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The Benefits of a Gap Year

Seeing the world has become an essential experience for many young people. As backpacking has increased in popularity, so have the options available for young people wanting to see the world.

The Benefits of a Gap Year

Travel offers the opportunity to test your independence, develop some skills for future employers, learn a new language or simply broaden your horizons.

Living and working in another country allows you to experience another culture first hand while gaining and developing many of these new skills.

Gap years, although usually associated with school leavers, can be beneficial to people of any age. There are many different options available depending on which stage of your life you are at.

Hopefully, this article will give you some idea of what these options are and provide encouragement to take the plunge!

Whether you want to organise a gap year, work abroad independently, or feel you need the support of an organisation, the first question you need to ask yourself is what you actually want to do while you are abroad.

In terms of work, there is a very basic choice to be made - are you wanting to do a volunteer type job or do you want to make some money?
 

Volunteer Work Abroad
Volunteering often means you are more involved in a local community and can mean that your accommodation is included.

It does, however, involve much more forward planning to organise a placement and fund raise to cover your costs, and is therefore very difficult to do without the help of an established organisation.

There are many of these around, from the larger organisations such as GAP Activity Projects, Project Trust, Raleigh International and VSO to the smaller more specialised organisations.

Every organisation varies in terms of the age range it accommodates, the countries it operates projects and placements in and the focus and duration of these projects.

Two good sources of information regarding volunteer work abroad are: The International Directory of Volunteer Work, published by Vacation Work Publications; and Volunteer Work published by Central Bureau Books.

Most of the more general gap year or work abroad guide books also include information about volunteer work. These are available from all good bookshops.
 

Paid Work Abroad
Paid work abroad allows a large number of students and young people who might not have been able to afford to travel to do so and even save money in doing so.

Many people who are travelling want to ‘pick up’ work on the way. This can often be more difficult than one would expect. Arranging work abroad independently is perfectly possible but involves huge investment in time (and often money).

It is essential to do some research if you want to work abroad while travelling. Read up on what sort of jobs are available where (the books mentioned should help), find our about visa requirements, make sure that you will be there at the right time, e.g. harvest for agricultural work, the winter for work in a ski resort etc.!

If you are going to do this you must be completely flexible, both in what you will do and where you will work; everyone wants to work on the beach in Ghana but you might be only able to get a farm job!

Arranging a job abroad before you leave can alleviate some of these possible problems but commits you in a way finding a job once you get there does not.

There are many books which will list addresses and contacts, but unlike going through a volunteer organisation you need to make the contact yourself.
 

Work Abroad Programmes
Moving abroad to work and live, with all the possible problems inherent in finding accommodation, work, friends, feeling safe etc. can be very daunting and often off-putting to those who are keen to work abroad.

Work abroad programmes offer the opportunity to make the most of all the positive experiences one can gain from living and working in another country, but with help and support before and after departure.

Work abroad programmes usually help arrange visas, give detailed information on how and where to find work (both before departure and on arrival), tax and social security, salaries and how to arrange accommodation, travel, and local information on the relevant country. Work abroad programmes also offer people travelling on their own the opportunity to meet others doing the same thing.

On arrival it is normal to be met and attend an orientation where the above issues are discussed and advice and help is on offer. You are then on your own, however, the programme office is always there when help or advice is needed throughout your stay.

Vacation Works ‘Work Your Way Around the World’ by Susan Griffith is a very good starting point for anyone thinking of working and travelling.
 

Travel
Your local student travel office (including Campus Travel, STA Travel and Travel offices at your local Students’ Union) can arrange travel to almost any destination for people of all ages as well as help you arrange your travel requirements once you reach your destination.

ISIC cards entitle holders to up to 30% off international airfares and provide access to over 15,000 discounts in 90 countries world wide.

The following travel options can be very useful if you are planning on taking a gap year. Round the World flight tickets, allowing many stops on one year long ticket, are perfect people wanting to travel a lot while working abroad or taking a gap year.

Alternatively, flight tickets including a stop over or multiple stop overs en route to your final destination allow you to see a bit more of the world.

Open jaw tickets allow you to fly into one destination and out of another at roughly the same cost as a return. The distance between the two places can be covered overland, allowing you to see more of the country/region.

Once you are abroad, airpasses allow you a set number of domestic flights within the country you are in, giving you flexibility to see a lot quickly and easily.

Rail and bus passes often allow unlimited travel for a set period of time in your chosen country or countries. Your student travel office can book your hostel accommodation and budget hotel accommodation world-wide for those first unsure nights.
 

A few words of wisdom
Make sure you read up on all your options before you go. It is also important to read up on individual countries or regions prior to departure.

Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books are available for most countries and cover everything you will need to know. They also make exciting bedtime reading for month before you do, helping you to plan your time abroad.

Make sure you leave enough time to arrange visas and vaccinations (your local GP should be able to help you with this) and that your travel documents are up to date.

Never travel without suitable travel insurance. Your student travel office can arrange your travel insurance for you on a special student and youth travel policy which is available for up to 24 months.

Make sure you are aware of how to avoid health hazards while abroad. Work out your budget and timings carefully before you go. Make your plans for your return - it will help ease you back into life in the UK when you get home.

Keep in touch with your friends and family, it will mean as much to you as it does to them and will allow your parents a good night’s sleep. Make sure you have suitable clothing and equipment. Prepare what you want to take with you and then half it!

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