I was reading in the paper this week that by February most people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions. Dieters remember that lots of things actually taste as good as skinny feels (despite what Kate Moss tells us); gym goers realise they’d rather spend an hour on the sofa watching Friends than an hour on the treadmill; and those of us addicted to shoe shopping realise we are truly a lost cause.
This led me to think about a conversation I had with a friend recently about how difficult it is to actually get your plans in motion when you want to travel for a substantial amount of time. A decision which obviously becomes way more complicated when you are taking a ‘grown up gap year’ and are contemplating leaving your whole life behind.
There are lots of people out there who would love to travel but feel daunted by the fact that they have to give up their job; or worry that they are never going to have enough money; or think that the whole thing is going to be far too scary. And in the end the list of reasons not to go gets bigger and bigger and suddenly another year has passed and it’s time to make another New Years resolution that this will be the year they travel.
Now I am a big list writer. In fact it’s one of the things Mr A teases me about the most. He thinks that if I could write a list of all the things I need to write lists about, I probably would. But honestly, it’s how I work best. If I know something is down on paper a) it actually makes me get around to doing it and b) it suddenly seems less daunting. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of ticking everything off on a list?
So I thought I would write a list of all of the things I think you need to do between making the initial decision to take a career break or a sabbatical to getting on the plane. Hopefully it may help you if you are considering taking a gap year but are not really sure of what steps to take. (Disclaimer: obviously there are a million and one other little things you need to do along the way, but these are the main ones okay? Don’t blame me if you forget your passport!)
1. Make a plan
This is the most important part of the decision making process, as where you want to go and how long you intend to travel for will have a big impact on your budget.
Now’s the time to start immersing yourself in travel books and researching possible routes and flights. Take some time to daydream, read books and start narrowing down the list of places you want to visit. If you need some help for inspiration, a good place to start is other people’s travel blogs.
2. Start saving
Once you know where you are going to go you’ll be able to work out roughly how much you’re going to need per month. This will depend on the kind of trip you’re planning to have too. Do you intend to travel on a shoestring or do you want some luxuries along the way?
Guidebooks like Lonely Planet have tables at the front with how much you can expect to spend on average in each country and there are also loads of great blogs out there where people have painstakingly worked out how much they spent per month in a country, down to the last penny.
When you’ve worked out how much money you’re going to need before you head off, make your saving plan realistic. It may be possible to live on baked beans on toast for a week, but a couple of months is probably pushing it. Also, even if you are saving hard, make sure you allow yourself the odd treat every now and again. Your trip is something you are supposed to feel excited about saving for and you don’t want to end up resenting it because you’re missing out on things. For some tips on easy ways to save cash, check out this post.
3. Set a time frame
If you don’t do this it’s very easy to keep putting things off and before you know it the proposed date of your trip has come and gone and you’re no nearer to taking it. But if you set yourself realistic (achievable) deadlines for saving money, it will give you something to work towards. Have dates in mind for key moments like booking your tickets, handing in your notice and achieving different tasks on your ‘to do’ list and it will keep the momentum going towards your trip and hopefully help to reduce any last minute stress!
4. Sort out your job
Find out if your work offers a sabbatical and if it does, and you fit the required criteria, then start taking the steps towards applying for one. If you are going to hand in your notice and take a career break instead, then make sure you do it well within the required time-frame and give yourself enough time between finishing work and setting off on your trip ( I speak from experience after an extremely stressful week!) If you’re not sure whether to quit your job or take a sabbatical, then here’s some tips from people who have done both.
If you plan to work while you’re away make sure you have the relevant visas or the required equipment/programmes/clients if you intend to work remotely.
5. Sort out your life
As I’ve said many times before going on a grown up gap year is different to travelling straight after college. There are lots of decisions to be made before you get on that plane.
One of the first things to consider is your home. If you rent, you’ll need to give your landlord notice; if you own your home you need to make sure your mortgage payments will be covered while you’re away and may consider renting it out.
You’ll also need to sort out how any bills will be paid. (Tip: If you’re in the UK you can put your student loan on hold.)
Make sure you tell your banks you’ll be away so that they can activate your credit cards to be used abroad.
If you have children you’ll need to sort out how they are going to be educated on the road. If you’re planning to homeschool them, make sure you have the relevant resources. There are lots of great blogs written by families who are travelling, so make sure you check them out.
If you have pets work out who is going to look after them (and make sure they’re definitely going to give them back when you get home – I know someone who lost a rabbit as their ‘friends’ refused to return it after their trip!)
6. Start telling people
Once you’ve started telling your family, friends and work colleagues, there’s no turning back. Letting other people know you are planning to take a career break or sabbatical will help them to understand why you might turn offers of nights out down if you’re saving and also offer you support during the times of worry.
This is the fun bit. Read books, read blogs, talk to other travellers. Before you know it you’ll have a whole new list of places to travel.
Most of all – enjoy the experience and if you need any help along the way, feel free to drop me a line!