South America is an appealing destination for backpackers looking for something different from the well-trodden path to Asia.
The continent has so much to offer the adventurous traveller that there is more than enough to fill your gap year, whether you are seeking pristine rainforests, endless glacial landscapes, cloud-capped ancient cities, exhilarating mountain treks, indigenous cultures, fun-filled fiestas, party cities or crystal-clear waters lapping idyllic beaches.
Here are three ways to ensure that you make the most of your gap year in South America and that you expand your mind while travelling with peace of mind.
The best gap years are not just filled with mindless pleasures but are chances for you to develop your skills and experience. With the vast majority of South America speaking Spanish an extended period travelling here will benefit from a spell learning to speak Spanish.
A smattering of Spanish will certainly go a long way and help you to feel at home and mix with the locals, but spending a bit of time mastering the language will give you a skill for life. You will find that your appreciation of local cultures goes deeper and your understanding of the places you travel to is enhanced.
Learning to speak another language is a unique travel experience and one that will enrich your travels. Where better to immerse yourself in Spanish than in this vast swathe of land where it is the language most widely spoken?
If speaking Spanish will help you begin to get to know the people and the cultures of the countries you travel through volunteering will finish the process. The opportunities to give something back to the communities you travel in, enhance your skills and CV and to travel deeply as well as cheaply in South America are numerous.
You could spend some time on an ecological project in the rainforests of Costa Rica, get involved in an archaeological dig in Peru, make a difference in an orphanage in Brazil or provide essential support to nursing projects in Bolivia.
Travel smartForget the head torch, penknife and zip lock bags; the most important thing to make sure you have with you on your gap year is travel insurance.
Whether you opt for a backpacker policy or have yearly travel insurance make sure your policy covers you adequately for medical care, transportation home, refunds you for delays and, with more of us travelling with electronic gadgets, covers you if personal items are stolen.
Policies from companies such as Insure and Away (www.insureandaway.co.uk) offer inexpensive, comprehensive gap year travel insurance that will offer you peace of mind and act as a safe guard against the risks associated with travel.
Make the most of your gap year, travel safely and travel smartly.
Tracey Chandler is a freelance writer, specialising in travel blogging and feature writing for a number of female-interest publications. She works regularly with a long list of travel bloggers and is always happy to hear from others.