It's essential to plan well before any big trip abroad - especially one that could entail months away from home. Arriving in a foreign far-flung country is always exciting but it can be daunting too! So when it's all so unfamiliar it's important to do a little preparation before you go.
It can happen to you so make sure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before setting off. Shop around and make sure that your insurance is the right one for you. Think about any activities you may be doing, even spur of moment ones, and make sure you're covered for these. Your policy also needs to cover any medical costs, including an air ambulance. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself, including expensive medical bills. For more information on insurance click here.
Get a good guidebook and carry out a bit of research into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs and language. This will help you avoid offending people or breaking local laws however unwittingly. Check FCO Travel Advice before you go at www.fco.gov.uk/travel or call 0845 850 2829.
Keep updated while you're away by subscribing to the FCO's free e-mail notification service which will alert you to any Travel Advice updates for the countries you are visiting. For more information visit www.fco.gov.uk/travel. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Make a visit to your GP as soon as possible before you depart and find out what jabs you may need. Take any prescribed medicine with you and keep it to hand. To find out more on staying healthy click here.
Ensure that you have the necessary visas to travel to your destination. Check that your passport is in good condition and make sure you fill in the emergency contact details. Certain countries require you to have a minimum period of time left on your passport when you arrive. To find out if there is a minimum requirement where you are going, check the FCO's country travel advice at www.fco.gov.uk/travel
Work out how much money you'll need on a daily basis and work to a realistic budget. Be sure to take enough money as the FCO can't pay for your bills or send you home if you run out! To learn more about money on holiday click here.
Did you know that it's illegal for travellers to bring all meat and meat products, and milk and dairy products, plus some fish and plant products into the UK from non-EU countries? This is because they could carry pests and diseases, such as Foot and Mouth or Colorado Beetle, which might harm British livestock and crops. So before you bring back souvenirs from your trip, make sure you know the rules. You can find more information online at Direct Gov. If you are not able to check, or you're still not sure, there's only one way to be safe: don't pack it.
It's a good idea to set up a secure internet email account. Email yourself and trusted friends or family details of your insurance policy, passport, itinerary and emergency contact numbers (insurance company, credit card company and British Consulate) - just in case. Also sign up for regular FCO Travel Advice updates so you can find out about any potential hot-spots.
Tell friends and family your plans before you go and keep in regular contact, especially if you change your plans. Consider taking a roaming mobile and use text or email to keep in contact. For more tips on staying in touch click here.
If you decide to organise your trip with a gap year company, research the company thoroughly before committing. Find out how long they have been operating and how many people they have taken abroad in the past. It's a good idea to speak to past gap travellers who have used the company to find out about their experiences.
Ask around before you go and read a good guidebook to familiarise yourself with your destination(s). Speak to friends and relatives about their travelling experiences abroad. Get their advice on countries and areas to visit. It's also a good idea to speak to other gap travellers including those who have recently returned from abroad.
A flexible air ticket will ensure that you can come home or leave a country whenever you want without being restricted.
At the very least, make sure you have booked your first night's accommodation in advance. You are at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a foreign country. You are likely to be tired and unsure of your surroundings - so it's worth planning ahead.
Be aware of what is going on around you and keep away from situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Avoid potentially dangerous 'no-go' areas, in particular after dark. Use your common sense and make sure you are constantly assessing and reassessing your personal safety. Be aware of drugs - these have been used in incidents of rape, so keep your wits about you.
Keep an eagle eye on your possessions. Never leave your luggage unattended or with someone you don't completely trust. Be aware of pickpockets who tend to operate in crowded areas and lock up your luggage with padlocks. Make sure you have copies of all important documents such as your passport, tickets, insurance policy, itinerary and contact details. Keep these separate from the originals and leave copies with your family and friends.
When it comes to alcohol, keep in mind if you have an accident when you're drunk you probably won't be covered by your insurance. Check the small print.
Different countries have different penalties for people supplying or possessing drugs, and sometimes they can be really severe. Being British won't help you get out of jail!
Wherever you go, the less you stand out the safer you'll be. If you dress in clothes that blend in with the crowds, you're less likely to become a target of crime or be hassled.
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. To help you get started take a look at our checklist. [PDF, 323KB]
It may be worth giving someone close and trusted to you back home power of attorney over your bank account. This will allow them to pay any of your bills while you're away and track you if necessary.
Working while you travel is a great way to help finance your trip, allowing you to stay away for longer. If you are planning to earn a bit of extra cash abroad, make sure you have the correct work permit and visas. Also ensure you properly check out any potential employer before your interview and let friends or family know where you are going and who you are meeting.
Many gap year travellers want to make a contribution to a community abroad and volunteer for some or all of their time overseas. Voluntary work can be very rewarding although the same factors which can limit the value of gap years generally, such as language and cultural barriers, apply here too. Volunteering projects require careful structuring, planning and support, and volunteers will get more benefit the longer the project and the closer it matches their skills.