Tour operators particularly in the West are reporting a demand for gap year travel despite the coronavirus closing international borders and bringing existing trips to an abrupt halt. With A-level results released recently, rather than being put off travelling students are pursuing potential projects while keeping an open mind about which country they may end up in.
“Covid stopped gap year travel in its tracks, but there is a huge, pent-up demand,” says David Stitt, the founder of UK-based Real Gap Experience. Milly Whitehead, co-founder of The Leap, agreed, saying she is experiencing more than double the amount of interest in trips than she usually does this time of year.
It may seem strange following a summer of travel bans but this urge to travel could be explained by a reluctance among some students to start university now. One of these is Max Elliott, who is considering travelling but doesn’t feel confident about booking right now. “University seems to be an equally unpredictable route to go down,” he says. “Neither the social nor the academic experience that you’d expect will be the same, and it’s difficult to predict the implications this will have on everyone’s studies and social lives.”
For students looking to volunteer on a gap year, there are ways of doing so without needing to travel abroad. Check out the website of local charities to know more.
Volunteer groups might work in ‘bubbles’ and the company could implement its own protocols if it does not believe local government requirements are sufficiently strict.
Safety tips for travellers
Prepare before you go
For those on organised trips, travel operators will send you information that covers your health and security. Make sure you read this thoroughly before you head abroad and plan accordingly. Most organised trips will have changed the way they operate to keep people safe from the spread of coronavirus. This could mean staying with the same group of people throughout the trip, maintaining social distancing in public, wearing masks in public, being tested for the virus before departure and on arrival, using private rather than public transport and maintaining high standards of hygiene and handwashing.
If you are travelling independently, it will be up to you to try to adhere to similar standards to keep you, and everyone around you, safe.
In addition, there may be extra forms to fill in or certificates to be obtained to be allowed entry to a country. Be sure you have these ahead of time.
Check travel advice
It is more important than ever to be aware of the current travel advice for the part of the world you are in. Travel restrictions can be put in place or taken away at the drop of a hat and this could mean travellers being forced to rush home at very short notice. Also, make sure you have the number for your embassy or consulate for the country that you will be in.
It is just as important to keep abreast of current news stories. Though this can be difficult when travelling, try to check whenever you can on what is going on in your host country. Keep in regular touch with others who could advise you – those at home can give you an international perspective, or, if you are on a tour, contact your local operator.
Beware social media
Reduce your chances of being tracked and becoming a target for people with bad intentions by only posting updates once you have moved on from a particular place or event. Never post plans of where you are heading next or where you are staying.
Check your security settings and consider who might see your posts, or what your friends might be ‘sharing’ or ‘liking’. It’s entirely possible that they will be seen by people you don’t know.
Forget your gadgets
Leave all expensive gadgetry at home, and be careful not to flash your smartphone around too much. You will see more of a country if you are not viewing it from behind a screen. It will also make you more aware of what’s going on around you and allow you to identify potential dangers.
Always carry hand sanitiser
Keep a pocket-sized bottle of gel with you at all times.
Avoid cash where you can
Contactless card payments are preferred to handing over money during the pandemic. Obviously, in remote, rural and village locations this may not be possible, so always keep some money on you just in case. Which brings us to...
Buy a local phone
If you are working or volunteering in one country for a long period of time, consider buying a cheap but robust phone with nothing fancier than text and call capability. These generally have a longer battery life. Also, they’re easier to replace. When you get to your destination, purchase a local network sim card so that you’re only paying local rates for in-country calls and texts.
Plan ahead and store the numbers you might need for your trip. These would include local contacts, accommodation, emergency services, the embassy or consulate, and emergency contacts back home.
Splash out on the first night
On accommodation, that is. While budget is a major consideration for gap year students, it’s always worth researching and booking a decent room for when you first arrive in a new country or town. Even if this is just for a night, it will allow time to get your bearings and spare the pressure of finding somewhere to sleep when you step off the train, plane or bus – when you are at your most vulnerable.
Keep valuables hidden
Things like cameras slung over shoulders or expensive watches on wrists identify you as a potential target. Keep money, wallets, purses and phones under clothing.
If you are travelling around a city that is a hotspot for pickpocketing, consider carrying a ‘false’ or ‘dummy’ wallet that you can hand over in the event of a robbery. This should contain an expired credit or debit card and a small amount of cash.
Buy a doorstop
Wedge it under the door of your accommodation (from the inside) for added in-room security.
Check in often
Arrange to have catch-ups with your gap-year traveller, even if all they can manage is a text. This will allow you to keep up to date with their adventures, but also confirm they are safe and where they are meant to be. Skype and FaceTime are great when time allows, but texts or phone calls work as well.
Keep an eye on the news
When people are travelling to remote places with little technology, or have busy schedules, it can be hard to keep up to date with current affairs. You can help them by checking the security and health situation in the countries your traveller is visiting.
Keep documents safe
Those at home should set themselves up as an emergency contact. Get them to make scanned copies of all their important documents before they go (passports, visas, travel insurance, medical certificates, credit cards, debit cards, useful phone numbers) so that you can keep them in a safe place. Be ready to pass on any of this information should the traveller need it while they are away.
The Daily Telegraph