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Student life-before you start

Taking a gap year

If you're thinking of a gap year before uni, there are a few things you should consider.

Blonde woman walking on sandy beach near the ocean


  1. Where to go

  2. Gap year travel

  3. Finding work

  4. Where to stay

  5. Keeping your money safe

  6. Using your phone abroad

  7. Gap year healthcare

Where to go

Before you go on your gap year you should check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website advice for each country you're considering to see if you need visas or vaccinations, or if there's any advice against travelling to certain areas. Ignoring this could invalidate any insurance you have.

Travelling without doing your research could mean you end up in towns and cities of little interest and paying way more for accommodation than you should. Get some gap year travel advice from review sites like Trip Advisor, where you can read recommendations from other travellers.

Investing in guide books like the Lonely Planet can also be valuable, especially when travelling to countries where there are big cultural differences.

Gap year travel

As you're thinking about your gap year travel wishlist, see how it could fit in with the nuts and bolts of international travel. You can get a round-the-world ticket valid for a year with several pre-arranged stops for less than £1,000 – though the more complicated your itinerary, the more it's likely to cost.

Travel agents such as STA Travel can help you to plan out your gap year travel route. Once you've decided which countries and cities you'd like to visit, it’s a good idea to research your options for travelling overland by bus or train.

Remember, it can sometimes be more economical to book in local tourist offices along the way, or through flight comparison websites online. However, always make sure you book through a reputable agency – your travel insurance could be invalidated if you don't.

Finding work

If part of your plan for going on a gap year before uni includes getting some more work experience on your CV, then working while you travel could be a great option for you. There are many websites that offer help in setting you up with jobs abroad. This can be seasonal work, jobs that require existing experience, internships, or posts that will bring out your adventurous spirit.

If you're more of a planner, organisations like Bunac offer help arranging your visa, accommodation and with finding a job. You could also gain vocational working experience. Teaching English is often an option (though you may need a degree or a TEFL qualification) or you could contact charities abroad who may need volunteers. You could tailor your search around your studies, and look for medical, children or animal charities. 

Where to stay

As with any part of the gap year experience, comparison and budget booking sites make setting things up both easier and cheaper.

Hostels are a good option. Not only are they affordable, they also give you the opportunity to meet fellow travellers from around the world. If you're looking for work while you travel you may find positions where you're paid in food and accommodation.

Be wary of any adverts you see renting rooms or sofas. Check out your new landlord. If something feels off, don't stay there, and never stay somewhere with a stranger if you're travelling alone.

Keeping your money safe

Even with the best-laid plans, your travel money is going to be vulnerable at some point on your travels.

Consider a prepaid money card, which you use like a debit or credit card but has the safety features of travellers' cheques in case of theft. Like a pay-as-you-go phone, you can't spend more than you've loaded it up with, meaning you'll have to stick to your budget. Watch out for high charges for using certain services. You could also consider TransferWise or WorldRemit, both of which have low transfer fees and good exchange rates.

Using your phone abroad

It may be easier than you think to stay in contact with your friends and family. Whether you're taking a gap year or spending part of your course overseas, you’re probably going to want to keep in touch with those back home.

You'll also want to keep in touch with friends you make overseas. So what’s the best way to do it on a budget?

Taking your mobile with you

You can continue using your current mobile overseas thanks to international roaming, but this can get expensive. Check with your current provider to find out what its roaming rates are. Remember to look at the overseas costs of texts and data, as well as minutes. 

If you're travelling within Europe, however, roaming charges won't apply until the UK officially leaves the EU on 31 December 2020. What happens next will be down to the deals reached by that time. If you're travelling in 2021, check with your service provider about roaming charges in Europe.

If you find the costs are too high, you could still take your mobile with you but use a locally purchased SIM instead.

Mobile phone deals overseas

You can pick up a pay-as-you-go SIM (often internationally known as prepaid) to use in your existing phone, but you might need to get your handset unlocked to allow a different SIM to work in it and it may be best to do this before you leave.

