’ll need to price up your transport, living costs, travel essentials, and activities. Different destinations and parts of the world can vary wildly in costs. Let’s use South East Asia, a very popular choice for travellers on a tight budget, as an example.
Price of a multi-stop ticket
Flights are likely to be the largest expense for your gap year. A multi-stop ticket, also known as a round the world ticket, includes multiple flights (at least three) on a single ticket for one price. This usually means it’s cheaper than piecing it together individually, and still allows for some flexibility and overland travel between flights.
A multi-stop ticket including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore will cost somewhere around £600, depending on your available dates. Being flexible on when you can fly will allow you to get the best price.
Multi-stop tickets across multiple continents, or elsewhere in the world, will usually cost significantly more.
Cost of travel essentials
By travel essentials we mean things like the cost of your backpack and the things you’re going to put inside it. If you’re a first time traveller we recommend picking up a 60L backpack – this should be comfortably big enough to fit everything you need, but not so big that it’ll be a pain to carry around. It’s best to get a good quality bag, so expect to pay around £60.
You will always need to pack significantly less than you think. You’re going somewhere hot, so you shouldn’t need to buy much in the way of new clothes, and hopefully you already have all the tech you need. Anything but the most vital toiletries can be bought once you arrive, and will often be cheaper. Let’s allow £100 to make sure you get everything you need in the way of travel kit.
Depending where you plan to go in these destinations, you may need vaccinations or malaria tablets. Many of the essential vaccinations are free on the NHS. We recommend speaking to your GP or visiting your local travel clinic. Generously, we’ll budget £100 here.
Lastly, you’ll also need travel insurance. Covering a backpacker trip like this for a month is likely to cost between £35-50.
Average cost for travel essentials: around £300.
Living costs abroad
The beauty of South East Asia is that living costs are incredibly cheap. Your biggest expense is likely to be accommodation. In Thailand, a hostel dorm will usually cost between £5-8 per night, rising to £8-12 per night if you’re in capital city Bangkok. Private rooms can start as low as £7 per night.
Hostels in Singapore are a little more expensive, dormitory accommodation coming in at somewhere between £7-13. For the entire trip, we’ll take £9 as the average per night expense.
Other main expenses are food and getting around a destination. If you stick to street food (often the most delicious, trust us) and cheap cafes and restaurants, you can eat for as little as £4 per day. Beer will be somewhere around £1 a pop. Local transport is very cheap, and you’ll often be able to walk. So let’s say an average of £6 a day for both food and transport.
Gap year activities
There’s no point going travelling if you’re not going to get out, see the sights, and enjoy yourself. It’s here that budgeting an exact amount can be difficult. Generally speaking, entrance fees across South East Asia are cheap, and a lot of days will be spent doing entirely free stuff like lounging on the beach. It’s really cool stuff like taking a day tour, hiring a jet ski, or walking with elephants that will cost a bit more. There should definitely be money in your budget for these.
There’s no need to plan out every single day, but researching ahead of time and working out what you might want to do in different destinations can give you a good idea of what you’re likely to spend. Day tours generally cost around £20-30, while common activities can vary from £10-40. If you’re all about seeing the sights and doing adrenaline activities, expect to spend more; if beaches and hiking are more your thing, you’ll spend less. Most backpackers will likely do a little bit of everything. It’s always worth having a little leeway in your budget so you won’t miss out if an exciting opportunity arises. Let’s guesstimate at somewhere between £60-80 per week for activities.
So what’s the damage?
We’ll base our total on a month spent travelling in South East Asia. If you’re travelling for longer, this will still give you a good idea of what it’s likely to cost.
Multi-stop ticket = £600
Travel essentials = £300
Living costs = £450
Activities = £240
Grand total = £1,590
We must stress this is a rough estimate, based on quite a tightly budgeted trip. Still, it shows that a gap year can be affordable if you have enough time to save. If you’re really thrifty, you could probably do it for less.
