Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand. Photo by Blueromulan.
What is a Gap Year?
Gap Year is largely a UK term so some content here is UK specific but generalisations apply to people worldwide who want to take a year off from their current activities, whether it’s school, university, college, work or on retirement.
Life can often conspire to keep you in a work routine or committed to someone or something in a way which will prevent long-term travel, and it usually starts once you begin ‘proper’ work, though it could just as well kick in when you retire, have been ‘let go’, or are between jobs. If you are still in full-time education these years could be your last chance to escape before the work ties begin to tighten.
The head of policy at the UK Institute of Directors, Ruth Lea, says that ‘going to university is not always a golden road to a golden career’ and a year exploring options can offer alternative career paths, as well as broadening the minds of those going on to university or college.
Employers and universities alike favour ‘gappers’ as they are less likely to drop out, have more self confidence, a more realistic global outlook and better personal management skills!
In fact about one million Brits every year fantasise about taking a year out, aka a sabbatical, once in their lives but most feel they can’t afford it even though, on average, gap years cost at least £4, 000 ($8, 000) which could be saved from a part time job over a couple of years or full-time over 6 months.
Alternatively, volunteering or working abroad can hugely reduce costs requiring less investment and offering future CV benefit as well as more personal satisfaction, perhaps, than spending 12 months drunk on a Thai beach.
Some wannabe-gappers even raise money by taking part in a challenging event and getting local sponsors. Again, this looks great on a CV. A good tip in this line is to get local press involved, they love a local fairy story!
Another interesting option is to sniff around charities in your area, such as (in the UK) the Round Table, Rotary or Lions Club. However, those who have been there and done that say the best approach is to create various money-making activities, a few hundred here, a few hundred there and six months later you’re in Belize (even though British Airways has sent your bags to Beijing).
Finally, an important decision awaits: where to go and what to do during your gap year travel?
a) Have a laugh b) see the world c) improve future career prospects? Or all three?
Recently more Gap Year runaways have chosen to avoid the tired old Australia/New Zealand backpacker routes which will tick the laugh box but not the other two, preferring to get involved in volunteer projects in remote areas, or have a year working adventurously – as a language teacher is a popular option, or go on a real adventure such as a British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) trip to the Arctic and Antarctic, combining adventure with conservation work.