Planning a gap year isn’t just about “breaking free” for a while before finding a job and settling down. It can have all kinds of legitimate advantages.
For example, a gap year may give you diverse social and work (or volunteering) experience, which you can later draw on in work environments.
It may give you time to figure out what you really want to do. And along with learning about other places, people and cultures, you’ll likely learn a lot about how to look out for yourself.
For a gap year to have a positive impact on your life, however, it needs proper planning.
Planning a gap year: what to consider
Certain things, like visas and vaccinations, you simply can’t overlook before heading off to foreign climes. Other considerations, like planning what you’ll do once you get back home, can make a major difference to your overall success and happiness.
Check visa requirements
If you decide to spend your gap year in another country, it is important to check if you need a visa if you will only travel or a work permit if you plan to work there. Visas include:
- Schengen visa for access to 25 countries in Europe
- J-1 visa for the USA that operates as an exchange programme if you go through a sanctioned placement organisation.
Countries such as Peru do not require a visa if you stay for less than 180 days, but only if you work as a volunteer. If you are going to teach English, your visa and work permit are usually organised by the company or school where you will work.
Plan vaccinations well in advance
Certain countries require you to have compulsory vaccinations before you go. Your travel agent or the embassy can give you more information about vaccinations required.
You can also ask advice from a travel clinic about extra vaccinations recommended. Visit your GP or travel clinic at least one month before you leave and be as specific as possible about where you are going, as there can be different diseases that pose a risk in various parts of one country.
Note: Some vaccinations must be administered weeks before you leave. You might also need an initial booster shot, followed by a second shot several months after the initial one. So plan vaccinations well in advance.
Shop around for travel insurance
Medical help in another country can be very expensive. If you fall ill, being stuck without it in a strange country is also no joke.
Travel insurance should cover:
- medical and health cover
- 24-hour emergency service and assistance
- personal liability cover
- lost and stolen possessions
- cancellation and shortening your trip
- activities such as jet-skiing, zip-lining and diving.
You can also add cover for personal accident, legal expenses and protection against airline problems.
Buy travel insurance from travel agents or independent companies, but shop around first to find the best cover at the best price.
What you will do during your gap year depends on how much money you have. For example,
- if you will do volunteer work, you will not get paid a salary and have to carry all your own costs, which can amount to a large amount
- if you get work, such as au pair work through an agency, you will need money to cover basic costs until you get your first salary
- if you are going without having any work, you will need to pay for your flights and be able to pay for accommodation and livings costs until you find work.
Plan for when you come back
It’s important to have a plan for when you get back to South Africa. For instance,
- if you are going to study, make sure that you can register in time by leaving the necessary forms and documents with someone who can submit it for you
- if you are going to work, ensure that your CV is ready
- where are you going to stay?
Store your stuff
If you have to move out of your accommodation before going on a gap year, you’ll need to store your stuff somewhere safe.
XtraSpace is an excellent solution - we won’t charge you for more space than you need.
Register with ROSA
Set your mind and the minds of your family at rest by registering with ROSA (Registration of South Africans Abroad). ROSA is a software program developed by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco). Registration is free.
By registering your trip on-line with ROSA you assist Dirco to locate you during an emergency, verifying your status and liaising with your next-of-kin. This is important in case of crime, accident/s, illness, death, natural/man-made disasters or civil unrest. It will also help if your family need to contact you in an emergency.
Useful resources for planning a gap year
A number of organisations offer or help organise gap year activities and programmes.
Try this list of resources as a starting point:
- www.gooverseas.com: empowers human connection through perspective-changing travel, such as volunteer programmes
- http://gapyearsouthafrica.com: fully inclusive Gap Year Programmes with a variety of options, such as volunteering, learning to surf, sports coaching and travel
- http://www.awesometravel.co.za: a culture exchange work and travel company
- http://www.ccusa.co.za: summer camp and international work adventure
- http://www.gviafrica.co.za: GVI runs programs in 21 locations, in 13 countries around the world aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and objectives of local partners
- http://www.jcr.co.za/: legal au-pair, student exchange and work and travel programmes in a safe and supportive environment
- http://www.ovc.co.za/pages/default.asp: travel around the world and work, such as teaching English in Asia, au pairing in America, Holland and Germany and studying in New Zealand
- http://www.projects-abroad.org.za/: international volunteering organisation with projects in over 50 countries around the world
- http://www.sasts.org.za/: StayAfrica provides affordable travel opportunities for South African students
- http://www.ydp.co.za/: Youth Discovery Programme offers au pair, summer camp and Kibbutz programmes, as well as internships
- http://www.yfu.org.za/: Youth for Understanding South Africa is an international youth exchange organisation that promotes intercultural exchange programs between South Africa and the world
- http://www.youthexchange.co.za/: The Rotary Youth Exchange Programme gives students the opportunity to live in another country for either six weeks or a full academic year
- www.educonnect.co.za: information and resources on tackling career decisions, tertiary studies and life after school.
At XtraSpace, we offer convenient, affordable student storage, ideal if you’re planning a gap year.