“Agh! Planning my gap year is so overwhelming!” “I don’t know where to start!”
Help is at hand. In this third of four posts on gap year planning, I share hints and tips on gap year research, saving up, and perfect timing. For more on gap year planning, check out the rest of the series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.
R is for Gap Year Research
Not tonnes and tonnes of research about every town, restaurant, hostel, attraction (thereby removing any opportunity for spontaneity), but enough gap year research to avoid making cultural faux pas and to be aware of the safety / security / health situation in any countries you’re planning to visit.
Your Government’s Foreign Office website is a good source of information, though be aware that some Governments can paint a worst-case (rather than realistic) picture of safety and security.
It’s worth checking out your Government doesn’t specifically advise against travelling to (parts of) a specific country. My long-yearned-for trip to Nepal was scuppered in the mid-2000s by this; I postponed until the situation was calmer.
If you ignore Government “don’t go there” advice, you risk invalidating your insurance if anything happens to you / your stuff.
S is for Saving for a Gap Year
If you’ve got a great big wad of money sat in the bank or in investments, then lucky you. What are you waiting for? Skip right over to T.
For most of us, saving for a gap year will be a necessary reality. Whether you’ve decided you want to spend three months in SE Asia, or four months on a photography course in the US/Europe, it’s going to cost you some cash.
With a budget based on your what you want to do, gear you’ll need, insurance, flights, expenses, costs at home, a contingency, and the like; you’ll need to do your gap year research to work out how long it’s going to take you to save up. And possibly – if the answer is ten years – you’re either going to change your expectations or your lifestyle to achieve it.
In all cases, it comes down to two things. Spending less, and making more. It’s up to you whether you want to focus on one, the other, or both.
Saving for a gap year by spending less – some ideas
First, work out what you’re prepared to compromise on to follow your dreams. And what you won’t.
You can go to the extremes on saving if you’re prepared to compromise heavily – never buying an alcoholic drink / latte again, eating only baked beans, never going out with your friends.
Only you know what compromises you’re prepared to make and how long you’re prepared to make them for. Not going out with friends might be realistic for a month, but for six months? A year? Two?
My personal recommendation would be to prioritise disposable income spending on the things you love.
- Doing what you love, but cheaper. If you’ve been a season ticket holder at Everton for ten years and never miss a home game, it’s possibly a step too far to go cold turkey on the footie. However, giving away matches a miss, not buying a match programme, having only one pint after the game instead of three – these might be more reasonable / palatable compromises.
- Volunteer at events. If you’re passionate about music and usually go to three festivals every summer, how about volunteering at one or two of them instead?
New clothes (fewer of them). If you’re planning six months away from work, do you really need three new suits? How many nights in the Himalaya are those killer heels going to come in handy? (If you’re still lusting after then when you return from your gap year, search for them on ebay!)
- Car. Could you get by without a car, or – for two-car households – with one instead of two? If once in a while you genuinely need a car, would it be cheaper overall to hire one, borrow one from a friend (buying short-term insurance) or join a car club? You’ll save money on tax, insurance, petrol, parking; plus a chunk of cash from the sale.
- Gym & other memberships. Do you go? Regularly? If not, ditch the membership. Or learn to love running / cycling. Personally I can only follow this tip in the summer, as I’m a fair weather type when it comes to outdoor exercise.
- Gadgets. That new 52 inch plasma HD TV with 3D system, internet and the ability to make you a cup of coffee may be better than Dave’s, but could your HD-ready Freeview 40 inch version see you through? Is that iPhone upgrade at absolute must-have, or can it wait?
Evaluate whether you need things (eg the laptop you use for your business has blown up), or just want them. If you must buy, can you purchase second-hand, or borrow from a friend for the short-term?
- Socialising. Do you have to have a meal out / big night out with your partner / friends every Saturday night? Could you get by with drinking something cheaper than cocktails? Inviting friends round, bring-and-share picnics – all allow for socialising, but with less expenditure.
Saving for a gap year by earning more – some ideas
- Sell stuff. Clear out your cupboards / wardrobes and get selling your unwanted / unused stuff. Ebay and Gumtree work well; part of your gap year research could include working out how much your old stuff sells for 🙂
- Rainy day savings you’d forgotten about. Did great Aunt Maude buy you some UK Premium Bonds when you were born? How much is in that jar of 50p pieces/quarters you’ve had on the shelf for the last three years?
- Trade services. If you’re a graphic designer, could you design new business cards for your hairdresser as payment for your pricey cut and colour? If you’re a bookkeeper, could you offer your services for local business such as greengrocers, butchers? Get creative about how you use your skills.
- Earn more money. Go for that promotion at work, say you’ll be the first aider (it can attract an extra salary payment, plus you’ll get free training), do a bit of freelance consultancy, or pick up some casual work from a pub / restaurant / shop / mystery shopping. It all adds up.
- Release the equity in your home by re-mortgaging. This one is out of my comfort zone, but if it’s in yours then it’s an option. Take some independent financial advice before committing.
- Rent out your spare room. Or, rent out your home completely and rent a cheaper room yourself elsewhere.
If there are two of you
Keep some relationship harmony by both contributing to the savings pot. One of you may prefer to save, the other to earn more. Both are valid.
What to do with your new-found gap year savings
Add up your estimated total savings/extra earnings for each month.
Set up an automatic direct debit for that amount into a separate gap year savings account that pays interest (more gap year research needed here: the UK has very low interest rates at the moment).
Keeping the money separate means you won’t be tempted by the latest gadget / pair of fab shoes; and you can easily keep track of how much you’ve saved.
T is for Time
If you wait for the mythical “perfect time” to take a gap year, you’ll be waiting forever.
When is it the exact right time to change jobs / move in with your partner / buy a house / have a child? If you have the answers, you’ve got a best-seller on your hands!
There may be better times than others, but if you wait for every single factor to be perfect, you’ll be in for a long wait. If you put off your dreams for the next twenty years and then – for whatever reason – you’re then not able to fulfil them, will you regret it?
With that in mind, once you’ve worked out what you need to save, how much a month you can save, and therefore a date of when you’re as ready as you’re ever going to be, SET THAT DATE. Suddenly it’s all very real – exciting!
The final U to Z instalment of this gap year planning series covers working (as a volunteer or paid), and ideas – how do you go about narrowing them down?
What are your top tips for gap year research? Do you prefer to google, read blogs, or ask friends who’ve done it? Share your ideas below.