One of the biggest, if not the biggest, worries for young people considering a gap year is money. Many of you think that because you don’t have tons of cash stashed away somewhere you’ll never be able to explore the world before heading to university. Well this is quite simply not true, even if you’re on a tight budget it can still be done, and you can still have an amazing time.
Now that you've found the perfect gap year program, follow these 25 tips to ensure you’ll have a gap year to remember, whatever your budget.
1. Plan well
This is essential if you’re on a tight budget because you’ll want to know what you have to spend in order to see how much you have left over as expendable cash. If you work out a rough estimate of major expenses before you go you’ll be able to put all the money into one account and then use another account for surplus dollars. Your major expenses are likely to include: transport, accommodation, food, insurance and vaccinations. Remember: don’t skip out on insurance or vaccinations! Many travelers don’t bother with these because they think they’ll save a ton of cash, but they can save your life.
2. Go to cheap destinations
Places like South East Asia, South America and Eastern Europe are perfect places for the budget traveller; the food is cheap, the accommodations are cheap, and the transport can get you from one end of the country to the other for less than a 3 hour journey back home. Remember to consider where you'll be departing from - prices from North America to South America will be low; if you're leaving from the United Kingdom you'll find cheap flights to Eastern Europe. Flying to Asia will be a little pricier but worth it if you're going to be away for a long period of time.
3. Book early
If you can, book early. Everything is cheaper when you book in advance; trains and planes offer the early bird some seriously good discount. You will need to be organized and know exactly where you’re headed but if you can do this you’ll save huge dollars.
4. Don’t try to fit in as many places as possible
Not only does traveling from place to place eat away at your budget but if you try to fit too much in you’ll end up constantly tired and with no real feel for any of the places you’ve been. When you take a gap year travel like a traveler and not like a tourist; take it slowly and enjoy each place, don’t just tick off as many countries as possible just to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there’.
5. Never travel during a major holiday
It seems like common sense but many people do it and then complain about overpriced tickets and overcrowding. Everyone wants to travel during holiday times so ticket companies take advantage and charge extra. The key to traveling on a budget is to be flexible; travel when no one else wants to – yes, that means taking the 4am flight in the middle of the week.
6. Never change your cash at an airport
Yes, it’s convenient and that’s why they charge a hefty commission fee, but if you’re on a budget sometimes you have to let convenience slide. Just wait until you can get into the city centre and change your money there, you’ll find much better exchange rates.
Places like South East Asia, South America and Eastern Europe are perfect places for the budget traveller; the food is cheap, the accommodations are cheap, and the transport can get you from one end of the country to the other for less than a 3 hour journey back home.
7. Never carry too much cash
Someone once told me, ‘Never carry more cash than you can afford to lose’. Places like South East Asia are known for having skilled pickpockets and the last thing you want is all your money going missing. Lose your cash and its gone forever; it’s much better to travel with your credit or debit card which, if it does go missing, you can cancel and replace.
8. Use preloaded currency cards
These are pretty great but like anything, you need to be careful and always read the small print. A preloaded currency card looks like a debit card – you load cash onto it through your bank before you leave and you spend it while abroad.
You get a fixed exchange rate so if you buy it on a day where the exchange rate is good, you keep it at that rate until all the money is spent. They do not have an overdraft facility so it is impossible to get into debt making them perfect for the budget traveller. If you lose it, you can replace it and the new card will be loaded with the amount you were left with.
9. Travel overnight
Once at your destination, travel can be really cheap (depending on where you’ve chosen to go). But wherever you are, traveling overnight is certain to guarantee you one thing: no accommodation expense. Here you can kill two birds with one stone; travel through the night to avoid paying room fees and get to your next destination. Sleeper trains and buses are available in loads of places and some of them can be much comfier than you’d think.
10. Stay in hostel dorm rooms
Sure, it can be great to have your own room to crash out in but hostel dorm rooms are where it’s at. This is where you’ll meet new friends and maybe even new travel buddies (perfect for the solo traveler), and the best bit is that they’re incredibly cheap compared to private rooms. Look at popular sites or to find hostels, compare prices and read reviews.
When you take a gap year travel like a traveler and not like a tourist; take it slowly and enjoy each place.
11. Be prepared to let go of luxury
It’s not forever and you can go back to your double bed, iPod and wide screen TV existence when you return, but when you’re on the road try and be a little more basic. This doesn’t mean you have to live in cockroach infested rooms, it simply means choosing 10 bed dorms over private rooms or opting for shared bathrooms over en-suites.
If you’re on a really, really tight budget and in a hot, humid country try going for fan rooms instead of air-con. They really drive the price down but beware, sometimes your air-con is your only source of respite from the heat.
