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7 gap year ideas

Thinking about taking a gap year but need some inspiration? We've got some awesome gap year ideas for you.

man with backpack looking out over ocean

Credit: Yongkiet Jitwattanatam – Shutterstock

If you're not 100% sure about what you want to study, or if university is right for you at all, taking a gap year can be an excellent alternative.

But planning a full year out of education can be a little daunting. You could save up some cash, spend the entire year abroad or dip your toes in a few subjects you'd consider studying at uni. The options are endless!

To give you a bit of inspiration, we've put together a list of great gap year ideas. There are also some extra tips on how to make the most of it.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a year-long break, usually taken before going to university. It's a chance to travel, learn new skills, get some work experience and figure out what (or if) you really want to study. Especially if you're not sure what you want to study, a gap year can be the chance to find some clarity.

It's also possible to take a gap year after uni before you dive into the world of full-time employment. There are so many things to do in a gap year. When planned properly, you could gain a lot of useful skills that employers like to see on your CV.

What to do in a gap year

Here are the best gap year ideas:

  1. Go travelling

    aeroplane flying in sky

    Credit: Andrey Armyagov – Shutterstock

    Whether you fancy six months away in Southeast Asia, or a few smaller trips around Europe, a gap year is a perfect opportunity to see more of the world. Travelling looks good on your CV, too!

    Cheap gap year destinations

    • Argentina – Argentina has it all: mountains, beaches, desert, bustling cities and more. Public transport is very affordable and domestic flights aren't too outrageously priced either. While the north is a lot cheaper than the south, it's worth visiting the Patagonian mountain range during the high season (December to February).
    • Italy – Flights to Italy can be quite cheap. On top of that, making your way across the country can be done on a budget by bus or ride-sharing. Keep an eye on tourist tax for your accommodation, as it's charged on top of the usual tariff. To avoid this, you could give Couchsurfing a go.
    • Morocco – From beautiful cities like Marrakech to the Sahara Desert, Morocco has so much to offer. It doesn't have to cost a fortune either as the food is very cheap. And you can avoid any over-priced Sahara tours offered on the street by asking your hostel/hostel buddies for recommendations.
    • Slovenia – Perfect for lovers of the great outdoors, Slovenia is famous for its rolling hills and turquoise lakes. You can see most of these for free. Think Switzerland but affordable. It makes for an ideal stop if you're interrailing through Europe during your gap year.
    • Spain – Spain is a lovely gap year destination. It has exotic beaches, windy surf towns, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, cities filled with culture and your fair share of islands (like Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and more). If you're planning a long trip, you could consider becoming an au pair. Many Spanish families are keen for their kids to learn English.
    • Thailand – Thailand is a popular destination for young Brits. That's because it's basically heaven on earth, and is also pretty cheap. Some hostels aren't advertised and only cost a couple of quid per night! If backpacking isn't your thing, you could look into getting a TEFL certificate. Thailand is popular for students wanting to teach English.
    • Australia – Australia isn't the cheapest place to visit. But, if it's your dream destination, there are ways to minimise spending. Think of car-sharing with other backpackers and cheap supermarkets (Coles, Woolworth and IGA). Checking out Australian pubs could also save you some cash, as they often do cheap steak and beer nights.

    Planning a gap year on a budget

    You can make travel as affordable or expensive as you like. If you want to lower the cost, here are some tips on how to travel cheaply during your gap year.

    • Pick an inexpensive country. Double-check how much things like a hostel and a meal cost before you book your flights. If you want to travel on a budget, it's best to stay away from countries like Iceland and Norway. Thailand or Slovenia make for much cheaper alternatives.
    • Register for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC, which is free for a year with a paid TOTUM card). This will give you discounts on food and drink, landmarks, museums and other touristy activities in over 130 countries.
    • Don't travel during the peak holiday season. There are 12 months in the year, so try to travel outside the two most expensive ones (July and August). Check our guide on how to get cheap flights to save even more.
    • Plan a budget for your gap year. Work out how much you're going to need for flights, accommodation, food and drink and all your fun activities. It's also a good idea to have some extra cash available in case of an emergency. But don't forget to add on the costs of visas and any vaccinations you may need depending on where you want to go.
    • Get a travel insurance policy that is tailored to your trip. If you want to do adventure activities while you're away, you'll need a policy that explicitly states that you're covered in case you have an accident as a result. Use price comparison websites like MoneySupermarket or Compare the Market to get the best deal on a travel policy that's right for you.
    • Split your travel money between cards and cash. Once you've decided how much money you've got to play with, put some on a prepaid debit card and carry some in cash. When using prepaid cards or app-based banks, look for the lowest overseas transaction fee. It's also a good idea to buy a safety travel belt to hide your money from pickpockets.
    • Eat and buy local. See how much the locals are paying for street food, have a big breakfast (especially if it's included in your hostel/hotel), bring snacks on your excursions and buy your own alcohol for pre-drinks at your hostel. It all adds up!
    • Get a gap year job or do work experience. One of the best ways to avoid breaking the bank is to earn money while travelling. Below, we have more tips on getting a job abroad during your gap year.
  2. Work abroad

    If travelling sounds a bit too expensive, we've got some other gap year ideas for you. For example, you could combine travel with paid work. Gap year jobs come in all shapes and forms. Wherever you want to travel to and whatever type of work you want to do, there will be something available.

