Gap years come in all shapes and sizes; this diverse planet of ours is bursting with all sorts of exciting experiences for the energetic young traveller. So, for those attempting to pick from the wealth of horizon-expanding, independence-heightening options, here’s our easy-to-swallow guide to making the most of your gap year.
The travel novice
For first-time travellers, Australia and New Zealand‘s First World comforts, English-speaking natives and tourist-friendly routes make for a welcoming introduction to the backpacking lifestyle. The well-trodden backpacker scene Down Under is littered with new best friends, oodles of breathtaking sights, not to mention frequent opportunities to put your liver through its paces. Active types looking for fresh air and adrenalin kicks will find New Zealand has got it well and truly covered.
Friendly and well-travelled staff are more than willing to help the first-time traveller plan their virgin voyage.
The lone traveller
Travelling alone can be both liberating and terrifying. Getting your TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate before you go is a great way of opening up opportunities. Not only will teaching help keep funds refreshed while you are away, but by working in a foreign-language school you will be instantly connected with like-minded people. Organised tours and treks are also very good ways of becoming part of a group while travelling alone.
Long-standing student travel specialists STA Travel are brimming with options for the solo traveller. Among their range of experiences, they have TEFL courses, organised tours and work placements at a US summer camp.
Whether it’s turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, or learning to scuba dive and preserving coral reefs in the Pacific, there are many ways to top up your green credentials while having the experience of a lifetime. Many charity-led schemes offer board and food in exchange for some good hard graft with like-minded people.
These eco-friendly folk can arrange volunteer work in some of the most remote corners of the world. Ever wondered what it would be like to live with the Maasai warriors in Tanzania? Or what about penguin research in South Africa?
The adventure seeker
For some truly exotic adventure, teeming with all that is weird, wild and wonderful, Asia is an endless pool of opportunity. This intriguing continent is increasingly popular among gappers, with more and more of its verdant pockets and bustling corners becoming travel-friendly. Impressive wildlife, delicious cuisines and a rainbow of traditions amid a striking and diverse backdrop offer satisfaction to the avid explorer.
A travel-savvy team of country specialists are on hand to help adventure seekers build their dream trip from a range of bite-sized travel experiences – including elephant trekking, Himalayan homestays, and everything in between. They cover Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, China, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa.
Gap year essentials…
Passport – (Obviously.) Hide a few photocopies throughout your luggage, separate from the real thing.
Visa – See the visa section of each of our country guides to find out exactly what you need.
Top-notch rucksack – Make sure your new mobile home fits well and is up to the challenge of protecting your belongings from the elements.
Appropriate footwear – Shoddy footwear is the trekker’s worst enemy; a sturdy pair of good quality hiking boots is a must.
Money belt – Keep valuables and essential documents secret and safe in an under-clothes money belt.
Antibacterial hand gel – Keep eager germs at bay.
High factor sun block – Sunburn: it ain’t pretty and it ain’t clever.
First aid kit – Plasters, antiseptic cream, antihistamines, pain killers, laxatives and Imodium: as a boy scout once said, be prepared.