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Owe Carter

Tips for a stress-free gap year

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Whether you’re deferring entry into further education, or ducking out of the rat race for a well-earned break, gap years totally rule.

 Backpack on beach

Getting out into the world, exploring, and meeting people with a totally different background from your own is an education in itself.

We would be lying though if we said things always go smoothly when you travel, so we’ve put together some handy hints to bear in mind before donning your pack and setting off on your adventure.

Freeze your debt

Before you go, do some serious thinking about how you want to access your money, and how to limit any charges or interest payable on it.

For example, if you can freeze interest payments on a credit card by arranging a 0 per cent balance transfer for the period you’re away, why would you not?

Compare credit cards here to see how you could cut your interest payments.

If you do get a balance transfer, don’t undo the good work by continuing to spend on that card.

If there’s someone you really trust such as a friend or family member, you could consider leaving it with them with an instruction not to open, and get it back on your return.

Draw up a budget

Drawing up a budget of your expenses is pretty easy to do – the difficult bit is sticking to it. Consider writing up both an ideal-scenario budget and a worst-case-scenario budget, and take regular stock to ensure you’re veering closer to the former than the latter.

Whatever happens, have some contingency arranged so you don’t find yourself in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no financial safety net.

Also be sure to take all outgoings into consideration. For example, make sure your home current account is sufficiently out of the red so you won’t have any nasty surprises.

If you go into your unarranged overdraft whilst you’re away, the fees banks may impose can easily snowball out of control. If your bank has particularly onerous penalties when it comes to going over your limit, you could consider switching to a better current account.

Don’t overspend on your spending

Credit card abroad

What card should you use whilst away? Don’t assume your debit card will necessarily be cheaper than a credit card – there may well be unfavourable withdrawal fees coupled with exchange rate loading fees.

Read our article on how to save money abroad to learn more about the smartest piece of plastic to arm yourself with.

If you’re a student, soon-to-be student, or otherwise a youngling with little or no employment and financial history, you may find it difficult to get a credit card in the first place.

But there’s a cunning way around this. It’s possible for someone with a good credit history to take out a card and add an additional user (read: YOU!).

So if you have a parent, older friend or relative who is trusting enough to be your guarantor, then this should help you get over the application hurdle.

Another point worth noting is that purchases you make on a credit card are protected by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which provides that your credit card company assumes equal liability as the vendor for goods or services over £100.

This doesn’t absolve the supplier of their responsibilities, and they should be your first port of call if something goes wrong.

But it’s an extra layer of protection, so – for example – if you paid for car hire, but by the time you arrived at your destination the rental firm had gone out of business, you could still claim back from your credit card company. Your debit card wouldn’t afford you this protection.

Arrange some kind of income

Think of ways of bringing in some supplementary funds. If you think you may need to get some bar work, waiting on tables or fruit picking while you’re away, check whether you’re allowed to work under the terms of your visa beforehand.

Alternatively, you can try and earn some extra cash through the web. For example, if you’re going to some interesting or beautiful locations, you could try and sell your snaps online.

Stock photography sites such as Fotolia will pay you a commission when users download your photos.

Do bear in mind that original and symbolic photos may be more likely to sell… There’s probably no point in trying to flog a face-on photo of the Taj Mahal that looks like a squillion others.

Sort out your blower

You may wish to keep your UK phone to make it as easy as possible for someone to contact you in an emergency, or you may be tied into a lengthy contract. If so, you could ask your network to move you onto the plan with the cheapest line rental – you don’t want to be overpaying for a service you’re hardly using.

If you can get a SIM-only deal, even better. And when it comes to phone usage, less is more – less usage means more savings!

Even if you don’t think you’re likely to make many domestic calls in a country you’re travelling to, you might be surprised.

You may make friends you want to coordinate adventures with, or even meet an enchanting local. If you’re in a country for more than a couple of weeks, it’s not a bad idea to do a bit of research into call charges, and pick up a cheap pay-as-you-go SIM when you arrive.

Go couch surfing!

In case you don’t already know, there’s a growing community of folk who make their sofas or spare beds available for travellers on www.couchsurfing.org.

So, if you’re going to a place where you know no-one and want to find your feet, you could drop a member of the CouchSurfing site a line.

And it’s not just about scoring a free bed – many members are happy to make themselves available just to hang out, have a coffee or a beer, and impart their knowledge of the local area.

So even if you have a B&B booked, you can still tap into a network of ready-made local friends. How perfectly wonderful!

The one thing to bear in mind is that kindness goes both ways. These good folk haven’t signed up to cook for you and clean up after you – they’re not there to be your mum!

It’s bad form to just turn up and be a drain; so why not clean after yourself, cook your host a meal – just generally be considerate. And, when you’re done with your travels, go that step further and entertain some surfers of your own. You may well make friends for life!

Take out insurance

Easy peasy – take out an annual travel insurance policy, right? Er… Not quite. The problem with most annual policies is that they’ll normally limit your trips to a set amount of consecutive days. Which is obviously no good if your trip is near enough 365 days long.

So it’s best to look for extended trip policies.

A few more useful pointers

  • It probably goes without saying, but check the immigration requirements of your destination country. It’s not uncommon for countries to demand that your passport remain valid for a specified period (such as six months) after entry. Check with the Embassy or Consulate of said country in question in plenty of time. If it’s touch and go, remember that you can renew your passport at any time – you don’t have to wait until it’s almost expired.

  • Obviously you don’t want to fall ill or have an accident. Most of us try and avoid this instinctively, but you might, so when might you need to contact your insurance? It’s worth reading our article on when to claim on your travel insurance.

And, as ever, the best tip we can give you is have an amazing time.

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