Best gap year destinations on a budget
The thought of planning a gap year without running yourself into ruin can be daunting... So we've got some tricks up our sleeves to get you to your dream destination for less!
Fancy travelling all the continents but not sure whether your student bank account will live up to your expectations? We know them feels. Seeing your mates post their gap year adventures on the 'Gram is a one-way ticket to ultimate FOMO.
But despair not! After reading our tips on how to save money on everything from hostels to gap year insurance, we're pretty sure we can get you where you wanna go before (or after) you become a student.
We've picked out some popular gap year destinations which, granted, may not seem the cheapest at first glance, but are accessible if you work some budgeting magic and plan your trip well in advance. Bon voyage!
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Where to go on your gap year
Plane ticket: £550 – £650
Hostels: £12 – £20
Eating out: £8 – £11
Now, Australia isn't the cheapest country on earth to do your gap year. But if it's your number one dream destination, there are ways of minimising your spending.
Australia is a mahoo-sive country so if you're only going for a few weeks, it's a good idea to focus on one or two regions you really want to see.
Car-sharing with other backpackers is a great way to save on travel, so look out for hostel buddies with cars or campervans and suggest you split a trip.
There are a few Facebook groups for backpackers in Australia that advertise everything from hostels to work to cars. Search "Australian backpackers" to find the most active groups and start scoping out how to get from A to B!
If you're going for a few months, you might even want to invest in a cheap second-hand car yourself, especially if you're going Down Under with friends.
Food and drink
What about food? Well, Oz has three main supermarkets you'll want to look out for: Coles, Woolworth and IGA. IGA has it's own Black and Gold home brand, which is super good value!
Eating out isn't much more expensive than making it yourself (if you go to the right places) and wine is much cheaper because it's made in Oz and doesn't need to be imported. Pubs often do cheap steak and beer nights too!
Things to do in Australia
Our resident money expert, Jake Butler, lived in Australia for two years and says he made the most of the country's natural (and free!) beauty!
One of the best things about Australia is obviously the weather. This means you can do loads of outdoor stuff for free! Check out the coastal walks and head to beaches (both remote and popular).
In Sydney you can do things like getting the commuter ferry across the harbour. It's not too expensive but it saves on doing a dedicated harbour tour which can cost more!
Jake Butler, Student Money Expert at Save the Student
Sydney and Melbourne are notoriously expensive to visit, but cities like Cairns (the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef) and Brisbane in Queensland (Northeast Australia) are slightly cheaper and enjoy nicer weather.
Working Holiday visas are a pretty sweet option if you're planning on going to Australia for more than just a few weeks. Non-Irish UK residents up to the age of 35 can apply for one of these in order to work legally in Oz for up to a year.
These visas are perfect if you're planning on staying a while and would like to make some money to fund your holidays while you travel!
If you'd like to stay more than a year you can apply for a second 12-month visa upon completion of work in rural Australia. Visas cost £250 each. More info on Working Holiday visas here.
Plane ticket: £300 – £350
Hostels: £10 – £20
Eating out: £10 – £20
Canada is also another GI-NORMOUS country that you'll probably enjoy more if you stay for a longer period of time. Like Australia, prices for food, drink and accommodation vary a huge amount depending on location.
If you're a British citizen you won't need a visitor visa to visit Canada, but you will need an Electronic Travel Authorization. These cost just over £4 and are electronically linked to your passport.
We're not going to lie to you, big Canadian cities aren't the cheapest. Toronto, Ottowa and Vancouver are pricier than smaller cities and rural areas, but you may end up shelling out a bit more on transport if you opt for the latter
Inner-city public transport is reasonably priced and the easiest way to get around. One-way bus tickets cost between £1 – £2. Bigger cities have weekly unlimited passes: Montreal has a weekly unlimited pass that covers bus and metro journeys for just over £26!
Canada's national railway company do tickets for students wanting to travel over a period of 60 days (think interrailing but across Canada).
