Each year, approximately 230,000 young people in the UK plan their gap year. If you haven’t travelled abroad for a substantial amount of time it can be a daunting task.
Overseeing the wellbeing of its volunteers at its projects, Khaya Volunteer has come across both prepared and unprepared travellers and has some great tips when planning your life-altering year.
1. Scrutinise the organisation. Research and chose an ethically responsible company to volunteer with. Can they provide a brief job description? Do they work directly with local partner organisations? Do they financially contribute to local partners? Can they explain how your fees are used and where they go? Do they have policies for eco/ethical tourism? What support and training will you receive? Also ask to speak to previous travellers/volunteers. If they cannot provide you with the answers you need then go elsewhere.
2. Parental peace of mind. Make sure your parents/guardian speak with the sending organisation too. And, leave an itinerary for the folks and keep in contact. They worry!
3. Research the history. Especially for a country like South Africa, it will explain the cultural differences you will see and will add a whole new dimension to your experience. Also obtain local knowledge. Get a good guidebook and look into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs and language. This will help you avoid offending people or breaking local laws however unwittingly.
4. Get covered! Accidents can happen to anyone. Make sure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance. Shop around and make sure it’s right for you.
Think about activities you may be doing, even spur of moment ones, and make sure you’re covered for these. Your policy also needs to cover medical costs. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will foot the bill.
5. Check your travel plans. Always run your travel plans through a partner.
Many can offer discounted rates on other travelling needs such as overland travel and car hire.
6. Don’t rush. Plan your must-see countries and spend a longer time in each than cram in too much. It also allows you to ‘go with the flow’ when you get there. You will find you have more opportunities to do things with people you meet.
7. Keep your initial itinerary flexible and stay open to suggestions. You may end up combining travel, adventure, back packing, volunteering all in one and make your year worth your while! Plus the friends you make along the way will help determine the route of your trip. The best times are those unexpected ones.
8. Pack half the luggage you think you need and twice the money. Be sure to think about where you’re going, when you’re going and what you’ll be doing there. This will help you to plan what you’ll need to take with you. Word ofadvice, if going to Africa it’s not necessary to bring multi-function safari khakis. Pack light and buy local if you need additional items.
9. Donate the smart way. If you do want to donate, don’t bring bulky items with you. It’s best to bring cash and buy items locally.
10. Value the freedom of travel and the friendships you make. You will appreciate them more years later than a fully ticked checklist of ‘must-sees’.