A gap year is a great way to spend some time exploring the world or really getting to know a destination.
It can bring life changing, never-to-be forgotten experiences. More and more gappers are also using it as a way to boost their skills and their CVs as well as really getting to know other cultures and environments. So let us help you make the right choices and get the most out of what could be one of the best years of your life.
Work experience placements are the most popular type of gap year requested by school leavers. These include activities such as teaching English as a foreign language, bar work and internships but the range of options on offer is pretty wide. These give you the advantage of making some money and boosting your CV as well as making new friends.
Next up are volunteering gap years, with students working with local communities, wildlife conservation projects and a whole range of projects that can bring very real benefits both for the gappers and most importantly, the destinations they visit. This can bring a real sense of achievement and in many cases a radically changed view of the world and how we can impact on it for the better. However not all volunteering choices are as good as others, which can lead to disappointment, so check out our tips below on how to choose a good volunteering project.
Adventure gap years are also proving popular, with tour operators offering all kinds of activities from martial arts boot camps to surf schools and ranching lessons, but the options are limitless, all of them can be incredibly exhilarating and inspiring.
Follow our tips for a safe and rewarding gap year:
You can also find out if your gap year provider is one of our Members.
Adventure travel abroad: play it safe
1. Go with an expert
- Choose a reputable gap year provider with a good track record that is a member of a trade association, such as ABTA, so you have recourse should anything go wrong.
2. Know your destination
- Speak to your travel agent or tour operator and check the Foreign Office travel advice for dos and don’ts and no go areas. It will also tell you about visa requirements and how to get one, especially relevant if you’re going to be working.
- Research local customs before you go to avoid unwittingly causing offence.
3. Pick the right activity
- Think carefully about the kind of activity you’ll be doing; working, volunteering or learning a skill can be a real boost to your CV.
4. Be healthy
- Make sure you’ve had all the necessary jabs and inoculations; do this at least eight weeks before you travel.
- If you’re going to a country where malaria is prevalent always take anti-malarials and always finish the course.
- Take a decent first aid kit with you.
5. Get insured
- Get a good quality travel insurance policy, the cheapest policies will not provide you with the level of cover necessary for a lengthy stay overseas.
- It’s worth investing in a specialist Gap Year policy which will include popular Gap Year activities.
- For more information on travel insurance, have a look at our guide.
6. Learn the language
- If you’re travelling to a non-English speaking country take some language lessons before you go; you’ll find it much easier to fit in when you first arrive.
- When you’re speaking to locals, have a go, don’t rely on people to speak English; you’ll pick up the language much more quickly that way.
- You can also take language courses whilst you’re away and this is a great way to spend some extra time in a place you love.
7. Look after your money
- Tell your bank where and when you’ll be travelling to reduce the risk of them stopping your card.
- Take a couple of hundred pounds in travellers’ cheques as a safety net; they’ll be replaced straight away if stolen or lost.
- See our guide on travel money.
- Keep electronic copies of all your important travel documents and leave a photocopy at home.
9. Keep in touch
- It’s never been easier to keep in touch wherever in the world you are, so sign up to Skype, download Whatsapp and phone your mum once in a while. It’s also worth getting a cheap mobile phone if you’re going to be in a destination for a long time.
Gap Year volunteering tips
1. Go with a reputable provider
- By going with a reputable provider, you can be sure that their work provides a valuable experience for you but also for the local people. A good experienced provider will also be able to help you out with your arrangements and you’ll get the benefit of their expertise.
2. Do your research
- Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before you finalise your trip and make sure you’re comfortable with what the trip involves, the work that you’ll be expected to do, where you’ll be working and the history of the project / organisation.
3. Know the destination
- Do your research to find out what to expect from the destinations you’ll be visiting, and the local cultural attributes / qualities they have. A good place to start is your travel provider who will have lots of expertise, you can also check the FCO’s Know-before-you-go website.
4. Think about funding
- A common concern for critics of volunteering can be the amount of the placement monies that reach the local community. Ask these questions of your travel provider but be realistic about the answer you may be expecting. Some of the monies will go into company overheads such as staff costs, marketing, operating costs, insurances etc, and some of it will reach the local community or the project you’ll be working on.
5. Put in, get back
- Voluntourism experiences are like a lot of things in life generally, the more you put in, the more you get back. Use initiative, talk to the project directors whilst there, come up with ideas yourself perhaps and suggest these. The more you give, the more valuable your experience will be.
6. Got it covered?
- Check your travel insurance carefully – there are travel insurance policies that won’t cover you if you’re engaging in work in the destination, even if it’s in a volunteer capacity so check the fine print and ask the company that you’ve got the right level of insurance for everything that you intend to get up to.
7. Share your experience
- Don’t forget when you get back to share your experiences, good or bad. This information is a great way for future gappers to get a better insight into what to expect and help them make informed choices.