Planning a gap year abroad can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. From the old-hands who chide you for even thinking of visiting Thailand (‘that’s so 90’s, no-one goes there anymore’) to the friends who’re aghast that you’re not packing a hair-dryer, to your parents frantically worrying about money belts, lockable bags and emergency telephone numbers, it seems everyone has an opinion.
But how much of it really matters? Sure, it’s good to have a vague idea of places you’d like to visit, but if you followed everyone else’s advice on where to go and what to do, you’d be living their dream gap year, rather than your own. Gap year preparation can generally be boiled down to the essentials: Passport, inoculations, money. After a while all other advice becomes confusing and contradictory.
However, if you still feel under-prepared, perhaps it’s better to keep in mind what not to do while you’re away. With this in mind, here are 10 bits of advice to completely ignore when you set off on your trip.
Don’t learn the language.
This is a definite no-no. Don’t even try and learn the words for ‘yes‘, ‘no‘, ‘please‘ or ‘thank you‘. Continue to speak in English, and if the locals don’t understand, simply talk louder and point where necessary. People will respect your brash confidence and the fact that you bow to no man’s customs.
Ignore the local food.
What the hell is that? There’s no way you should be eating anything that’s being served on the side of the road, especially something you don’t recognise. Better to play it safe and find a McDonald’s, there’s usually one around somewhere. Besides, if the locals see you favouring a Big Mac over their weird ethnic dishes, they might just get the hint and start serving food in neat, spherical shapes that fit nicely into a sesame seed bun.
Don’t give anything back.
You may hear some idiots waxing lyrical about how their trip to volunteer abroad in Nepal as a teacher changed their lives and gave them purpose, direction and a sense of humility. These people are generally hippies and should be ignored. If the local townspeople need a well digging for a new water supply, you may want to point out that a Cosmopolitan only costs £1.50, and they’d be happier drinking that instead. There’s no way you should be spending your precious holiday time hugging monkeys or looking after small hippos.
Don’t interact with the locals
They probably all have tropical diseases that can kill you just by looking at them, and they’re all trying to rip you off. Always. Besides, there’s absolutely nothing to be learned from people from other cultures. Especially ones that don’t have iPads.
Take photos. Of everything.
From the world famous acrobats of Beijing, to the Niagara Falls to lions on safari, there’s nothing that can’t be enhanced by the sickly blue glow of a hundred camera phones. Also, make sure you get some shots of those crazy-looking religious folk you might see wandering around Thailand or India. They may look a little scary with their bright red faces, impossibly long, matted hair and all round grubby nakedness, but get your arm around one for a hilarious photo and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Even if they flee to a nearby temple.
Don’t explore outside the city
It’s dirty, there are no proper roads and you’ll probably get eaten by lions. Thailand’s absolutely crawling with them.
Flaunt your wealth
Ever wanted to live like a hip hop mogul? Well now’s your chance! You’ll find plenty of countries with pretty crazy exchange rates that allow you to become a millionaire overnight, so change your money up to the lowest denomination possible and start throwing it around like you own the place! Ever wanted to see an aborigine fight a kangaroo? Throw enough money at it and it’s almost certainly going to happen.
When you’ve grown bored of paying locals to battle the indigenous animal population (admittedly this may take some time), you’ll need something else to spend your new-found wealth on. Thankfully, alcohol is relatively cheap in many typical traveller haunts, and Thailand even has special Full Moon parties to enjoy. These parties are an age old and very spiritual tradition involving drinking copious amounts of Vodka and Red Bull from plastic buckets, dancing to incessant psytrance with other Westerners and chundering violently into the sea.
Get a sweet tattoo
Possibly the only cool thing about foreign cultures, is that their writing (while clearly nonsense) looks pretty unique and mysterious as a tattoo. Don’t worry too much about what it says; a tattoo in Hindi, Chinese or Arabic will make you look interesting, enigmatic and deep to all your friends back home, who definitely won’t have anything similar.
Get yourself arrested no matter what
You’re going to need some crazy stories to tell your mates when you get home, so make sure you get arrested no matter what. Insult the king of Thailand, deal some drugs in Columbia or get naked on a beach in Dubai. Just make sure you get some snaps with your arresting officer to show off to your new uni friends when you get back home.
Adam is an avid traveller who has been exploring the globe for 5 years since his gap year