10 Steps to plan your gap year
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve decided to take a leap of faith and ditch your conventional life and decide to head out and explore this beautiful world. Or maybe you could be just planning and preparing for a long-term journey. To either we say, congratulations! Live your life.
You’re also probably here because you’ve come to the deer-in-headlights point after all the excitement of making the decision and you are trying to wrap your heads around how you’re going to pull it all off. I mean, just how are you going to plan for an entire month/year/open ended travel?! Don’t worry. We were in your spot just a couple of months ago. Here are some the ten steps we took in order to get us out the door and onto the trip of our lives.
#1. Put together a savings plan
I know it’s lame and something people shy away from...but this will be critical for figuring out where you want to go and when you’ll be able to depart. Finances will mostly dictate almost all of your travel: where you're traveling (how far your money will go), what type of places you’ll be staying in, what your daily budgets will be, etc. We're cooking up a super-handy guide on budgeting for a year off and how to go about saving for your amazing journey...so stay tuned!
#2. Decide where you want to go
Always wanted to see the northern lights? How about hike to Machu Picchu? Or maybe you want to circle the globe? Whatever it is, start by just putting together a list of places that you’ve always wanted to see but never decided to go to because of: vacation time, money, [insert excuse here]. Start day-dreaming and actually getting excited. Kaleb went so far as to put together a vision presentation in Google Slides on just what he wanted to do and see on his year off. After talking about it and sharing our own hopes and dreams for our gap year, we decided on South America, Southeast Asia, and Oceana. We both had always felt that we never had enough vacation time to visit these places; plus, our money could go farther. Just know where you want to spend your time (as well as your travel style) will likely impact your timeline and/or your budget.
#3. Construct a travel budget
So now that you have a budget and a rough idea of where you’d like to go, you can start to build out an idea how how much it’ll cost. Travel budget will largely depend on how much you’re able to save and just how you like to travel. Are you OK sleeping in dorm rooms or in a hammock? Awesome sauce, you may not need that much saved for South America or Southeast Asia. Are you a couple and would rather have your own private room and bath? Totally do-able too just maybe a tad more (see our article on What’s Your Travel Style). We met travelers who were traveling on 7 months on $20,000, there was another couple who literally had spent only $3,000 in 1 year of travel in South America. If they can do it, so can you. It’s just a matter of giving and taking. But to get a general idea, start by looking up articles on how much the region or area will cost.
#4. Set a Deadline
We’re goal people. We work better when we set a hardline goal in the proverbial sand. So take a look at your savings plan, figure up how much you’ll be able to save each month, and start building out how long it’ll take you to get that great escape. For our ideal plan, we started saving for 2 years, and then seriously saving 1.5 years out from our escape. One thing you notice is that setting a D-Day (departure date as we like to call it) is you may actually pull up your date because you’re so excited and you go into “the savings zone” toward the end. We had an original timeline of May 2018; but after discussing things and making a last minute decision to sell our house (thereby eliminating a whole financial and mental burden) we were able to pull that date up to March 31st.
#5. Put it out there
We’re big believers in the power of thought and the law of attraction. Once you’ve made the decision and you’ve put together a plan, start telling the people you trust—your besties, your critical friends, your family. It was crucial step for us to start telling people. It not only made things all the more real and helped us with feedback, but also made us accountable. People would ask us later how our plans were going. We got the range of responses from the supportive “that’s amazing!” to the incredulous, “yeah, right.” All of it just further can fuel your decision to go forward with your plan.
A note on when to tell work…well, if you have confidants at work that won’t spill the beans, by all means, tell them. But as for the big Man/Woman, we say wait until it’s customary. In the US, that’s two weeks. Other countries, it’s more like 3 months. Be sure to not jeopardize your savings plan, by giving deuces too early. We know how tempting those quitting daydreams can be.
#6. Down$ize! Down$ize! Down$ize!
