With hundreds of thousands of British teenagers having just opened their A-Level results, many will be looking forward to starting their university lives in the autumn, but thousands of others will be looking forward to the adventure of a gap year. ABTA is advising the 24,000¹ students who are estimated to be taking a gap year in 2013 on how to have a rewarding experience as well as revealing the most popular destinations and the kinds of gap year activity which will be most useful when looking for a job after graduation and how to stay safe.
Choose a reputable gap year travel company with a good track record that is a member of a trade association, such as ABTA, so you have a point of contact and support should anything go wrong. Check with your travel agent and with the Foreign Office for dos and don’ts and “no go” areas for the country you’re visiting. They will also tell you about visa requirements and how to get one, especially relevant if you’re going to be working.
Research local customs and culture before you go to understand more about the host destination and avoid unwittingly causing offence. Make sure you’ve had all the necessary jabs and inoculations; do this at least eight weeks before you travel. If you’re going to a country where malaria is prevalent always take anti-malarials and always finish the course.
Get a good quality travel insurance policy, make sure it covers the activities you want to take part in, the cheapest policies will not provide you with the level of cover necessary for a lengthy stay overseas. Think carefully about the kind of activity you’ll be doing; working, volunteering or learning a skill will be good for your CV. If you’re travelling to a non-English speaking country take some language lessons before you go, you’ll find it much easier to fit in when you first arrive.
Tell your bank where and when you’ll be travelling to reduce the risk of them stopping your card.
Take a couple of hundred pounds in travellers’ cheques as a safety net, they’ll be replaced straight away if stolen or lost. Keep electronic copies of all your important travel documents. Keep a list of emergency contact numbers in a safe and accessible place. ABTA members specialising in gap year travel have reported increases in bookings over the last twelve months as interest in taking a gap year returns amongst school leavers. Australasia, South East Asia, the USA and Africa are the most popular destination choices with Thailand, Australia, the USA and South Africa leading the way. Peru, Vietnam, and Brazil are also growing in popularity for many gappers. Top 10 gap year destinations reported by leading ABTA Members specialising in gap years for school leavers:
1. Thailand 2. Australia 3. USA 4. South Africa 5. Peru 6. Vietnam 7. Brazil 8. India 9. New Zealand 10. Fiji
Building an effective CV rather than just having an extended holiday
With increased pressure on student finances, rising numbers of gappers are approaching tour operators for work experience placements overseas; with one major ABTA member seeing sales almost double in the last twelve months for Teaching English as a Foreign Language option.
With a tough economic environment, it appears many gappers are looking to boost their CVs and their employment prospects by choosing working holidays and volunteering options rather than the extended holiday of years gone by.
Abbie Baisden from leading online graduate recruitment company Milkround.com said: “Many employers view gap years positively. A survey by gapyear.com identified that 63% of HR professionals saw a gap year spent well, volunteering and working overseas as really making a CV stand out. The important thing is to present your time away as a way of enriching and developing yourself, learning new skills and exposing yourself to new challenges and environments.”
The gap stint
With the increase in tuition fees and the economic downturn, many students appear to be opting for shorter experiences rather than cutting back on their year out completely. ABTA Members are reporting an increase in numbers looking for shorter experiences; month long tours rather than a full year, for example.
Most popular gap year activities
The most popular type of gap year requested by school leavers for 2013/4 are work experience placements abroad. These include activities such as Teaching English as a Foreign Language, bar work and internships.
Following these are volunteering gap years, with many students choosing to work with local communities and participate in wildlife conservation projects. With a bewildering array of volunteering opportunities available to gappers, it is important that they sign up with a reputable company so that their work provides a valuable experience both for themselves and local people. Adventure gap years are also proving popular, with tour operators offering all kinds of activities from martial arts boot camps to surf schools and ranching lessons. The more traditional round-the-world backpacking gap year has dropped behind these options although still remains popular.
Victoria Bacon, Head of Communications, ABTA said: “Gap years have become even more popular among British teenagers since the rise in tuition fees in 2012 and increased competition for graduate jobs, with many students now looking to travel experiences to help make their gap year stand out on the CV. There is now an incredible choice of activities and destinations to support young travellers in developing and learning new skills. It’s very important that if you’re planning a gap year, you research your options thoroughly: talk to a travel professional, who will be able to offer you advice about destinations and experiences; check travel advice with ABTA and the Foreign Office and always book with a reputable company.”