As mentioned before, expect to pay more for wider-ranging trips and more expensive destinations.
Saving for travelling
There are loads of different ways you can save the money to go travelling. The most obvious is to get a job. Even if you just pick up 10 or 15 hours a week working behind a bar, you can begin aiming for your target budget. It may not be your dream job, but having a goal to work toward will make it far easier to put up with. Trust us, it’s worth it when you’re lying on a beach in Thailand!
Once you have an income, you need to tighten your belt. There are all sorts of ways you can save money: buy a second-hand bike to save on bus fare or Uber rides. Cancel your Netflix subscription. Switch to own-brand food at the supermarket. Sacrifice the odd night out here and there (or only drink water). If you’re not still living at home and going back is an option, strongly consider it. Life may become a little miserable for a while, but again, just think of that beach.
There are other ways to raise money to afford a gap year. Hold a bake sale, sell clothes you no longer wear, offer to babysit for the neighbours, get an advance on your birthday and Christmas presents, ask your parents to put all their lose change in a jar. Basically, leave your dignity at the door and do whatever it takes to fundraise!
Earning money on your travels
If you want to travel for longer, picking up some paid work along the way is the best means of keeping you on the road. Essentially you’ll be topping up your budget as you go, without ever needing to head back home.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of jobs travellers can pick up. Casual work – jobs where you can stay for a short time before moving on, such as bar work or other hospitality work – is more difficult to find as usually you will need a visa that allows you to work. This is most common in Australia, where the prevalence of working holiday visas means travellers are able to choose from a wide range of temporary jobs, including nanny jobs, teaching, or summer camp work. This allows for flexibility in your travel plans – travel a bit, work a bit, travel some more, and so on.
The other way is to factor a more permanent job or placement into your trip. This might be working a ski season in Canada, or teaching English as a foreign language in Asia. You’ll stay in one location, giving you the chance to live like a local and explore in greater depth during your time off. These types of jobs often include accommodation, which will significantly reduce your day-to-day costs, giving you the chance to save plenty of your wages. As soon as the job’s term is over, you’ll have both the freedom and budget to embark on the next leg of your trip.
How to avoid scams abroad
Unfortunately the popularity of some destinations means some people will try and take advantage of travellers. When you’re new to a country and still settling in, it can be easy to fall foul of unscrupulous people, especially if you’re a first-time traveller. Learn to trust your common sense – if something doesn’t feel right, just walk away. Don’t let anybody pressure you into a decision. If you’re really unsure, ask a fellow traveller or at the front desk of your hostel.
Here are a few common scams to look out for while travelling:
Broken taxi meter – Before getting into a taxi, check that there is a working meter. If there isn’t, the driver may try and charge you an extortionate fare. If you have no other choice but to take an unmetered cab, agree a fare before you start the journey. Be particularly wary of drivers near airports and train stations for this one.
Fake tickets – If someone (often a taxi driver) offers you a price on transport or attraction tickets that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let them take you to their ‘travel agent’ friend. Try and find the official ticket office or website.
‘Closed’ hotels – Another one to look out for with cab drivers, this involves them telling you that your hotel is closed or overbooked – this is common in India. They’ll proceed to try and take you somewhere else that is often more expensive. If you stay, they’ll get a cut of your fee.
Invitations to bars or clubs – This one tends to be aimed at men, and is most common in Asia. You’ll be approached on the street by a local woman and invited to a nearby bar. After some drinks, you’ll be saddled with a large bill (and the woman will be nowhere in sight).
Exchanging money – If you go somewhere local to change money, always watch carefully when they count out your notes. Once the money has been handed to you, count it again in front of them. Sometimes, after they have counted out the money in front of you, your server will slide it off their desk in such a way that the bottom note falls into a hidden drawer.
In general, keep an eye on your stuff at all times and be aware of pickpockets. If you’re careful, you won’t have any problems!