A gap year is an important experience for many young people, where you take time out after school or uni, to really experience the world and understand yourself, before the pressures of life tie you down. While there will be opportunities later in life for holidays, there will never be a holiday with the same freedom as your gap year travels, so you want to make sure you have enough money to enjoy everything this year has to offer, and that you can manage your finances successfully while you’re away.
Therefore, to plan your finances for your gap year before you leave, take the following steps: Create a daily budget. Every gap year will be different, but you know the experiences which will be important to you, and where you will be going, so draw up a daily budget to work out exactly how much you will be spending on food, accommodation and transport. Also make sure you have money budgeted for emergencies. The rest of the money you will need to save will go towards the tours and attractions you want to see during your gap year.
- Be realistic. While you may want to travel for the entire year, you may not be able to save enough to be away for that long. Rather than miss out all together, or risk missing out on experiences because you are travelling on a very tight budget, look at travelling for just six months of your gap year, and working and saving for the first six months.
- Look for gap placements. You can organise your gap year with a specialist gap year company who will help you work out and compare the costs of different opportunities. Just make sure you are dealing with a reputable gap year company before you hand over any money, by asking to speak to past gap year travellers and seek their feedback on the services. In some cases you may be placed in a paid-for volunteering opportunity, so make sure you know what you’re actually paying for and where your money is going.
- Fundraising. If you are planning on spending your gap year working for a good cause through a charitable gap year scheme, you may even be able to do some fundraising to raise the money you need. You could also write to local businesses to see if they will support you, or ask your school to help you by organising fundraising events.
- High interest savings. While you are saving towards your gap year goal, you need to be sure that your money is working as hard as you are, in a high interest savings account. Shop around and find the account with the highest ongoing rate for the period you will be saving for, and choose an online based account as you will be able to easily make your contributions electronically, you won’t be tempted to spend the money before your gap year, and you’ll be able to use your account fee free.
- Decide how you’ll be spending. Plan how you intend to make your purchases before you leave for your gap year, as this will allow you to set off with the right financial products in hand. If you plan to spend cash, make comparisons online to find the best price for your foreign currency. Even if you don’t want to carry a lot of cash, don’t assume that everywhere you will be travelling will have ATMs accessible. If you want to spend on plastic for security, consider a debit card to ensure you don’t run up a credit card debt while you’re away, and you’ll be eligible for lower foreign transaction fees than a credit card too. A Mastercard or Visa debit card will be the most widely accepted around the world, but find out the preference in the countries you are travelling to, as some will only accept one and not the other.
- Update your phone plan. Chances are you’ll be taking your smartphone, tablet and laptop on your travels, and these will help you record your trip, stay in contact with friends and family as well as manage your finances online. Just make sure that your devices are set up with international calling and data usage and that you have an international plan which is good value.
- Affordable travel insurance. When you’re living and working at home, you probably don’t take much notice of the costs of your healthcare, however, when you are away on your gap year, these expenses can add up, especially in the case of an emergency. Therefore, an important part of financing your gap year is making sure you have comprehensive travel insurance. Travel insurance won’t just cover you if you get sick while you’re away, but will also cover any expenses related to delayed flights, or lost or stolen luggage. Make sure you choose a cover which is relevant to how you’ll be spending your gap year, for example, working as a waiter in the UK is likely to be less risky than if you were planning to go skiing or skydiving.
While you’re away you will need to stay organised and in control of your money, but that doesn’t have to affect the enjoyment or spontaneity of your gap year experience. To help you manage your finances while you are away on your gap year, remember the following tips:
- Keep your finances safe. While you are travelling you will need to keep your cards, cash, passport and tickets in a safe place. Therefore check whether your hotel or hostel has a safe deposit box where you can keep your valuables while you are out during the day. To carry the money and cards you need when you go out, use a money belt which can be worn beneath your clothes, to protect you from pickpockets. Also remember to keep your PIN secure, and never let your card out of your sight when paying a bill.
- Use online banking. Checking into your account regularly using online banking allows you to keep track of your spending and make sure you are sticking to your budget. Most bank accounts will have online banking facilities, but check with your financial institution before you leave to make sure online banking will be accessible while you are travelling. You also need to keep your banking details secure when you are using online banking, so make sure you enter your account details without being watched, and if you are using a common computer in an internet café, clear the cache and erase the history from the computer. If you are logging into a Wi-Fi network from your laptop, phone or tablet, make sure it is a legitimate network, and ask the café, restaurant or library for the exact name and password of the network.
- Worthwhile souvenirs. When you are travelling it can be tempting to buy up big whenever you see unique arts, crafts and local products. However, not only is this a good way to burn through your spending money, it can also mean expensive excess baggage costs on the way home. Therefore, think carefully before you buy an item on your travels and make sure you really love it – it is going to be a memento of your trip to be proudly displayed in your home for years to come, so make sure it is representative of you and your trip.
- Keep budgeting. As soon as you get away on your gap year you’ll realise just how easy it was to budget your savings while you were at home. In between travelling, souvenirs, travel costs, food, drink and attractions, your spending can quickly add up before you’ve even had a chance to check your bank balance. Therefore, while getting caught up in the experience and the new culture is what a gap year is all about, don’t forget basic money management principles and exercise a bit of frugality. For example, if you can go to the supermarket and make yourself sandwiches and buy drinks you can save yourself the costs of expensive deli or tourist trap lunches. Download your bank’s smartphone app, or a money management app like Mint.com so you can keep track of your spending on the go.
Alban has been sharing tips on personal finance for the last 3 years. In addition to blogging, Alban has helped in the development of a personal loans calculator at Personal Loan Finder.
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