What you need to know before you go

By now, you’re probably counting down the seconds until you leave home and set off on your gap year. The Gap Year Travel Guide talks you through the final, but all important, steps of planning and what you need to know before you go.

6 months before…


One of the most important things to sort out is your vaccinations. Don’t leave this until the last minute as vaccination courses often take a few months to complete and you may need two or three doses to ensure full immunity. If time has run away with you, still enquire because sometimes there are fast track courses available.

“If you’re travelling with prescription medication, check whether it’s legal in the country you are visiting. You can contact the country’s embassy in the UK for this information.”

Check with your doctor during the planning stages of the trip to ensure you have all of the vaccinations you need for the country you are visiting. Research is vital. Read up on which immunisations are appropriate to the areas you are visiting and try to visit your doctor or travel nurse to get some professional advice.

travel vaccinations

Visas and passports

Without a doubt, the most vital part of your preparation is making sure your passport and visas are in order. Passports must be valid for six months, so if you have flexible travel plans and are unsure of your return date, it may be a good idea to apply for a new passport.

You can apply for many visas in advance in the UK, which is a good idea as this won’t waste time whilst you are away. But make sure you leave enough time as this process can often involve sending your passport away.

Investigate the different policies and procedures for each country you plan on entering. Many visas are available on arrival whilst travelling, so make sure you understand the process. For example, Thailand has now reduced its visa to 15 days on arrival, but if you apply whilst in the UK you can get a longer stay. Other countries such as Vietnam require you to have a visa before arrival. Risk arriving without one and you’ll be on the next return flight.

Visas can also vary greatly in cost and the amount of time granted.

“Documents such as passports, visas, contact numbers, flight details and tickets are a crucial part of your travels. Forget or lose any of these and there could be serious problems.”

need to know gap year

3 months before…


Malaria is rife throughout many tropical countries so sorting out tablets should be a priority. A variety of malaria tables are available but some tablets work in certain areas of the world and not others. It’s best to seek advice from your doctor before leaving. The NHS ‘Fit For Travel’ website is a great resource for seeking more info.

If you’re travelling with prescription medication, check whether it’s legal in the country you are visiting. You can contact the country’s embassy in the UK for this information.

Before you leave, visit your doctor and get a health check to make sure you’re fit to travel. It’s a good idea to take a prescription and a GP’s letter in case you’re stopped by customs or lose your medicine and need to replace it.

It’s also worth visiting your dentist for a check up and if you wear contact lenses take a spare pair of glasses with you. Visit www.dh.gov.uk/travellers for more information.


It may seem like an added expense but buying travel insurance can make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and an adventure from hell. If anything did go wrong – touch wood it won’t – you could end up paying thousands of pounds for treatment, rescue services, medication and even flights home.

Get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you’re travelling within the European Economic Area or Switzerland. This entitles you to some reduced or free emergency care – but you will still need travel insurance.

Once purchased, spend some time reading the small print on your policy which may vary for extra activities such as moped hire and white water rafting. There are different levels of cover so the cheapest policy may not always be the best.

travel insurance

1 month before…


It’s a good idea to have two debit cards and a credit card – just in case. Remember to make a note of your credit or debit card details and bank emergency number in case your card is lost or stolen.

The Post Office does a great credit card that doesn’t charge for overseas transactions.

Also, consider the charges your bank will take when you withdraw money in other countries. A lot of places only accept cash for day to day purchases.

It’s wise to set up online banking before you leave (remember your PINsentry device) to keep track of your spending as most ATMs in Europe won’t display your balance. Bank cards may not automatically work abroad so ring your bank to arrange overseas usage. It may be useful to get a small amount of currency for all the countries you’ll be visiting so as soon as you arrive you can get on a bus/ buy a meal etc.

American dollars are always useful and normally accepted in a lot of countries over their usual currency.

To keep your money extra secure, get a Travellers Cashcard from the International Currency Exchange (www.iceplc.com). This is one of the safest ways of carrying money – they are basically a pre-paid money currency card which can be used in 120 countries worldwide. They are available in Pounds (GBP), US Dollars (USD) and Euros (EUR).

need to know gap year


Documents such as passports, visas, contact numbers, flight details and tickets are a crucial part of your travels. Forget or lose any of these and there could be serious problems. Take the originals, a photocopy (keep these separate from the originals) and also leave a copy with your family back at home.

Hire a car?

We rely on our cars back home and being without one for a long time can be a little strange at times. Public transport is great and you’ll likely be able to get where you need to, but for the odd times when you need a car, don’t rule out hiring one as it can be cost effective, particularly if there is a group of you to split the cost. Car hire is usually only available for over 21’s and there is often a surcharge for 21-25 year olds so always check before hand. It’s always best to pre-book for the best deals and worth trying the comparator sites or a broker such as www.rhinocarhire.com who also have a handy iPhone app so you can book anywhere and it’ll find the nearest car hire location to you.

Keeping in touch

If you’re taking your mobile phone, call your provider to check you have world roaming activated. But it’s probably wise to leave your smartphone at home and avoid potential data roaming costs. You can buy an international handset and then change your sim cards in each different country and worldwide sims with same rates internationally are also available. Skype has made it a lot easier for keeping in touch with family and friends – it’s free and more personal.

Get registered on the Foreign Commonwealth Office’s LOCATE system which ensures local embassy staff can contact you should there be any emergencies. www.fco.gove.uk/locate.

The chances are you won’t have any problems but if anything does go wrong, at least you’ll be prepared.

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