A pay-as-you-go option makes it easy to keep control of your spending. The only downside is you won’t be able to use your UK number.

Pay-as-you go avoids credit checks and is by far the simplest way of getting a low-cost mobile to use abroad. Many phone shops will ask you for ID when buying your new SIM, so be sure to take your passport with you. 

Some countries offer mobile phone rental deals where, for a small deposit, you can hire a phone with a SIM for the duration of your stay. Although you’re still responsible for call, data and text charges, you’ll get your deposit back as long as you return the phone in working order. This option again tends to avoid credit checks.

Man with backpack walking in airport

Credit as an international student

If you’re likely to be staying in another country for a prolonged period and decide you want a fully fledged mobile or broadband contract of your own, there are some steps you’ll probably need to take to get a credit rating.

You’ll be much more likely to get goods or services on credit if you’ve got a bank account in the country you’re visiting. To get one, you’ll need proof of ID (your passport and university ID should suffice), a letter from your university confirming your status as a full-time student and/or confirmation of your employment status if you’re working.

While most international broadband and mobile providers may be reluctant to offer you a contract with little credit history, some look more generously at international students. Whatever the case, getting your first overseas credit will make it easier to get subsequent goods and services.

Getting online wherever you are

Many public spaces all over the world offer free wifi. As in the UK, you could use an internet café, free public wifi or mobile data. If you’re away from home for a long time, you may want to get your own broadband connection.

As you would in the UK, consider how you’re planning to use your broadband connection, how much data allowance you’re likely to need, and what’s available in the area you'll be visiting before signing up.

If you’re in halls of residence or renting, you may have access to an existing broadband connection without having to set up your own.

Cut costs by calling online

It’s possible to make free computer-to-computer calls using software packages like Vonage and Skype, or through social media sites like Facebook.

These Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) apps ensure you can contact others online by making video or voice-only calls for free.

In some instances, you can upgrade the service to dial landlines by purchasing computer-to-phone credits.

Other ways to cut costs

Ensure that your smartphone or tablet doesn’t automatically check for new messages or download attachments in the background – you could run up unexpectedly high data bills this way.

Many applications regularly check for updates by going online and downloading required files. Play safe: turn off these auto updates or simply switch off your data services entirely.

Gap year healthcare

There are many things to consider before jetting off on a gap year, and travel health is one of the most important. However, it's one area of preparation that many students forget about.

Travel vaccinations

Depending on the countries you intend to visit and the length of your stay, you'll need vaccinations or preventative treatments catered to your trip.

To find out which treatments you need, contact your GP or local travel clinic as early as possible before you fly. It's always a good idea to make your initial visit to your GP at least 6–8 weeks before departure, to make sure there'll be no last-minute complications or disappointments.

Individuals with existing medical conditions should take extra care to ensure they take a sufficient amount of medicine with them because many prescribed medicines aren't available to buy outside of the UK.

Health insurance

It’s essential to arrange travel insurance before you leave regardless of your journey length or the countries you're visiting because there may be a time when you need to visit a healthcare professional abroad. Make sure your cover includes pre-existing conditions if applicable.

Gap year travellers heading to the EU before 31 December 2020 will still be covered under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This medical card will cover your treatment until you return to the UK and will grant you access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area countries, including Switzerland, for free or at a reduced rate depending on the circumstance. However, the EHIC scheme excludes pre-existing conditions and private medicine costs, so additional travel insurance is recommended. From 1 January 2021, you'll need suitable travel insurance.

Wellbeing essentials

Although your main priorities are probably your phone, passport and tickets, there are some additional items you should definitely make room for to keep you protected:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-diarrhoea pills
  • Rehydration sachets
  • First aid kit
  • Condoms

You may be limited to what you can buy abroad so it’s important to source these items before you travel. It’s especially important to buy condoms before you leave because some countries sell cheap, unreliable alternatives that may not be effective at protecting you against STIs and pregnancy.

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