The term ‘Gap Year’ plays down what could be an experience of a lifetime. Take the definition of the word ‘Gap’ - a space or interval; a break in continuity. We‘re more inclined to believe there is no ‘gap’, and that a gap year shapes your future and provides learning equally as much as formal education and work does.
Who, what, when? The world is your oyster. Anyone can take a gap year, and you can take one at any stage - normally before or after university - and for whatever length of time works for you. It’s all down to what you want to get out of it, be it a new skill, learning a language, or just giving yourself some time and inspiration for what comes next.
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Now that we have our philosophical ramblings out the way, we’ve done some digging to help you get you started with your gap year plans.
DON’T MAKE A GAP, FILL A GAP
This isn’t about dossing for a year or collecting stamps in your passport. The potential benefits of taking a gap year are numerous and there for the taking.
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Build your skills - the transferable skills you’ll develop are ones employers want, be it budgeting your spend or communicating with a class. Or perhaps there is specific skill you want to develop, such as teaching or the conservation of turtles.
Raise your awareness - just by living and working in different surroundings be it urban or rural or jungle, with people from different cultures, you’ll learn about a life from a new perspective.
Grow in confidence - everything about a gap year involves you taking initiative to carve your own experience and having the confidence to follow through.
Learn the lingo - there is no better way to learn a language than living in the place where it is spoken. And even if school has given you a good start, it’s the chit-chat that you pick up that will even have the local people fooled.
Employer appeal - it may be the last thing on your mind, but when the time comes to applying for jobs, a gap year allows you to build relevant experience, and make you stand out from the crowd.
ONE YEAR, SO MANY OPTIONS
OK, you may opt to go for longer or less than a year, but that doesn’t detract form the fact that the ways to fill that time are numerous. Options come in the form of volunteering, adventure, or paid work. You can disappear off to new lands or stay at home in the UK.
If you feel your future is with working with animals or wildlife then you are in luck. Opportunities range from working with experts in animal welfare to wildlife conservation.
Further to wildlife, there are projects in all aspects of conservation, be it protecting rainforests or creating habitats. You can even contribute to scientific research. A good starting point is Earthwatch or closer to home The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).
Make a difference to someone else by working on community projects. You may find yourself building a much needed house. Frontier has some great projects.
Work the land
Perhaps you want to develop your green fingers and work outdoors while helping local communities. A great network to hook you up with a placement is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
Learning a foreign language goes beyond being able to converse with the locals, you’ll immerse yourself in a new culture, and boost your employment appeal. A quick scan of ESL’s site shows you won’t be short on options.
For the adrenalin junkies and explorers out there. If you're after an adventure, you can always take on a trekking expedition. This is no walk in the park, if you’ll excuse the pun, you’ll test you ability to cope under pressure, and learn teamwork and leadership skills.
Hone the skills you already have to benefit someone else and gain teaching experience. Perhaps try teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), or arts or music to children, or a range of activities at summer camp.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
To get the most out of your gap year you are going to have to get organised. This really is a case of it being as good as you make it. However, it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start so check out our advice below.
Plan and book
The first thing you need to do is decide what you want to achieve on your gap year. This will guide all your decisions from there on. If you choose to go with a company over independent arrangements, they will walk you through the steps, but they can vary in how much they will do for you.
If you’ve identified a gap year project you want to pursue, you’ll have an idea of where these opportunities are offered. From here you should check out any alerts on that country.
The next question is when to go? Find out the best times to visit specific countries - try and avoid hurricane season! And if you are starting university/a job make sure you are back in time.
To make sure you maximise the experience, it is worth planning a loose itinerary. You will find that time flies once you are out there. Get things like accommodation and travel sorted before you go, or at least research your options. If you are doing it yourself, budget options like hostels are great, and for travelling around Europe check out an Interrail pass, or if the whole world is your goal opt for a round the world ticket, there are plenty of route ideas to be found online.
Take a friend or fly solo
Going with a group of friends means you will have already built in company, plus you will be able to look out for each other. However, making friends whilst travelling solo isn’t difficult as many will be in the same boat, and if you do go on your own, you get the added bonus of making your own itinerary without having to be diplomatic.
It’s all about the money
How much you need depends on the destination and the duration of the trip. Start a list of everything you need to budget for.
You can cut costs dramatically if you plan your trip independently, but for first timers this may seem like a huge step. Another option, is to find a gap year which offers paid work and travel at the same time. If you need to raise funds, get creative, try fundraising, selling items you no longer want, or getting a part-time job.
These are the things you can’t compromise on all nicely outlined in a list for you:
Travel insurance - check that you've got adequate coverage and relevant insurance
Passport - is it valid for the duration of your trip and meet visa requirements?
Visas - apply for tourist and working holiday visas. Specific embassies will have all the information you need.
Safety - leave a copy of important documents such as your passport and insurance policy with someone back home, along with contact details
Learn - read up on the country's religion, culture and customs, the current politics and tips on how to stay safe abroad.
Pack wisely - you're the one carrying your rucksack so only take what you need, the rest you will be able to buy, and avoid taking valuables.
WATCH OUT FOR…
You reap what you sow
In other words, the better you plan the more you will get out of the experience. Finish all your arrangements before the end of school/college/university, and be quick off the starting blocks for your year out. Stick to what you want to achieve and your finance plan, and you’ll have an amazing time.
Remember it isn’t just family and friends that will take an interest in what you got up to, so will future employers.
Research, research, research
And then research some more! Get clued up on whether what you plan to do is of benefit to the communities or wildlife you are trying to help, some projects that have good intentions may also unwittingly have negative impacts.
If you decide to go through a gap year company, research the company thoroughly before agreeing to anything. See if you can speak to people who have used them to get a firsthand review. Plus, its worth checking if the company complies with British Standard ‘BS 8848’ which specifies operational requirements for companies working in this field.
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