Now that you have an idea of your gap year, It’s time to start getting prepared. Here’s where lots of the work happens. A gap year is an amazing, rewarding experience, and part of that experience is in the preparation. I know I learned a lot preparing for my gap year, through researching destinations, figuring out how to travel on a budget and most importantly working to get some money!
1. Thinking Ahead for University
Just because you’re taking a gap year doesn’t mean you can slack off on university just yet. There’s two ways you can go about this:
- Apply for college during your senior year and defer the application for 1 year:
This is what I did with my college applications. I applied to my list of schools during my senior year like everyone else, and after I chose the school that I got into, I sent them a deferral letter to request an application deferral. An application deferral means that the school will hold your spot in the school for the following year. It is important to remember that not all schools allow application deferrals and even those that do, are not guaranteed to give you the application deferral. Although many of the competitive schools do not allow deferrals, a few actually encourage it, including Harvard!
Once you are accepted into a school, go to their website and research their deferral policy. If you receive any scholarships, also look to see if they can be deferred as well. If they allow it, they will most likely require a deferment letter and enrollment deposit (my college required a deposit of $150). In your deferment letter, the school will want a detailed plan of what you will do during your gap year, stating why you’re taking a gap year and how it will benefit you.
- Apply for college during your gap year
If you are not able to defer an application or do not want to, then you can always apply during your gap year. This might be a good option too because you can write about your gap year experiences in your essays! However, this means you must write an essay during your gap year. Sorry, but that’s not my kind of fun!
2. Saving money
Many people think that travel is expensive and only the rich can do it. I think that when people say that, they think travel is only staying in fancy resorts and eating at fancy restaurants for the whole trip. However if you want to travel, and I mean really travel, it’s totally doable on a budget!
The biggest expense is the flight, after that your everyday expenses can be equal or less to that at home. At home, you have to pay for food and lodging no matter what (unless you live with your parents), so that expense is going to be the same as traveling. The only extra expenses would be transportation and sightseeing costs. These can be lowered by finding cheap transportation and/or limiting your use of transportation. I’ll go more in depth about saving money while traveling in Part 3.
Before you go traveling you’ll want to start thinking about your budget. It would be a good idea to get a part time job to start saving money. If you’re living with your parents you won’t have many expenses so saving money won’t be too hard.
If you want to try to make some extra money at home (or even remember this for when your traveling) there’s a few ways to even make money online. I have used these techniques below to actually make money by myself!
Online freelancing is doing various work for online clients. The work can really be anything that you’re good at such as making videos, to drawing, to teaching English through Skype. The main problem with these, is that it can be hard to get orders, so you usually will have to make something unique. There are various websites that you can use to share your skills with the most popular ones being Fiverr and Upwork.
- Fiverr– With Fiverr, you create gigs for whatever work you want to do, that people can then order. You can price them however you see fit. With Fiverr I have been able to make $170, through editing travel videos. It’s a totally legit way to make money that actually works too!
- Upwork– Upwork is similar to Fiverr but instead of creating gigs, you find work that you want to apply for. Clients put out a job listing and if you’re qualified you can then apply. The client then chooses from the applicants and if you’re hired you can complete the job! I haven’t used Upwork
If you’re into photography like me, this is another good way to make money. Microstock is similar to stock photography, but the photos are provided by the general public because they can be sold at a lower price. There are various websites and apps to use to sell your photos. Below are the ones I have used to actually make money. To learn even more check out my blog post.
- Shutterstock– To be able to sell for Shutterstock you have to apply first. You submit 10 images, and if they are approved you can join, otherwise yo have to wait and apply again. Shutterstock allows you to upload illustrations, photos and videos. For each photo you sell, you get about $.25- $2.85. For videos, you get 30% of the price which can sometimes be pretty high! So far I’ve made $50 from pictures and videos.
- Twenty20– Twenty20 is an app that you can use to sell your pictures. The way it works is that there are challenges for various specific and general topics such as beach landscapes, foods, etc. People then vote for the images that they like. Photos in the Top 20% are added to the topics collection which are then open for customers to buy. The overall winner of each challenge then wins the challenge prize which is usually $20. Sign up here to get started.
3. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is important. So many things can go wrong traveling and you want to be protected in case anything happens. Sure, if you have medical insurance, it may help if you get injured, but travel insurance covers a lot more. It can help you if you need medical attention, lose your baggage or valuables, or even need to go home suddenly. To learn more about choosing the right insurance check out this article from Nomadic Matt.
4. Country Visas
This is an important part that you need to remember to figure out rioght away. Depending on your home country, you may or may not need a visa.
If you do need a visa, some countries will require a fee. It is usually a reciprocity fee, which is the price that a person from the country you are visiting would have to pay to visit your home country.
If you’re American, you’ll be paying a good portion of these reciprocity fees!
For travel to Europe, there is what is called the Schengen Area.
This is a union of various countries that have combined borders. This means that you can travel between these countries as if they are one. However, you are only allowed to stay in these countries for up to 90 days. After 90 days, you need to spend an additional 90 days outside of the Schengen area, before you can come back in. Some people online say that you can reset the visa by leaving the Schengen Area for just a few days and then returning, but that is not true. If you overstay your visa you may have to pay a fine or face jail time. Not fun. Do your research, and refer to official sites. Note that there are numerous countries in Europe that are outside of the Schengen area. Learn more here.
Important: Remember to ensure your passport doesn’t expire while you’re on your trip. If it expires around the date of your trip go get it renewed!
