Each year, approximately 230,000 young people in the UK plan their gap year. This can be a very daunting task. But with the right planning, it can be the most exciting and rewarding experience you ever have.
For the last six years, Amanzi Travel has been overseeing the wellbeing of its volunteers, and has come across both prepared and unprepared travellers on their Gap Year and has some great tips when planning your life-changing year.
1 – Mental preparation - this is one of the most important aspects to consider before your Gap Year, especially, if you plan to travel abroad and have not been abroad on your own before. If you plan well in advance, plan all the possibilities about what you would do during your gap year, there is a higher chance that you will really benefit from your gap year and achieve whatever goals you want to.
2 – Why are you taking a Gap Year? People have different reason to take a gap year so their plans vary:-
- A great opportunity to do something really worthwhile
- An opportunity to travel the world and experience new cultures
- Time to meet new people and make new friends
- Enhance my curriculum vitae and improve my career prospects
- A chance to take a break from daily life – take stock and re-energise
- A chance to be very proud of my achievements
- I didn’t get the results I wanted/needed so need more time to re-assess my future plans
- I don’t know what I want to do
- I want to get that extra edge over other people wanting to do the same as I do
- Do something totally different – it could be the best thing I ever do!
3 – What do you want to do in your Gap Year? Here are a few options of volunteer work in Africa:-
- Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Projects – help hand rear lion cubs at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; work with researchers on the Big 5 Game Reserve in South Africa; reduce human and elephant conflict in Namibia or help care for abused and neglected horses in South Africa.
- Community Volunteer Projects – help to reshape the lives of orphans in Cape Town or on school feeding programmes which offer one good meal a day to children who would otherwise have no food
- Teaching and Sports Coaching Projects – help to teach underprivileged but very enthusiastic children at nursery, primary and secondary schools throughout Africa as well as valuable sport coaching initiatives in schools and clubs.
- Medical Projects – work with doctors and nurses in the Bushman Medical Clinic in Namibia; assist in local clinics in Cape Town or help at the maternity ward in Livingstone, Zambia.
4 – Do I need any specific skills to volunteer, or to help with my future career? Volunteer Placements are designed to accommodate all levels of skill and expertise. Volunteers usually find that regardless of any previous experience they have skills that can be imaginatively applied to the situation in hand. All that is asked is that volunteers approach their project with an open mind and plenty of enthusiasm, ready for an exchange of information that will enrich their life. Some projects may also help towards your long-term career goal back at home.
5 – Who should you travel with – solo or with friends? Many volunteers travel alone and this can sometimes seem a daunting prospect. However this does not need to be a concern when volunteering through a volunteer organisation. Indeed solo travellers generally make friends more easily and can be more flexible with their travel arrangements. Volunteers on any projects can be sure that there will be someone to meet them at the airport and take them to the project. The volunteer operators understand the concerns that people may have about travelling alone and ensures that volunteers are supported and looked after every step of the way.
6 – Which organisation should I book with? If you decide to take your Gap Year in Africa and volunteer in Africa, ensure you choose your volunteer projects very carefully, ensuring that they are sustainable and of real value to the communities and wildlife they serve. Amanzi Travel, for example, is dedicated to focusing on a small number of integrated projects that combine local expertise and infrastructure with the enthusiasm and skills of volunteers.
7 – What do I need to know about the country? By finding out about the culture and customs of the countries you are visiting, it will add a whole new dimension to your experience. Get a good guidebook and look into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs, climate, altitude and language.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
8 – Check all health and immunisation requirements, and ensure you are covered with travel and medical insurance, including repatriation – accidents can happen to anyone. Think about the activities you may be doing, even spur of the moment ones, and make sure you’re covered for these.
9 – Check your travel plans and leave a copy at home with friends and family – they worry! The Foreign Office website (fco.gov.uk) gives updates on the safety and political events in every country, as well as general travel advice. And don’t forget to check the expiry date of your passport and all visa requirements too.
10 – Create your own travel blog to keep in contact with friends at home, and with new friends (blogs.statravel.co.uk, travelpod.com, travellerspoint.com, travelblog.org_). Upload photos and videos on the go to stay in touch and let others know that you are OK – especially if it’s your first time traveling abroad, or traveling alone (flickr.com, youtube.com, vimeo.com and photobucket.com).
11 – What shall I Pack? Be sure to think about where you’re going, when you’re going and what you’ll be doing there. This will help you to plan what you’ll need to take with you. Pack light and buy local if you need additional items.
12 – Should I bring anything to donate locally? By taking a little time to think about it before you go, can make a big difference to the community you are visiting. Aim to give responsibly and in a sustainable manner, respecting the community you are giving to. This is a great blog specifically on What to Donate.
13 – Don’t rush – take time to appreciate and always allow more time. Plan your must-see countries and spend a longer time in each than cram in too much. It also allows you to ‘go with the flow’ when you get there. You will find you have more opportunities to do things with people you meet. You may end up combining volunteering in Africa with an overland trip to see more of the continent, making your Gap Year in Africa all the more adventurous! Plus the friends you make along the way will help determine the route of your trip. The best times are those unexpected ones.
The only thing limiting you and what you do on your life-changing Gap Year, is your imagination, your desire and your belief in yourself.
I’d love to hear your goals and dreams for your Gap Year. Please leave your story and plans in the Comments box below…..