The countdown to a gap year is quite exciting, but trying to prepare for it can become overwhelming and stressful. Trust me, I’ve been there. Lucky for you, I’ve learned from it and am here to help. Think of this as your grown-up gap year preparation checklist. Hopefully it eases your mind and gives some clarity around what you should be thinking about and ticking off before you go.
- Setting your itinerary
The rule here is to keep it as high level and fluid as possible. Every single person I’ve spoken to has advised me not to plan further than a week in advance. One of the best parts of traveling long term is meeting new people and heading off on spontaneous trips. You can’t do this if you’ve booked accommodation and flights 2 months in advance.So, here is how I set mine. First, make a list of all your must see countries. Be reasonable with your time. If you have 6 months, don’t try and cram in 15 countries. Rushing from place to place won’t be enjoyable. I would recommend about 1 per month. You won’t necessarily be spending a month in each, but it gives you a good buffer to spend more time in countries that you love.
Second, going one country at a time, research the best month to visit each. I researched online using a few different websites. If you’re heading to Southeast Asia, I’d highly recommend this one by RetreaTours. It lays out each country in the popular backpackers route and the best time to visit each and why.
- Checking visa requirements
Once you know which countries you’re going to visit, check the visa requirements for each. If you’re an American citizen, the U.S. Department of state has a really useful website to help you do this. Simply type in the country name and you’ll be given a wide range of information including visa requirements, local laws, safety and security, etc.
- Buying travel insurance
Don’t skip this! I know it’s tempting as there’s a higher probability you won’t need it rather than will, but the consequences just aren’t worth the risk. All of the big name blogs and travel websites that I’ve researched have highly recommended World Nomads which is what I’ve also gone with. (If you’re finding this information helpful and want to support my site, please consider purchasing through the link above 🙂 )
- Travel Injections (Shots)
If you live in the UK, this is as easy as making an appointment with your local GP. Most will have travel clinics with nurses who advise on the mandatory and ideal injections based on each country you’re visiting. When I did mine, I went to the GP for an initial consultation with the travel nurse. We sat down and went through each country on my itinerary. She helped me work out which injections were needed and an ideal schedule for administering them. It’s important you do this in a timely manner as some of the injections require 3 visits over the span of 24 days.
- Mobile phone
I feel like smart phones are fairly standard now, but if you don’t have one, I would strongly encourage you to buy one. I know some still feel as though they want to be unplugged and free from distraction, but here is why I think you should still go for it. You’re going to be meeting loads of people and will want to stay in touch. Texting or WhatsApp are probably the most popular form of communication amongst our generation. That doesn’t mean you can’t call, but sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to send a text. You can use wifi to do this and won’t have to buy minutes or texts.In addition, I heavily rely on my iphone for photos. If you don’t have access to your camera and want to capture a spontaneous snap, your phone is the easiest and quickest way to do this. There are also some great apps to help you edit your photos on the spot. My personal favourites are camera+ and Snapseed. Lastly, there are so many amazing travel apps out there now that I can’t live without. Google maps, TripAdvisor, AirBnb, Hostel World…just to name a few.
Quick tip for those in the UK. I’ve been looking for a good deal on an iPhone 7 for ages now (as the photo quality is stunning) and finally found a website that offers refurbished unlocked phones at a decent price and with an option to do a monthly payment plan. It’s called Quick Mobile Fix and has great reviews.
- Storing your stuff
If you don’t live near your family or have close friends with lots of extra storage space (who does in London), then you’ll need to find a place to store your belongings while you’re away. Self Storage in Clapham is an affordable and highly rated option. I’m sure if you google “cheap storage *city you live in*” you’ll be able to find something nearby.
- Paying for things
This is important as most people traveling long term will be on a strict budget and you don’t want to get screwed over by Fx rates and fees. You’ll want to find a credit or debit card that has low to 0 foreign transactions fees and fair exchange rates. I plan on using my Monzo card. Perks include:
- An app that tracks and sends real time spending notifications
- Zero fees, even abroad (that’s right, no foreign transaction fees!)
- Ability to freeze and un-freeze card at the touch of a button if it goes missing temporarily
Speaking of budgets, saving for a gap year is also a big task. I’ve put together a separate post on saving money to travel here.
- Picking a backpack
I’m not going to pretend I know what I’m talking about here as I’ve never used a large backpack for extended travel before. When I bought mine I personally went off the recommendations made by Nomadic Matt who’s been doing this for years. He has a great article on choosing the right backpack which you can find here.