1. Discover destinations and experiences
The best way to approach the sometimes overwhelming task of deciding which part of the world to spend your gap year is to think in terms of regions. Once you know which regions you want to visit you can then start thinking about individual countries and what you want to do once in them.
Although there are extraordinary sights and experiences to be had in every continent of the world, the popularity of different regions really depends on how experienced you are as a traveller and what you would like to get out of your gap year.
Australasia and North America
Many first-time backpackers head to Australasia, where countries like Australia and New Zealand are fully Westernised and really popular places for working holidays and independent travel. The same can be said for the USA, where many gappers spend a summer working at a kids camp, or Canada, which is popular for those who want to work a ski season.
South East Asia and the Far East
Slightly more adventurous backpackers are attracted to Asia, particularly the south-eastern corner, where countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam offer exhilarating tours and opportunities to volunteer or teach English. Also popular for those looking to teach English is the far east of Asia, especially in countries like China, Japan and South Korea.
Indian Sub-Continent, Middle East and Africa
The more adventurous still often find themselves in south Asia, in countries like India, which is a great place for volunteering placements, and Nepal, popular for adventure travel like trekking. To the west, the region comprising the Middle East and North Africa, containing countries like Jordan, Israel and Egypt, is perfect for tours, owing to its incredibly rich history and culture.
Africa in general can be a challenging yet rewarding gap year destination, with most opting for overland tours or volunteering projects.
Central America and South America
For many backpackers South America is the final frontier: this continent was made for adventure travel and boasts some of the most spellbinding scenery on the planet. Particularly popular – and with good reason –are Peru, where you’ll find the Inca Trail, Bolivia, where you’ll find the Salar de Uyuni and Brazil, where you’ll find the Amazon Rainforest and Rio de Janeiro.
Depending on which part you visit, Central America can be a volatile place – both in terms of its geography and culture. Countries like Costa Rica and Belize are enormously popular with gappers who want to volunteer on environmental and marine projects, and countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala are brilliant for organised tours.
Our modest little continent is often completely overlooked by people planning a gap year, which in part is due to the difficulty of connecting it to round the world flights, but also because it’s just too obvious. But if you tackle Europe as a single trip rather than part of a larger one you could just have the best time of your life. The most popular way to travel it is by train – or InterRailing as it’s more commonly known.
Most popular gap year ideas
As you can see from the above there are many different ways to spend a gap year - or part of one. Check out the below links to see the most popular types of travel.
For anything else you need, tens of thousands of other travellers are available to help in our travel community. Have a question? It's probably not a new one, so search the messageboards first. If the answer isn't there, then start a new thread.
2. Take care of the essentials
Once you have a reasonably clear plan of where you want to go on your gap year and what you want to do, you’ll need to start thinking about all those practical things that will turn the dream into reality. These include budgeting for your trip, working out what vaccinations (if any) you’ll need, organising your visas, buying travel insurance and deciding what travel kit to bring.
Essentials to get you started
Eight practical things not to overlook...
All of the above are crucially important to get sorted before you leave so don't skip over them!
3. Get in touch and book your trip
Now, this is very important, so listen up.
Planning a gap year is hard work. It’s exciting but stressful, illuminating but bewildering, exhausting but invigorating. We get all that. We’ve been there, we’ve done it. The above steps will guide you in the right direction, but you’re not expected to figure out absolutely everything by yourself.
This is where our partners StudentUniverse come in. These travel experts are here to help you wherever and whenever you need it. Transactions are a minimal part of their job. Between us, the thing that completely sets us apart from the crowd is our vast experience and knowledge. If there’s something we don’t know about gap years and backpacking it’s simply not worth knowing.
You can talk to the folks at StudentUniverse face to face, on the phone, or in an email.
What to Do on a Gap Year, and Where
Once you have a target date to aim for keep that in your mind relentlessly. Everything you earn and spend from this point on comes down to that date. Write down your incoming money, your outgoings and divide them up into necessities and what can be cut, and then think about how you can earn or fundraise more too. You’re going to have to be tough with yourself from now on. Whenever you want a coffee, to go to the cinema or dinner out just remind yourself of ‘that’ date and say no. Remember, a pint of beer in England is two nights’ accommodation in Thailand.
When you know what kind of budget you’re working with you can start to look at where you can afford. Bulging budgets can head to the likes of the South Pacific Islands, Central America and Scandinavia while skinny wallets will want to make a beeline for South East Asia for sure.
