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Gap Year Survival Guide

By Sahvan Karia

If you want to travel or work abroad on your gap year, it is important to do your research and plan ahead.

Whether you’re heading to Europe or jetting off to the Far East, you’ll need to make sure you’ve checked up on the local culture, sorted out travel and health docs, found out what to pack, and found somewhere to stay ahead of time.

Some arrangements can take longer than you think. So, to avoid any last minute panic, here is a checklist of things to sort before you head to the airport.

Health and Vaccinations

Mosquito feeding
Photo by Steve Begin

If you’re going somewhere with a different climate to the UK, like Africa, South East Asia or South America, it’s very important to get vaccinated against nasty things like Hepatitis B and Yellow Fever.

Unfortunately, you can’t get all your jabs a week before you go; it can take up to six months to complete a vaccination course, so these should be first on your to do list.

If you do leave it too late, there are fast track courses available, but these can be expensive and you might not get all the shots you need.

If you take prescription medicine, make sure to check that it’s legal in the country you are visiting. You might need a doctor’s note for this.

It’s worth taking some diarrhea pills and re-hydration sachets with you too, as all that exotic new food can sometimes be a bit much for the old stomach…

When to do it: Six months before you travel or as soon as you know where you are heading.

Links: NHS Fit for Travel 
NHS Can I Take my Medicine Abroad 

Visas and Passports 
Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you plan to get back from your travels. If it’s close to running out, better apply for a new one before you leave.

If you’re heading outside of Europe you’ll probably need a visa too. Sometimes you can get your visa when you arrive in a country, but for others you’ll need to send your passport off before you go.

Check on the UK embassy website of the country you plan to visit to see what the requirements are. Remember too, if you’re going to work somewhere, you might need a different kind of visa.

When to do it: at least two months before you travel. Visas can take longer than you think to arrive!

Links: Project Visa 


Photo by Unorthodoxy

To make sure you get the best place at the best price, start your research early.

Make sure your hostel is central and in a safe area and check out customer reviews on trusted sites, like TripAdvisor or Hostelworld .

Finally, do a few checks to make sure your accommodation is legit. If they have a secure website (one that starts with https), a range of reviews and a phone line/ business email that works, they should be all above board. Watch out for Hotmail addresses and people who ask you to wire money by Western Union…

When to do it: Three or four months before you travel.

Travel insurance could really save your bacon when things go wrong. Chances are you won’t have a problem, but your insurance will cover the cost of broken bones, cancelled flights, lost luggage and theft.

If you’re traveling in the EU, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card to access free or cheaper emergency health care.

When to do it: You can buy insurance the day you travel but try to allow yourself a couple of months as you may need to shop around. Some of the cheaper policies won’t cover extreme sports, like white water rafting, so always remember to get lots of quotes and read the small print!

Links: European Health Insurance Card

Learn a New Language

Iceland sign 
Photo by Alan Levine

No one is asking you to learn a new language from scratch, but picking up a phrase book and learning a few key phrases, like ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘I’m very very lost’, will really help you find your feet in a new country.

When to do it: For a few phrases, get practicing a month before. If you want to take a course, start looking 6 months before you go.

Links: The five best free language learning websites

There are a few simple things you can do before you travel to help you stay safe.

  1. Register online with the British Embassy in the country you are visiting, so they know you’re there and have your contact details in case of emergency.
  2. Check for travel alerts. The FCO website provides the latest travel details plus safety and travel warnings for all countries. 
  3. Give your parents an itinerary with details of the place you are staying and contact numbers. Keep one for yourself as well with numbers for the emergency services, local hospital and British Embassy.
  4. Scan your passport and keep a few photocopies with you in case it gets lost or stolen. This will help you a lot if you need to prove your identity or get a replacement.

When to do it: a week or two before you travel.

Links: FCO travel advice
Gov.uk Know Before You Go

Cover photo by Frontier Official