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How to do a cheap gap year

Can you do a gap year without a mountain of cash in the bank? You sure can! We’ve got some top tips to help you save money and still enjoy the perfect year out on a shoestring budget.

An exotic gap year away can seem like a luxury, but if you plan it right you can get yourself around the world in 80 days without breaking the bank. Gap year jobs, gap year volunteer programmes and so many destinations… The possibilities are endless!

The bolder among you may fancy six months away in Southeast Asia, while the timider may prefer a few smaller trips to some oh-so-lovely European destinations a bit closer to home.

However adventurous you’re feeling, have a read of these tips on how to do your gap year cheaply while exploring the world one country at a time! ?

How to plan your gap year

  1. Pick a country that won’t drain your wallet

    empty wallet

    If you’re planning on doing a gap year cheaply, go for a country that won’t drain your wallet after a couple of beers and a sandwich.

    Do some background research on living costs. Double check how much hostels cost per night (prioritise beds in dorms over private rooms!) and how much the recommended budget is per day for food, site-seeing and public transport.

    If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to stay away from places like Norway and Iceland. A beer in Norway costs around £6 and in Iceland you’re looking at about £8.50, while dorm rooms go for around £20 at the cheapest. Beautiful landscapes, but not for the short of money!

    Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest places to visit on a gap year (hence why it attracts millions of tourists each year!). Dorms go for as little as £2.50 and £3.50 in parts of Vietnam and Cambodia respectively. A meal for one can cost between £1 and £2, and public transport is uber-cheap in Vietnam at around 20p per ticket!

    Don’t forget to register for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC, which you can free for a year when you get your TOTUM card) to get discounts on food and drink, landmarks, museums and other touristy shizzle!

  2. Don’t travel during peak holiday season

    busy beech

    There are 12 months in the year, so try to travel outside the two most expensive: July and August!

    As families with young children can only travel during the summer holidays, prices for flights and accommodation are at their peak during these two months. And tourist attractions will be swamped!

    If you absolutely want to be away for the summer, fly in June or book your flight well in advance to avoid getting swept away by peak holiday season prices.

    You might even want to consider doing a few short trips rather than one long one. Strictly speaking, a gap year doesn’t have to last a whole year!

    This would leave you some time to get a part-time job and save up some funds! You could do half and half – six months work and six months of fun in the sun!

  1. Work out a gap year budget

    We love a budget here at STS, and it really is essential if you want to do everything on your list without breaking the bank. Work out how much you’re going to need for flights, accommodation, food and drink and all your fun activities.

    If you’re going away for a few months, you’ll want to factor in an emergency fund of around £200 in case you run into any mishaps, and around £50 if you’re taking a shorter trip. And don’t forget to add on the costs of visas and any injections you’ll need if you’re going somewhere tropical!

    Which travel vaccinations are covered by the NHS?

    The following vaccinations are covered by the NHS and come free of charge:



      Hepatitis A


    Which travel vaccinations will you need to pay for?

    Vaccine Average price
    Yellow fever £60 – £80
    Japanese encephalitis £180
    Hepatitis B £50
    Meningitis £220
    Rabies £120 – £180
    Tick-borne encephalitis £195
    BCG (for Tuberculosis) £60 – £80

    The costs of these vaccines vary depending on the provider. More info on those here.

    Travel insurance is also a must, especially if you’re going away for a few months on end. Which brings us to our next point…

  2. Get gap year travel insurance

    If you’re going away for a while, make sure you get yourself insured, especially if you’re planning on partaking in very physical activities.

    Get a policy that is tailored to your trip. If you’re intending on getting involved in adventure activities while you’re away, you’ll need a policy that explicitly states that you’re covered in case you have an accident as a result.

    You’re probably best taking out annual cover if you’re planning on going away for a few months, or on a few different trips over 12 months. If you’re going away for a short period of time, single cover will ensure you for (you guessed it) one single trip for up to (approximately) 31 days.

    Use price comparison websites like Money Supermarket, Go Compare and Compare the Market to get the best deal on a travel policy that’s right for you ?

  1. Split your travel money between cards and cash

    piggy bank

    Once you’ve decided how much money you’ve got to play with, put some on a prepaid debit card, and carry some in cash.

    Prepaid debit cards and app-based banks are worth shopping around for. Look out for lowest overseas transaction fee so you don’t get a nasty surprise once you’re out there!

    Buy a safety travel belt to hide your cash from pesky pickpockets, and don’t store all your cash in the same place in case your bag gets stolen or you lose it on a night out!

    Get some money changed before you go and compare the exchange rate offered by your bank, the Post Office and department stores like Marks and Spencer and Debenhams.

    And whatever you do, don’t change money at the airport! Airport rates are extortionate and you’ll end up spending a fortune on commission.

  2. Get a gap year job while you’re travelling

    A working holiday is a great way to see new sights, meet new people and save yourself a bundle of cash.

    Sites like WorkAway and WWOOF connect travellers with hosts who will let them stay on their property/farm for free in exchange for doing a bit of work for a few hours a day.

    You can find hosts absolutely all over the world who run all types of setups: you could volunteer at a stables in Belgium, help save the whales in Costa Rica, or teach English in Romania… the possibilities are endless! Our guide to working abroad for the summer has a whole host of ideas.

    If you’re good with children, working as an au pair overseas is also a good shout and a great way to learn the local lingo! Native English-speaking au pairs are highly sought after abroad.

    Away from work, couch surfing is also a great way to save on splashing out on a hostel. Plus, locals will know about all the less touristy hidden gems that would otherwise be left undiscovered.

    Also, prioritise travelling overnight on trains or buses. You’ll save yourself a night at a hostel and have more daylight time to explore!

  3. Eat street food and take snacks when site-seeing

    eating burger

    Even if you are going somewhere super cheap like Southeast Asia, it’s worth keeping tabs on how much you’re spending on food and drink. A sandwich here, a milkshake there – these little purchases all start to add up!

    Always keep an eye on how much the locals are paying for street food. You can spot a tourist a mile off, and when you don’t have a rough idea of the going rate for a set menu, it’s easy to get conned!

    Try and limit yourself to eating out once a day and make sure you have a big breakfast in the morning. If you’re staying at a hostel with breakfast included, it might still be worth buying some extra breakfast goodies as some places can be stingy on the bread and jam!

    Bring snacks with you on your excursions or go the whole hog and take sandwiches with you! If you’re visiting a landmark, chances are that buying food in the surrounding area will be more expensive than normal.

    Likewise for pre-drinking. Pre-drink at your hostel and buy your own alcohol if you can – some hostels charge an arm and a leg for a beer. It’s also a great way to make some new travel buddies!

Now we’ve got the gap year basics covered, let’s have a look at how travelling can make you more employable!