E4’s new series Gap Year (tonight, 9pm) follows the adventures of a motley crew of backpackers fumbling their way through Asia.
The destinations they visit are guaranteed to stoke your wanderlust, but the antics, arguments and accidents along the way reveal even paradise can pose problems.
We asked the experts at Gapyear.com to put together some pro tips. Take heed if you want your own gap year adventure to run a little more smoothly…
1. Choose your travel companions wisely
In Gap Year, Sean (Bafta-nominated Ade Oyefeso) and Dylan (Anders Hayward) travel together in an attempt to kick-start a faltering friendship. Inevitably, they fall out hours after landing… in this case because Dylan wasn’t entirely straight with his mate about why he wants to start their trip in China.
Here’s the thing about travelling with your best friend or bae – seeing and smelling each other every day for MONTHS will strain any relationship. If you’re not sure yours will stand the test, don’t travel together. And definitely be up front about why you want to go on your trip!
2. Backpack vs. suitcase
Remember: you’re not going on holiday, you’re travelling, and no self-respecting traveller drags a wheelie suitcase around Southeast Asia like an all-inclusive drone on the Magaluf strip. (Sean obviously didn’t get the memo when he borrowed his mum’s heavy-duty wheelie suitcase for his and Dylan’s Asian adventure.)
A backpack is a symbol that you’re a free spirit – a citizen of the world. It’s also easy to carry and doubles as a pillow during flight delays. Leave your mum’s suitcase at home.
3. Learn a few words of the local language
Every backpacker returns home able to order a beer in 10 different languages – even newbie traveller Sean learns the word for wine in Chinese – but it’s worth learning a few other (admittedly less important) phrases before you go. It can get locals onside, and might open up opportunities not all travellers get.
4. Tear up your itinerary
Whether it’s FOMO or just plain fear, some travellers like to plan every single second of their gap year. If they’re not watching the sunrise over the Great Wall at 5.34am on the second Wednesday of September, their trip is completely ruined.
There’s nothing wrong with being prepared, but it’s important to stay flexible. If an amazing last-minute opportunity comes up, you don’t want to miss out because of a tyrannical itinerary. May (Alice Lee) learns this in Gap Year when her mum’s dictatorial schedule for their China trip gets in the way of real adventure.
5. Learn to ditch unwanted travel mates
In Gap Year, the girls are desperate to shake Greg (comedian Tim Key, below), an older guy who has latched on and won’t take increasingly unsubtle hints to leave them alone. Unfortunately, travellers like this really exist.
If you don’t want to spend your gap year stuck with an annoying new ‘friend’, you either need the guts to give them the boot, or get really good at fleeing your hostel in the dead of night. Then again, Greg turns out to be way cooler than the younger groups initially assumed, so keep an open mind too.
6. Avoid squat toilets
Squat toilets are prolific in some parts of the world, and leave you with two options: you can successfully make the best of it, trusting your core strength to help you efficiently clear the pipes.
Or, more likely, you can over-balance, tipping butt first into the fetid depths, your only chance of rescue a plucky band of locals throwing a rope down to heave you loose. Your choice!
7. Master secret hostel sex
The first episode of Gap Year is barely over before half the characters want to get it on. It’s true that travel is an aphrodisiac, but finding somewhere private to make it happen isn’t always easy (as *mild spoiler alert * two of the characters in the show learn to their cost later in the series!)
Sex in a hostel dormitory alongside 16 snoring backpackers? Challenge accepted. Arrive after lights out, don’t try anything too athletic, and for the love of all things holy clean up before morning.
8. Embrace weird food
The British have a reputation for bad food, but it’s nothing compared to the deep-fried tarantulas, vacuum-packed squid and boiled chicken heads you’ll encounter overseas.
What at first seems disgusting is actually an opportunity to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, and look brave in front of your mates. You never know, you might develop a taste for pickled intestine.
9. If something goes wrong, there’s always a pub
No gap year goes off entirely without a hitch. That’s part of the fun. You’ll miss a bus, get overcharged at a street market, contract a stomach bug that makes you want to die… that’s what memories are made of! Whatever happens, wherever you are in the world, stay calm and find the nearest pub to wait for it all to blow over. Sorted.
To celebrate the launch of Gap Year, travel booking site StudentUniverse is offering viewers an exclusive saving of £20 on any flight to a destination featured in the show. Use the promo code E4GapYear when booking.