THERE'S nothing like a holiday to get away and re-charge the batteries.
But there's now a growing number of people who are jetting off to foreign countries for a bumper year-long break.
Studying has ceased, coursework is done and dusted, and gap-year travellers are out in force to book their tickets for a once-in-a-lifetime travelling experience.
The gap-year phenomenon is booming. This year, up to 200,000 soon-to-be university students and recent graduates will take a gap year, according to ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents).
It's the ideal chance to escape from the world of revision and expand your horizons.
But increasingly horror stories about out-of-their-depth travellers have left gappers - and their parents - anxious about independent travel.
r Be prepared: Besides having fun, travellers need to be aware of the pitfalls and practicalities they may face.
For instance, tourists in Singapore might think failing to flush a public toilet is pretty harmless, but in fact you'd be breaking a law and face a hefty fine.
"Travelling is a great experience, but if you are expecting to find a hot version of England, you'll be caught out," says Andrew Wilson, director of Planet Wise.
"A staggering 70% of gap year travellers do little or no preparation before their trip.
"It's the cultural differences that get most people. The stories you hear in the UK are all about crime and illnesses, but really these are no worse than here - the difference is that gap-year travellers are at their most vulnerable because they often can't deal with the culture shock."
Planning ahead, budgeting, packing sensibly and staying safe is the key to a trouble-free trip, Andrew says.
"Think ahead," he advises. "It's not necessary to plan every day of your six-month trip but if you are arriving in a new country, do you have any local currency? Have you booked your first night's accommodation?
"If you haven't thought ahead, you will arrive at your destination and stand out as someone who doesn't have a clue where they are or what they're doing."
r Travelling tips: Arriving in a far-flung country, either alone or with friends, can be an exciting but daunting experience, so you'll be glad you invested a little time for preparation before packing your bags. Gogapyear.com has this advice.
r Obtain local knowledge: Carry out some research into your destination before you go, including its laws, customs and language. This will help you avoid offending people or unwittingly breaking laws. And learn some key phrases and words of the local language.
r Stay healthy: Make a visit to your GP at least six weeks before you depart and find out what jabs you may need.
r Check paperwork: Make sure your passport is in good condition and valid for at least six months after your return date. Check you have all the correct visas for countries you plan to travel to.
r Take enough money: Make sure you have enough money. Take a mixture of cash, travellers' cheques and credit cards and never keep them all in one place.
r Get online: Set up a secure internet email account. Email yourself and trusted friends and family details of your insurance policy, passport, itinerary and emergency contact numbers just in case.
r Pack light: A good backpack is essential - but don't take the kitchen sink. Pack half of what you think you need, then go for an hour-long walk with your full backpack /
If you can't manage that, you've got too much. Bear in mind you can buy most things abroad, often more cheaply.
r Insurance issues: A recent survey of 18 to 35-year-olds found that two thirds had gone bungee-jumping without knowing if their insurance covered them, according to Gogapyear.com.
Wilson says a one in four travellers will leave with insufficient insurance - or none at all.
If you break your leg while you're abroad and need treatment it could cost you a huge £2,500 without adequate insurance in Europe. In the USA it could be as much as £14,000.
Ensure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before jetting off. Shop around to make sure your insurance is right for you.
Think about any activities you may be doing, like adventure sports, and make sure that you're covered.
r While you're travelling: The majority of gap-year travellers return home with fond memories, a suntan and stacks of photos.
But it's important to remember that things can go wrong and situations can be much more difficult to deal with abroad.