There are many hazards and dangers that gappers can encounter if they don’t do their homework and plenty of research before setting off. Many of us wish we could blaze a trail across new frontiers, but the reality is that someone has already been there, done that, and got the tee shirt. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to network with those who’ve gone before you and take advantage of their knowledge.
Perhaps one of the most important tips is to thoroughly check out any company before paying money up front! Many of these companies may profess to be experts who can set up a complete overseas volunteering package for you. Some companies are legitimate, but others may not be. No matter how intrepid you think you are, you wouldn’t really want to find yourself stuck in the jungle surrounded by malaria-ridden mosquitoes without a reliable lifeline or helping hand back to civilization. Would you?
I’ve researched and written blogs and articles about this subject in the past and the bottom line seems to be ‘get the facts and then double check them, and then check again.’ For many young people it will be their first time away from home alone – so having reliable and solid support is vital.
Gap Year travel has become the norm, and almost expected of any self-respecting student. However, it’s not just students taking that year out these days. Many choose to take a gap year as a career-break, perhaps while switching careers mid life. Mature travellers have the time and money to set off on adventures and make up for what they missed out on when younger. No matter what age or what your plans are, the Internet is sure to play a big part in planning your gap year. It’s a tremendous resource.
Taking a gap year wasn’t always an option unless you came from a very wealthy family. Going back a few centuries, the young upper classes went on the Grand Tour of Europe as a rite of passage and part of their education. They were the first gap year travellers, but they were the privileged few. Our handsome princes, William and Harry, did their gap year volunteering and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. I think we’d all agree they have turned into terrific young men.
A gap year could encompass volunteering in an overseas work program. Other options might include working in a ski resort or dude ranch, an exchange program, a language course or other course of study, or just taking off on a backpacking Odyssey. Whichever you choose, it’s sure to be an eye-opening and character building look at other cultures. A large percentage of the volunteering opportunities will be in African countries, but there’s a need for volunteers in many other parts of the world. Other popular destinations for gappers and backpackers include Peru, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South America and Chile.
Planning well ahead is essential, especially to ensure you get all the vaccinations you’ll need for the countries you plan to visit. Make sure your passport has plenty of time left on it and apply for all the necessary visas. As you’ll need to book long-haul flights in advance it’s also important to purchase the right type of travel insurance – as well as coverage for any planned sporting activities.
Using the internet social networking sites makes it easy for travellers to stay in touch with family and loved ones and share experiences and photos online. I know it’s not as fast as shooting an email through cyberspace but, personally, I still think it’s nice to receive postcards from foreign places with the colourful native stamps. People don’t have time for snail mail these days.
There doesn’t seem to be a downside to taking a gap year. The best advice is to use the internet to research your destinations and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Read the reviews and tips provided by other travellers – they could help you avoid bad experiences – as well as share in the good ones. You can network with other travellers, find good value hostels and places to stay, get in on the best restaurant deals, and pick up useful backpacking tips.
I heard a good-natured gripe from a young woman who is off backpacking alone in Southeast Asia. She felt that she was just following the same route that thousands of others were on and her experiences were not worthwhile or special. Maybe she should stop worrying about being unique and just enjoy it and take advantage of the input and experiences of others. They learned their lessons the hard way so that she doesn’t have to!
Jean Andrews is an employee of Travel Insurance Agencies Ltd (TIA Ltd). Jean regularly contributes informative articles about travel insurance and travel related matters.