Preparing For A Gap Year

Those who wish to take career breaks or have a year out in between studies to explore far-flung corners of the globe will embark on what is known as a gap year. Not just limited to students anymore, more of us head off seeking adventures every year, usually to backpack around locations such as South-East Asia, South America and Australia.

A gap year can also be spent touring, especially if you like to drive. The long and winding highways of the United States are a popular destination for these kinds of trips. Volunteering is also a popular reason for taking a gap year, with organisations offering excursions all over the world to help with nature conservation and humanitarian matters such as constructing schools and digging wells.

Pick Somewhere

During a gap year, the world is your oyster. Now it’s a case of deciding where to dip your toes first, do you want to start in one part of the world and end up at another along the line, or just take your time exploring like a nomad?

After you’ve decided on where to start your journey, it’s time for the research to begin:

  • Research the countries you want to visit; and not just the tourist attractions either, take the time to familiarise yourself with the culture and traits of where you are going.
  • Brush up on your languages; look into phrase books and smartphones apps that can help you to get along in your country of choice.
  • Note down the locations of your country’s embassies in the country you are travelling to in case of an emergency for which you require assistance.

Make A List And Double Check It

When preparing to take a gap year, it’s important to make yourself a checklist before you go, ensuring that you have all the correct documentation needed and enough money and clothes to see you through at least the beginning of your journey.

Important Documents

Before you travel you need to make sure you are covered in case of any incidents which might happen during your travels, including falling ill and getting injured, so it helps to have the following:

  • Passport – the most important thing you should have during your trip – you can’t travel without it after all.
  • Travel insurance – vital to have in case you fall ill or get injured during your journey. Talk to an insurer about a gap year travel insurance policy, which can help to provide cover for the duration of your trip.

Bear in mind though that there may be some locations where insurers will either charge a little more or not cover you at all because of an increased risk, so pick your destinations carefully when planning your trip.

  • Health cards (including EHIC cards) – if you’re travelling within Europe, a European Health Insurance Card can help should you fall ill as it entitles you to access to treatment in countries within the EU.

It should be noted that an EHIC card is not a substitute for travel insurance, and should always be carried alongside a travel insurance policy to provide an extra level of protection.

  • International Driving License – if you’re looking to drive during your trip, you must have a valid International Drivers’ Licence, which is recognised all over the world and can help with getting rental car access.

Also, if you’re currently studying and have a National Union of Students (NUS) card, it can be worth taking this with you as a just-in-case. Some tourist attractions around the world may offer a discount for students, so it can be worth taking along and trying out!

Staying Safe

It’s best to be prepared for any situation when you go away, so packing a small medical pack before you travel is essential to your preparation for a backpacking trip.

Medical kits are available to buy at airports, and it can be worth looking into buying supplies once you get to your destination. Ensure that you declare any prescription medication you’ll be taking with you on your trip, as well as the prescription itself, and be sure to identify where your local pharmacy is in your destination should you need a repeat prescription during your trip.

Before you travel, book an appointment with your GP for a health check, and find out if you require any vaccinations for the countries you wish to visit. Diseases such as malaria, hepatitis or glandular fever usually will have an inoculation before you travel or a course of medication during your trip.

Find out as well if you require any medication as a result, including anti-malaria tablets, and be sure to stock up before you go.

Keep Clean Before You Carry On

Take a wash bag with you with a variety of items to keep you clean during your trip – including a toothbrush, hairbrush and wet wipes among others. Because airlines only allow a certain amount of liquids on your person during a flight, it can be worth seeing if you’d be better off buying items such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo and shaving cream once you get to your destination.

Finance

Budgeting is essential when it comes to a worldwide trip; you don’t want to fall short and be stranded far from home with no means of paying for a way to get home. So what options do you have when it comes to making sure you can afford things?

  • Save

Financial preparation is an essential part of a gap year experience, from saving for the flight to getting jobs during the trip to pay for food, lodging and your plane ticket home.

If you’re saving for a trip, think about taking out a separate savings account to drop a little of each wage packet each month, you’d know then that you can accumulate a good amount to travel with.

When it comes to buying flights, shop around, and be sure to research gap year companies who may offer your flight out to your starting destination as part of the price of their package.

