Five Steps to Being Prepared for Anything on Your Gap Year

Often, when you mention a gap year, the immediate reaction is push back. “But what if you get sick-your stuff gets stolen-a terrorist attacks-your bags get lost…” The hidden fears of the other person percolate to the top in the questions of deep concern that are rapid fired in the face of the traveler.

For many people, their gap year is their first solo journey in the world. It’s a good idea to be thinking ahead and and putting some effort into becoming prepared in advance of your gap year.

The road is, at once, a gentle lover and a harsh mistress. She will woo you to tears of happiness and she’ll just as quickly plunge you into the depths of your worst nightmare. This is a fact. Sometimes both happen within one rotation of the earth. You’ve heard the saying, “Fortune favors the prepared,” this is true, so is my Uncle Dick’s maxim, “The 7 P’s” (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). With that in mind, here are five ways that you can be prepared for anything when you travel.

Educate Yourself

There is no substitute for experience, but a close runner up is education. Just because you haven’t been somewhere yet doesn’t mean you can’t know a lot about it. Read. Study. Talk to other travelers who have been to a place. Mine your resources for the details that matter to you: not where to eat or which museum to visit first, but the important things, like cultural quirks, local scams, the location of the hospital, and an English speaking doctor.

Learn the language, at least a little bit. Make sure you’re hip to the potential health and safety risks. Check the State Department website for travel alerts or warnings. Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Take some classes before you take off traveling. Like what?

  • First Aid
  • Self Defense
  • CPR
  • Wilderness First Responder

The more prepared you are in advance, the less likely it is that a crisis will arise out of a preventable situation.

Keep a Go-Bag Packed

At home, or abroad, keep a Go-Bag packed. This is a small bag that you can pick up and “go” with at a moment’s notice. Spontaneity is a traveler’s best friend and it feels great to be ready to rock and roll at the drop of a hat.

What should go in it?

  • 2 changes of clothes
  • An extra set of charging cables for the electronics you’ll have on you
  • 1 pair of flip flops (or super casual adventure shoes)
  • Toiletries
  • A hundred bucks (extra money is always useful on an adventure)

Having this bag packed means you’re ready, at any time, for anything. Hopefully you’ll only need it for fun adventures, but if you have to get out of town in a hurry, well, you’re ready for that too.

Carry a Med Kit (know how to use it)

Virtually all momentary health crises can be averted with a legit medical kit and some simple knowledge of how to use it. Take the basic classes and educate yourself. Whether it’s urban travel in Singapore, or a harrowing boat ride down the Mekong, or rain forest hammock sleeping adventures in Guatemala and Belize, this is what’s in my basic med kit, at all times:

  • Over the counter pain medication
  • 1 round of antibiotics
  • Bandages
  • Triple antibiotic cream
  • An inhaler
  • Anti diarrheals
  • Anti nausea pills
  • A dental filling patch kit
  • Eye wash
  • Suture, syringe and IV start kit

Hear me out on that last one. I’ve gotten some negative feedback for suggesting a stick kit, but I’m not recommending field stitching your own partner in the wild unless you absolutely have to. I carry this kit because we were in a situation once where a med center in a backwater place didn’t have the necessary equipment, and I realized that lack was my fault, not theirs. Now I carry it, and any potential “dirty needle” crisis is averted.

Carry your immunization records as well as any other pertinent information a medical professional might need (digital copies are fine) and make sure that you’re as prepared as you can be to use what’s in that med kit without panic.

Have Options

It’s never good to be in a situation where you’re stuck. With a little forethought, you can make sure it doesn’t happen. Think ahead about ways that you can create options for yourself in life, and as you travel.

Make sure you have:

Financial Options

Have multiple bank accounts, on line and in brick and mortar banks and multiple ways to access those accounts. Never rely on just one card. Be sure at least one account back home has shared access so that someone you trust could dump some money in there to bail you out if you got seriously stuck. Carry some cash, ATMs don’t always work. Stick it away in unlikely places in your bag or in a battery safe or something. I know you’ll call me old school, but I still travel with a few traveler’s checks, and guess what? They’ve bailed me out more than once in the last decade.

Location Options

Being tied to one place sucks. Whether that’s home, or a hostel that’s not as cool as you thought it might be. Don’t make months’ long reservations when you travel. Don’t commit to places you haven’t been yet. Try before you buy. Keep your location options open.

Escape Options:

The truth is that sometimes things go bad on a trip. Maybe you get very sick. Maybe someone at home dies. Perhaps you’re one of the statistical minority who is in the wrong place at the wrong time when something political goes down. There are any number of reasons that you might need to quickly get out of dodge, and the smart traveler is the one who has thought about this ahead of time and prepared.

How do you keep your escape options open?

  • Get proper travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation and expatriation of remains in the policy.
  • Maintain an emergency escape account; always have the money to buy a last minute ticket out.
  • Keep your Go Bag packed.
  • Make sure your passport is always valid for another six months.
  • Stay abreast of the security situation in countries you’re traveling in.

The odds are so good that you’re never going to need your escape options. I’ve been traveling full time for most of 10 years through truly back water places and I’ve never needed mine… but still.

Cultivate the 3 C’s

Calm, Cool, & Collected. Those are the three things that separate a seasoned traveler who is well prepared from the panic of the newbie who’s just had her wallet stolen in Antigua for the first time. If you’ve thought it through in advance and made a plan, then your head is in the right space to deal with a crisis.

Panic never improves an emergency situation. Stay calm, at all times. Anxiety or frenetic energy never diffuses a tense moment, be cool, and breathe. Create space and often the worst of the moment will pass without incident. Keep your wits about you, a collected, organized mind is your best defense against chaos in the moment, both the happy kind that overflows at a festival that’s getting out of hand, or the other kind that’s less festive and more frightening.

The ability to control your mind and your emotions in stressful situations will be your greatest asset and allows you, truly, to be prepared for anything.

Being prepared for anything is the best way to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch! Happy travels!

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