'The Ultimate Gap Year' with Cheltenham Literature Festival


What a pleasure it was to host Monica Stott and Will Jones at the festival this afternoon. Both are gap year gurus with a wealth of experience and tips for the travel hungry. Monica set up and runs the website www.thetravelhack.com and Will is editor of www.gapyear.com. We had an audience of a couple of hundred budding travellers and some great questions. Here are the top tips which emerged from our discussion.

A gap year is for anyone!

This is more the case than ever before. No longer are gap years the preserve of eighteen year olds straight out of school. Employers are more flexible than ever about offering career breaks. Many choose to take a break after university before embarking on a permanent job. But the really big market are the retirees with more cash in their pockets who never had the chance to travel when they were young. They too want to experience it all. 

How long do you need?

Of course very few actually travel for a year and most will have to build some work into the equation. Both Monica and Will were great fans of working in Australia where the high minimum wage for unskilled work means you can replenish the coffers easily. Three months travelling seemed to be an optimum time to justify the airfare - even to get around the world - but of course some travel for much longer. 

How much does it cost? 

Monica suggested a thousand pounds a month was a good starting point if you don't mind hostel style accommodation and still want to do and experience plenty. Of course some can do it for less and indeed pride themselves on doing so. 

Is it safe? 

Despite the odd horror story that hits the headlines both Monica and Will said they felt just as safe travelling as they do at home. It's important you observe the same precautions such as care getting back to you accommodation at night, not carrying around too many valuable items and respectful behaviour in terms of local culture and people. It's also worth being cautious about the standard of transport when travelling - still the most common cause of deaths in some countries. If you can follow these guidelines you will encounter few difficulties. 

What do you take?

Both were great fans of travelling light. Most travellers take far too much - with the 'just in case' scenario in mind. Remember you can buy most of what you need around the world now unless you're on a remote expedition. A great tip from Will was to try and get your kit into a 30 litre sack which will probably meet cabin luggage requirements. It's also a small enough bag to take into restaurants and tourist spots without knocking everyone over! 

Lastly plan ahead!

You'll get much more from your experience if you research and plan before departure. Not only will you be better informed about the local culture and history but you're less likely to encounter nasty surprises. Booking the first night's accommodation and how you will get from the airport to the city is a great tip. 

Happy travelling!