Gap Years


What it is....

What Is A Gap Year?

  • The definition of a gap year is 'time taken out of education or the workplace, for a purpose'. The amount of time spent on a gap year can vary from about a month to as long as 15 months for 18-25 year olds. It should never be considered as a long overseas holiday.

When Should You Take A Gap Year?

  • For young people, there are certain key periods when a 'gap' is taken:
    • Before University, deferring your place for a year.
      • Instead of going straight onto University after school, some students decide to take a gap year. Whether or not to take a gap year before University is an important decision to make - a gap year is not right for everyone. There are actually 15 months from the end of school to the start of the first term at University. Your choice of University and subject should in general, be placed before a gap year decision. In the current climate it is much better to sort out your university place first, then defer entry, rather than wait until you get back from your gap year
      • Advantages 
        • To have a break after 14 years at school.
        • To improve your self-confidence and your inter-personnel skills.
        • It looks great on your UCAS application as long as you choose your gap year wisely.
        • Many employers are very keen on taking on young people who have taken a gap year.
        • You may come to realise that the original course that you chose isn’t the right one for you.
        • You may be more focused when you go to University and less likely to drop out.
        • You may raise money for your University time.
        • You may find out whether a particular career is for you.
        • You may find opportunities in other countries that you didn’t know existed.
        • You might not get another chance.
      • Disadvantages
        • Your friends will have moved on and you will be a year behind them.
        • You may not go to University when you come back.
        • Your studying skills may lose their edge.
        • You may not enjoy it.
    • In the Summer holidays, before going to University, giving you a 3 months gap
      • If you decide to go straight to University, but really feel you need a break and a chance to broaden your horizons in preparation for it, you can always take a gap for 3 months.  There is enough time to travel and to benefit from new experiences.
      • Advantages 
        • To improve your self-confidence and your inter-personnel skills.
        • It looks great on your UCAS application as long as you choose your gap year wisely..
        • Many employers are very keen on taking on young people who have taken a gap.
        • You may raise money for your University time.
        • You may find opportunities in other countries that you didn’t know existed.
        • You might not get another chance.
      • Disadvantages
        • You may not enjoy it.
    • In the holidays during University
      • Long summer holidays are the ideal time.
    • After University, before starting work
      • With or without a job to go to, this could be a good time to take that gap before launching down your chosen career path.
      • Advantages
        • New employer may support you on a gap year.
        • Skills that you may learn such as languages may be extremely useful in your chosen career.
        • May give you a new perspective if you are still unsure which career path to follow.
      • Disadvantages
        • You may be a year behind in a competitive job market.
        • You may not enjoy it.
        • You may lose focus.

Key Points on Gap Years

  • A ‘gap year’ covers a large range of activities, in fact most young people who take a gap participate in more than one activity.
  • Up to 250,000 young people embark on a gap year each year from a diverse range of backgrounds.
  • Well planned and structured gap years can be highly beneficial for young people.
  • They can benefit from a wide range of life skills and other more specialized skills which will put them in good stead for their future life both at University and in the workplace.
  • Society in general can also benefit from young people taking a gap year, both in terms of the activities that are undertaken and also the integration of these young people into society as well rounded citizens.
  • The largest motivating factors in choosing a gap year are the wish to have a break from full time education and the influence of school, university, friends and family.
  • Young people are able to get information on gap years much more easily now than in the past.
  • The funding of a gap year comes from paid work, sponsorship, savings and parental contributions.
  • There are a large number of gap year organizations in the UK offering opportunities for young people.

Travelling Companions

  • Going on an organized activity means that you will travel with other people who you will get to know very quickly.
    • This may begin before departure date.
  • If you decide to go alone or in a select group you should check out people you will traveling with.
    • Ask to talk to their friends.
  • You may find companions at:

Should you arrange yourself or through a company?

  • Companies will charge you for arranging your gap.
  • If you decide to do it yourself you will need to do lots of research.
  • Talk to people who have been there before you. 
  • Your decision will be based on many factors such as:
    • Your experience of travel.
    • Safety considerations.
    • The amount of support you can count on - before, during and after the gap year.
    • Are you travelling alone or with companions.
    • Knowledge of the company.
    • Value for money.
    • The amount of time you have available to do all of the necessary prep-work.
    • The amount of self-confidence you have in tackling such a task.

What sort of things can you do on a gap year?

  • Sometimes this is a better starting point than deciding on where you want to go. There are several areas that you might want to consider.
  • Volunteering.
  • Conservation.
  • Medical/Caring.
  • Teaching.
  • Outward bound centers.
  • Expeditions.
  • Course and cultural exchanges.
    • Sport.
    • Languages.
    • Art.
    • Cookery.
    • Drama.
  • Work.
    • Paid work.
    • Work experience.
    • Internships.

Financing A Gap Year

Raising money for your gap year

  • You will need to make a budget which includes flights, food, accommodation and insurance at least - then start saving.
    • Open an interest bearing account where you can put regular payments.
  • A tight budget will be between £3,000 and £5,000 for the year.
  • Take on an extra job
  • Produce a blog or a website stating clearly what you hope to achieve.
  • Get some publicity in your local paper, on the web or at school.
  • Do some fundraising like car boot sales, quizzes or sponsored events.
  • Sell unwanted items on Ebay or Amazon.
  • For part of the year use a ‘Working Holiday Visa’ scheme in Australia, New Zealand or Canada to help fund your travel.
  • Think about how you are going to access your money whilst you are abroad. Debit cards are ok but there may well be a fee for using them overseas. Search around for an account which guarantees no surcharges.
  • A pre-paid currency card maybe a good option. These can be topped up by your parents if need be.
  • Whatever card you choose make sure that you take a wallet of mixed currency that includes travellers cheques - split the wallet up into small amounts.