  • Use a pre-paid card

Pre-paid credit cards allow you to load up a card with a certain amount of money, which essentially becomes your holiday budget.

Using a pre-paid card saves you the need to carry a large amount of currency on you at any one time, reducing your risk from thieves who might steal your wallet during your trip.

  • Take a mixture of currency to begin with

However, depending on where you are going, you might be crossing several countries during your travels. It can be worth taking an amount of each countries’ currency as loose money, especially for buying items such as food and clothing as not all places accept a contactless card.

Don’t Pack Too Much At First

When you’re starting out on a trip, “less is more” can be a good philosophy to stick to, depending on where you’re going. You can always buy more clothes while you’re there of course, but be sure to take enough for at least your first few weeks, or until you locate the nearest laundrette.

What To Do If You Break Down With A Horse Box

Breaking down is something that every motorist goes through at least once during their driving careers, and whether it’s changing a tire in the pouring rain or waiting for the breakdown man to arrive, it’s never a pleasant experience.

Breaking down while towing a trailer or caravan can be particularly hazardous, largely due to the cumbersome nature of what you’re towing. Location can also play a part, for while you can make use of the hard shoulder should you find yourself in difficulties, breaking down on country roads can present its own set of hazards.

If you’re transporting animals such as horses, breaking down can be a stressful experience for them as well, and spooked animals could cause problems for other road users should they panic and become loose, either as a result of an accident or in the event of a sudden breakdown.

What Should I Do If I Break Down?

In the event of an emergency whilst driving, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm, and ensure that you get yourself to a safe place by doing the following:

  • Pull as far to the left as you can and turn your steering wheel to the left, ensuring that you put it in full-lock
  • Turn on your hazard warning lights immediately and leave your sidelights on as an indication to other road users
  • Ensure that you and your passengers exit using the left-hand side doors of your vehicle and remain in a safe place – usually behind a barrier and on a grassy verge by a motorway – until help arrives
  • Put on reflective jackets if you have them, and if you break down on an A-road ensure that you deploy a warning triangle at least 50 yards behind your vehicle in order to warn other drivers of your situation
  • Phone your breakdown service if you use one, either using your mobile phone or a nearby payphone if you break down on an A-road

What If I Don’t Have Breakdown Cover?

If you break down on a motorway then you should locate your nearest emergency telephone if you can’t make use of a smartphone. Many breakdown providers now make use of apps in order to pinpoint your location and deploy help your way, but in areas of bad signal, this may not be possible, so an alternative might be needed.

Look for the blue signs along the edge of the motorway and for the orange booths which contain a phone with a direct connection to the Highways England (formerly Highways Agency) or the police, these are free to use and can be vital to those who break down.

What About My Animals?

If you’re travelling with animals, either in the car or in a trailer, it’s important to keep them calm and under control. Dogs should be put on a leash and kept under control whilst waiting for the breakdown services, but with larger animals such as horses and cattle, it can be a bit more difficult.

Ensuring that your animals remain calm is important while you wait for help is vital to not only ensure their wellbeing but that of other road users. Many modern horse trailers will have side entrances to allow access for trainers to enter and ensure the animal remains calm, but make sure that you only enter the trailer when it is safe to do so, as a frightened horse can be unpredictable and may even cause you injury if not approached with care.

You should ensure that they also have access to food and water throughout the journey and that your trailer also contains tack for when you need to bridle up and move the animal, either to get them to a place of safety or when you arrive at the stables.

Having some breakdown cover can help to get your vehicle roadworthy as soon as possible. A mechanic may be able to fix the problem on the spot, or if not make sure you are towed to a nearby garage to await repairs, but it can also be worth having some on what you’re towing as well.

Should I Insure My Trailer Too?

You must ensure that you have some level of horsebox insurance in place before you take one on the road, these policies can ensure that not only will your trailer be moved to a place of safety, but that your animals will be taken care of as well.

Many horsebox insurance policies will offer the following features as standard:

  • Roadside Assistance and Roadside Repairs
  • Recovery and transportation of your animals to nearby stables or a home address while you await repairs
  • Puncture Assistance

Owning and transporting horses can be an expensive business, but by making sure that your transport is covered with some horsebox insurance you can ensure that you can get back on the road to your event or grazing field as quickly as possible following a breakdown.