There are plenty of ways to make your money go further and there are ways to actually make money on your gap year too. You can try getting a job abroad or volunteering and weave these into planning your trip to stay travelling for longer. You might have to go back and adjust your time frames and budget if you include these in your schedule, but at least you have something to work with.
Check out what our other gappers have been up to recently in our latest updates. How about volunteering with huskies, WOOFing, picking fruit in Australia, teaching English in China or building an orphanage in Cambodia for starters?
Volunteer or work abroad on your gap year
Some volunteering projects and jobs will give you free bed and board – perfect for budget-minded backpackers. As for paid work au pairing and teaching English in Japan or South Korea are two of the most popular opportunities, but check out our jobs pages for more.
Think hard about what you want out of your gap year. It’s a great idea to come back to England with some sort of study or work that will make your CV stand out over your peers. The job market is tough at any time so if you’ve done some valuable work on your travels it will stand you in good stead. Combine relaxed fun with planning for your future and I can guarantee it will be the most rewarding and interesting part of your gap year.
Make sure to check out the gapyear.com guide to volunteering before you commit.
You also don’t have to plan your whole year out now, just an idea of your route would be good, so you’re ready for the next stage.
Trip Essentials for a Year Abroad
Accommodation can be one of the biggest worries and expenses when it comes to planning your gap year. It’s also one of the areas where you can save a lot of money. In the likes of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia you’ll find hostels ridiculously cheap, at around £2 a night. If you have the cash you can get a super swish private room for around £10 each.
If you’re planning a trip to somewhere like Europe, the USA, Canada or Australia you should look at other options like couchsurfing or globalfreeloaders.com to save money. You can stay for free in someone’s spare space, and if you’re lucky they’ll even take you on a private bespoke tour around their neighbourhood too. You could also look at the volunteering and working abroad options I mentioned before, as some will offer free accommodation in return for a few hours work a day. Workaway.info is a great website for this and has some incredible projects.
Keep an open mind when it comes to accommodation – call up your long lost aunties, mum’s friends, old school mates and see if you can crash on their floors. You could even sleep in a tent, but always remember ‘safety first’. If you really don’t feel comfortable in a particular situation, do something about it.
Hostels are always a great bet. There will be lots of other people just like you milling about and lots of social things to join in on. Feeling up for it and cheap then you can stay in a 20-bed dorm, if you’re not, pay a little more and book yourself into a private room.
Don’t go on a gap year without insurance. If anything does happen – theft, broken limbs, lost baggage – it can end up saving you thousands, if not millions. It’s just not worth it.
When you choose an insurance company to go with make sure it covers any extreme sports you plan on doing, and all the countries you’re going to. Many won’t cover Cuba for example, and skydiving and winter sports can need an extra package on top. Take the time to read the small print.
Leave a copy of your agreement at home with your folks, and make sure you email a copy to any friends you’re travelling with too.
Health and safety
Before you go you’ll need to talk to your doctor about travel vaccinations. Don’t skimp on these and make sure you get all the ones the doctor recommends. If you need to take malaria tablets do so religiously and always carry a copy of your immunisation booklet to show if needed. For example, you can’t even get in Kenya if you haven’t been vaccinated for Yellow Fever. They will check and if you don’t have it, they’ll charge you a fortune at the border to get it done there and then.
Don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger – it’s just not worth it. Check the Foreign Office website (fco.gov.uk) before you visit a new destination to double check the safety and political events that may affect the safety of a country.
Have fun when you’re planning your gap year. Look around the site for information on anything you can think of and if you have any questions you can jump on our message boards and our friendly community will get involved.
Travel Articles to Help You Plan Your Trip
The wealth of information and advice contained throughout these pages will be more than enough to get you started with planning your gap year, but when you need something a bit more specific your best bet is to look at our collection of travel articles.
These have all been written by real life backpackers from their extensive first-hand experience and tend to cover specific topics rather than general info. The articles featured below are just a small selection of what’s on offer so be sure to check out our travel articles section for the full spread.
Budgeting and Packing
Use the articles above to help with budgeting and packing.
Routes and Itineraries
Use the articles above to help with routes and itineraries.
Use the articles above to help with planning working holidays.
Use the articles above to help with finding volunteering placements.