Actually, gap years aren’t just for students or graduates – and these days, they certainly aren’t any kind of excuse for a 12-month party any more. Yes, it’s true that many people felt that way about gap years before, but now, with the economy and job market in the state it’s in, people are looking at gap years as more of an investment in their future than an excuse to travel halfway around the world to sample the local brew. Anyone can take a gap year, from school leavers to people approaching retirement age… but however tempting it may be to chuck it all in and jump onto the first available airliner, a gap year needs a certain amount of preparation beforehand.
You’ll need to do as much research as possible, and that includes talking to people who’ve been on a gap year… making a list of destinations you’d like to visit (and a list of ones you want to avoid)… reading up all about the countries you’re planning on visiting – including any visas and medical requirements like inoculations… and thinking about what you want to do when you actually arrive.
Planning a gap year is always fun, but to make a really good job of it you could do worse than to take advantage of the services offered by any of the companies that specialise in organising gap year travel and work assignments. So no matter what you’ve been doing up to now, you may well find yourself doing something completely different during your gap year, like teaching English in South America or building a classroom in Africa. It’s an experience, but there’s also the added advantage of funding your travels because gap years are definitely not cheap so the more money you can make – however you make it – the better.
And getting stranded – with no money – in a foreign country might make for some interesting dinner-party stories further on down the line, but it’s certainly not much fun when it happens. So you have to be extra careful with your money, however much you take with you and however much you earn while you’re away. This means setting a realistic budget and sticking to it.
But before you start looking into a gap year and where you want to go, one question you need to answer is: Are you open-minded enough to cope with complete culture shock? A year away means you’ll see more of the world than people going on a two-week package holiday, staying at a nice, safe hotel and with a flight back home at the end of that fortnight. Could you, for example, cope with the idea of being sick in a country where nobody speaks English and having to find yourself a doctor? If you can cope with the idea of that, then it’s pretty good chance that you’d be able to cope with that in real life. On the other hand, if the just thought alone makes you nervous then perhaps you should think again about planning your gap year right now.