Health and Travel Insurance

  • Make sure that you take out adequate travel insurance before you travel. Make sure things like you camera, ipod and phone are covered.
  • Make sure that all of your vaccinations are up to date for all of the countries that you intend to visit. Check out the Department of Health website.
  • Make sure that all the countries that you intend to travel in are covered by the insurance.
  • Find out what is excluded from your insurance - Take out extra cover if you need to,for things like bungee jumping, trekking and white water rafting if you intend to do these things.
  • If you re traveling around Europe make sure that you carry a European Health Insurance Card with you (EHIC).
  • Make sure that you declare any medical conditions before you take out insurance. If you forget anything it may invalidate any claims that you make.
  • provides a list of English speaking doctors around the world.


  • You will probably find that a round-the world ticket is the most cost-effective way of flying.
  • Before you get your ticket carry out the following, keeping in mind that you may not have that much spare time from your main gap year purpose.
    • With the aid of a good map, write down all the places that you want to visit.
    • Divide them into ‘must sees’ and ‘would be nice to visit’.
    • Arrange the destinations into geographic order.
    • Highlight those areas where you want to travel overland.
    • Don’t assume that you have to chain link all destinations - it might be better to go through the same place two or three times.
    • Decide when you want to leave and roughly how long you ant to stay in each place.
    • Work out a flight only budget (This could be between £1,000 and £3,000).
    • Call a list of flight agents and get some help in pricing. They may also have some good tips to save you money.
    • For the overland part of the trip decide if you will be travelling by train or road.
    • Call rail/coach companies for costs of travel.

Embassies, Passports and Visas

  • UK Embassies overseas.
    • Your friends and families will need to know how to contact UK embassies in all of the countries you are visiting.
  • Foreign Embassies and High Commissions in London.
    • You will need to contact these for your visas.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
    • You will get up to date essential information on events in the countries you are visiting before departure.
  • will help in all of the above.
  • UK Passport Service.

Ethical Considerations

When you are planning your trip you may want to consider the ethical issues involved in your trip.

  • The effect on local communities.
  • Respecting local customs and cultures.
  • The sustainability of a project that you are involved in.
  • Conservation of the environment.


  • Get insurance.
  • Get local knowledge by talking to people that have already been. 
  • Check visas.
  • Be health aware.
  • No drugs!
  • Be careful with alcohol.
  • Be vigilant.
  • Take care of your belongings.
  • Have money available.
  • Let people know where you are and roughly when you will next call.
  • The Foreign Office has lots of good up-to-the-minute advice for travellers. 


Think carefully about what you will need but remember that much of the stuff you need may be cheaper to buy abroad.

  • Rucksack.
  • Sleeping bag.
  • Clothes.
  • Footwear.
  • Medical kit.
  • Prescribed medication (make sure you have an adequate supply).


Whatever you choose make sure that you pre-book at least your first night’s accommodation.


  • Email/Internet.
    • Use internet cafes.
    • Use phone if it supports internet connection.
    • Write a blog.
  • Mobile phones.
    • Useful in emergency.
    • Don’t over rely on them - they can be expensive.
    • Think about a local PAYG sim.
    • Buy a sim before you go
  • Normal phones.
    • Buy a pre-paid phone card.
  • Interactive online journal.
    • Post route, photos, text, audio, video.
    • Use an active route map.
    • Set alarms for friends and family if you are overdue.
    • Journals include:

Culture Shock

The first few days of a trip can feel very strange - don’t worry this is normal. You may feel homesick and have huge mood swings.

  • Try to:
    • Realise that your feelings are normal.
    • Learn as much about your surroundings as you can.
    • Respect local attitudes and customs.
    • Find out the local cultural dos and don’ts.
    • Don’t be critical of your hosts or companions.
    • Share you feelings with friends.
    • Do something that you know that you will enjoy.
    • Set targets - a day at a time at first and then a week at a time.

After Your Gap Year

Although it may seem a long way off, think about your return before you leave.

  • Be prepared for:
    • Reverse culture shock.
    • Mood swings.
    • Constant reflections on your trip.
    • Argumentative behaviour.
    • Extreme views.
    • Feeling miserable.
  • Friends and family
    • Things may well have changed.
    • Contacting your gap year friends.
    • Keep in touch with companions.
    • Keep in touch with people abroad.
  • You may want to join a voluntary organization overseas through fundraising.
  • Plans
    • Did your experience affect your career or education plans. If so, are you going to do something about it?
  • CV
    • Amend your CV to incorporate all of the skills and experiences that you have picked up on your travels which you feel will be beneficial to a future employer.

Wize Tips

  • Decide if a gap year is for you.
  • Decide when you are going to take your gap year.
  • Decide if you can arrange it yourself or will you do it through a company.
  • Decide on what are you going to do.
  • Work out how you are going to finance your trip.
  • Work out the best route and the best methods of travel.
  • Check passport, visas and medical requirements for each country.
  • Organise your first nights accommodation before you go.
  • Respect local customs.
  • Be safe.
  • Keep in contact with family and friends.
  • Be prepared for culture shocks - when you first get there and when you return.
  • Communicate.