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Travel

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 at university 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 seems a little daunting. You could save up some cash, spend the entire year abroad or tip your toes in a few subjects you think you may want to study at university – the options are endless!

If you need a bit of inspiration, we've got a list of awesome gap year ideas for you. Plus, 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 you really want to study. Especially if you're not sure about what you want to study, a gap year can be the opportunity 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. Since there are so many things you can do in a gap year, you can gain a lot of useful skills that employers like to see on your CV.

What to do in a gap year

Here are some of the best things to do in a gap year:

  1. Go travelling

    aeroplane flying in sky

    Credit: Andrey Armyagov – Shutterstock

    Whether you fancy six months away in Southeast Asia or prefer a few smaller trips to some oh-so-lovely European destinations a bit closer to home, a gap year is the perfect opportunity to see a bit of what the world has got to offer. Going travelling boosts your job prospects, too!

    Cheap gap year destinations

    • Argentina – Argentina has it all: mountains, beaches, desert, bustling cities and more. Public transport is dirt cheap 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, and making your way across the country can be done on a budget by bus or ride-sharing. Do 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 and doesn't have to cost a fortune. Food is very cheap and if you ask your hostel and hostel buddies for tour recommendations, you'll be able to avoid any over-priced Sahara tours that are offered to you on the street.
    • Slovenia – 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. Think Switzerland but affordable. It makes for the perfect stop if you're planning to go interrailing through Europe during your gap year.
    • Spain – Spain has it all: exotic beaches, windier 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 want to go for a longer time, you can consider becoming an au pair, as families are keen on their kids learning English from a young age.
    • Thailand – Thailand is a popular destination for young Brits, partly because it's basically heaven on earth, and partly because it's so cheap. Some hostels aren't advertised and are as cheap as £1 a night! If backpacking isn't your thing, you can also consider getting a TEFL certificate because Thailand is popular for students wanting to teach English.
    • Australia – Australia isn't the cheapest destination, but if it's your dream destination, there are ways to minimise spending. Think of car-sharing with other backpackers, cheap supermarkets (Coles, Woolworth and IGA) and pubs often do cheap steak and beer nights.
    • Canada – Like Australia, Canada can be a bit more expensive, but it's totally doable on a budget. Canada's national railway company do tickets for students wanting to travel over a period of 60 days – they aren't necessarily cheap, but it'll save you money if you're planning to travel around. Alternatively, you can use the bus or try hitchhiking, which is very common (and safe) in Canada.

    Planning a gap year on a budget

    You can make travel as affordable or expensive as you like. But if you want to lower the cost, here are some tips on how to travel for cheap 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 and go to Thailand or Slovenia instead.
    • Register for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC, which you can free for a year when you get your TOTUM card) to get discounts on food and drink, landmarks, museums and other touristy shizzle in over 130 countries.
    • Don't travel during peak holiday season. There are 12 months in the year, so try to travel outside the two most expensive ones: July and August. And make sure to 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, and 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're intending on getting involved in 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 getting prepaid debit 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 cash from pesky pickpockets
    • Eat and buy local. See how much the locals are paying for street food, have a big breakfast (especially if breakfast is 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 earning money while travelling. Read on for our tips on getting a job abroad during your gap year.
  2. Work abroad

    If travelling sounds a bit too expensive, there is always the option to combine travel with paid work. Gap year jobs come in all shapes and forms, so 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 and 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 between six and 12 months.

    Another job to consider is becoming an English teacher abroad. Many schools in non-English speaking countries are always looking for people from the UK to teach. Some schools and programs do require you to already have a degree, but some also accept a TELF course (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, and 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 can also use your gap year to give back. Volunteering lets you help those who need it while also building skills, meeting new people and sometimes even offering free qualifications or training. You can volunteer locally, but there are also lots of opportunities to help out abroad.

    Do be careful when picking a volunteering program in developing countries as you don't want to fall into the voluntourism trap. This is where people travel to these countries to volunteer but lack the necessary skills to make a positive impact.

    Make sure you do your research and ask yourself whether your contributions would really make a difference. You can also check our list of the best volunteering programs in both the UK and abroad.

  4. Do work experience or an internships

    Another way to fill (part of) your gap year is to take on some work experience or an internship. Getting some experience under your belt in the industry you'd like to work in looks great on your university application and CV.

    Work experience is generally unpaid and only lasts for a couple of weeks, making it a great way 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 usually paid. We've got a full guide on how to get an internship.

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

  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 got – it's a great way to stand out on your university or job application after your gap year.

    There are countless online courses available in pretty much any subject you can think of. If you're still unsure about what you want to study at university, this is a great opportunity to dip your toes into a subject without having to commit to a full university degree.

    Of course, you don't have to focus on a topic you want 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 working abroad can be an amazing way to fill your gap year, it can also be a little expensive. If you want to use your gap year to save money for university (or something else!), you can also decide to get a full-time job at home.

    You can also use your gap year to build some passive income streams, so you'll have some extra cash coming in when you start university and don't have time to work full-time anymore. Or, start your own business – a great way to learn valuable skills for university and your career while making money!

  7. Study

    highlighting notes

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    This may sound counterintuitive as a gap year is essentially a break from academics, 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 when you want to revise, you can easily combine this with other gap year ideas from this list.

    Especially if you want to go to a specific university and don't quite meet 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. Here are the main 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. Especially if you take on some work during your gap year, you can save some money
  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. In order to get good value out of your gap year, you have 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! 

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