For many people in the UK and around the world, the gap year is a vital part of their passage from childhood to adulthood. More than one third of high schools and undergraduate students in the remote islands of New Zealand choose gap year and foreign travel over further study or entering the job market.
In Britain, according to UCAS, 2.5 million young people are planning a gap year with the six most popular destinations being Thailand, Australia, India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, and, surprisingly for some, around the UK.
If you’re planning on a gap year, what do you need to know about how to budget for it?
How much will you have in the bank and in savings to pay for your gap year? This will be the overriding and main factor on which country or countries you end up in. Remember that the higher your travel costs, the more of a chunk this will take out of your gap year budget so it’s worth spending more time on choosing this than any other factor of your gap year.
Thailand, Australia, India, and Brazil, the most popular far-flung destinations for UK students, will cost a lot of money to travel to.
Australia has a similar standard of living to the UK so the prices you pay in rent, travel, entertainment, and more will be close to what you pay in the UK. However, the wages you earn when you’re in Australia will reflect this added cost.
Thailand, India, and Brazil are amazing countries but their earnings per head are generally a lot lower than in the UK. That might sound great because your money will theoretically go a lot further however bear in mind that any jobs you take out there will reflect the local employment market. In other words, you won’t earn Australian wages if you’re working in a job in India.
Which are the most inexpensive places to take your gap year around the world? According to Holiday Safe Travel Insurance, Cambodia, Hungary, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Portugal, South Africa, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam.
In Europe, GoOverseas writer Sarah Morgan recommends Ireland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Germany, and Scotland.
Once you have selected a country or countries that are within your financial reach, stay focused on planning your gap year in these destinations. Adding more and more to your itinerary will increase your costs substantially and that may push your budget beyond breaking point.
You know where you’re going now and you know what money you need to have to go on your gap year. Now is the time to focus all your efforts on saving up to get you there and to give you spending and emergency cash when you’re out there before you find work.
One way to make your budget stretch further is to cut down on the cost of travel to your destination country or countries. Booking well in advance is one way to secure a serious discount – we’re talking months and months before your actual departure date though.
Never book your flights for periods of higher demand like major holidays and school holidays in your destination country. The planes will always be full and the tickets more expensive. Start your journey at a time and on a day when no-one else has a particular reason other than business to travel – think about the 2am flight on a Thursday morning in early October, for example.
Virtually everywhere you’ll travel, there will be discount and budget accommodation available. Choosing the cheapest accommodation will make your money go a lot further. For example, spending £5 less per evening on your accommodation during your gap year will save you nearly £1,650.
Camping is an option many gap yearers take advantage of. You don’t always have to camp in an approved zone meaning that your night’s accommodation could come without any charge.
If you’d prefer to sleep over in a building instead of a tent, you have the option of dorm rooms. Dorm rooms are large rooms in which multiple beds are situated linked to shared toileting, showering, and kitchen facilities. Think student halls of residence here in the UK but without any walls between everyone.
You’ll also be able to stay over in very cheap hotels although be prepared for an uncomfortable night if you’re in a hot country and your room does not come with air conditioning.
The object of your gap year is to immerse yourself in another culture. To do that, you’ll need cash for the basics of life and to take part in the same activities as the locals. In many places, you’ll look like a tourist and that may make you more vulnerable to being mugged for your cash and your valuables. Never carry too much cash around with you because if you’re unfortunate enough to be targeted and a large proportion of your gap year living budget is stolen at once, you’ll struggle to get by.
Instead of cash, travel around with the credit or debit card, using them at the local ATMs. This will be more expensive than cash because of the transaction and conversion costs involved but it leaves you much less vulnerable to running out of cash because a mugger took it all from you. In the event they are stolen, you can always cancel and replace them.
When getting your GBP exchanged into the local currency, don’t use the airport bureau de change. Travel into the nearest city centre and get it converted there – you’ll pay less in conversion fees because there’s more competition for your business.
On the topic of conversion fees, if the GBP is currently very strong against the currency of the country or countries you’re intending to visit, you may want to buy a preloaded currency card. This works just like a credit or a debit card, so you can use it in ATMs and in shops safe in the knowledge that you’ve locked in that favourable conversion rate for as long as there is money on your card.
If you’re staying in one location for a long enough time, you may want to look at buying a weekly or a monthly pass for public transport. With one of these, you can use local buses, trams, and metros as much as you like at a substantial discount to paying your fare every time you travel.
For longer distances, try overnight travel. Overnight travel not only saves money on the journey itself, you also don’t have to worry about paying for accommodation on that night too.
As little as possible – particularly of value.
Take a disposable mobile phone, something like the reversioned Nokia 3310. It has a camera (admittedly not the best one in the world), room for up to 32GB worth of media, an FM radio and an MP3 player.
Yes, you can’t connect to the internet and update your Facebook. However, just download them to the computers available in hotels, hostels, and internet cafes and update people once a day instead of ten times a day.
If you really must take items of high value with you, make sure they’re locked away safely somewhere.
Getting a job on your gap year will provide a continual top-up to your finances making it possible to do and see more when you’re away.
You’ll first have to check what permissions you need to work in your destination country (much like if you’ve ever been asked to provide a passport when working for an employer in the UK). If you can, try to arrange a job before you get there or, at the very least, a series of interviews with employers whose jobs you would enjoy and for which you are qualified.
Your gap year could become one of the best times of your life, full of adventure, discovery, fun, and new friendships. Make sure you give yourself the very best chance to enjoy it by being in control of your money before and during your time abroad.