12. Try not to take your prized possessions
One sure-fire way to spoil your trip is to take your beloved items from home and then lose them while you’re away. No one wants to misplace their iPad, or find their laptop has gone missing. The truth is, while you’re away you shouldn’t really need these anyway so leave them at home where you know they’ll be safe until you return. Most hostels/hotels have got computers connected to the internet for guests to use so a quick Skype call to Mom should be easy to fix.
If you really do want to take your expensive items with you make sure you look for hostels that provide lockers and always carry your own padlock.
13. Hand wash your laundry
Laundry costs might not seem like much but they soon add up. Instead of paying for someone else to do your washing, do it yourself!
Take a tube of hand wash detergent in your backpacker and use the hostel sinks to rinse your clothes. If you’re really budget, wash your undies in the shower; it’s quick, easy and free.
Hostel dorm rooms are where it’s at. This is where you’ll meet new friends and maybe even new travel buddies, and the best bit is that they’re incredibly cheap compared to private rooms.
14. Don’t eat in tourist hotspots
Doing so is an easy way to watch your money disappear; in most cases you can walk away and in 5 minutes find the same food for half the price. Look for places filled with locals, not tourists; this way you’re guaranteed a good feed because if the locals like it, it must be tasty and it’s definitely going to be cheaper. If you’re in Asia eat the street food - don’t be scared of falling ill, just look for the places that are cooking it as you order. A lot of the time street food is much tastier than anything you’ll find in the restaurants.
15. Haggle (if you can)
If your destination is known for haggling then do so, it isn’t rude and it will be expected. If you go in and pay the suggested price you will be ripped off. There’s an art to haggling but it does get easier the more you try it and it’s a great way to pick up some real bargains.
16. Do it yourself
Many young people choose to either ask a company for help when moving abroad or travel through countries with tour guides in big groups. Both of these options, whilst having positives, have one big negative: they’re always much more expensive than doing it alone.
If you cut out the middle man you’re bound to save a load of dollars that you can put towards doing awesome stuff when you get to your destination. It will mean doing lots of research, but not only will you save money, you’ll also feel a great sense of achievement.
17. Go camping
If you choose a place like Australia for your gap year, accommodations can be super expensive. If you’re away for a long time and you really want to save some cash consider buying a tent and camping out instead.
18. Get a job
This one is a no brainer – you’re on a budget and want to explore a new country but you haven’t got the funds to do so…get a job. Destinations like Australia and New Zealand are excellent for backpackers because it’s easy to find work and make some cash. The key is to be flexible and take whatever jobs you can.
Instead of working for money you can offer your skills to an organization or person and get your accommodations (and sometimes food) for free. Volunteering also looks really great on your CV, making it perfect for when you return home.
Locals can show you places that aren’t in the guide books, they can cook you food for a real taste of what they call home and they can tell you things that you’d never learn by venturing around by yourself.
20. Make friends with the locals
In order to truly discover a culture, you need to talk to locals: see how they live, ask them questions, and do what they do. Making friends with the locals is easy - in most countries they’ll love you because you are different and they’ll want to interact with you as much as you do with them. Locals can show you places that aren’t in the guide books, they can cook you food for a real taste of what they call home and they can tell you things that you’d never learn by venturing around by yourself.
21. Remember that it doesn’t have to last a year
Taking a gap year doesn’t mean the entire year has to be spent away. If you really have no money, the best idea is to work in your own country for as long as you need and save, save, save. When you have a good amount (we recommend a minimum of $3,000 after flights) in your bank account then you can go on your trip.
22. Stop drinking…as much
So many travelers choose to take a gap year and as soon as they arrive they hit the bars and clubs with their new travel buddies and then never stop cracking open the beers. This is probably the number one easiest way to wave goodbye to your money. We’re not saying don’t have fun, but just remember that it all adds up.
23. Make the most out of free wi-fi
In most places you’ll find free wi-fi in your hostel and now even most bars and restaurants offer this service too. Connect your smart phone to the server and use it instead of paying for internet usage at cafes and hotels. They don’t charge much but it’s the little things that can add up.
24. Get a local sim card
If you think you want to make calls and texts while you’re away, get a local sim card and stick it in your mobile. If you use your sim card from home you’ll be subject to all sorts of fees that will quickly mount up.
25. Google living costs
Once you’ve chosen your destination, do a Google search and check out the living costs for the country you’re headed too. This way you can work out an estimation as to how much you can expect to spend each day.
The important thing to remember is that anyone can travel: whoever you are, whatever your budget, wherever you want to go. The world is your oyster and the year between school and college is the perfect time to get away and explore. Traveling on a budget can be fun and it’s a very popular choice amongst young people. Get a job this summer, save some cash and take off for an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime.
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