You'll pay roughly £440 for seven tickets to and from any destination, £562 for 10 tickets or £813 for unlimited tickets across the country. More on those here.
Sound a bit above your price range? Ours too. Luckily there's a cheaper option: the bus!
Buses and coaches are the cheapest way to travel long distances in Canada. Tickets from Montreal to Toronto go for around £6 if you're willing to put up with the six-hour bus ride.
Hitchhiking is also very common (and safe) in Canada. Again, there are loads of Facebook groups for people backpacking across Canada sharing and selling cars/rides.
Food and drink
The cheapest option (but definitely not the healthiest!) will be fast food chains, which are pretty similar across the board. Dinner is the most expensive to eat out, so we'd recommend eating out for lunch or brekkie as you can get lunch set menu specials.
And you HAVE to try Poutine for yourself. One of Canada's most famous dishes, Poutine is basically chips soaked in gravy and cheese. It's originally from Quebec so if you're planning on stopping there, make sure you get your hands on some!
Things to do in Canada
Canada is basically national parks and nature galore. The Pacific Rim in Alberta, Banff in Alberta, Yoho in British Columbia...
Unfortunately, most of these parks don't do student reductions, but daily passes only come to around £6. Not too cheeky!
You might want to consider getting your hands on a Discovery Pass – a £40 yearly pass to 80 of Canada's national parks – if you're sticking around for a while. One for the avid hikers we reckon!
If you're planning on touring the national parks, the cheapest way to do it is to rent a car and split the bill with other travellers. However, if this isn't an option for you, there are buses that'll drop you off!
Those who fancy venturing to Niagara Falls for example, will be pleased to know that there are buses that'll take you straight to Niagara Falls State Park.
Once you're inside the park, there's a bus system that takes you in between the different attractions inside the park on both the Canadian and US side.
Plane ticket: £500 – £600
Hostels: £7 – £12
Eating out: £4 – £8
Also known as the Europe of South America due to heavy European immigration in the twentieth century, Argentina is definitely one for the adventurous.
It has all the landscapes: mountains, beaches, desert, bustling cities and more, so of course it's one of our top nine destinations to do on a budget!
We recommend flying to Buenos Aires, which has a similar vibe to London/New York/Paris in parts, and then deciding whether you want to travel to the north or south of the country.
If you're on a tight budget, stick to overnight coaches to get around. Although trains are the cheapest form of transport in Argentina, they are actually a lot slower and less comfortable. They also have to be booked months three to six months in advance!
Public transport is dirt cheap in Argentina: a one-way bus ticket costs about 30p!
Domestic flights aren't too outrageously priced and are a must for travelling from Buenos Aires to the south of the country if you're only there for a short time. Buenos Aires to Ushuaia is about 40 hours on the bus and three hours on the plane!
Food and drink
Eating and drinking out is pretty cheap, especially in the north. Don't forget to try Fernet and Coca Cola – a traditional drink which is enjoyed in a plastic bottle cut in half and passed around at parties (sounds a bit odd but it's actually a great way to make friends!) 🙂
And make sure you fill your belly with empanadas – a local speciality that looks a bit like Cornish pasties, but with a South American twist!
Things to do in Argentina
Full disclaimer: southern Argentina, which hosts the Patagonian mountain range, is a lot pricier than the north as goods have to be imported and accommodation is also a lot more expensive.
However, if you do fancy the trip, this is probably one of the few times that we would recommend travelling during high season (December to February, which is summer in the Southern Hemisphere!) as the south of Argentina is very cold for the rest of year, making outdoor activities a lot less enjoyable/doable due to heavy snow.
Summer in Tierra del Fuego Province averages at around 15 degrees – don't forget to bring a scarf! The north is a lot cheaper and a lot hotter, with temperatures hitting over 30 degrees.
