Gap year students

Students are increasingly opting to take a gap year between leaving school and heading off for university. Whether you choose to go backpacking, volunteer abroad or work in a foreign country, this can be a life changing experience.

Here are some tips on how to stay safe and healthy on your gap year.

Preparation

As well as making sure your passport is up to date there are a whole range of things travellers need to do before setting off on a trip. Our top 10 tips on preparing for a trip covers these but there are some other things you need to think about if you are going on a gap year. These include:

  • If you plan to work while you’re away you need to find out if you’ll need a work permit. You should 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.
  • Volunteering is very popular among gap year travellers but make sure you choose a reputable provider. A good one will be able to help you out with your arrangements. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has some useful volunteering tips on its website.
  • Make sure you visit your GP at least eight weeks before travelling to ensure you have the right vaccinations and start any necessary course of medical treatment in time before you go. You can find out more on the NHS Choices website.
  • Knowing even a little of the local language can help you get by in a foreign country so where possible learn some basic phrases.
  • Travel insurance is an essential and don’t forget to get cover for any adventurous activities you plan to do.
  • Take a first aid kit with you. This could prove invaluable if you’re travelling around or going somewhere off the beaten track.

Travelling around

  • Book your plane or any other tickets in advance and make sure you have a return ticket (ideally with a flexible return date) so you can always get home even if you run out of money.
  • Check the latest travel advice on the Foreign & Commonwealth (FCO) website. This will tell you if the area you plan to travel to is safe and what to watch out for. It will also tell you what the local currency is, if travellers cheques are accepted and if ATM cash machines are easy to find in the area.
  • The FCO website also includes information on local customs and dress codes which can help you avoid inadvertently getting into trouble or offending the locals. Female travellers sometimes need to be particularly mindful of this and you can find more tips on this in our guide.
  • Whether you’re travelling on your own or in a group it’s good to take precautions where your personal safety is concerned. Remember not to take risks you wouldn’t take at home, such as walking alone in deserted or unlit areas or accepting drinks from strangers.
  • If you are arranging your own travel and accommodation see our independent travellers guide for more tips.

Where you’re staying

  • Where possible book accommodation in advance particularly for the first night you arrive in a new place.
  • Make sure your accommodation is safe and secure. Our hotel and self-catering guides have tips on staying safe in your accommodation.
  • If your accommodation is basic or in an area where health and safety is not a priority take particular care to check out any gas appliances as faulty equipment can give off carbon monoxide which can be lethal.
  • Keep your passport safe. If there’s a safe in your hotel use it for this and any money or plastic you don’t want to carry around with you. For more on this and what to do if your passport is stolen see our guide.

Food and Water safety

It’s great to try out the local food and drink but if you’re eating unfamiliar foods, in a hot climate or are not sure how good the sanitation is, you need to take extra care. See our guide on food and water safety.

Alcohol and drugs

  • Find out what the local laws are around alcohol such as if you can drink and where and don’t break the law as you could end up in serious trouble.
  • Never accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended. Drugs are increasingly being added to non-alcoholic drinks such as tea and coffee as well as to alcohol.
  • Watch what and how much you drink. Measures are often larger than in the UK so you may end up drinking more than you think and the local brew may be stronger than you realise.
  • Take extra care if you’ve been drinking. Not only are people more likely to have an accident or fall victim to a crime if they have been drinking but it can also invalidate any insurance claim you might need to make if you then have an accident.

Keep in touch

  • Stay in touch with your family or friends and let them know your itinerary so if you get lost or run into trouble someone knows where you are.
  • Make copies of all your important documents and give these to someone at home. The list could include your passport details, insurance policy number, ticket details, plastic card numbers and accommodation addresses.
  • Store useful information on your phone. This could include the information above plus the local emergency services number (112 in the European Union), any 24-hour advice line your travel insurer offers and the contact details of the local British Consul.