With the stress of exam season finally over, many students will be thinking about taking a well-earned break, with their sights set on travelling the world.
While it’s exciting to daydream about new and exciting places to visit, there are many things to consider, especially for those travelling to a number of countries. To make sure gap years are safe and enjoyable, it is really important to plan carefully, and to do lots of research in advance.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has collaborated with students to put together a handy, pocket-sized survival guide, based on real life experiences. Plan.Pack.Explore. is crammed full of useful practical information with a few interesting travel anecdotes thrown in. These range from problems encountered whilst travelling to handy insider tips.
Here is just a snapshot of the helpful advice contained in Plan.Pack.Explore:
1. Get comprehensive travel insurance – and read the small print! Often, policies will exclude certain activities. Gap year students are likely to want to try adventurous and risky pursuits to get the most out of their trips so make sure your insurance covers you for everything you want to do. If you are travelling to a European destination make sure you also have an EHIC card.
2. Check your travel documents. It’s important to check that your travel documents such as passports and insurance are valid and that you have all of the necessary visas for the country you are travelling to. It is also worth making copies of travel documents and/or storing them online using a secure data storage site.
3. Check the health requirements of the countries you are visiting so you can get the right vaccinations and medication if and where required. There’s nothing worse than being ill when in a foreign environment, and in a worst case scenario, serious illness could lead to cutting a trip short and coming back home. Not only would it be a real shame to miss out on parts of a trip, it can be costly, especially if you don’t have the right insurance!
4. Research your destination and be aware of laws and customs – some local laws and customs may seem harmless or even amusing, but the consequences of breaking these can be severe. The more clued up you are, the smoother your trip will be. For example did you know that eating, drinking or even just sitting on the steps of a church in Florence could result in a large fine? This is the sort of situation can be easily avoided by checking out the local laws and customs in advance.
There is also plenty of information online to help you plan for your trip. You can get hold of Plan.Pack.Explore and download the app at
If you have any enquiries for FCO consular staff before you go or while abroad you can now ask questions via the FCO’s new Twitter service, @FCOtravel. Questions are answered 9am–6pm BST, Monday–Friday, and FCO staff aim to respond within 30 minutes.
For a full travel checklist from the FCO visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-checklist. The FCO also updates its travel advice on a country-by-country basis the moment situations change so check out www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo or follow FCO on Facebook (www.facebook.com/fcotravel) or Twitter (twitter.com/fcotravel) to get the latest information.
How the FCO CAN and CAN’T help Brits abroad
The FCO CAN:
• Provide information about transferring money
• Give you a list of local doctors, lawyers, interpreters or funeral directors
• Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish
• Issue you with replacement travel documents
• Visit you in hospital or if you have been arrested.
The FCO CANNOT:
• Get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people but will raise concerns if treatment falls below internationally recognised standards
• Pay any bills or give you money
• Make travel arrangements for you
• Help you enter a country if you don’t have a valid passport or necessary visas
• Give you legal advice