It's also home to Argentina's famous salt flats, or Salinas Grandes (which are 3,300m above sea level), the Fourteen Coloured Mountain (pictured above) and Iguazu Falls (pictured)!
Hostels often work with local tourist boards and travel agents to organise tours to these places, and the prices are usually pretty reasonable (but again, no harm in shopping around!).
Just note that you can do Iguazu Falls without a tour: there's a bus that goes straight there!
Plane ticket: £70 – £100
Hostel: £10 – £20
Eating out: £15 – £20
La bella vida Italiana. As if the pizza wasn't enough to make it the perfect gap year destination in the first place!
Things to do in Italy
Let's start with Rome. The Colosseum, St Peter's Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Vatican... Where to begin?!
A great way to experience the Italian capital is to go on a free walking tour, which you can book via this website. The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and St Peter's Basilica are all free.
The Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel) cost £7 for students aged up to 25 upon presentation of their student ID card, but are free on the last Sunday of the month!
Some sites are free on the first Sunday of every month too. The Borghese Gallery, which hosts the likes of Caravaggio and Raphael, is free, as are the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla!
Public transport in Rome is pretty decent at just over £1 a ticket, and to get around the rest of the country on a budget we'd recommend you go by bus or use ride-sharing website BlaBlaCar. All the drivers are verified and their payment system is secure.
If you can endure buses, they are super cheap: you can get from Rome to Naples for as little as £8! See how much you could save here.
Food and drink
Italy has so much amazing food to enjoy, but restaurants can be sneaky with bread: they often offer it to you when you sit down only to charge for it once you're done and dusted (unlike France where bread is generally on the house).
If you don't actually want it, send it back and wait for the mains!
Also, always remember to ask for tap water ("acqua de rubinetto" in Italian) or they'll likely serve you bottled water which you'll have to pay for. And fill up your bottle at the water fountains, it's free and safe to drink!
Tourist tax in Italy
Accommodation isn't the cheapest in Italy as some cities have what is known as a tourist tax (or "tassa de soggiorno") that hostels, hotels, campsites and bed and breakfasts will charge you on top of their usual tariff.
Cities and villages outside Rome will charge you between 80p and £3.50 per night, but hotels in Rome can charge up to £6.
It's worth keeping in mind that the tariff goes up or down according to how classy your accommodation is.
If you're staying in a five-star hotel you'll end up paying the full whack, but staying in a fairly basic hostel will keep you towards the cheaper end of the scale!
The north of the country is especially picturesque: Lake Garda is home to many a campsite which take students on as workers during the hotter months!
Plane ticket: £100 – £150
Hostels: £5 – £10
Eating out: £3 – £5
Morocco is a beautiful country to visit on your gap year with scorching summer temperatures. The best times to visit are in the spring or in the autumn where temperatures range from 15 to 30 degrees!
Things to do in Morrocco
Morocco's capital city Marrakech will definitely be at the top of your bucket list. The medina (main square) is a must-see, and completely free to walk around.
If you fancy relaxing in true Moroccan style, you'll want to visit a hammam (public bath) which can cost as little as 80p(!). Hotels offer private hammams which are a little pricier if you don't fancy getting your trunks out in public!
You'll want to get a load of the Sahara Desert too before you leave. You'll get offered tours hundreds of times a day in the street for pretty silly prices, and some of them will literally just involve driving through the desert for hours and hours with zero activities.
Shop around and ask your hostel and hostel buddies for recommendations. Three-day tours which include camel riding across the dunes, two-nights accommodation and food can set you back anything from £100 to £300.
Keep in mind that a lot of what you're paying for here will go towards petrol, so the closer you get to the Sahara the cheaper it should be.
Check out this page of guided tours to get an idea of what to expect from a trek.
Food and drink
Food in Morocco is super cheap and delicious. Dining out in restaurants can cost you under £3 and street food will set you back almost nothing! Western restaurants are a bit more expensive, so stick to the local markets if you really want to save your dosh.
