gap year

Forgotten memories and a mini winding torch.

So many old photos, videos and journals to go through I sometimes don’t know where to start…but I always remind myself that you just need to start at the beginning. When we have so much going on in our lives it can be really tricky to try and deal with one thing at a time, but take a breath, write things down and start working you way through it. I write about this in a previous blog: ‘Dream Big Start Small Act Now’.

We last looked at some of our journeys through China so after our exploration of the Great Wall, cramped train journeys to the Teracotta Army, endless trips to the Jade factories, weird and wonderful games in the street, and meeting random people for dinner, we made our way to HK. One of the best things about travel is the people you meet and some of those people have become very close friends and always will be. Others we’ll never see or speak to again but imbedded memories in our mind that will never be forgotten…so here is a thank you to all of those people that made these trips what they were and produced the memories that we still have today.

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Hong Kong was a nice break for a few days as we found China to be quite difficult in some areas due to the language barrier, but it may have been because it was our first destination and we were still trying to find our travelling feet. As I previously mentioned in ‘By investing in your travels your travels will invest in you’ we were very fortunate to have a friend in Beijing, as after leaving Shanghai I wasn’t ecstatic about China. There seemed to be such a huge segregation between locals, expats and tourists and I prefer to get in the mix and amongst it, which we certainly did in Beijing.

In HK we only had a few nights to play with so caught up with a good friend, Greg, and checked out the night markets and Victoria Peak, which I highly recommend is a must do when visiting. It’s over 550m above sea level and the highest mountain on Hong Kong island, attracting over 7million visitors each year. We timed it perfectly as despite the queue for the tram managed to hit the top at sunset and watched the night sky unfold, the clouds sweep over the peak and the city skyline light up. It all happened so quick but was truly remarkable. We’d only been away a few weeks but was great to see a familiar face as he also bought us the best gift and a necessity for any traveller….a mini winding torch. I cant tell you how useful this was and no need for batteries, so a definite to include in in your backpack: http://www.gapyeartravelstore.com/mini-winding-torch.html (remember to quote FLOOGLE10GAP  for an extra 10% off).

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I find that some of blogs are more purposeful with regards to our look on life and how we go about doing things we do, but others are simple stories of what we got up and what made me who I am today.

Travel Safe ;]

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The way to plan for a trip!

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We all travel differently, different classes, different destinations and for different reasons but as long as you know your goals and objectives, you can ensure you’ll trip will be what you want it to be;

  • PLANNING AND PREPARATION
  • LOCATION AND BUDGET
  • RESEARCH AND REACH
  • VISAS AND VACCINATIONS
  • BOOKING YOUR TRIP
  • PACKING
  • DO IT

The following is broken down into digestible areas so you can revisit at any point depending at what stage you’re at…

  • PLANNING AND PREPARATION

I find this element of the trip the hardest part, as unlike some I don’t like to just see what happens when I’m there, I like to plan which I hate to admit, and girlfriend loves to tease me about. As much as I love the spontaneity and know many things will happen that I didn’t plan or prepare for, which are usually the most exciting, I like to find out about where I’m going and what it offers to make sure I don’t miss out on anything.

However, the chances are I’ll get there, do my ‘cultural day’ meet some locals and check out the ‘local scene’ – that to me is the best culture to experience. Don’t get me the wrong, the history and their traditions, amongst the architecture and infrastructure, is usually fascinating but being a contemporary modern day man, that’s what I want to experience…the modern day!

  • LOCATION AND BUDGET

The initial planning stage can be a bit of a catch 22, as do you start with the budget or the location? I would say start with the location and back track from there, as you can save and work towards your goal or if it’s beyond your financial reach, or timeframe, there are always good alternatives. Do what you can to stay within your budget, which I appreciate can be very tricky, as we all get excited and carried away when playing with ‘monopoly money’. The closer you stick to your budget the less you’ll worry on the trip, after trip and the better chance you have to save for the next one. 

