You're taking a year off but your finances must go on working

Career-break travellers can't just drop everything. Emma Lunn sees how to plan ahead
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The Independent Online

The days when gap years were taken exclusively by school-leavers have long gone.

The days when gap years were taken exclusively by school-leavers have long gone.

Today's globe-trotting backpackers are as likely to be stressed-out 30-something professionals as they are teenagers, according to a report by the holiday website ebookers.com. The average age of round-the-world travellers is now 32, it says.

Meanwhile, another travel website, gapyear.com, reports that people in the 50-60 age group are increasingly taking breaks from the rat race.

While they can look forward to escaping their usual routine, mature "gappers" can't usually forget about the financial responsibilities back home. Many will have a mortgage, pension and life insurance in place, all of which need to be taken care of in their absence.

Planning ahead is vital but, with preparation, it's possible to maintain your financial commitments in the UK while travelling overseas.

If you own a property and need to cover mortgage repayments, you should think about renting out your home. A reputable estate agent offering a fully managed letting service is usually the best place to start.

"If you are renting your property out while on a gap year, you need to tell your lender," says Ray Boulger of mortgage broker Charcol. "If you're on a fixed deal, most will let you keep that deal or they may put your rate up slightly.

"Those thinking of going travelling in six months should plan ahead now and switch [to make sure you have a competitive deal] for that period."

Alternatively, try to find a mortgage that allows you to take repayment holidays, to cover any periods during the year when you aren't receiving rent.

Temporary pension arrangements may not be as easy to put in place. Unless you've struck a deal with your current employer to return in 12 months - and can freeze your contributions - you will probably have to stop paying into your company scheme. But if you have a personal pension, you can carry on making contributions, normally from a separate bank account set up for this purpose.

If you have a basic life insurance policy, you shouldn't have to let the provider know of your travel plans - it will still pay out in the event of a tragedy. But if you have recently taken out life cover knowing that you were going overseas, and didn't tell the insurer, it might object - and not pay out. If you want life cover specifically for the time you are away, you may have to pay a higher premium for 12 months, but it will be worth it for the peace of mind.

A self-employed person with an income protection policy should inform his life company before leaving the country.

When you shop around for travel insurance, make sure the policy covers all your needs. For example, will you be taking part in extreme sports or visiting dangerous countries? Check the small print to ensure you are covered for emergency rescue or repatriation.

How much you can expect to pay will depend on which countries you visit. Direct Line, for example, charges £225.28 for basic cover for a 30-year-old woman going on a round-the-world trip that takes in the US, Australia and South America.

As for spending money, a mix of credit and debit cards, cash and traveller's cheques will help spread the risk in case of theft or loss.

Most countries now have adequate cash machine networks giving you access to your UK bank account, but before you leave, check how much your credit card will charge in fees if you use an ATM abroad. These may be as much as 4.75 per cent.

Set up an online bank account so you can use internet cafés to keep track of how much you are spending and transfer money from savings accounts or pay off credit cards.

Keeping in contact with friends and family back home is important too. Although mobile phone operators offer worldwide "roaming" deals, these can be expensive. Global phone cards are a cheaper option and can be used in most touch-tone public phone booths.

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