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Gap year travel advice for solo travellers

Exploring the globe can be scary, but there’s so much to find at the edge of your comfort zone. We look at some of the top destinations to visit on your own – and share tips on how to keep safe when you go.

Posted: 1/2/2023 | By Amanda Duffy

Woman with their head outside a train window, posing for a picture with a scenic mountain range in the background

Getting started with your gap year

Packing your bags and globetrotting on your own is both exhilarating and daunting. Still, there’s a lot to be gained from such an unforgettable experience. And what better time to do it than during a gap year? Solo travel means independence, freedom, and no need to compromise on things you want to experience.

As exciting as the idea of your own grand adventure might be, there's a lot to learn on your journey.

As part of our Post Office Travel Insurance Safe, Sound and Solo campaign, we’re aiming to present the top destinations and tips for your dream gap year. We’ve combined our Travel Safety Index with advice from travel blogger Monica Stott on how to backpack safely.

Prepare for adventure with this handy look at must-consider criteria before you jet set on your dream adventure.

The rise in gap year travel

Taking a gap year is sometimes seen as a rite of passage among students. That trend seems to continue, with UCAS data pointing to 47,740 course deferrals amongst the 563,175 accepted applicants from the 2022 undergraduate statistics report. In fact, there’s a 25.09% increase in course deferrals when comparing the 2022 UCAS course acceptance and deferral data against 2021’s results.

For students, gap years can be a time in their lives to gain independence. Often, when we think about gap years, travel and employment are some of the more popular avenues students take.

It’s not all about students either. 'Grey’ gap years are becoming increasingly popular, with an estimated 37% of over 60s in the UK planning on taking an extended travel.

With statistics pointing to the everlasting appeal of gap year travel, you’re not alone in feeling the urge to do it. And solo travelling doesn’t always mean travelling alone. With organised tours and group travel companies, you can keep your independence and still make new connections.

Whatever journey you have planned, make sure you’ve protection in place – such as single-trip travel insurance to multi-trip cover or a backpacker policy.

Man wearing sunglasses in a European city holding a map

Putting safety first

Travelling solo can be liberating, but it also requires some extra attention to safety. It’s natural to feel nervous or apprehensive when you’re alone in a foreign country, even if it may appear safer than others. So, whether you’re a rookie traveller or a seasoned backpacker, you can benefit from prioritising your safety.

When travelling alone, you’re in charge of:

  • Preventing issues from occurring
  • Recognising when problems could or do arise
  • Deciding how to overcome said obstacles

Prevention is always better than cure and researching the safety of your chosen destination is a great place to start. With enough knowledge, you can avoid the danger of misinformation, unpleasant individuals or wandering into an unsafe area.

As a starting point, why not read our Travel Safety Index article? We looked at the safest counties and cities for solo travellers, based on various criteria.

Travel in confidence. We've got your back

A world map with eight locations pinned

Must-see destinations for gap year travellers

To give you the scoop on travelling safe and smart, we spoke with influencer and travel blogger Monica Stott. She launched her blog, The Travel Hack, in 2009 while backpacking around Asia.

After an 11-year stint of non-stop travelling, Monica now blogs as a full-time career. The British voyager is based in Wales where she lives with her family, and mostly documents her weekend trips and budget breaks.

With experience in backpacking, solo travel and taking a gap year herself, she’s provided Post Office with her favourite eight travel destinations for gap year travel in her own words. Chosen for their popularity, and affordability, here are Monica’s top suggestions in her own words.


Thailand has been a popular destination for backpackers for years thanks to those incredible beaches. The locals are friendly and welcoming, and they know how to cook and throw a great party. Thailand is also affordable, and you’ll make friends with backpackers from all over.

Thailand’s famous full-moon parties are a huge draw for backpackers, but you do need to be careful. Thai whiskey buckets might sound like a good idea at the time but they should always be drunk with caution (and with a reliable group of friends).


Iceland is regularly listed as the safest country in the world thanks to the low crime rates and the small-town, community feel of the nation. If you’re looking to explore beautiful landscapes and magical scenery, without worrying about pickpockets and thieves, then Iceland could be the place to go.


Australia is a great option for UK backpackers looking to earn some extra money while they travel. If you’re under 30 you could apply for a Working Holiday visa, which could allow you to work for one year in Australia if you meet the criteria.

Try something new and work as a fruit picker on a rural farm, be a city slicker in Sydney or join the cool kids in Melbourne. I worked as a waitress on an island off the west coast of Australia. I was scuba diving by day and waiting tables by night and island life was a great way to save money.


Lots of backpackers will tag on a trip to Bali while they’re in Australia. Work your way around Australia and then spend those hard-earned dollars in Bali where you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

Bali is an Instagram dream with infinity pools looking out over tropical jungles, waterfalls, white beaches, and romantic little huts tucked away in lush gardens. What’s not to love!?

New Zealand

If you’re looking for adventure during your gap year then New Zealand is the place to go. From exciting sports to awe-inspiring activities, you name it, New Zealand has it.

British backpackers under 30 can also apply for a 23 month Working Holiday Visa so you can fund your travels as you travel.


Slovenia is one of the most affordable destinations I’ve visited as a backpacker. It’s also one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. Explore beautiful cities like Llubljana and natural attractions like Lake Bled for a fraction of the cost of other European countries.


If you’re new to backpacking and want to have an adventure without straying too far from home, then Ireland is the place for you. Ireland might be small, but it offers beautiful landscapes, bustling cities, lots of history and a great night life.


Have you ever been tempted by the freedom of van life? If you have then Portugal is the place to do it. Backpacking in a campervan is the ultimate adventure and you can easily travel with other backpackers for safety.

