There’s never been any question in my mind – taking a gap year to explore far flung corners of the world should be a rite of passage undertaken by everyone. No matter what time of life you may be in, it’s never too late to put your day to day existence on ice in favour of spreading your wings to uncover foreign climes and the many wonders they hold. We aren’t designed to sit still and fester in the same place, working the same job, doing the same thing day in day out – There’s just too much out there to see and do!
Given I’m such a firm believer in the benefits, necessity even, of taking a gap year (or several) I’ve spent a good deal of time researching the options open to those consumed by wanderlust considering where to go, when to go, what to do and how you should organise it all. It’s this last point that I wanted to explore today and I’ve been keenly scrutinising different ways in which one can plan and execute their dream gap year adventure. More specifically I’ve been looking at the opportunities for gap year experiences organised through specialist travel operators, compared with making all the arrangements yourself.
It can be tempting having somebody else do all the hard work for you, but naturally there are many other considerations to take into account such as the cost and flexibility of the package you pick. With the above in mind I’ve put together this brief run down on the key factors that should be chief among your thoughts should you be planning your first expedition into the unknown.
Image by Moyan Brenn
Let’s be honest, unless you’ve just come into some kind of beefy inheritance or had a sizeable gambling win you’re naturally going to be concerned with the potential costs of your planned gap year getaway. And even if money is no object, you’ll still want to make sure you’re getting good value from your plans. Consequently it’s important to weigh up what you might get for your money from a specialist gap year travel provider, as compared with the cost of putting your package together without assistance.
There can be a vast difference between gap year travel packages, in terms of cost and what’s included, so you need to consider what’s important to you for your trip. For example, it’s possible to pick a gap year package costing in excess of £1,000 without even including your flights to whichever exotic destination(s) you settle upon. Such packages would generally be for longer trips (two months plus) and might include help with settling in, finding accommodation, finding work and ensuring you’ve all the required paperwork.
Depending on where you’re headed the amount of work involved in organising your trip will vary. For a gap year in New Zealand there won’t be a language barrier and you’d be unlucky to encounter any trouble when you arrive however you’d still need to ensure you have the right visa and if you plan on working to fund your trip you’d also require a government issued IRD number. At the other end of the scale a year in Prague might seem a whole lot simpler from an admin perspective, being as the EU citizenship we’re (currently) lucky enough to hold entitles us to live and work in any other EU member states without any additional visas or paperwork. But organising accommodation and trying to find work is likely to be a whole lot more complex if you’ve not got at least a moderate level of Czech language ability.
Having somebody with experience sort out the paperwork and circumnavigate the bureaucracy that accompanies a long term trip can be worth its weight in gold so if you’re heading somewhere you’ve zero familiarity with but you intend on setting up there for more than a holiday, you could benefit from bringing in a specialist.
Image by Patrick
One month or one year? By yourself or among fellow travellers? Modern air-conditioned bus or authentic rickety old train? These may seem simple questions to answer but if you’ve got a preference in each case, or you want to be able to make the decision when you get there, a pre-arranged trip is likely to stifle your freedoms. The trade-off for having somebody else do much of the donkey work for you, is that you don’t get a say in how it all goes down once you step off the plane.
There’s an incredible sense of freedom in arriving in a country upon which you’ve never before set foot, with no immediate agenda and nothing to hold you back. But of course for some people this lack of a coordinated action plan can be a recipe for absolute panic. If you’re the sort of person who needs the reassuring safety net of 24 hour on call reps along with a guarantee of somewhere to stay, people to meet up with and even a job to walk into, you’re likely to benefit from picking a gap year package.
Of course that’s not to say that you can’t get everything arranged by yourself. In fact if you’re the kind of traveller who likes to meticulously plan every minutiae of a proposed adventure then it could be you’re in your element putting in the hours to determine your itinerary and triple checking every booking along the way. If that sounds like you then you could also find you give yourself a more flexible trip, that could work out cheaper than were you to call in the pros. The cost to you will be in time however, as proper planning does not come cheap!
Safety & Support
Image by Christopher Bowley
As I’ve touched upon above, there’s definitely something to be said for having the on-hand support of true natives at your disposal. Arrive in somewhere very alien, where the signs aren’t even written in a recognisable alphabet and English isn’t widely spoken, and even the simplest tasks can seem like mountains to overcome. Put away your Google Maps because there’s no signal on this remote Polynesian island and hand gestures are going to be your primary method of communication now.
This is precisely when you’ll be thankful for the friendly voice at the end of your phone, from the travel company, able to provide you with everything you need to survive your first day on foreign shores, from getting directions to the beach to advising you on which beer tastes best and how to order it. The more unfamiliar a destination the more such a service is going to potentially appeal. For all its vast expanses of remote nothingness, at least in Oz you know when you do encounter another human being you’ll be able to comfortably converse with them. By contrast you could be among millions in one of China’s mega cities and yet unable to determine from any of them where to find the nearest coffee shop!
But of course for some people, this is precisely why we go travelling in the first place. It is for that sense of launching head first into the complete unknown and coming out all the stronger for it. Everyone is different however, and only you know whether you’re more comfortable with carefully laid out plans over winging it, so make sure you do your homework and decide whether a specialist travel operator is going to be of benefit to your proposed gap year adventure. There’s no shame in getting somebody else to put your trip together, especially if you know the peace of mind it will afford you will allow you to enjoy it all the more!
This post is a guest post written by a Rexy Approved writer!
Bio: Ed Phelan is a student of English at university in Brighton with a keen passion for video games, mixing drinks and exploring the uncharted. You can follow him on Twitter @edwardphelan1