Thousands of school and university students slaving over summer exams are being carried through the pain barrier by gap year plans to travel the world once the hard work is over.
Growing numbers of older, professional workers are also satisfying their wanderlust by putting careers on hold for a year out of the rat race.
But experts are warning all travellers to plan ahead to cover often overlooked essential costs, such as vaccinations, travel visas and insurance.
Mapping out the future: Jamie Ody hopes to visit Peru, pictured, Belize and Brazil on his trip
VACCINATIONS AND VISAS
One in five travellers do not bother to check what vaccinations they need for trips abroad, according to website Travel Insurance Explained. Spokeswoman Fiona Macrae says although the cost of getting jabs can put people off (charges can be £50 for each of the most common vaccinations for gap year travel, such as yellow fever, rabies and hepatitis B), it is not a risk worth taking.
Macrae says: ‘Backpackers can check the National Travel Health Network Centre website (nathnac.net) for any vaccinations that are needed. This should be done whether they are visiting a country for a few days or months.’
She adds that all travellers should understand what visas are required for their chosen destinations: ‘The entry requirements, visas and how long people can stay or work, differ from country to country. Some countries may ask for proof that travellers have been immunised against certain viruses or diseases before they are allowed to enter.’
Check visa information and travel advice for all countries on the Foreign Office website. Although many visas are issued electronically within days, some can take weeks so allow plenty of time to make the application. Steer clear of unofficial visa websites which may add extra administration charges for their service – unnecessary if you go through official government channels.
Budget: Swati Karia, 31, from North West London who is now in Vietnam, saved for nine months
Jamie Ody will finish his A-level exams this week and plans to take on bar and college jobs immediately in his home town of Cambridge. The 18-year-old has his sights set on a South America trip early next year visiting Belize, Brazil and Peru, so is keen to save as much as possible in advance.
As well as budgeting for the flights, accommodation and various activities he and his friends plan to do on their travels, such as trekking, Jamie will also set aside cash for vaccinations and travel insurance. He will not require visas for the countries he is visiting.
‘I’ll need yellow fever, rabies and hepatitis jabs for South America so that will cost me about £150 in total,’ says Jamie, who hopes to go to university to read history in September 2019.
‘It is not a big cost in relation to the total price tag of the trip – which will be about £5,000 – but I know it is important not to forget to get the jabs. I’ve also bought specialist travel insurance which cost £250.’
Laura’s ‘crazy’ year of travelling (and all with a full-time job)
Laura Rettie has clocked up eight countries and has ten more trips planned
In January Laura Rettie, 35, set herself the challenge of visiting as many countries as she could in a year – fitting it around her full-time job and only using permitted annual leave – a total of 29 days.
‘It feels like a gap year of sorts,’ says Laura, who lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and works for comparison website money.co.uk.
She says: ‘Travel has been my major focus this year. Saving, budgeting and planning my numerous trips.’
Laura has already clocked up eight countries, including Australia, Dubai, Finland, Greece, Japan and Norway and has a further ten trips booked in before the end of the year – which will take in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Russia and Sweden.
With the European stays, Laura squeezes the trip into a weekend – flying out after work late on a Friday and returning on Sunday.
Laura says: ‘My motivation for this crazy year came after I visited my brother Bryn in Amsterdam, where he recently moved for work.
‘I met a group of his colleagues – all much younger than me – who were so well travelled. I thought I’m in my mid-30s and I’ve barely seen the world. This challenge is about pushing myself – as I usually travel alone – and broadening my experiences.
‘So far it has been amazing. I wanted to prove you can travel extensively while still working full time.’
To protect her travels, Laura bought a worldwide annual multi-trip policy from InsureandGo for £33. Her travel costs for the year have come in at around £6,000. She has used a mixture of income and savings but also took out a Post Office credit card, which offers zero per cent interest on purchases for three years.
Laura says: ‘The card means I will be able to pay off the balance within the next few years without incurring interest. It has been a great way to spread the costs.’
The added bonus of the card is there are no foreign transaction fees for usage abroad.
‘I have saved a fortune by using this card when I am away,’ says Laura. ‘I rarely carry currency – particularly on the shorter trips – because it costs such a lot to exchange small amounts of money. Many countries prefer card transactions too, so this is a good one to have in your wallet.’
A worrying number of ‘gappers’ – young and old – embark without travel insurance. Research by student insurer Endsleigh found that 48 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds travel without cover each year, with one in four young people wrongly believing the UK Government will cover their medical expenses if something goes wrong overseas.
