The concept of a gap year is strongly associated with young adults who have either just left school or graduated from university. It’s an idea born around the thought that you need to take a year out after many years of hard studying. For some young people, this is the last time they’ll truly have a chance to take a year out and travel the world. At least, until they retire.
But that’s not how I did it when Mr. Misadventures and I mid-career took an 18-month sabbatical to RV around the US!
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Nowadays, people of all ages go on gap years or take a year out of work. Certainly, it’s not uncommon to find someone who has worked super hard for a year, saving as much as they can, just to go abroad. You may have heard of people doing this, and it’s usually referred to as taking a sabbatical. Honestly, it’s a wonderful idea – especially if you haven’t done a lot of traveling in your life. Taking a year out and traveling the world will open your eyes to new experiences, interesting people, wonderful foods, and loads of wondrous sites.
Ideally, (or in normal circumstances) you can buy a plane ticket and just go wherever you liked right this second (err, or when the Queen [reference here] leaves town!). Or you can do like we did and buy (or rent) an RV and take that year on the road. Realistically, spending a year traveling either at home or abroad takes a lot of planning. You must be fully prepared, or else the whole experience can be a hassle. Don’t fret, this iteration of travel tips will give you all the info you need on preparing for a gap year!
Plan a route
Some people only travel to one location and stay there for the whole year. This might sound boring, but there’s usually a method behind the madness. They might be visiting relatives/friends, or they may want to experience a certain country, state, or region for a full year. This is often referred to as “slow travel.” Either way, the planning is easier if this is what you’re doing. Still, you need to figure out a route. Pick out cities or locations you want to visit, then decide on when you’ll go there and how long you (roughly) would like to stay.
For most people, a gap year is all about going to as many different places as possible. Here, you need to get a map out and circle all the destinations you want to visit. Think of this as your bucket list – the top countries, states, or sites you want to see before you die. Hopefully, you can afford to tick them all off! Once you’ve chosen where you want to go, you also need to plan a route to help you move from place to place.
The reason for doing this exercise is that it brings some structure to your travels. You will know how long you have in one location before moving to another. From here, you can build itineraries for each location based on how much time you have there. It doesn’t have to be a strict plan, and it’s open to being altered once you start. But, it provides you with a vague idea of where you will be in, say, six months into your trip.
Plan to depart and return at quieter travel times
When you think about gap years or spending a year abroad, you automatically think about a calendar year. You probably think that you leave home in January, then return the following year. It’s perfectly fine to do this, but your year can begin and end whenever you want. There are no set rules to this, so it makes sense to plan your gap year in the most affordable way possible.
Mr. Misadventures and I prefer off-season, so while we did actually start our trip in January we went to places at the opposite time we were “supposed to” like visiting Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks in the winter! There is something to be said about seeing Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park in the snow.
The worst thing to do would be to fly out and return at the peak of summer. This is widely known as the most expensive time to book flights and do any sort of traveling. Kids all around the world are on their summer breaks, so families are flying everywhere. The demand for seats on planes is high, and prices rise up. The same goes for hotels – prices are affected by the time of year you’re in. And of course, the same goes for RV parks and tourist attractions like Yellowstone and Yosemite!
Instead, aim to fly or do the bulk of your traveling during the quieter times in the year. Skyscanner found that the cheapest months for travel in 2019 were January, February, and September. Perhaps it’s best to plan your year away around one of these months? Think about it, you’ll still be traveling during the summer months, so it’s not like you’re missing out! All that happens is you save a mini fortune on your main flights (if you are flying).
Figure out the best times to visit certain places
Remember when you decided on all the places you wanted to visit? Okay, now you have to think about when it makes sense to visit these places. Let’s look at an example: you want to go to Lapland, when is the best time to go? Obviously, you want to be there in winter as this is a place that comes alive during that time of the year. Another great example is if you wanted to visit Australia.
This country has great weather most of the year, but its summers and winters are switched from ours. So, if you want to enjoy the Aussie sun, you’ll need to go during their summer, which is our winter (between November – February).
It’s beneficial to figure out the best (and worst) time to visit certain places as it helps you get a better experience. The best way to do this is to search for a travel blog or guide that focuses on your location of choice. If the blogger is any good, they should tell you when you will get the best experience visiting your chosen area. Finding a good local source goes a long way (that’s why I do the Paris Profile series, you get local picks for the arrondissements in Paris or the same thing with my San Francisco Profile series).
Be ruthless with your packing
Be honest, do you want to travel the world with two giant suitcases by your side? You definitely don’t, as it would be horrendous. You’d have to lug these huge suitcases wherever you go, meaning you end up with more stress than you’d have at work! Instead, you have to be ruthless with your packing and bring as little as possible.
Understandably, you’ll still have a pretty large bag to take with you. But, one is better than two or three! This is potentially the toughest part of preparing for a year of travel. If you’re notoriously bad at packing for vacations, you will struggle with what lies ahead!
To help you out, here’s a list of some essentials you shouldn’t leave home without:
- At least a week’s worth of clothes in layers
- Two pairs of footwear – one for walking around and one that is a little more dressy
- Chargers and adapters for all your electrical devices
- A first aid kit
The list goes on, and it already sounds like a lot. I know what you’re thinking, how will you survive with only a week’s worth of clothes for a year? That might be a slight exaggeration, but the idea is that you have between 7-10 different outfits that you can cycle through and mix n match. You also bring along some washing powder to do your washing in hotel bathrooms or even in a local stream! This way, you can keep wearing the same clothes over and over again by washing them. Plus, you don’t waste money going to expensive launderettes.
As a bonus, be sure to bring some things to keep yourself entertained. A kindle or tablet are both excellent as you can load hundreds of books on them to satisfy your boredom during your travels.
As for RVing, how can you spend a year in an RV without some creature comforts? You can, but it is important to not go overboard, not only because you won’t need everything you think you will (speaking from experience!) but also because it is a safety issue.
Get a credit card with travel rewards
Seeing as you’re going to be traveling a lot, it makes sense to earn some rewards for all the miles you are going to be putting under your belt. A year’s worth of travel means could mean you’ll be taking many flights and staying in a lot of hotels (or RV parks). As such, you should get a credit card that rewards you while you spend. Some credit cards provide you with travel miles that can be used to go towards your next flight. Others provide travel points when you stay in certain hotels.
Either way, you’re missing out if you don’t have a credit card with rewards. The chances are you will use a credit card to pay for all of your flights and most of your accommodations. In fact, most hotel companies prefer you to use a credit card as it’s more secure for them and guarantees that they’ll get their money. So, you can get some rewards while you travel, which can then be used to save money while abroad.
It’s a very simple idea, yet one that most people don’t think about. I’ve written before about how do you maximize travel points with Upgraded Points.
Consider earning money while you travel (optional)
This is an optional tip for people who haven’t saved up for a full year of travel. It makes sense to try and line up some money-making opportunities while you’re abroad. You can work in local shops, do some freelance stuff online, etc. It’s not essential, but if you’re running out of money – or are afraid you won’t have enough to get back home – this is a smart thing to do.
To summarize, gap years aren’t just for students that want a break from their studies. If you want to take a sabbatical from work, go for it! Travel the world and become a new person along the way. I did it and I can’t recommend it enough!