The A to Z of gap year planning. Part 4: U to Z

“I’ve got zillions of gap year ideas – how do I narrow them down?”

Visas, work, and what to do with all those gap year ideas – we’ve got it covered in this, the fourth post on gap year planning. If you missed the earlier posts in the series, you can find them right here – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

U is for Uniqueness and Understanding

You have your own beliefs, values, principles and approaches. You’re unique.

plan my gap year ideas: shoes off in Thailand

Thais take their shoes off at temple sites, and visitors should do the same

On your gap year you’ll meet people who have very different approaches and views on life to you. Whether that’s at a market in Asia, on a course you’re on, whilst volunteering; or closer to home with your family, friends and colleagues.

You may not understand why people in country x don’t think the same as you do, but equally they may not understand why you think the way you do!

In making gap year ideas a reality, remember to celebrate not only your own uniqueness, but the uniqueness of others too.

Understanding before judgment can go a long way. Even if sometimes that requires a few deep breaths!

V is for Visas

If you’re planning international travel as part of your gap year, chances are at some point that you’ll need a visa. The tips and commentary below are based on tourist visas, rather than working visas. Exact requirements will also depend on your nationality.

Which visa do I need?

Advice on any paperwork needed for individual countries changes regularly, so your best bet is to check your own Government’s foreign affairs website. Links to some are listed here:

UK: Foreign Office Travel Advice
Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs & TradeCanada: Government of Canada Travel Advisories
USA: US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs

Visa on arrival

For some countries, you can buy a visa on arrival. As a UK citizen, I’ve done this in Nepal, Cambodia and Laos.

Visa in advance

In others, you’ll need to organize a visa in advance. I’ve done this for Vietnam, Australia and Cuba (tourist card). The USA now requires advanced registration of visitors too, via ESTA.

Length of stay and visa runs

In some countries, you can stay short-term without a visa, but may need one after a certain length of time, eg 30 or 90 days. Thailand has started, from August 2014, cracking down on those re-entering the country after undertaking numerous “visa runs.”

Tips on visas

  • If you arrange a visa in advance, make it at least a few weeks in advance.
  • Have a spare copy of your passport details somewhere safe, plus the number of the visa/s you’ve been issued for your current trip.
  • Carry a couple of passport photos with you in case of emergency, or more if you’ll be getting visas on arrival.

W is for Work on your Gap Year

If you’ve managed to secure a sabbatical from your workplace, then make sure you keep your end of the bargain on any keeping in touch arrangements.

Working can be a good way to keep your gap year budget low.  Here are a few options:

Volunteer work at home. Sites such as have a database of roles in the UK.

Volunteer work abroad: The following are resources that have been recommended as providing an alternative to costly “voluntouring:

Self-employment – location-independent income. Examples include writing and photography.

Teaching English. Paid positions require a longer-term commitment. A CELTA qualification is more likely to be required for paid positions than for volunteer ones.

X is for eXposure

Being behind a camera or video camera can be a wonderful way to capture moments and memories.

In today’s internet-enabled world, the options for sharing your images with friends and family are endless. Facebook. A blog, Dropbox.

However, experiencing life on the road from behind a lens rather than in front of it can give us literal tunnel vision, and not open our senses fully to the experiences around us.

That’s not to say don’t take photos, or video footage; but sometimes less can be more.

After all, no-one wants to sit through your 3000 photos of Machu Picchu. No matter how much they want to go there.

Photographing people

Ask yourself: “if I was back home, would I be ok with someone taking pictures of me in this situation without asking?”

plan my gap year ideas: traditional dance Nepal

Traditional dancing in Nepal at a tourist venue. Photos = fair game.

In some cultures, people don’t like having their picture taken; check if you’re not sure. In others cases you’ll be expected to tip for the privilege.

The simple act of showing the subject their picture on screen can result in winning smiles that will be the happiest memory of your day.

Y is for You

Your gap year IS about you. It’s ok to be selfish (sometimes).

In moments of doubt (or of other people’s doubts) you may question the validity of taking a gap year.

Remember: There will never be a perfect time. A friend will always be getting married / having a stag night / a christening / birthday. That’s not to say deliberately disregard everyone else’s plans. But remember that you have a right to your plan too.

plan my gap year ideas

Z is for Zillions of gap year ideas!

So many things, so little time.

The letter A was all about having aims for your gap year.

What if you’ve a dozen gap year ideas and aims, and you need to narrow them down?

Here’s a technique that may help you decide.

Write all your aims down. All on separate pieces of paper.

Put all the pieces of paper on the floor together, so you can see what’s written on each one.

Take one away (eek!)

How does it feel? If your feeling is: “nooooo, you can’t take that away, I REALLY want to do/experience that,” then put it back.

If your feeling is: “hmmmm, actually I’m ok about that not being there’, then leave it out.


I’ve found this a great tip to help narrow down which gap year ideas are really important to me on an emotional level. I’d love to hear if it helps you too.

How have you narrowed down your zillions of gap year ideas? Have you any visa tips? Share your comments and experiences below.

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