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Taking a gap year: 7 top tips for traveling on a budget

Taking a break from education to travel can have huge benefits. It’s an opportunity not just to see the world, but to make your own decisions, do what you think is right and, crucially, manage your own budget.

It might be your first chance to find out how you react to difficult situations, whether that’s disagreements with travel buddies, communicating your needs without verbal language or working out the cheapest route across South America.

While it’s likely to be fun, exciting and great for Instagram, you’ll need to use your initiative and intelligence to manage situations that you’ve probably never been in before.

One of the most important skills you’ll learn is managing your own money. Put simply, the less you can spend each day, the longer you can travel for, so being thrifty is essential.

Follow our top tips to managing the money-side of travel so you can focus on the fun stuff.

How to manage your travel finances

1) Stop spending and start earning

The more you can save, the more freedom you’ll have to travel.

That means that from now until you leave, there’s no going out, no buying clothes, no trips away – every penny you earn has to go into your travel fund. If you’ve a birthday or Christmas between now and your departure date, you know what to ask for: money.

And all that spare time now that your exams are out of the way gives you plenty of time to earn some money! You might choose to work in a bar or cafe, serve customers in a shop, take on care work, find a side hustle or do a combination.

You’ll be developing your people skills and getting a taste of what it’s like to earn your own money, which will make you far more likely to value it.

2) Get a credit card (but don’t rely on it)

To be clear, we’re definitely not telling you to fund your travels on credit! Unless you can pay it back straight away, the interest rates will make this a very expensive way to do it.

But there are advantages to getting a credit card before you go.

Firstly, your money is better protected if you book flights on a credit card. If your flight is cancelled, the credit card company will help you fight for a refund. There’s no rule against paying with a credit card and immediately paying it off with the money you’ve saved, therefore never paying any interest and still having the added protection.

Secondly, having a credit card with you could help you out of a difficult situation, for example if you lose your debit card or need to take an emergency flight home. Just remember to keep your credit card well out of reach of pickpockets and separate from the rest of your money.

3) Switch to a bank that doesn’t charge for overseas withdrawals

You might find that some of the places you visit rely more on cash than we do in the UK so it’s likely that you’ll need to use a cash machine while you’re abroad. It’s also a good idea to have small amounts of cash on you for tipping, as this is often expected.

While some banks charge you for each withdrawal, for obvious reasons it’s not a good idea to take out large amounts of cash. What may seem like a small cost can add up if you need to use a cash machine often.

Check what your bank charges for overseas withdrawals and look around for alternatives. Let them know your travel plans to avoid security freezing your card!

4) Be prepared to share

Even if you’re travelling with friends, the more people you can split costs with, the further your money will stretch.

While many hostels offer private rooms, a 12-bed dormitory is clearly going to be far more budget-friendly. Accept before you go that you’re going to have to put up with other people’s sleep noises!

Sharing food can not only cut costs but it’s a great way to start a conversation in a hostel. If you’re a good cook, people will be more than happy to chip in for a cooked meal.

And, while you’ll probably rely mostly on public transport, if you do need to take a taxi somewhere, ask around and see if anyone wants to fare share.

5) Look for work while you’re away

You’ll still need to fork out for your flight but there is work available for backpackers, such as fruit picking, farm work, cleaning and au pair (nannying) work.

Often these job placements will offer you free accommodation which, after flights, is likely to be your biggest expense.

You can apply for this sort of work before you go or keep an eye out for opportunities advertised in hostels or by word-of-mouth.

6) Travel outside of peak times

Flights are expensive. In fact, that’s probably going to be your biggest cost.

So, when you’re deciding when to go, plan your trip around the price of the flights. You’d be amazed at how much you can save if you delay your trip by just a few weeks.

7) Keep your money safe

You probably have every intention of doing so, but when the sun’s shining and everyone is having fun, it can be far too easy to leave your bag unattended for a minute or to not notice for a week that someone else is making withdrawals from your account.

Check your account regularly and keep your belongings in sight.

Gap year travel on a budget

Travelling doesn’t have to be expensive but it’s never going to be free. So, while most costs can be managed, the most important thing is to get as much money behind you as you can.

After that, simply be sensible, be organised and enjoy every minute of your adventure.

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