Depending on how long you’ll be traveling, you might be able to downsize. That awesome catharsis that comes from purging old shit and donating things. Room by room, we went through Marie Konda style and found the joyful pieces we owned. Everything else was just noise and because we’d eventually have to pay for storage for the year off; serious money. So we purged like no other. We sold things on eBay and craigslist, donated unwanted items that we hardly used to Good Will, local and national charities (donate old cell phones to local places for battered women & families). For everything else we found it a new or temporary home until we come back.
#7. Make it official
Book something...anything. It doesn’t have to be your flight tickets out. We didn’t even purchase our flights out until just about one month out from our departure. Instead, we booked Machu Picchu—we reasoned that, even if we got cold feet and decided not to go along with the plan, at least we had a vacation planned. So we booked one must excursion from our list to make it official. Just booking that one excursion was enough to make it real and kick ourselves and our saving into hyperdrive.
#8. Visit your local travel clinics!
Once you get closer to D-day (about 3 months out) you will most likely need to get some kind of vaccination if you’re traveling abroad. We went down the road of trying to look up the CDC and World Health Organization websites and put together a list of vaccines we needed due to where we were traveling. When we were about ready to pull our hair out, a friend told us about these magical things called travel clinics. They do it all for you. The only thing they ask is you come in with a basic itinerary. So take your itinerary from step 3 and make an appointment. From the itinerary, they’ll put together a list of vaccinations, a vaccination schedule, and medicine that you’ll need for your journey. You can either then get the vaccinations and medicine through them (some will even work with your insurance), through your regular provider, or you can defer until your destination country (that often can be significantly cheaper than in the US…or your home country).
Oddly insurance is a huge topic of concern for our parents. The answer for us: travel insurance. While it can be expensive—especially the longer the timeframe you’re going. It’s peace of mind that’s golden. We’ve come across travelers with horror stories of getting thing stolen on buses or at bars (knock on wood as we haven’t had any issues to date). But traveler’s insurance will help with not just stolen properties and things, it may also assist with emergency medical situations and other unforeseen horrific issues. We highly recommend World Nomads—they’re fairly priced and have nothing but glowing reviews from pretty much every traveler we encountered.
#10. Gear up
You’ve made it to the end. We’ve put together a packing list to help you with packing for a year on the road. Also use this as a means to reward yourself with a little something, something. You’ve put together an awesome budget and executed a thoughtful savings plan, why not get you something special that you can take on your journey—maybe it’s a new jacket, or Lululemon joggers, or even a new camera to record your journey. Just be sure to congratulate yourself on taking this leap and celebrate everything you achieved up to now. You’re about to embark on a journey and see and do things that most people never will. Treat yo’ self!
Bonus tip #1 : Things won’t go to plan
It seems a little contrarian—especially on a blog post about planning—but necessary. Planning is not set in stone. One of the best (albeit hardest) lessons we’ve learned is that plans can change at the drop of the hat. Weather, local strikes and protests...you name it. Planning and prep is super important for helping wrap your head around traveling. Planning is mostly a mental and confidence exercise. Just know that invariably, you’ll need to chuck part of it out the window and go with the flow. But because you’ve planned, you’re all the more prepared to overcome the obstacles of long-term travel
Bonus Tip #2 : Find a home for Fido or other pets—yes it can be done!
For those of you with pets, this one is hard. This was by far the biggest worry and decision we had to make. We have two amazingly cute and awesome labradoodles (Carnegie & Thatcher) that were probably our biggest preoccupation when it came to planning our gap year. It’s a tough decision, but we’re living proof that you can have pets and just might be able to make this whole year off of travel work. We spoke with several friends many of whom volunteered to take our beloveds, but in the end Kaleb’s mom actually is blissfully dog sitting for the year. Check with parents, friends, and others that you trust with your furry friends.
What about you? What step are you on? What’s the hardest one for you? Leave comments below and we’ll try to help you through it.