How to take a year off to travel
The first piece of advice for anyone considering taking an OE, gap year, or a sabbatical, or whatever you want to call it, is the simplest: do it.
Take a year out of your life to devote to travel.
Sure, it might set you back a little in your financial plans. It might halt your career progression or force you to sell the Commodore or cancel plans to buy a house, but a year of travel is not something you'll ever regret.
Whether you're 18 or 48 or 68, the time to take that big trip around the world that you've always dreamed about is now. It'll never be any easier.
So we've got that sorted. You're chucking it all in to spend 12 months overseas.
In a perfect world you'd be able to hang onto your job, or at least know you have one to come back to at the end of your trip. That's not going to happen for a lot of people, however, so when you're sorting out a budget for this OE extravaganza, make sure you factor in a few months without work once you return home.
That's one of the hardest things about planning an entire year away: the budget. You need a lot of money. You don't want to be in a position where you're travelling to amazing places and then not having enough cash to enjoy them.
Start your tally with your flights and insurance. Next, add on transfers between the destinations you want to visit - maybe they're planes, maybe they're trains. Then do some research on the average living costs in your destinations, and try to figure out how much you're likely to spend each day on things like accommodation, transport, food and sightseeing in all of those places.
Next, add on a bit more money for souvenirs, and a lot more money for drinking (you'll drink more than you planned, trust me). Then tally everything up, and you'll have the total sum you think you'll need for your trip overseas.
Now, double that number. That's how much you need.
Next, when you're planning your itinerary for the year, allow a few periods of rest, where you'll stay in one place for maybe a month or two. It's personal preference, but I find I've got the patience for about three months of constant travel, a few days in each place, before I start to burn out.
All that moving around ceases to be enjoyable - you need to take a break. So plan a longer stay every three months or so. Rent an apartment in Barcelona. Spend time on a cheap Thai beach. Immerse yourself in a culture while recharging your batteries.
On the topic of planning, it's useful to at least have a skeleton guide to where you hope to cover in your 12 months, and to book in the major flights, but try not to lock yourself into too tight an itinerary. This year away should be about freedom, about meeting new people and allowing the travelling cosmos to guide you. You won't be able to take up these amazing opportunities if you've got every single day planned out.
Next, pay attention to seasons, and what the weather is going to be like while you travel. On a year-long adventure you want to try to hit all of your destinations at peak or at least shoulder season. Whether it's stinking hot in Myanmar or freezing cold in Russia, the weather can play a huge part in your enjoyment of a place. Allow for it.
Don't pack too much. You might be travelling for a year, but understand that you'll be buying things along the way, and it might be better to just purchase, say, a cheap jumper in Europe than to carry one around Asia with you for six months.
Concentrate on basic clothes that will be useful everywhere, and the things you might struggle to find overseas (a jar of Marmite, for example).
Think about doing a short tour or two during the year. If you don't mind group travel, this can be a great way to ease the pressure of organisation for a couple of weeks. If every day you're getting up and figuring out where to go, how to get there, and where to spend the next night, it'll be a nice change to let someone else do it while you relax.
Take a basic language course. This might sound pointless if you're travelling around Europe and visiting a different country every couple of weeks, but if you're going to, say, South America, a basic grounding in Spanish will make a huge difference to your travel experience. You'll learn a lot more when you get there - but at least it's a start.
Plan to splash out every now and then on your trip. Long-term travel like this will generally force you to be frugal, staying in hostels and cooking your own food, but if you can, budget for a few "treat yourself" nights, where you might eat in a fancy restaurant, or stay in a nice hotel. It's a great way to break up the monotony of spaghetti Bolognese and dorm beds.
Turn off your phone. You're spending a year away to meet new people, not to keep in constant contact with the ones you already know. Sure, you can post jealousy-inducing Facebook updates in the evenings or even start a blog for your friends to follow, but you don't want to be checking in every 10 minutes or so. You're not at work. Turn it off and concentrate on what's around you.
Get good insurance. Do things you wouldn't normally do. Try things you wouldn't normally try. Meet people. Get out of your comfort zone.
And remember that one day soon you'll be back in an office doing the same thing you always used to do - might as well enjoy yourself now.
Have you taken a year off to travel? What's your advice for people planning to do the same? If you're considering taking a gap year, what are some of the things you're worried about?