We know this bit will be important to you: will you be able to drink in Morocco? Technically yes, but it is frowned upon for religious reasons and some places won't serve alcohol.
As alcohol isn't part of most local customs it's slightly on the pricey side, so a trip to Morocco is the perfect time to give your liver a break!
Things to watch out for
Although Morocco is pretty safe, you'll have to keep a close eye on your money. Fake tour guides hang around the markets and will try to sell you their "services" (usually locals trying to make a bit of extra cash).
Henna artists may also try and grab your hands and give you henna tattoos without you asking, and then force you to pay for it!
If someone comes up to you, just politely say no thank you, and don't be afraid to say it multiple times if you have to.
Pickpockets tend to hang around the markets to, so a travel belt hidden under your clothes definitely wouldn't go amiss if you're planning a visit.
And don't be afraid to haggle your taxi fare!
Plane ticket: £100 – £120
Hostels: £8 – 15
Eating out: £6.50
Slovenia has the Alpine feel of Switzerland, but with a much lower price tag! Perfect for lovers of the great outdoors, Slovenia is famous for its rolling hills and turquoise lakes, much of which can be seen for free. One of our best gap year destinations yet !
Slovenia is on the European interrailing itinerary and makes for a great budget destination if you're only there for a few days.
Most towns in Slovenia are connected by trains and buses (the cheapest option). Cycling is also a very popular option and a great way to see the country!
English is widely spoken in Slovenia so you'll get around just fine, although it's always polite to learn at least the basic local lingo for please and thank you!
Food and drink
If wine's your thing, you'll feel right at home in Slovenia. Slovenia produces some of Europe's finest red wines in the western region of Primorska and yummy whites in Podravaje in the north east.
Slovenian cuisine is simple but delicious and has been influenced by surrounding countries like Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Get yourself a plate of traditional goulash (a hearty meat and vegetable stew) while you're there and if you've room in your belly after, a slice of Bled Cream Cake (vanilla cream cake) will go down a treat!
The coast is famous for its seafood that can be enjoyed on the seafront for around £10 for two people!
Things to do in Slovenia
The capital, Ljubljana, looks a bit like a gingerbread town and is small enough that you can walk pretty much everywhere. You can take a hike up to the city's castle: the dungeons, castles grounds and surrounding park are all free to enter.
You might also want to think about stopping by Metelkova, a former military base which has been turned into a hub for alternative street art and culture.
Another must-see is Lake Bled. A ticket from Llubjana to Lake Bled costs around £7. You can hike around the lake for free or take a boat to Bled Island (in the centre of the lake) for around £11!
Longer boat tours are available but cost considerably more (around £60!). Castle Bled is situated about 100m up on a cliff overlooking the lake and admission will set you back £11.
Slovenia is all rolling hills and greenery so there are farms, conservation projects, campsites and hostels aplenty to volunteer at if you're thinking for staying for a few weeks/months.
Plane ticket: £60 – £100
Hostels: £10 – £20
Eating out: £10 – £15
Spain is a warm and welcoming country, perfect for a gap year trip, whether long or shot. And it's just across from Morocco – two birds, one stone we reckon!
Things to do in Spain
Spain is also on the interrailing itinerary, though the train tickets provided by RENFE (the country's national rail service) aren't the cheapest way to get around. Again, the cheapest option will either be car-sharing with BlaBlaCar or by coach.
As we mentioned earlier, Spain is fairly varied in terms of landscapes.
You've got your exotic beaches à la Benidorm in the south, your windier surf towns like San Sebastian and Bilbao in the north, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range towards the Mediterranean coast. Sounds like paradise right?
If it's island life you're after, we've got you. Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote... And they aren't just party-hubs, they are also home to some incredible natural sites.
Domestic flights between Barcelona and Ibiza/Menorca are fairly inexpensive (about £40), but for the others, you're better off getting the ferry, or booking a coach ticket which'll inevitably involve a stint on the ferry!
