Helping your child plan their gap year

In a world that seems ever smaller and better connected, it needn’t be a daunting thought that your child will be so far from home. Helping them to plan their adventures and sharing in their excitement will help them to feel supported, and will also give you peace of mind that their plans are appropriate and safe. We’ve put together a few tips on how to help.
Man leaping in to a tropical green sea from a tree lined cliff edge
Perhaps understandably, parents can often view a ‘gap year’ as an expensive excuse for their child to put off work or study. But the opportunity to travel, become independent and take in other cultures is a once in a lifetime experience, and an education in itself.

Deciding what to do

There are many options for their year off, depending on their objectives, do they wish to learn a new skill, or simply take advantage of travelling? The most popular choices include volunteering, working or simply backpacking.

Volunteering

There are many companies offering organised volunteering gap years; from teaching English abroad, or working with local communities in deprived areas through to taking part in conservation projects. The benefit of an organised trip is some certainty of what lies ahead. And with the ability to make a difference to the lives of others or the environment, it’s a really conscientious way to travel. A good starting point for ideas is statravel.co.uk.

Working holidays

Offering an affordable way to see the world, working holidays can be a great option. From chalet hosts in ski season to fruit picking in the summer, there’s a wealth of choice out there. It’s essential to check the working visa rules in the destination country, but many companies will help get anyone getting started. Have a look at jobsabroadbulletin.co.uk or www.takingagapyear.com for some ideas.

Backpacking

Depending on budget, there are varying degrees of transportation on offer for the intrepid explorer. Round-the-world flights offer a variety of stop-off options with an itinerary. The flight dates can often be changed mid-trip (for a fee) if plans changes. Train or coach travel can be a great alternative. Hop-on, hop-off coach and bus services make travelling easy for backpackers, and also offer the chance to meet like-minded travellers.  InterRail offers users unlimited train travel in their chosen countries; a fab way to enjoy Europe.
Table covered with a map, camera, pencil, compass, wedge of euros and a note pad

Planning your trip

The choice of trip and the destination is a great starting point. But there’s a lot of preparation needed to ensure the year’s a safe and enjoying one. Here are some things to consider:

Money

Carrying a lot of cash whilst travelling is never a good idea. Pre-paid currency cards can be a good way to keep track of budget, and can be topped up online or by bank transfer, a good way for parents to retain some financial control! It’s also a good idea to not show any signs of wealth whilst travelling. Expensive items should definitely be left at home, and any cash should be stored as discretely as possible.

Health

Check the vaccination requirements for your destination or destinations well in advance of your trip, some immunisation courses are required over a number of weeks prior to travelling. No matter how small your budget ensure you have adequate travel insurance arrangements and, if you’re travelling in Europe, that you have an EHIC card (issued free via the NHS). Always take a first-aid kit and any regular medication you require, as well as enough sunscreen and aftersun.

Communication

Planning on regular communication methods will always help to put parents’ minds at ease. It might be necessary to have mobile phones ‘unlocked’ prior to travelling so that local SIM cards can be used on arrival. Roaming SIMs can also be purchased. Skype is a great way to keep in touch from a smart phone and once an account has been set up it can be used free from anywhere with wifi. Keeping a travel blog can be a great way to upload information and pictures as you go, as well as a lovely way to keep in touch with friends and share experiences.

Safety

Always keep an eye on the Foreign Office website before travelling to any areas of political unrest. There’s also some great general travel advice to be found there. Before travelling take photocopies of any key identity information such as passports, insurance details, travel information, important contact numbers and visas. Copies should be left with someone who’s easily contactable at home, just in case they’re lost or stolen abroad. Most countries don’t require an advance visa, but those that do will charge for it. You can find out more at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

Packing

There isn't much that can’t be purchased abroad, so there’s no need to over-pack. However there are a few essentials that can make the trip a lot easier:
  • Universal plug adapter
  • Padlocks for rucksacks or bags
  • Moneybelt to store cash and passports
  • Torch
  • Sewing kit
  • First aid kit
  • Mosquito spray
  • Water purification tablets
  • A sleeping bag liner or single duvet cover

Coming home

Finally, don’t forget after all that planning, the key purpose of the trip is to have fun. Try not to worry when your child is away, they will be home before you know it, having had the best experience of their lives.
(Original article published on 23/06/2013)

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