  • RESEARCH AND REACH

Whatever the reason for your trip is, whether its conservation, community, business, pleasure, backpacking or flashpacking and I’m sure many more, researching into the local area will ensure you know what the location has to offer. Check out review sites like www.tripadvisor.co.uk , as testimonials are obviously carefully selected, but these kinds of comments are from the consumer and offer a true reflection. Don’t forget to reach out to friends and ask if they know anyone there or anyone that has been, as recommendations from your friends and like minded people will hopefully offer a shared interest. I have met some of my closest friends this way and explored places like a true local.

As well as researching the area, you need to research the best way to get there. This can be done very easily today with so many online search engines and forums. I would always check a minimum of three, usually starting with www.makemytrip.com and then cross-referencing against the likes of www.expedia.com , www.lastminute.com and the airline directly. For accommodation this is easy as using your budget you can straight away refine your search and then use review sites to check them out. Don’t forget homestays and couch surfing, as it can be a great alternative and brilliant way to meet people. But, be careful and if possible thoroughly check reviews for these types of accommodation and ensure someone knows where you are at all times.

  • VISAS AND VACCINATIONS

These can become quite a surprise if you haven’t done your research properly, as I recently discovered on a trip to Russia where my visa was double the cost of my flight and quite a stressful process. Hence the reason for this stage being before ‘BOOKING YOUR TRIP’. Ensure you check what your restrictions are and if travelling with passengers of different nationality their restrictions too, as duration and fees can vary drastically. If visa’s are on arrival make sure you always have spare passport photos, different sizes if possible, as well as local currency and dollars. Personally I like to always travel with some Dollars, local currency and home currency, for both transit and emergencies.

Vaccinations are a vital part of your research and cannot be looked at lightly, so please make sure you check with your local GP and seek professional advice from specialists such as www.masta.com. Certain vaccinations need to start their course three months before, such as Hep B, as the course is staggered over timed intervals whilst others will need boosters, such as Tetanus.  Vaccinations will also vary depending on your health, and logistics, as it may not always be convenient to take your medication or you may not want to take them daily if they make you feel sick or dizzy etc.

  • BOOKING YOUR TRIP

Now you’ve done your research into the area and how to get there, you’re almost set. Paying for the trip is the most exciting part for me, obviously apart from the trip itself, as this is it…this is the commitment…the payment the confirmation…the realisation that you’re actually going…it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. So, make sure you enjoy it.

Ensure you’re paying at the best time, i.e. not too late for flights, or in some cases to early for accommodation, as they can often offer flash sales but this is hard to predict and can be a gamble. Check the fees associated with certain cards and that the card you are booking with will be with you during the trip as quite often they may want to see proof of the purchase card. 

  • PACKING AND CHECKING IN

We always take more than we need, which is understandable with today’s obvious effects of climate change, but if you have the room it doesn’t really matter, as long as your bag is the right weight and dimensions, the only downside is you carrying it all.  Depending on your activities make sure you have everything you need or can purchase/rent when there, which can save a lot of room and unnecessary weight, i.e. scuba diving equipment which is often included in the course or very cheap to borrow. Think through your itinerary as its usually the smallest things we forget that are essential, like plug adaptors, head torches, or bumbags (the small discrete type) – as not quite sure they’re back in fashion just yet.

Find out when you can check in online and try to get near a door to get off promptly, every person you walk past can save a significant amount of time at immigration. I like to think that every person I walk past saves me 5 mins, so apart from looking like one of those weird speed walkers, I’m out nice and quickly, getting to where I want to be.

Unnecessary fees for overweight bags or checking in without a boarding pass, such as www.ryanair.com charging £15 to print, which is ludicrous especially after you are already a paying customer, can be a horrible start to your trip, so make sure you have added your personal information online, checked in and printed all boarding passes.

  • DO IT

We’re almost there: research is going well, more than likely a continuous process; you have a few jabs in your arms; less money in the bank; a bag full of stuff you probably don’t need, and overweight; a barcode on your phone to check you in and a passport full of funny writing and awful pictures… now enjoy it, be safe, do everything you want to do as you don’t know when or if you’ll be back, and open your mind to new cultures, new experiences and new people…DO IT