It is important to figure out how you will deal with your money while abroad. You will need to figure out what ATM fees you might have and the cost for using your credit/debit card abroad.
If you can, you should find a bank that has a low or no ATM fee. Otherwise each time you go to the ATM, it really starts to add up.In many developing countries, credit and debit cards are not used so you will need to take out cash more often. If this is the case, try to join a bank with low ATM fees. When taking out money, try to avoid places like airports or convenience stores, where the fees might be higher.
When using your credit or debit card, always select the local currency. If you pick your home currency, the exchange rate will be higher than with the bank and you’ll be losing money.
Important: Before you leave, notify your bank of your travel plans, otherwise any transaction you complete might be flagged as suspicious.
6. Vaccines and Medication
While the use of certain vaccines may be optional in your country, for many places that you visit some vaccines will be beneficial or required. There are three types of vaccines.
- Routine Vaccines: Standard vaccines that you would need in your home country
- Recommended Vaccines: Travel vaccines that can protect you from certain diseases
- Required Vaccines: Vaccines required by a country to prevent spread of illnesses. Many countries require proof of yellow fever vaccine (upon getting the vaccine you will get a yellow slip to carry with you).
Here is a list of travel vaccines you may need:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
- Meningococcal disease
- Yellow Fever
- Japanese Encephalitis
To figure out what vaccines you need, go to your nearest travel clinic. For basic info, you can look on the CDC website. You will want to go to get your vaccines no less than a month before your departure to ensure you have enough time to complete the vaccines.
Wherever you go, it is also important to remember to be hygienic and preventative. This means always washing your hands, preventing bug bites, avoiding non sterile equipment, and being cautious of the food and water you consume.
7. Phone Plan
In this day and age, phones are so important, especially for us younger people! To be able to use your phone for internet browsing and messaging you will need to talk with your phone provider. More often than not, the cheapest option is to unlock your SIM card at home and then for each country you visit, buy a local sim card. The sim cards are usually around $15-20 depending on the data amount.
To save money on messaging, try using Whatsapp. You can send messages around the world for free, provided you have internet access.
8. Setting up Power of Attorney
A power of attorney document is something that you may want to consider, or more importantly, your parents/guardians will want you to consider!
A power of attorney gives authorization for whoever you designate to act on your behalf. This will come in handy if you need help from someone in your own country for matters like accessing your bank or to get through the US privacy act.
“The Act states that we may not reveal information regarding a U.S. citizen’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including the citizen’s family members and Congressional representatives, without unless we have that individual’s written consent.”
However, if your parents/guardians have the power of attorney they can be contacted.
There is also a medical power of attorney that is important in case something happens to you, such as you become unconscious. In some places they might only allow those designated by you to make serious decisions such as do not resuscitate protocol.
To get a power of attorney, you may need to talk with a lawyer and get your notarized or stamped document. Print this document and laminate it to keep with you during your travels as proof.
9. Buying Your Plane Ticket
The plane ticket to wherever your going is always the biggest and most intimidating expense. However, after that, once you get to a place, it’s possible to spend very little on accommodation and food.
When looking for airplane tickets, you should sign up for flight deals. These are various websites that will notify you of extremely low deals. You can usually sign up through email or follow on FB and Twitter. My favorite travel deal websites are Holiday Pirates, Secret Flying, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and The Flight Deal.
- To find the cheapest plane ticket, I always start by looking at Google Flights. They have a handy map feature, where you can put in your departure destination and it will show you on a map the prices of various destinations in an area.
- Once I find the cheapest destinations on the map in the area that I want to travel to, I go to the ITA Matrix. This is another cool tool, where you put in your travel information and it shows you all the different flights. The most important part of this tool, is the “See Calendar of Lowest Fares” where it will show you a calendar of the prices on different days. Using this, I’ll find the cheapest date to travel.
- After I find the cheapest destination and date of departure, I’ll crosscheck for the cheapest price on various websites. My favorites are Skyscanner and Momondo. Skyscanner usually shows the cheapest prices.
- Once I’ve done my best to find the cheapest price, I’ll book it! Then it’s time to countdown the days until departure!
10. Before You Leave
Your plane ticket is bought, and soon you’ll be off. But there’s still some work to be done!
Before you leave:
- Figure out your budget. It’s important to know how much money you have to spend.
- If you’re an American, sign up for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free service that will send you travel alerts in case of emergencies like natural disasters, civil unrest, or family emergency.
- Make copies of important documents like passport, drivers license, and visa info if needed.
- Pack! Make a list, and check it twice or more! Below is my packing list. I’ve included links to certain products that I bought and have found useful during my gap year. I’d also recommend taking a picture of all your gear in case you lose something.
-Travel Towel (Deconovo Travel Towel With Carry Bag)
-First Aid Kit
-Toothbrush and Toothpaste
-Packing Organizers (4PCS Packing Cubes )
-Water Bottles (I love these water bottles: Vapur Element Bottle)
-Money Belt (I honestly didn’t use mine, but this money belt has a free lost and found service up to $250 that is really useful: Money Belt w/ Theft Insurance and Lost & Found Service)
-Travel Lock (Black TSA Lock)
-3 Long Sleeve Shirts
-3 Short Sleeve Shirts
-2 Tank Tops
-Extra camera batteries
-Camera Battery Charger
-Water Filter (Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System)
-2 Pairs of Shorts
-2 Pairs Wool Socks
-3 Pairs Socks
Next: Part 3 – Doing