If you still need more information, you can download a free Horsebox and Trailer Owner Guide from gov.uk.

Travelling With A Horse Trailer

Whether it’s moving them from grazing fields, transporting them to the vet or to an event or show, travelling with a horse can be a tricky and stressful experience for both owner and animal if not done correctly.

Horse trailers can be particularly cumbersome on the road, especially if the animal contained within suddenly spooks and upsets the balance of the trailer, which could lead to sudden movements that can potentially cause incidents while on the road.

Do I Need A Special Licence To Tow A Horse Trailer?

Before you even think about towing a trailer, you must make sure you are qualified to do so. Depending on what year you obtained your driving licence can affect what you are able to tow, and you may need to pass an additional test, known as Category B+E status, on your driving licence before you can drive while towing a trailer, this is known as Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM).

  • Licences gained before 19th January 2013 – able to tow a MAM of up to 3.5 tonnes
  • Licences gained from January 1st, 1997 – able to tow a MAM of up to 3.5 tonnes

What Should I Check Before I Set Off?

When preparing your horse and trailer for a trip there are a few things you should check in order to ensure a smooth journey for yourself and your horse.

  • Check the condition of your trailer

It is important that you check your trailer before you travel, checking for any defects or damage before you set off. Keep the following checklist in mind:

  • Check engine
  • Check tyres on vehicle
  • Check trailer connection/hitch
  • Check tow bar
  • Check tyres on trailer (including spare)
  • Check number plate is attached

Ensure that you also check that your indicators and brake lights are working correctly before setting off. As well as the condition of the vehicle itself, you must also bear its mass in mind, and this will involve the weight of your vehicle, the trailer and the horse within, as explained below.

  • Check your weights before setting off

When it comes to towing weight, there are limits as to how much you can tow on a regular car licence that includes towing (B+E grade).

Remember that the combined weight of vehicle, trailer and animals in each vehicle will have a different MAM limit, so be sure to work this out before you travel.

When working out the weight of your load you must bear in mind the following aspects:

  • Weight and towing capacity of your vehicle
  • Weight of unladen trailer and any equipment you are storing on board
  • Weight of the horse(s) you will be transporting

Weigh your animals carefully using a weight station and keep an eye on the towing capacity of your vehicle – whether you use a 4×4 or a Land Rover – ensure that you are within the legal limit for towing with your vehicle before you set off.

Allow a little leeway when it comes to weight to include equipment such as tack, as well as feed and water to ensure that your animal is comfortable during the journey.

  • Be careful when loading and unloading

Horses can be unpredictable beasts, especially when it comes to leading them onto a trailer, so make sure you have all the correct equipment and manpower to safely lead your horse onto the trailer.

Some horses will take to it easily, some won’t, but ensure that you are prepared for any situation; keep your staff safe by ensuring they wear protective clothing and that your horse has plenty of food and water waiting in the trailer for when you succeed in boarding them.

  • Keep your horse safe and secure

Ensure that, once in the trailer, your horse has plenty of room to move within the confines of the trailer and has access to a good amount of food and water during the journey – even if it’s just a short one.

Ensure that your horse has adequate protection during the journey; including using horse blankets and leg protection such as bandages or padded boots before you travel – particularly on long journeys.

The most important thing to make sure when transporting horses is that they have a valid horse passport before you transport them to ensure that they can be transported within the UK. If you’re looking to take your horse abroad you may need a separate horse passport for another country, so it’s best to double check before you travel.

Get Insured Before You Set Off

You must also ensure that you have relevant horse trailer insurance in place before you travel in order to help cover you in the event of an accident caused by a third party. Different policies will have different features, including some which will allow you to transport your horses to nearby stables while you get repairs sorted.

If you find yourself breaking down en-route the best thing you can do, both for your sake and your horses, is to keep calm and contact a breakdown service, who will help to get you and your animal back on the road as quickly as possible, or arrange for time to be spent at local stables if not.

If you still need more information, you can download a free Horsebox and Trailer Owner Guide from gov.uk.