15 February 2009
It´s essential to plan well before any big trip abroad - especially one that could entail months away from home. Arriving in a foreign far-flung country is always exciting but it can be daunting too! So when it´s all so unfamiliar it´s important to do a little preparation before you go. Here are a few handy top tips to get you started:
It can happen to you so make sure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before setting-off. Shop around and make sure that your insurance is the right one for you. Think about any activities you may be doing, even spur of moment ones, and make sure you´re covered for these. Your policy also needs to cover all your medical and repatriation costs.
Carry out a bit of research into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs and language. This will help you avoid offending people or breaking local laws however unwittingly.
Make a visit to your GP at least six weeks before you depart and find out what jabs you may need.
Make sure your passport is in good condition and valid for at least six months after your return date. Leave photocopies of your passport with a reliable friend or relative in the UK. You should also check that you have all the correct visas.
Make sure you have enough money for your travels. Take a mixture of cash, travellers´ cheques and credit cards and don´t keep them in one place. Work out how much money you´ll need on a daily basis and work to a realistic budget. Be sure to take enough money.
It´s a good idea to set up a secure internet email account. Email yourself and trusted friends or family details of your insurance policy, passport, itinerary and emergency contact numbers (insurance company, credit card company and British Consulate) - just in case.
Tell friends and family your plans before you go and keep in regular contact, especially if you change your plans. Consider taking a roam-enabled mobile and use text or email to keep in contact. Don´t promise too much - promising to call home every day is unrealistic and will only cause your family and friends to worry when you don´t!
Ask around before you go and read a good guide book to familiarise yourself with your destination(s). Speak to friends and relatives about their travelling experiences abroad. Get their advice on countries and areas to visit. It´s also a good idea to speak to other gap travellers including those who have recently returned from abroad.
A flexible air ticket will ensure that you can come home or leave a country whenever you want without being restricted.
At the very least, make sure you have booked your first night´s accommodation in advance. You are at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a foreign country. You are likely to be tired and unsure of your surroundings - so it´s worth planning ahead.
Be aware of what is going on around you and keep away from situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Avoid potentially dangerous ´no-go´ areas, in particular after dark. Use your common sense and make sure you are constantly assessing and reassessing your personal safety. Be aware of drugs - these have been used in incidents of rape, so keep your wits about you.
Keep an eagle eye on your possessions. Never leave your luggage unattended or with someone you don´t completely trust. Be aware of pickpockets who tend to operate in crowded areas and lock up your luggage with padlocks. Make sure you have copies of all important documents such as your passport, tickets, insurance policy, itinerary and contact details. Keep these separate from the originals.
When it comes to alcohol, make sure you know your limit. You´re more likely to have an accident if you´re drunk and probably won´t be covered by your insurance.
Different countries have different penalties for people supplying or possessing drugs. Be aware of drugs and the consequences. Being a British Citizen doesn´t get you out of jail!
Try to keep a low profile abroad and blend in - the less you stand out the safer you´ll be. If you dress in clothes that blend in with the crowds, you´re less likely to become a target of crime or be hassled.
Be sure to think about where you´re going, when you´re going and what you´ll be doing there. This will help you to plan what you´ll need to take with you.
It may be worth giving someone close and trusted to you back home power of attorney over your bank account. This will allow them to pay any of your bills while you´re away and track you if necessary.
Working while you travel is a great way to help finance your trip, allowing you to stay away for longer. If you are planning to earn a bit of extra cash abroad, make sure you have the correct work permit and visas. Also ensure you properly check out any potential employer before your interview and let friends or family know where you are going and who you are meeting.
Many gap year travellers want to make a contribution to a community abroad and volunteer for some or all of their time overseas. Voluntary work can be very rewarding although the same factors which can limit the value of gap years generally, such as language and cultural barriers, apply here too. Volunteering projects require careful structuring, planning and support, and volunteers will get more benefit the longer the project and the closer it matches their skills.