This is particularly alarming given the potential cost of treatment while travelling. Medical claims where someone has been hospitalised in the United States, for example, can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds – and repatriation many thousands more.
Georgie Frost, spokeswoman for insurance comparison website GoCompare, says: ‘Do not let the adventure of your gap year turn into a nightmare. Opt for a specialist gap year policy and make sure you are properly covered.’
Cost is often a challenge for young people looking for travel insurance but it is important not to cut corners to save money. It may be that you have to pay more than £200 for the right cover, but this is necessary for peace of mind.
Policy terms and the amount of excess – the first part of any claim which you must contribute – varies from policy to policy, so it is important to read the details and check you have the right cover for your needs.
Frost adds: ‘Make sure you do not do anything which could potentially invalidate your cover, such as high-risk activities like bungee-jumping or white-water rafting.
‘You can get backpacker policies which will cover this sort of pursuit, but do not assume you are covered in all eventualities until you have read your documentation.’
Swati Karia, 31, from North West London, knew she wanted to take part in activities such as kayaking, snorkelling and ziplining during her gap year in Asia so she sought a policy which would encompass them all.
Swati, who left the UK in April, has already visited India, Thailand and the Philippines and is now in Vietnam. She bought cover through Columbus Direct for £250, receiving a partial refund by purchasing via discount website TopCashback
Growing numbers of older, professional workers are also satisfying their wanderlust by putting careers on hold for a year out of the rat race
Prepaid card can help you avoid eye-watering fees
Many gap year travellers will rely on existing bank debit and credit cards to access cash during their trip. But this could be a costly mistake.
Rachel Springall, money expert at financial data collector Moneyfacts, warns: ‘While in contrast to carrying cash, consumers get protection from theft when using plastic abroad.
‘Some debit and credit cards charge exorbitant fees each time you spend or withdraw cash. A debit card with a high street bank could charge around £11 for a £250 cash withdrawal overseas. A credit card could charge a fee of almost £15 on the same withdrawal.’
Springall points out there are more cost-effective cards – provided you pass the lender’s credit checks. She says credit cards from Creation Financial Services, Halifax and Santander have no fees for purchases or cash withdrawals overseas (although interest is charged on transactions). Aqua, Post Office and Tandem also offer good deals for overseas use.
Nationwide’s FlexPlus debit card allows free withdrawals worldwide and Metro Bank’s debit card is free to use to take out cash in Europe.
Travellers hoping to budget their expenses could choose a prepaid card. This works like a bank account in that you can only spend what is loaded on to the card – but you cannot go overdrawn. If the card is lost, it can be replaced without any loss of money. There are prepaid cards that do not charge for ATM cash withdrawals, such as the Ice Travellers Cashcard. Other good prepaid cards for overseas use include Lyk, WeSwap, FairFX and the EasyFX One.
Swati, who was working as a consultant in a bank before her trip, stuck to a strict budget for nine months before setting off on her travels. ‘I did some extreme budgeting to save up for my gap year,’ she says. ‘I cut out all non-essential spending and luxuries – eating out, gym membership, holidays – and looked to make savings wherever possible, comparing and switching household bills and taking great care over food shopping.’
Comparison websites are useful for trawling the market for the most suitable travel cover at the best price. But ensure a policy is bought before leaving the UK as it is not easy to get insurance once you are overseas. Even if you can, choice of insurer is limited and premiums high.
For policies bought before you go, consider Explorer Travel Insurance, which has a backpacker policy at £161. This is the price for an 18-year-old needing cover for a 12-month worldwide trip.
It covers around 50 sports and activities including bungee-jumping (within strict limits), scuba diving and jet skiing. The policy offers £5 million for emergency medical expenses with a £125 excess.
There is £750 for lost or stolen baggage (with a limit of £100 per item) with a £150 excess. In addition policyholders have £1,000 for cancellation (£125 excess) and there is also cover for losses incurred due to an airline going bust. Generally, gap year travellers planning to volunteer or work while they are abroad should tread carefully. Few insurers, even specialist backpacking insurers will cover all types of work.
This is because it is difficult to price the risk as there are varying standards of workplace health and safety in different countries.
Four routes to living generously
Various volunteering schemes in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Costs up to £6,200. Projecttrust.org.uk.
Adventurous challenges in Africa, Borneo, Nepal and Central America. Costs up to £3,450 (10 weeks). raleighinternational.org.
Conservation placements in six continents. Costs from £3,000 to £4,000 for 12 weeks. projects-abroad.co.uk
VOLUNTARY SERVICE OVERSEAS
Projects fighting poverty. Living allowance paid. vsointernational.org
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