    A popular gap year job is becoming an au pair. As an au pair, you live with a host family and take care of the children while doing some light housework. In exchange, you'll get to stay with them for free and earn a bit of pocket money. Usually, au pairs stay with their host family for between six and 12 months.

    Another gap year job to consider is becoming an English teacher abroad. Many schools in non-English speaking countries are looking for people from the UK to teach. Some schools and programmes do require you to already have a degree, but some also accept a TEFL qualification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

    If you don't want to work abroad for such a long period, you can also have a look at American summer camps. These jobs usually last between nine and 12 weeks. While on the job, you'll be making sure the kids at these camps have a great summer break.

    Or, if you're looking for a cheap way to go on a skiing holiday, you could look into becoming an instructor (if you know how to ski, that is).

    There are no limits to the jobs available – you can get really creative!

  3. Volunteer

    volunteers picking up rubbish

    Credit: Syda Productions – Shutterstock

    You could use your gap year to give back. Volunteering lets you help those who need it while building skills, meeting new people and sometimes even receiving free qualifications or training. You can volunteer locally, but there are also lots of opportunities to help out abroad.

    However, be careful when picking a volunteering programme in developing countries. You don't want to fall into the voluntourism trap. This is where people travel to countries to volunteer but lack the necessary skills to make a positive impact.

    Do your research and ask yourself whether your contributions would really make a difference. You can check our full guide to volunteering for more tips.

  4. Do work experience or an internship

    Another way to fill (part of) your gap year is to take on some work experience or do an internship. Getting experience under your belt looks great on your university application and CV.

    Work experience is generally unpaid and only lasts for a couple of weeks. This makes it a good opportunity to dip your toes in and see whether it's the right path for you.

    Internships, on the other hand, can last anywhere from a few weeks to a full year and are often paid. We've got a full guide on how to get an internship if you need some more information.

    It's also possible to look for work experience or internships abroad if you want to travel during your gap year.

  5. Learn a new skill

    Taking a year out of education doesn't have to mean you stop learning. There are tons of ways to learn new skills or improve the ones you already have. Doing this will help you stand out on your university or job application after your gap year.

    There are countless online courses available in pretty much any subject. If you're still unsure about what you want to study at uni, this is a chance to learn about a subject without having to commit to a full degree.

    Of course, you don't have to focus on a topic you plan to study at university. You can also use this time to learn a new language or learn how to drive.

  6. Save money (for university)

    While travelling abroad can be an amazing way to fill your gap year, it can also be expensive. If you want to use your gap year to save money for university (or something else!), you can get a full-time job at home.

    You can also build some passive income streams. That way, you'll have some extra cash coming in when you start university and don't have time to work full-time anymore.

    Or, you can start your own business. This is a great way to learn valuable skills for uni and your career while making money.

  7. Study

    highlighting notes

    Credit: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY - Shutterstock

    This may sound counterintuitive as a gap year is essentially a break from academia, but hear us out.

    If you're not happy with your A level results, you can use your gap year to retake them. And since you can't resit your exams until the next summer and you get to choose your revision schedule, you can easily combine this with other gap year ideas from the list.

    Particularly if you want to go to a specific uni and haven't quite met the requirements yet, using part of your gap year to get the grades you need is time well spent.

Should you take a gap year?

Taking a year out isn't for everyone so it's worth thinking about the pros and cons of a gap year. These are some points to consider.

Gap year benefits

Here are some of the main benefits of taking a gap year:

  1. It gives you an opportunity to improve your CV with work experience, jobs, travel, online courses and more
  2. You'll have time to learn new skills and expand your network
  3. A gap year is a great way to develop your confidence and maturity before heading to university
  4. You can save some money (especially if you're working during your gap year)
  5. Taking a year out of education gives you the chance to get clarity on your long-term goals.

Gap year disadvantages

Here are some of the main drawbacks of taking a gap year:

  1. To get good value out of your gap year, you need to structure it properly.
  2. A gap year can be expensive depending on your plans.
  3. It may feel like you're falling behind. Taking a gap year to work on your skills and prepare for university can definitely put you ahead, but it can be tough to see your friends post pictures of freshers' week and their student halls when you're not able to share those experiences with them.
  4. If you're taking a gap year while you're still at uni, it may be hard to return to education after taking a year off.

Still 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.

Nele van Hout

WRITTEN BY Nele van Hout

Nele van Hout, content editor at Save the Student, is a freelance writer and travel expert. She runs her own travel blog and is passionate about making money online. Nele has appeared in British Airways Magazine, Love to Visit, FOCUS Magazine and more.
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