“How do I plan my gap year?” “Do I even want to have all those stereotypical gap year experiences? I’m 35, for heavens sake!”
How do you decide what to focus on in your gap year?
In the second of four posts on gap year planning, I share tips and advice on your job, your loved ones(s), your mortgage and new gap year experiences. For more gap year planning, check out Part 1 (A to H), Part 3 (R to T) and Part 4 (U to Z).
I is for Gap Year Itinerary
You’ve got a big long list of places you want to go to, and new gap year experiences you want to take part in. Now what? How do you plan your gap year for the best time to go somewhere, how many countries to visit, and what a good itinerary looks like? Factors will be down to your own preference, but a few common ones to consider are:
- Monsoon/rainy seasons
- Major festivals and events (to take part in or avoid – depending on your preference and budget)
- High seasons and the impact on cost
- Flight tickets, particularly for Round the World flights – check out a few sample itineraries and their rules about backtracking / number of continents visited – all of these things impact their cost.
J is for your current Job
What do you do with it?
Do you quit? If you decide to quit, be prepared for lots of envious comments about your plans from your colleagues. Practically, though, don’t forget to put a bit of extra contingency in your gap year budget to cover you when you return from your adventures.
Do you ask for a sabbatical? And what if your company doesn’t have a sabbatical policy? Do you even WANT to return to work there? Do you want a different career altogether? These are all prompting questions to help you decide whether to pursue the sabbatical route.
If you’re UK based, many public sector organisations have unpaid sabbatical policies. Intranets and HR departments should have a copy. Sabbaticals are less common in the private sector but not unheard of. Those achieving a high Best Companies to Work For classification are more likely to have a policy. Here’s some companies with sabbatical policies in Europe and North America.
If you want to go down the “ask for a sabbatical where there’s no policy” route, you’ll need to pitch the benefits of your gap year – and a proposal of how your job would be managed in your absence. If this is something you want to do, it’s best to suss out your manager several months (ie at least 6) before you want the time off. In Australia, sabbaticals are more common generally after a certain length of service.
K is for Keeping in Touch
If you decide to travel as part of your gap year plans, be aware of crazy mobile (cell) roaming charges. They may not be so prohibitive in neighbouring countries (eg Europe if you’re UK based), but head off to Cambodia or Colombia and you’re going to be in for a costly shock if you constantly post photos to Facebook without using wifi.
A few options for keeping in touch:
- Internet cafés – on the decrease now wifi is becoming more ubiquitous, but still handy. Uncheck those pesky “remember me” login boxes, and clear your browser history after use.
- Skype – either from your device for lower call rates, or from an internet café.
- Wifi – if it’s free public wifi you might want to avoid visiting websites that hold your secure information, eg internet banking. Or get a VPN.
- Local SIM cards – useful for unlocked phones to get local rates.
- Pre-buy extra calls/data packages from your provider – not the cheapest option, but cheaper than unplanned charges, and pretty convenient to set up.
L is for Loved ones
What will your loved ones say about your gap year plans?
Questions my parents asked me when I quit my job to travel the world:
- Do you have enough money?
- Where are you going?
- Are you going to be safe?
- Have you sorted some good insurance?
- Do you have a first aid kit?
- How will we keep in touch?
- What about elephants? … They’re dangerous!!
Be prepared to provide reassurance and patiently answer questions about your gap year plans. My mum read travel guidebooks from the library, and went on a computing course to make it easier for her to keep in touch with me on the road.
What if your significant other doesn’t share your gap year aspirations?
If you’re planning a gap year with a loved one, there’s going to be a certain amount of compromise involved. It might mean alternating your accommodation types, or trading tit-for-tat on countries you want to visit.
The question of, “what do I do if I want to go off travelling for 3 months and my partner isn’t able / doesn’t want to come with me”? is one only you can resolve together as a couple.
You could travel for a month, volunteer at home for a month, travel for another month.
Or travel for a month or so, then have a holiday where your partner joins you, then travel for another month or so solo.
There are options, but as with all things relationship, it’s about communicating to help you find gap year experiences and expectations that can work for you both.
M is Mortgage
Do you pay a mortgage or rent? Are you planning to be abroad for 3, 6 or 12 months?
Here are some options to help answer the tricky question of, “What do I do with my home whilst I’m away on a gap year?” All depend on your circumstances and the amount of time you’re planning.
- Save up some extra £, bite the bullet, and pay the mortgage/rent in full
- See if your mortgage has payment holiday options and take advantage
- If leaving your property empty, ask a friend to stay overnight every 30/60 days to keep your home insurance contents policy valid
- Get some house sitters in
- Rent out your home
- Put your stuff in storage and give up your rental lease – eek
N is for New Gap Year Experiences
A gap year is the ideal time to try something NEW – the type of thing you might not ordinarily squeeze in on a two-week holiday. A night or two in a homestay. A local cookery course. A week-long trek rather than a day hike. No matter how large or small, these new gap year experiences will make the memories that will stick with you for a lifetime.
O is for Outcomes
Outcomes. A corporate-speak word, but actually one that’s worthy of some of your time when planning your gap year.
Ask yourself this:
What do you want your life to look like at the end of your gap year?
Do you want to go back to the same (type of) job? Try out a completely different career path? Start a family? Make lifestyle changes? Move abroad?
Say – for example – you’ve always dreamt of a new career. You could use some of your gap year to learn new relevant skills, or enhance existing ones (writing or photography are two examples that spring to mind).
Always fancied relocating some day, but not 100% sold on it? You could use some of your gap year to test out potential destinations. Your gap year experiences could includ renting a house or apartment for a month or two to see how it suits you.
P is for Pets
Got pets? If you plan to be away and have pets that need to be cared for, there are a few non-kennel options. Friends and family are the obvious ones – if you have some big favours to call in. In some cases / countries, you may be able to take pets with you.
An alternative is to hire some house-sitters. Reputable sitters can look after both your house and pets. And your garden too, for good measure.
Q is for Quotes
If you have an “eek, what am I doing!” moment, there are some great quotes that can help provide both inspiration and reassurance.