What do people think about companies who offer travel packages & gap years. A company called REAL GAP who i've been looking at seem pretty popular. Has anyone used one? Are they expensive as apposed to planning your own way? Is it easier and recomended for a first time traveller like me. All advice welcome.
Not necessarily. Sometimes it takes a few days for someone who does know something to answer.
I've heard of them. I have the impression they're a reputable company, though neither first- nor second-hand information to back that up.
They'll be significantly more expensive than doing the same thing yourself, pretty much per definition (and looking up a couple example trips on their website confirms that). Using them to arrange things for you will undoubtedly be "easier", but hell, if you want things to be "easy", why leave home at all? As long as you stick to the main backpacker countries for your first trip, it's still very doable to arrange everything yourself and learn the ropes. Countries like Australia and New Zealand have perfect infrastructure to get around as an independent traveller, and if you ever need any help after all, there's lots of local organizations more than willing to take your money and help out.
My first travelling experience was africa (6 months), and i did some of it with a group. Yup it was more expensive, but i was inexperienced, and going alone. I met loads of people and had the chance to find my feet. After that some friends i had made and I hired a car and did the rest ourselves. Nowdays i tend just to book flights and head out. Some people can be a bit snobby about group travel, but, if you are need a confidence boost to get you started this is certainly a good way. Having said that, countries like aus, nz and usa where they speak english and are pretty similar culturally are not so scary when you are alone. Do your research and work out where the right places to stay are and you will meet people in no time at all!
Good Luck and enjoy
I had a good experience with Intrepid recently. I liked my guide and it wasn't one of those ginormous tour buses. I'm comfortable tootling around certain countries on my own, but I get lonely and disillusioned very quickly by myself, so I enjoyed the company and the structure of a group trip. I looked into doing it on my own, but in the end found it much less stressful to book a group trip, and for me the most important thing was enjoying myself while I was there, and not constantly having to worry about where I was going to sleep or how I was going to get there.