10 Financial Tips Every Gap Year Traveler Should Know

Today’s young adults are faced with many pressures that make the transition between important life stages overwhelming. From juggling a packed schedule of classes, sports and extracurricular activities in high school to graduating college with unmanageable debt and an uncertain job market, it’s no wonder more students than ever are taking a break to travel, explore and recharge during what’s called a “gap year.”

Taking a year off between high school and college or college and a first job to travel has become increasingly popular with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 young adults doing so these days, according to the American Gap Association. If you or your child are considering a gap year during this back-to-school season, follow these financial tips to make this dream a reasonable reality.

1. Budget wisely.
Before you figure out how you’re going to fund your gap year, you need a plan and a rough budget to determine how much money you will actually need. Take into consideration living expenses, transportation, food and entertainment when working up your expenses. When it comes to these sorts of priorities, saving wherever you can be very beneficial. You don’t want to find that you’ve run out of money in just the first week. Even if you do something as simple as reading this Getupside Review, for example, this could help you get a better understanding of how important using discounts can be while shopping. Even if you have all the money in the world, who wouldn’t want to save money when they can? Additionally, if your parents decided to chip in, find out how much they are willing to give toward your trip and factor this into your estimate. Whilst you’re abroad, you will start to understand the value of other currencies too so if you ever fall short of cash, you could always look into forex trading courses and start trading foreign currencies whilst you’re on the go. This is a great way to boost your income and ensure that you can afford your trip away from home.

2. Select a destination thoughtfully.
Certain destinations offer incredible value for young travelers on a budget, whereas others can be extremely costly and limit a student’s time away. In Thailand, for instance, you can expect to pay as little as $5 per day on food, while one meal in Australia alone will cost anywhere from $15 to $20. Details like these are incredibly important when planning your gap year and estimated budget! For more help, review PriceofTravel.com for a list of the world’s cheapest cities along with exchange rates to find a destination that fits your needs and budget.

3. Apply for a scholarship.
Most people don’t realize that financial aid opportunities are available for students looking to take some time off from school and the real world. The American Gap Association provides a list of available scholarships and grants, some of which require college credit to qualify. Even though a gap year is intended as a break from your academic track, getting some extra credit while traveling ensures you graduate on time and get the funds you need for the trip of a lifetime! You’re not limited to only one scholarship, so apply for as many as you can and begin your research early.

4. Fundraise.
Think outside the box and consider making money by fundraising. For those who are planning to volunteer during their gap year, use VolunteerForever.com to launch a fundraising campaign to share your mission and collect donations for your trip. You can also use sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, or go the old-fashion route by calling organizations in your area for support. Gap Year also has a great list of creative fundraising ideas.

5. Stash away cash gifts.
Once you begin thinking about taking a gap year, it’s important to start saving. Open a separate account where you can stash away cash gifts you receive for birthdays, holidays and graduation. When loved ones ask you what you want as a gift for a celebratory occasion, be honest about your desire to travel and that you’d appreciate support towards your gap year. At Tendr.com, you can create a cash registry for your trip as an alternative to a graduation or birthday gift wish list and share it with loved ones eager to help make your dream a reality.

6. Pick up a part-time gig.
If funds are low, picking up a part-time gig is one of the best ways to ensure you have enough money for your time off. Beef up your savings by working on the weekends or evenings after school. You can find babysitting gigs through BabySitterExchange.com, dog sitting and walking jobs through Rover.com, or help people run various errands like grocery shopping at TaskRabbit.com. Otherwise, scope out jobs at a nearby retail shop, grocery store or bakery where you can pick up a few shifts per week.

7. Book early.
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is airfare and timing is everything when it comes to saving money on flights. Start tracking flight prices through Yapta and check SkyScanner.com, which specializes in finding the cheapest flight anywhere in the world. Also, websites like CouponSherpa.com offer great deals on travel expenses including discounts on hotels, airfare and travel agencies. For example, you can currently score a flight as cheap as $496 from Boston to Barcelona through Vayama, an online travel agency.

8. Think outside the box for lodging.
After airfare, finding a place to live will be your second biggest expense. Luckily, lodging alternatives like couch surfing, bedroom rentals and home swapping services make it more affordable. Use CouchSurfing.com to connect with a host and score free digs! This is a great way to experience a true cultural exchange and learn about a way of life unlike your own while making friends along the way. You can also swap your apartment or home with one in your desired destination through HomeExchange.com to live like a local and save big bucks.

9. Seek out student discounts.
Whether you’re graduating high school or just finished college, your student status can help you save money when traveling. Keep your I.D. handy and always ask if there are any student discounts available before you pay. Consider picking up an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for student discounts in over 133 countries on travel, restaurants, and attractions worldwide. Use the ISIC global app to find and view thousands of benefits worldwide plus those nearby or at a location of your choice. Even if you’re not a student but under the age of 30, pick up a Youth Travel Card for similar benefits and discounts.

10. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Credit cards will become an important financial tool when you’re traveling, but beware of foreign transaction fees. Around 90% of credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee for purchases made outside the U.S. and these fees can add up quickly. Capital One and Discover have eliminated foreign transaction fees and they offer more levels of fraud protection, so this would be a great alternative to help you overseas. International students looking for the best credit card options should check out this article over on novacredit.com.

Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. Check out Andrea’s demo reel or visit her website at AndreaWoroch.com. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook for daily money tips.

The ABC’s of Volunteering in Belgium

When I was given the opportunity to reconnect with my childhood nanny last summer, I couldn’t say no. At 15 years of age, I said goodbye to my comfortable and familiar home in the suburbs of Atlanta, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone to travel to Belgium. The plan was for me to spend two weeks with my former nanny, her husband, and her adorable two year old daughter in the Belgian countryside. Since she is a preschool teacher, I would also have the chance to spend weekdays helping my x-nanny in the classroom.

I was excited to do something where I could rack up community service hours for my school and brownie points for my college applications, but I did not realize that I would take away much more than that. After two weeks of sticky toddlers, drama on the playground, and animal cracker snack time, here are my ABC’s (in the spirit of preschool) of volunteering with children abroad.

volunteer in BelgiumA is for Accepting Awkward Conversations

Probably the biggest fear of most volunteers as they venture overseas is the language barrier, and it’s a realistic fear to have. How are you supposed to make a difference in these children’s lives if you can’t speak to them?

Well I am here to tell you two things: 1) You probably won’t be making much of a difference in their lives (but that will be discussed later) and 2) it is entirely possible to communicate without knowing the language.

In my case, I was volunteering in a region of Belgium that speaks French. I take French at school and hear it around the house since my parents speak French with each other, however I cannot speak it well, just merely understand it. Let me tell you that these three year olds were not speaking any kind of French I have ever heard! It was an entirely new language to me. Regardless, after coming to this realization I embarked on a journey of attempts at French words that they didn’t understand and progressed into hand gestures and physical demonstrations. I am not going to lie; it was awkward at first. However, after a while you recognize body languages, and can perceive what the children want from you. Once the language barrier is broken, and you just accept the awkward incidents, it is much easier to find yourself as a productive volunteer.

B is for Being Open-Minded

When traveling abroad, volunteers will probably find themselves in a place that is very culturally different. In the United States, we experience a lot of what is called ethnocentrism. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ethnocentrism is based on the idea that your own group or culture is better or more important than others. This concept can be shocking, especially to a volunteer with only the best intentions. Without intending to, I found myself acting in an ethnocentric way during my days at the preschool.

For example, on the first day during lunch I tried to make conversation and joke around with the kids as we were eating. Immediately, the teacher (my old nanny) hushed us and said we needed to focus solely on eating our food. Personally, this was surprising to me. Wasn’t meal time a time to converse and laugh? I then saw a different way of doing things I thought were so normal. Even in Western Europe, which I thought had similar culture as the United States, the expectations during meals were much different than what I was used to. Subconsciously I was implementing my own cultural doings onto these kids without realizing that it was going against their own culture. For me this was an honest mistake, however I learned that as a volunteer you are placing yourself in a new environment with new practices and it is extremely important to open your mind and be respectful to other ways of doing things. Just because it is different does not mean it is wrong.

high school student volunteer vacations in BelgiumC is for Creating Lasting Impressions

Now to address what I said before: you probably won’t be making much a difference in the children’s lives. As harsh as it sounds there is a positive side to this. They will probably make a huge difference on your life instead!

I only spent 2 short weeks with the kids in Belgium, and even though they were not noticeably in need or impoverished, I still went in with the mind-set that I would be helping them. Looking back, I realize how skewed my outlook was. I was only a part of their lives for a few days. Sure we had some laughs together choreographing the end-of-school dance while dressed up in neon suspenders, but the children will most likely soon forget they even met me. For me however, I am sitting here in Atlanta, a year later still reminiscing the things these three year olds showed me. That is a pretty good representation of how much volunteering with new cultures (even if they may not seem all that different as in my case) can open your eyes to.

With all that I have taken away from my first time volunteering overseas with children, I have adapted my expectations and appreciated the opportunity to get a slightly broader look at what the world has to offer. I look forward to meeting new people and basking in new experiences very soon, and I hope that I have helped you to do the same.

~ Livia Gobbi is a senior at Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia. Her interests include traveling, writing, singing, playing soccer, and documenting food outings with her friends. She has traveled to 19 countries and hopes to visit 10 more before she graduates from college. Still undecided, Livia is considering an undergraduate degree in international relations, business, or journalism. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.