Food and drink
Sangria, tapas and paella... nomonomonomonom. When it comes to Spanish food, you really are spoilt for choice.
And, lucky you, food and drink are pretty cheap in Spain. Most restaurants serve lunchtime meals or menú del día which are cheaper than evening menus.
The Spanish don't even start thinking about having dinner until around 10pm – but if you can't wait until then, have no fear. If you do end up going out in the evening, order a drink at a bar first before seeking out a restaurant: chances are, your drink will come with a small selection of complimentary tapas!
Spain has loads to offer in terms of culture, nightlife and landscapes, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the UK.
Renting a room is affordable and food is fairly cheap, so it's a great option if you're looking for a country to spend a few months getting to know.
Rooms cost between £300 and £450 a month to rent in Barcelona and Madrid, while it's £200 – £300 in Malaga, Zaragoza, Granada and Oviedo.
Au pairing is popular in Spain as families are keen on their kids learning English from a young age.
The British Council also do a programme for UK nationals who're interested in teaching English as a language assistant.
You don't need to be fluent in Spanish (although some knowledge of the lingo'll boost your application) or hold a TEFL certificate to be eligible, just your GCSEs.
Positions are available all around Spain, including the Balearic Islands. More info on that here!
Plane ticket: £400 – £500
Hostels: £5 – £10
Eating out: £1 – £1.50
Last but definitely not least, paradisiac Thailand. Thailand is a popular destination for young Brits, partly because it's basically heaven on earth, and partly because it's so cheap!
Things to do in Thailand
In terms of site-seeing, the city of Chiang Mai, located in the north of the country, is a hub for all things Thai culture. Temples, cooking classes, zip-lining – you won't be short of things to do!
The capital, Bangkok, is also one to check out, but can feel quite full on and stressful for more than a few days because it's so busy!
Which is why you'll want to escape to the Thai islands to relax. Ko-Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, Phuket, Ko Chang, Ko Lanta... Beaches and divers galore!
Do check prices online to have a rough idea of what the going rate is for longer journeys and activities. For example, it shouldn't cost more than around 350 Thai Baht (£9) to get from the airport to Bangkok.
But wait to book any tours or excursions until you actually get there. You can often haggle prices down on-site, whereas if you book them online you'll have no choice but to pay the full whack. Being flexible could save you a lot of cash!
Ferries and speedboat transfers operate between ports on mainland Thailand and between the islands themselves and range from £10 – £30. Again, always room to haggle!
ATMS can charge a hefty fee to use so you might want to take a good bit of cash with you this time around. Make sure you keep it well hidden!
Food and drink
As with Morocco, the best way to do Thailand on a budget is to eat street food (which is safe) and to drink local beer.
Public transport is also super cheap as are coaches, so try to avoid going through travel agents where you can.
Hostels can set you back next to nothing if you shop around. Some hostels aren't advertised and are as cheap as £1 a night (but don't expect luxury), so keep an eye open when you're about and about.
If you're a beer lover, you might want to think about pre-drinking at your hostel rather than at bars as beer is a lot cheaper to buy in Thailand's 7/11 convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Handy!
Keep your wits about you. If someone is offering you a ridiculously cheap TukTuk ride (Thai bike taxis) or tour, there's a chance they'll take you to a shop and pressure you into buying something.
These shops sometimes have names like "The Great Palace" to make you think you're being taken to a tourist hotspot.
Thailand is a popular one for students wanting to teach English. The easiest way to do this is by getting a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate.
Online TEFL certificates are your cheapest option, and will usually set you back £100 – £400. Other TEFL courses will cost you between £400 – £800, and some even go up to £1,000. Not to worry though, we've got a whole guide on TEFL certs with more info!
Not sure whether a gap year is for you, but haven't got your heart set on uni either? Check out our other alternatives to university to broaden your horizons!