Gap Year Tips by Student Money Saver

Posted on 17 Jan 2014 Posted in  Travel
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Student Money Saver

Just occasionally, I’m asked to give advice to those at university, and those thinking about it. Invariably, the question is meant to prompt some safe financial advice but I usually reply with ‘Travel. Always travel.’

Student Money SaverNot taking a gap year either before or after university is something I particularly regret – now I’m obliged to turn up to an office each day, and to pay rent each month, it’s proving tricky to squeeze in a trip to some far flung corner of the world. I just haven’t found a weekend long enough…

The thing is, I was never sure I could afford it – but costs needn’t become burdensome. Just bear these tips in mind…

1. Get your finances in order ASAP

Planning a trip is fun – well, some of it. Money, of course, is deadly dull. It’s tempting to do finances in a mad panic at the airport bureau. Don’t. There may be zero commission but the rate will be so poor it more than makes up for it. Have your budget sorted a few weeks prior to take-off, so there’s plenty of time to compare rates and choose what works for you.


2. Be sensible – but have some spare

The Catch-22 of travel money is this: too little and you’ll spend your entire trip staring forlornly at things you can’t buy, wishing you’d denied yourself a few pints before you left. Take too much, though, and you’ll come back with spare. That’s fine for a usual holiday, but if you’re headed off somewhere unusual (and let’s face it, you should be for a Gap Year), the currency may be for that place only and you’ll be treated to a dreadful re-exchange rate to get back to sterling.


3. Think plastic – but not debit or credit

A gap year shouldn’t be about a few weeks in Spain. Even Thailand is a little predictable. Try somewhere exciting – but remember some of the smaller countries may leave you at more of a risk of fraud. This means your debit and credit card may not be the best choice. Besides, withdrawing money on your debit card will typically incur a charge of 2-4% of the transaction total and then a currency exchange rate of around 3%. It’s a pricey way to do it.

Instead, try a prepaid currency card – the best don’t have these charges and are safer than a credit/debit card as there is less risk of identity theft and your bank account is not vulnerable. If your card is stolen, a simple phone call or even a text will block the card and a replacement can be sent immediately. Both TravelEx and VidaFx offer excellent exchange rates and very few charges.

Prepaid Card

4. Don’t be ashamed to barter

Bartering – it’s not very English, is it? Try it in Fortnum & Mason and they’re liable to call security (…please don’t ask how I know…), but in some of the more exotic corners of the world, it’s expected, and practically encouraged. Bartering isn’t about being aggressive: the skill lies in charm. The general rule of thumb is that the ‘tourist’ price is probably a third of what the asking price is. Don’t forget that it isn’t just market stall traders who barter – try it at your hotel, booking up a tour, hiring a camel etc.


Most of all – remember to enjoy. A gap year is a rare chance to explore – so take advantage. University is a magnificent adventure in itself, but in the long run, it’ll be well worth it to spend a little more on your gap year and a little less on your fresher’s week.

Blog by David Ellis of Student Money Saver

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