Gap years

Nowadays, the gap year is as much a part of student experience as is burning the midnight oil on the night before exams.

Gap years

If you're at school then you've probably been doing it for thirteen years and taking exams for the last five. Before signing up for more years of studying at university, many take a well earned break.

But taking a year out to discover the world (and yourself) isn’t just an option for undergraduates. The fastest growing group of gappers are in twenty- and thirty-somethings: professionals who already have five to ten years’ work experience under their belts and feel the time might be right to take a break. What’s more, retired volunteering is an increasing phenomenon, with many over-sixties doing volunteer work overseas.

But whatever your age, there are certain ground rules for making sure your gap year goes with a bang.

TOP TIP: If you are planning to go to university after you return then you can apply to UCAS and 'defer' your entry. This means you have a guaranteed place when you're done.


First of all, plan, plan, plan…
A gap year should include its fair share of spontaneity, but if you want to explore the unchartered spaces of the world, a little bit of planning can go a long way.

You’ll find handy background information on websites such as BUG (the Backpacker’s Ultimate Guide) and Lonely Planet. The FCO site features plenty of information, travel advice and security updates. Books such as Before You Go by Tom Griffiths or The Rough Guide to the First Time Around the World are also recommended.

Your itinerary
Planning your own route is, of course, part of the fun. Most major airlines offer round the world air tickets, but some organisations, such as Round the World specialise. And don’t forget STA – the specialist travel agency for students and under-26s. BUNAC offers work-abroad programmes for careers breakers and students.

Finding somewhere to rest your weary head shouldn’t be a problem, with almost every destination on earth geared up to accept the tourist dollar. Finding accommodation to suit your budget is another matter. The Backpacker provides a guide to the hostels of the world. Youth Hostelling International is another reliable source.

Volunteering
Your gap year shouldn’t just be about getting a tan, drinking beer and wearing silly bandanas. Take a look at volunteering – and indeed paid work opportunities – overseas. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a perennial option. You could also try Raleigh International, who organise volunteering opportunities, along with BUNAC or Coral Cay, who provide placements worldwide in reefs and rainforests.

Legal matters
If you have work lined up, your prospective employer should be able to help you work out the legal implications. But if you’re going out there and hoping to pick up a job on spec, find out what it takes to work legally. Work Permits gives you all you need to know about the legal side of working in other countries.

Coming home
You should give as much thought and effort to your re-entry as you did to your exit. The last thing you want is to come back from an amazing experience and find yourself low on cash with no job or place to live. Aim to have a cash cushion: enough money to keep yourself rolling for three months after you come back.

And finally, don’t forget …
Your immunisations, a good insurance policy, and of course, sun cream.

last edited: October 17, 2012