1. Learn Spanish
One of THE most important things you should do before you leave for your GAP year in Latin America is learn a little Spanish. Take a crash course, make sure you have a basic understanding of some of the most important verbs in the present tense and some really useful phrases.
Being on holiday in a foreign-speaking country for two weeks is nothing like being in Latin America for 12 months on a GAP year. You must be able to communicate and you’ll have a much better time for it too. It would also be a good plan to sign-up for a Spanish course whilst your in Latin America too. (If you have an interest in languages and Brazil is on your list – don’t forget to invest in Portuguese too).
2. Budget before you leave
Budget with care before you leave. Consider plane and bus costs throughout the year, accommodation costs, food and money to enjoy yourself, but also plan for problems which might occur along the way or rises in inflation. Many Latin American countries have unstable economies and you must be prepared for the possible effect this might have on your budget. It’s a really good idea to connect with people who have already traveled around Latin America. Search for travel bloggers who have been through a similar process and find out if they have some great advice to share.
You must also make sure that, should you need to, you can access more money from another source with ease. Perhaps consider giving someone you trust back home access to your bank account to be able to make you transfers if and when you need them to.
3. Visas and vaccinations
Before you leave, you must ensure you have visas for every country you intend to visit and you must consider any kind of medication you might need for travel within certain areas. There are areas in the tropical forests of Venezuela, for example, where it’s advised that travelers take malaria tablets.
4. Get travel insurance
Never travel anywhere, particularly on a GAP year, without travel insurance. Medical treatment in foreign countries can be very expensive. If you plan to get involved in extreme sports during the year, pay the extra travel insurance to make sure you are covered against all eventualities. It isn’t worth taking the risk, not for your health and neither for your bank balance.
5. Travel alone or with just one other person
Taking a GAP year for anything up to 12 months is a once in a lifetime experience and you can’t possibly predict what you will see, live through or experience during that time. It’s also impossible to predict what you will always want to do or what might happen to make you want to change your plans. Just because you decide on a particular route before you leave, doesn’t mean that will be the route that you follow. There might be natural disasters which force you to change your plans, you might land on a fantastic opportunity that you just cannot pass up, or you just might get tired of moving around so much and fancy hanging out in one place for a longer period of time.
If you’re on your own, you can make these changes without having to consult anyone else. Traveling alone on a GAP year offers you complete freedom to do as you please and go with the flow and you will always meet people and make friends. You’ll never be lonely.
6. Choose your travel companion carefully
If you do decide that you don’t want to travel alone, it’s probably best to just travel with one other person and that person doesn’t have to be your very best friend. In fact, it’s probably best that it’s not your best friend for many reasons. Long-term travel can really test friendships. It’s almost like getting married or moving in with someone. You need lots of patience with that other person and it can almost be easier to communicate with someone that you’re not that close with.
For extra help on choosing the perfect travel companion, read the detailed article on our blog about this topic when you can by clicking on the link.
7. Spend a few months contributing as a volunteer
Rather than just traveling for the entire year, it’s a good idea to invest your time in specific projects which will enrich your experience and break up the monotony of long-term travel… yes!… long-term travel can become monotonous for some people, believe it or not! Connecting Worlds can help you in a number of ways to find the perfect volunteer program for you during your Latin American GAP year. A lot of people who volunteer with us, work on Teaching English Programs, but there are lots of other kinds of volunteer projects in other areas that we can help you to organise.
8. Spend a long time in one place
Once you’ve been traveling for a number of months, it’s a good idea to choose one place in which you’ll spend a great deal of time. In general, it’s a good idea to choose one city in which to stay for at least a month or two. Putting down some roots for a while will help you to really connect with the experience you’re having.
Staying in one place gives you time to get to know that particular area, but it also gives you time to reflect. It’s important to have a little down time in one location after the first few months or so, or even towards the end of your Latin American GAP year experience. It will help you to reassess and to process everything that has happened to you so far. Buenos Aires is a particularly popular city in Latin America for long-term travelers to lay their hats for a while.
9. Organise your internship or volunteer project with a reputable company
You might not think you need care and attention before you leave, but there will be times when you’re traveling around long-term when a helping hand would be more than useful. It’s a really good idea to book at least part of your GAP year experience with the help of a professional organisation like Connecting Worlds. This is particularly true if you want to intern, volunteer or be a part of a working holiday experience when in Latin America. Traveling around and enjoying what each country has to offer as a tourist, is not the same as contributing to a project and having to adapt to the cultures and customs of the people around you on a daily basis. Connecting Worlds can make sure that if you run into trouble or if the experience you signed up for is not what it promised to be, you have someone to turn to who can help. This help is vital and shouldn’t be underestimated.
10. Don’t be frightened to change your plans
12 months is a long time. You might change your plans a lot and you should be happy to go with the flow. If you’re considering the idea of staying in one country for longer and of not ever arriving to some of the other countries on your list, go with the idea.
There’s no right and wrong, there’s no real plan you have to stick to (unless you’ve committed to a volunteer project or internship, for example) and so you should be ready to make decisions and snap up opportunities which come along. After all, that’s all part of the fun of a really fulfilling GAP year.
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