“How do I even start to plan my gap year?” “What about a gap year budget?”
You aren’t alone in asking these questions – there can seem like zillions of things to think about when planning a gap year. Do I want to travel, volunteer, learning a new language? How can I save up? What about my job?
In four instalments, I’ll be bringing you an A to Z lowdown on how to plan a gap year that works for you. In this post, it’s the letters A to H, featuring aims, expectations and having a gap year budget.
A is for Aims
Whether you’re thinking about a couple of months or a year, it’s important to know what you want to achieve from your gap year.
Whether it’s to see the world, renovate a house, write a book, teach English abroad, or become a qualified divemaster; have a clear idea about what your aims are. My own aims and objectives evolved over time.
B is for a Gap Year Budget
Once you have an idea about your aims, get some idea of how much it will cost to achieve them.
Having a simple Gap Year budget – costs on a piece of paper / in a spreadsheet – is good start point that may also help you narrow down your options.
When I did a long-term trip in 2007 I really wanted to see both Australia and New Zealand. Writing down the costs helped me realise that visiting both was going to be a financial no-no; meaning I had to decide which was most important to me in the plan for my gap year (Australia won out).
C is for Comfort Zone
Why not use your gap year as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone? Whether it’s going to a country where you don’t speak much of the language, working abroad, or learning to skydive; having an open-minded approach in your gap year planning will expand your options for your break and your future career.
D is for Dreams – go live them!
Do you have a dream? Have you always wanted to hike the Inca Trail? Be a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago? Become a qualified yoga instructor?
Have you consistently put these things on the “one day” list, ruling them out because they take longer than your annual holiday allowance, and never believing you’ll actually do any of them? A gap year is the ideal time to remind yourself of your dream list – and go and DO!
E is for Gap Year Expenses
Yup, all that stuff you need to allow money for, but may well forget. Three things I forgot in my first gap year budget were:
- Medicines and incidentals such as contact lens solution, sunscreen
- Gifts and souvenirs
- Posting parcels (usually of souvenirs) home. Consider cheaper sea mail if you don’t need to see it again for a while.
F is for Foreign Language
If learning a language is a priority for your gap year, keep an open mind about HOW you go about it.
Let’s use an example. You want to improve your Italian. You have three months and your gap year budget is pretty limited. At the end of your break, which of these two folks do you want to be?
“I really wanted to learn Italian, so for my gap year I spent three months on a college course with some extra private tuition at home. I also had a couple of city breaks to Rome in a decent hotel. The course and tuition were pretty intense, but I can now hold a decent conversation in Italian.”
“I really wanted to learn Italian, so whilst I was still working in my last job I bought some audio CDs and joined a local language Meetup group. For my gap year I rented an apartment in a mid-sized Italian town for a couple of months, and joined groups and events with local people. It was a pretty intense approach but I can now hold a decent conversation in Italian and learnt so much culturally as well – my cooking’s come on a treat!”
If you’re thinking you prefer John’s approach, re-read C is for Comfort Zone.
G is for Gear
Depending on your gap year aims, you may need to get yourself some gear – travel stuff, language course books, whatever it is.
If you’re planning a lot of overland travel, a well-fitting rucksack is something I wouldn’t skimp on. Similarly, decent walking boots if you plan to do a lot of hiking.
Yup, you’ve guessed it, add the costs for these to your gap year budget spreadsheet.
Otherwise, most things can be borrowed, requested as Christmas/birthday gifts, or bought cheaply from ebay / gumtree. Similarly, you can sell stuff post-trip. Note to self: I need to sell my Goretex jacket 🙂
H is for Gap Year Health
Look after it. My personal health check-list for any trip:
- When you book your trip: Buy travel insurance that covers you for medical evacuation and any “risky” activities you may be doing. For example, insurers often deem hiking > 3000m as being risky, so check the small print of standard off-the-shelf policies.
- At least a month before: Visit a health centre to get the advice of a healthcare professional on vaccinations and any anti-malarials / other medicines for your trip. Arrange to get said vaccinations and medication well in advance (some can take a while to kick in). If you’re going to be away for months rather than weeks, make sure you’re up to date with optical and dental appointments.
- Take with you: A first aid kit, prescription medications with their packaging, a EU health card for EU residents, copy of travel insurance policy and their contact details (I put the latter three in my hand luggage).
In the next I to Q installment of gap year planning, I’ll cover your job, your mortgage, and new experiences.