A gap year will undoubtedly be one of the most treasured and unforgettable experiences of your son or daughter's life. You often hear those who have returned from their travels endlessly reminiscing about the amazing destinations they have visited and the incredible gap year adventures they have had. Because of this, it's very easy for them to get caught up in all the excitement whilst they are planning their gap year, dreaming about the freedom they will have and the incredible things that they will encounter, and forget about the realities of what they need to do as gap travel preparation. Because of this, it may be up to you as the parent to sit your son or daughter down and start realistically planning their year abroad.
Gap year travellers have the tendency to underestimate how much their trip will cost and how much they will spend when they are out there. Obviously, you will have far more experience with budgeting and financing issues than your son or daughter, so although they might not explicitly ask for it, they will really appreciate your help and advice. Firstly, its best to work out how much they could save in the time they have before they plan to travel. You could help them look at part-time jobs if they don't already have one, or help to come up with some fundraising ideas. You could discuss them setting up a separate bank account where they can start saving, or help them to decide how much they need to save each month.
After you have come up with a rough figure which needs to be raised, it's then worth finalising where they want to go and what they want to do. Their initial response to this will probably be - Everything! You'll probably need to point out that funds have a limit and the amount of time they have to travel is also an important factor. If your child has decided to go with a friend or group of friends, it's worth getting together with them and their parents, as they may find that it's harder to all agree on where to go than they may have first thought. You could help them agree on both a budget and an itinerary.
It's most likely that your son or daughter will be staying in a series of hostels and budget hotels during their trip, or may even be camping or bunking on board a boat. Although there are some very spacious and clean hostels out there, standards vary enormously, so you might want to hint that they could have a few rough nights. It may not have quite sunk in yet that they will have to fend for themselves during their travels. Depending on whether they are travelling independently or going with a gap year company, they may need to get familiar with a few simple recipes, or find out where the best places to buy local cuisine will be and how much this will cost. The same goes with laundry, and while they are travelling, they will soon make friends with a sink and a bar of soap!
Gap years are meant to be challenging, whether this means pushing physical boundaries with adventure activities or embracing and accepting different cultures and customs. Depending on their planned destinations, your son or daughter may have to adjust quite dramatically to their new location, so make sure that they are well prepared. If they are planning on an adventurous trip, involving activities such as adventure trekking or extreme activities, this might include building up their fitness before they leave. It could be that they underestimate how hard it will be to get used to a change in climate, so make sure that they have researched this before they leave. It's definitely worth familiarising them with the customs and cultural differences of the countries they will be visiting, as otherwise, this dramatic change could be quite a shock to their system, or they could accidentally cause offence. For example, in Thailand it's very disrespectful to touch a man on his head, while in Australia it is advised not to climb Uluru (Ayers Rock) as it is sacred to the native Aboriginal people. A surprising number of travellers are not aware of the traditional customs of the places to travel to, and they can unintentionally upset the local people.
There is no way of fully preparing for a gap year, as you will always encounter surprising situations and unexpected events, but it is worth getting your son or daughter to face the realities of staying safe, and preparing them for what could happen while they are abroad. There will definitely be changes of plan, and there is always the risk of losing property or theft. Make sure that you keep a copy of all their important documents with you at home, and perhaps have some emergency cash hidden away just in case. More details of this can be found in our 'Transferring Funds' section. Staying safe is an essential factor during their travels, and you can find lots of information and support on this on our travel advice pages.
Planning a gap year is a challenging and responsible task, and it's not surprising that your son or daughter's excitement and enthusiasm will probably mean that they need pointing in the right direction to get them going. Realistic planning will ensure that they can achieve and experience the most enjoyment that is possible within the restrictions of their budget and time-frame, resulting in a truly unforgettable gap year!