Let’s face it, taking a gap year to explore the world and ‘find yourself’ has become a bit of a cliché nowadays. The ever-popular round-the-world-ticket has spawned a generation of backpackers who have found themselves following exactly the same route as everybody else, complete with supposedly ‘unique’ travel stories and replica photo albums. The question is, how can you beat the backpacker trail and make your trip stand out from everybody else’s? Here are some tips on how to take the road less travelled while still staying safe:
It can be tempting to take the safe option and travel with friends, but travelling solo, whilst challenging, will give you a gap year experience like no other. Not only can you do what you want when you want, but your confidence will sky-rocket. If stepping out on your own is just a little too daunting, compromise and join an organised tour — you’ll meet people from all walks of life whilst still maintaining ultimate independence.
Volunteer or find paid work
By volunteering, you can fully absorb yourself into the culture of a particular country, engage with local communities, and gain that rewarding feeling of ‘giving something back’. Finding paid work is another good way to embrace a foreign country’s way of life, as well, of course, as helping to fund your trip.
Prepare to take some risks (but be safe)
Travelling (especially alone), can be scary at times, but if you’re not prepared to take some risks, you won’t reap the rewards. It goes without saying that safety is paramount, but it’s the travellers that take the odd risk that come back with the most enriching stories (and memories).
Get off the beaten track
Whether this entails hiring a vehicle and exploring the road less travelled, or simply steering away from the tourist hotspots, your experience will be far more enhanced if the world and his wife haven’t been there too. Make sure you do your research first though, just in case you do end up getting a little lost.
Meet the locals
Don’t be shy –- engage with the locals. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier — there are always novel ways of communicating. Many places offer home stay facilities, where you can board and dine with local families to really experience their traditional way of life.
Eat the local grub
You can’t expect to fully embrace a country’s culture without sampling some of the local cuisine. Whether it’s some of the world’s finest Parisian gastronomy or street food in Thailand –- give it a try, you may surprise yourself.
Make life easier for yourself and pack light. If you’re prepared to end up in remote, less than comfortable locations, you’ll appreciate a light load on your back.
Have a contingency fund
Just in case! Who knows what could happen on your travels — you could fall ill, have your money stolen, or even completely run out of funds! It’s always worth having a secret stash in case you find yourself in a pickle.
Do your research
Sounds obvious, but we can’t stress this enough. If you’re prepared to take risks and go it alone, you need to do your research first. Swot up on travel guides, advice books and websites, and advise friends and family of your plans by keeping in touch on a regular basis.