Whatever your destination, planning carefully, taking precautions, and buying travel insurance that covers your plans can help ensure a dream visit. , For more information about your chosen destination, check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice.

Woman enjoying the view whilst preparing to take a camera phone image of the coastline

Top 10 tips for gap year solo travelling

It’s worth considering that just because countries you want to visit haven’t been mentioned, it doesn’t mean you need to give up on your dream destinations. In fact, you don’t need to drop any destinations.

Experience is a great teacher, and Monica is on-hand to deliver expert advice on how to stay safe while gap year solo travelling. Here are her top ten tips to travel safe, wherever your adventure takes you.

1. Pack light

Packing light means you can get around easily, save time and money on checking-in luggage and you’re also less likely to lose or forget things. Packing light should also extend to your gadgets, so leave your flashy camera and shiny tablet at home. When you carry fewer items, you’re less of a target for thieves. Monica also recommends popping a Bluetooth luggage tracker into your backpack in case it goes missing.

2. Use the right travel insurance policy

When you’re backpacking, or travelling in general, taking out backpacking or gap year travel insurance will cover you for your extended trip. This includes if you have an accident abroad or lose your valuables. You’re also protected for some sports and activities as standard, though extreme sports activities may need additional cover. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions of a policy to see what is covered or excluded or any limitations.

3. Send a daily message to loved ones

It’s particularly important to stay in touch with someone you trust while travelling solo. Whether it’s a family member or a close friend, check in daily with a quick message or a voice note to let them know your plans for the day. According to Monica, it’s also worth using a GPS tracker app and allowing that person see your live location.

4. Stay connected with mobile data

Unfortunately, Wi-Fi isn’t always easily accessible. Using a travel sim will give you peace of mind that you have affordable data in each country you visit. Having access to Google Maps or Uber can get you out of a tricky situation, so don’t risk being without it.

5. Research your destination, accommodation and activities

Part of the fun of a solo backpacking trip is planning and researching your chosen destination(s). But you’ll need to do this thoroughly so you’re aware of the basics. Is there a certain area you should avoid after dark? Are you visiting a city with lots of pickpockets? Is there a particular hostel that’s known for ripping backpackers off? Monica says reading a mixture of blogs, online forums, travel guides and newspaper articles can give you a well-rounded view of the area you’re visiting. It helps to learn a few useful phrases in local languages too.

6. Spend extra for the safer/easier option

If you’re taking a full gap year, then you might be doing things on a budget. However, the cheapest option isn’t always the safest. When travelling and trying to keep costs low, Monica recommends paying for a taxi rather than walking alone in the dark. She also advises booking a hotel near the airport if you’re arriving late, and booking accommodation in safe, central areas. If something doesn’t feel right, jump in an Uber to reach your destination.

7. Keep note of your accommodation address

Wherever you’re staying, it’s good practice to write down the name and address of your accommodation and put it somewhere safe. Rather than store this information on your phone, Monica suggests writing it in both the local language and in English. This is particularly helpful if you lose your phone, your battery dies, or you get lost. You’ll always have the address on hand to show someone and reach your accommodation safely.

8. Keep your essentials close

When you’re travelling solo, it’s important to keep your phone, credit/debit cards, passport and other valuables close. Monica recommends storing these in a small, crossbody bag and keeping it beneath your jumper or coat to avoid theft. Overloading a bigger bag might mean you won’t notice someone slipping their hand in and taking your wallet.

9. Dress appropriately

It’s vital to dress suitably for both the weather conditions and for cultural expectations. In many countries it’s disrespectful to wear short sleeves, tank tops or short skirts, short dresses and little shorts. This applies to both men and women, but it’s particularly important for women because it may attract unwanted attention. Similarly, you’ll need to dress for the weather conditions. The last thing you want is to get sunburn, heatstroke or catch a chill while you’re travelling solo.

10. Trust your gut

Monica's final tip for solo travelling is to trust your gut. We all have instincts, and you’ll want to always err on the side of caution. Maybe someone is walking too closely to you, or a particular tour seems way too cheap. If something feels weird, then trust your gut and avoid it at all costs.

Woman in a city centre location sitting on some steps reading a map

Key takeaways

As exciting as solo travelling is, it’s worth researching the country or city you’re visiting so you can remain safe. Luckily, there are some great destinations to choose from, as evidenced in our index. If you set off during your gap year, you’re likely to be abroad for longer, so make sure you get the right travel insurance first.

Protect what matters when you go away

Frequently asked questions

  • The length of your travel insurance policy depends on your cover. For example, if you’re planning a short one-off trip, then our single-trip policy will cover you for up to 365 days. But if you’re taking multiple trips in the space of a year, our multi-trip policy could last for up to 12 months. Our backpacker policy can cover you for one trip of up to 18 months.
  • There is no upper age limit for our single-trip policies. For annual multi-trip cover, you need to be 75 or under. Meanwhile, our backpacker policy requires you to be between 18-60 years old when your policy starts. Backpacker policies are only available on our Economy-level cover.
  • Yes, mobile and smartphones are covered under the personal possessions of our travel insurance policies up to £100. We also offer a gadget cover add-on if you need more cover for other smart devices, such as:

    • Tablets
    • Computers
    • Laptops
    • Smart watches
    • Games consoles

    With our gadget cover, we’ll increase the cover up to £1,000 per policy for theft, damage or loss during your trip.

    Remember, if you’re taking gadgets on your travels keep them close and never leave devices unattended.

  • Make sure those closest to you know where you’ll be travelling to and when and check in with them regularly on your travels, so they know it’s all going smoothly. It’s a good idea not to share your plans more widely, though, either before you go or while you’re away – such as on social media. For one thing, if criminals see you won’t be at home for a certain period and break in to steal something from your home while you’re away, your home insurance might not cover the loss.

Other travel products

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