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How to plan for gap year travel

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo

Posted: December 13, 2022

7 min read

Gap year travel is a chance for you to finally go on those adventures you’ve spent years daydreaming about in the classroom. However, figuring out the how, where and why of your travels can be daunting. Here is our gap year travel planner to help you get started. 

Travelling is one of the most popular ways to spend a gap year. It’s that magical time when young adults can explore opportunities outside of the classroom, before continuing with education or a career. 

Your gap year is a chance to learn new skills and experience new places. Your time abroad will be one of growth and personal development, as well as being a lot of fun. 

But the idea of setting off around the world alone can be scary. Try not to get overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and find out how to make your gap year travel happen. 

How to take a gap year and travel

There are many ways to travel during your gap year. You can choose to backpack through multiple countries, work in places like Australia or New Zealand, or volunteer abroad. 

The first step is to do your research and decide on what kind of experience you want. As a starting point, decide whether you would like to travel independently or as part of a program. 

A solo gap year means you’ll have complete freedom, but will need to take responsibility for all the details, such as itineraries, accommodation, visas and transportation. 

Choosing a gap year travel program can help make the planning and preparation for your gap year much easier, as many of these logistics will already be taken care of. You’ll also have access to a solid social network and focused support to help you reach your gap year goals.

Gap year travel programs

Gap year travel programs are typically focused on experiential learning, ideal for students looking to expand their horizons beyond the classroom. Programs usually combine either intern or volunteer activities with adventure travel opportunities. 

GVI’s gap year volunteering programs offer you the chance to discover locations such as Seychelles or Costa Rica while contributing to initiatives like conservation or community development. 


The support we provide, as well as the connections you’ll form with other like-minded, international volunteers, mean these programs are the ideal introduction to adventure if you are a solo or first-time traveller. 

Here are a few gap year ideas to inspire you:

  • Use your gap year to finally get PADI certified, and learn to scuba dive while volunteering in marine conservation in Fiji.
  • Switch up the standard backpacking tour around Southeast Asia and take some time to contribute in a meaningful way by teaching English to novice Buddhist monks in Cambodia.
  • Assist with conservation work in South Africa for a wildlife experience that will take you far beyond what a conventional safari trip could offer.

Your gap year travel checklist

Once you have done the hardest part and decided where to go and what to do, complete your planning by ticking off these six things. 

Make sure your documents are in order

Check the passport requirements of the countries you’ll be travelling to. For example, your passport may need to have six months of validity after your planned departure date. 

You should also check the visa requirements of any countries you’ll be visiting, and whether you need any other documents, such as a yellow fever vaccination certificate. 

Make sure your vaccinations are up to date

Visit a travel doctor before your trip to make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations. You may also need to stock up on medicines for your adventure, such as malaria tablets. Schedule an appointment at least six weeks before you leave, as some vaccinations require more than one injection. 

As well as jabs, you’ll need a well-stocked first aid kit for your travels, including basics such as water sterilisation tablets, pain killers, sunscreen and insect repellent. 

Plan your finances

Before going on a gap year, you’ll need to make a budget and save accordingly. If you plan on volunteering abroad during your gap year, you can explore fundraising possibilities to help you meet the program costs. 

You’ll also need to look at how to manage your money, and whether you want to take a credit card, debit card or prepaid travel card. 

Arrange insurance

Travel insurance is essential for any gap year travel. Make sure you’re covered for the duration of your trip and understand which sports or adventure activities are covered. 

Stay connected

Make sure your phone is “unlocked” before you travel. That way, you can pick up a local sim in your destination and can use data to make calls. Having a local number is the easiest way to stay connected while abroad. 

Make sure you’re ready with an open mind

One of the most important things to take on a gap year is an open mind. Adapting to a new culture could mean changing the way you dress or learning phrases in a different language.  

While taking a gap year abroad, things might go wrong; sometimes trains run late, electricity goes out, and giant bugs appear in your bedroom. Adjusting your mindset and taking challenges in your stride is all part of gap year travel. 

Gap year travel essentials 

You’ve chosen your program and arranged all of the important details. Now it’s time to pack for your gap year. 

It’s best to travel light. Take a medium-sized backpack, as it’s much more mobile than a suitcase, and fill it with only the essentials. 

Remember that you can buy most things while travelling. You don’t need to stress about taking a year’s supply of shampoo, for example. Every country in the world sells shampoo. 

However, there are a few key things you shouldn’t leave home without. As well as the obvious – passport, clothes – here are a few of the must-have items to pack for your gap year: 

  • a camera
  • a universal adapter
  • a notebook and pen
  • hand sanitiser gel
  • basic toiletries
  • a first aid kit
  • a fast-drying travel towel
  • a padlock
  • a head torch
  • hiking boots and flip flops
  • a good rain jacket
  • dry bags
  • packing cubes.

Armed with a well-stocked backpack and a sense of adventure, you’ll be prepared to have an insightful, meaningful, and productive gap year. 

Start planning your gap year adventure and browse GVI’s gap year adventure travel programs today.

By Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.
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