You don’t have to be a teenager to take a gap year. We kick-start your plans with a few suggestions for your year out.
The rules of the gap year have gone out the window. No longer are they the preserve of pre-university 18-year-olds. No longer do gap years have to mean 12 months. No longer are they considered a way of avoiding hard work.
According to the Year Out Group, of the 200,000 Brits taking a year out every year, 130,000 are school leavers, meaning around a third of gappers are either taking time off after studying or having a career break. And with employers beginning to recognise the benefits of offering their staff unpaid sabbaticals, a break of a few weeks or months is becoming just as likely as taking a full year.
A gap year is an opportunity to enhance your CV, consider your career choices, explore different cultures, learn a new skill, or volunteer in a local community.
But with a bewildering array of options out there, how do you decide where to go and what to do? Here are some ideas to start you off:
Gain work experience
When a potential employer sifts through piles of CVs, you’ll need more than academic qualifications to make yours stand out. A work placement could give you an opportunity to decide whether a particular career is for you or, if you already have some experience under your belt, could be a chance to pass on your skills to others.
Projects Abroad (website: www.projects-abroad.co.uk) started off in 1997, offering work experience teaching placements in Romania. Today, the organisation arranges over 100 projects in 21 countries, from journalism to medicine to archaeology. You could spend a few weeks on a business internship in Shanghai working in PR, accountancy or maybe interior design (from £1,745 for one month). Or if you fancy yourself as a roving reporter, try your hand at digging up stories for a Sri Lankan newspaper (from £1,745 for three months). Prices include all food, accommodation, insurance and airport transfers but not flights.
Do your bit for the planet
With so much talk about carbon footprints and sustainability, flying half-way round the world to undergo a conservation project may seem counterproductive. But if you’ve already decided to travel, then at least you can give something back to the environment or local community.
Among the multiple projects offered by i-to-i (website: www.i-to-i.com) is a four-week marine conservation programme in one of the hottest destinations of the moment, Mozambique. You’ll be helping to monitor the local dolphin, turtle and coral fish population and will have the chance to scuba-dive and swim with dolpins (£1,895 for four weeks including food and accommodation, but not flights).
Learn a language
You’re fed up with that look of total incomprehension every time you mumble a few words from your phrasebook. You’ve planned that long-dreamed-of six-month solo trip round South America, but can barely scrape together a sentence in Spanish. Fortunately, there are numerous language courses where you can study in the country and live with a local family.
Languages Abroad (website: www.languagesabroad.co.uk) offers courses in nine languages (including Chinese and Arabic) in a huge range of schools worldwide. And you needn’t be limited to learning the language. Try the Spanish and tango combo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for which you’ll receive 20 hours of Spanish lessons and eight hours of tango tuition each week (£867 for four weeks with B&B in a host family in October, excluding flights). Or if you’re over 50, the Club 50 courses in Spain, France, Italy and Austria allow you to learn with students of a similar age.
Earn your way around the world
The price of some gap year projects can seem prohibitively expensive. If you’d prefer not to make a hefty dent in your savings, consider earning on the go instead. One way is to arm yourself with a working holiday visa. BUNAC’s Work Canada programme is open to Brits aged 18 to 35 (website: www.bunac.org). You’ll receive a 12-month visa allowing you to work anywhere in Canada, be that serving ice-creams in Niagara or working as a ski rep in Banff (around £900 for registration, flights and six months’ insurance). Canadians can do the reverse and spend up to two years in the UK through reciprocal organisation SWAP (www.swap.ca). BUNAC also offers working visas to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
Sometimes the reason you decide to take a break is because you need just that – a break. Travelling without volunteering or working can give you the time you need to think about your future while opening your eyes to new experiences and cultures. Even just travelling on its own is a worthy addition to your CV. You acquire skills in budgeting, communication, negotiation and adaptability.
With The Great Escapade round-the-world ticket (website: www.thegreatescapade.com), you can take your pick from destinations including Mumbai, Hong Kong, Auckland, Fiji and San Francisco (from £860 for 29,000 miles). Or if you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint and cut down on air miles, from September the new OzBus (website: www.oz-bus.com) takes the overland route from London to Sydney in 12 weeks (£3,750 or A$9,000 if you’re coming the other way).
www.gapyear.com – offers a wealth of ideas and a community where you can exchange tips with fellow gappers
www.yearoutgroup.org – umbrella organisation for 35 specialist providers