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Taking A Gap Year: Everything You Need to Know

Planning a gap year? Here's a guide to the basics to get you started...

gap year experiences
Gap year experiences can change the course of your life and career. Photo: iStock

Thinking of taking a gap year? Want a year out from studying, a career break or just the chance to try something different?

There’s a lot of information out there about gap year travel, volunteering abroad and working abroad aimed specifically at those taking a gap year. So much so that it can sometimes get a bit confusing.

Gap years in Australia: Everything you need to know

Which is why we’ve distilled the basics into this handy guide to everything you need to know about taking a gap year. If you’re at all interested in the idea of a gap year, this is a great place to start.

What is a Gap Year?

gap year travel on a bus gap year travel advice
A gap year is a great chance to hang out with your friends, make new ones and have fun. Photo: iStock

A gap year is, quite simply, a year off from doing what you normally do. The term was originally used to describe taking a year off to go travelling, work abroad or volunteer abroad between finishing school and starting university.

However “gap year” can now apply to a whole range of things, including adult gap years or career breaks, or simply a period of time spent off in between jobs.

Should I Take a Gap Year?

gap year travel
Taking a gap year is all about having a break from what you’d usually do and having fun. Photo: iStock

In a word, yes. The experiences and adventures you can have on a gap year are ones that will probably stay with you for the rest of your life. Who knows, they may help to shape the course of your future career or even your personal life.

The thing about giving yourself an entire year out, whether it’s between school and university or later in life as an adult gap year, is that unlike a holiday, you really have the time to get to know your chosen destinations.

“The experiences and adventures you can have on a gap year are ones that will probably stay with you for the rest of your life.”

You can get properly stuck in to a job abroad, or a volunteering project and still have time to travel afterwards. Plus, do you really need an excuse to get out there and spend some time exploring the world?

What to Do On a Gap Year?

holi festival goa gap year in goa
Goa in India is a popular gap year destination. Here young men celebrate the Holi Festival of Colours

The world, as they say, is your oyster. The opportunities on a gap year are literally endless. But here are a few of the more common options that people planning a gap year tend to explore.

Working Abroad

Working abroad is a popular option because you get to experience a country and get paid to do it. You’ll also gain a different perspective to someone who’s just travelling through and hopefully befriend some of your local colleagues.

Of course you’ll need the right visa to get a gap year job abroad, but if you’re thinking of taking a gap year in Australia or New Zealand, it’s surprisingly easy for UK citizens. Popular options include:

Bar Work Abroad

Provided you’re over the legal drinking age (18 in most countries) working in a bar on your gap year is a great job if you can get it. You’ll get to meet locals and fellow travellers alike all in an environment that’s conducive to making friends.

Many bars, especially in Thailand and around South East Asia more generally employ westerners to help them promote nights.

Farm Work Abroad

Farm labouring can be an easy option if you’re looking for a gap year job. In Australia many gap year travellers find work picking fruit, while working on farms is also popular in New Zealand.

Hospitality Work Abroad

General hospitality jobs can be a good option for people taking a gap year. Working abroad as a waiter or waitress can offer flexible shifts as can working in a hotel.

Working abroad: Everything you need to know

Many youth hostels in places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada offer schemes whereby guests can earn their board by working in the hostel making beds or cleaning rooms.

Ski Work Abroad

Working in a ski resort, whether as a ski instructor, a snowboard instructor or in a in hospitality, is often a popular option for those taking a gap year.

Teaching English Abroad

Having English as a first language can really help with getting a gap year job. There are many internationally recognised teaching qualifications (such as the CELTA course, which can be completed in just a month) which will enable you to work as an English teacher almost anywhere in the world.

Volunteering Abroad

volunteering abroad on a gap year
Volunteering abroad on a gap year can be a hugely rewarding experience. Photo: iStock

Volunteering abroad is a popular option on a gap year. There are a plethora of charities, conservation projects, development projects and other organisations that take gap year volunteers in places like India, Africa, South East Asia and South America.

Volunteering abroad: Everything you need to know

Some of the larger and more popular gap year volunteering companies will actually ask volunteers to pay for their trip and contribute to the project they’re working on. This is fairly common, but there are some organisations that offer free volunteer abroad programs.

Studying Abroad

A gap year can be a great time to learn a new skill in an interesting environment. Cooking courses, language courses and courses in conservation are all popular options.

Gap Year Travel

For most people the main objective of a gap year is to travel and experience different countries. And while all of the above can be fun and rewarding, sometimes there’s nothing better than travelling just for the sake of it.

Thankfully, much of the world is well set up for gap year travellers, with tons of options for accommodation and specifically-designed gap year tours.

Where is Best to Go on a Gap Year?

gap year in thailand
Thailand is a popular gap year destination. Photo: iStock

There is obviously no right or wrong answer on where it’s “best” to go. But if it’s your first time travelling independently (if you’re taking a year off after leaving school for example) it’s probably a good idea to consider heading to one of the more popular gap year destinations.

More often than not you’ll find they are cheaper and better set up to deal with independent travellers. These include Australia and New Zealand.

“If it’s your first time travelling independently it’s a good idea to start with one of the more popular gap year destinations.”

Gap years in Thailand are also popular and visits to Thailand can easily be combined with trips to other South East Asian countries like Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Many people choose to spend part or all of their gap years in America and/or Canada, both of which are great places for independent travellers, while South America is also a popular gap year destination.

India is another classic and while it might not be quite as easy to travel around, volunteering abroad and working on conservation courses in Africa is also a popular option.

Important Things to Remember When Planning a Gap Year

gap year planning
If you plan your gap year properly, you’ll get to do more of the fun stuff. Photo: iStock

If you plan your gap year properly (and it works out well) taking a year off may well be the best decision you ever make. But to ensure that’s the case, there are a few key things it’s worth remembering when planning a gap year.

Do Your Research

Doing your research before you set off is key. What visas will you need and how long will it take to get them? What will the weather be like in your chosen destination? What kinds of things will you need to pack?

“No-one wants to find themselves languishing in a Thai jail”

What are the dangers you are likely to encounter? And would you know which numbers to call if something went wrong?

It’s well worth keeping up to date with the latest travel guidelines from the Foreign Office, who regularly update them depending according to recent political and security developments. The last thing you want is to touch down in the middle of a warzone!

Get the Right Gap Year Insurance

Many companies offer gap year travel insurance but picking the right one for you – one that covers the destinations, experiences and adventure activities you’ll be doing – is absolutely key.

10 best deals for gap year insurance

Respect the Locals

planning a gap year market in thailand
Respect the locals and you’re more likely to benefit from their hospitality. Photo: iStock

This should be obvious but all too often in the excitement of escaping abroad, basic manners and respect for local customs and cultural standards gets forgotten.

It’s not just a case of not acting like a drunken dickhead either, local laws can be very different from our own. No-one wants to find themselves languishing in a Thai jail for dealing weed or facing an Indonesian firing squad on drugs charges.

Have Fun

Really when it comes down to it, having fun is what taking a gap year is all about. You could find yourself working in Australia, volunteering to build schools in Malawi, saving the rhino in South Africa, diving in Vietnam or going to a full moon party in Thailand. It’s all out there.

So what are you waiting for? Start researching, get out there and get exploring!

planning a gap year
Friendships formed on a gap year often last a lifetime. Photo: iStock

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