What is a Gap Year?

Today, thousands of people are taking gap years all over the world, travelling to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Thailand for months on end, travelling with relative comfort and ease. Today, a gap year can be anywhere, for any length of time, doing anything you want. You can build an orphanage in Colombia, teach English as a foreign language in Japan, trek through the Himalayas in Nepal or travel around the ‘banana pancake trail’ in South East Asia. A gap year really is whatever you want it to be.

A gap year comes under many guises – backpacking, travelling, time out, a sabbatical – but they all mean the same thing. A gap year is constructive time out to travel in-between life stages. It usually means to travel, work abroad or volunteer.

Backpacking and travelling is particularly popular among students in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands and a number of countries (including the ones stated) offer working holiday visas to improve cultural ties and foreign exchange.

Gap years are now seen as a way to improve your CV and to gain relevant work experience in a particular field.

Whether you see a gap year as backpacking or travelling, it’s about living life to the full and realising that there is a world of opportunity out there just waiting to be explored…

Traditional Gap Years

In the UK a ‘gap year’ was traditionally viewed as the activity of taking time out before university. The word on the street was that it involved travel for the wealthy few and pretty much nothing for the rest of us. Nowadays, however, all sorts of people are going backpacking and travelling, doing a thousand different things.

A gap year is now one of the most talked about phenomena of this millennium. With the baby-boomer generation fast approaching retirement, globalisation changing the nature of society and young people now heading into a life of ‘portfolio careers’, taking time out is now seen as a positive, rather than a negative thing.

Modern Gap Years

It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking a gap year pre-university, post-university or as a career break. People even take gap years after retirement. The point is, travelling is no longer for the young and rich. Backpacking and travelling is accessible to all ages from all backgrounds.

Taking a gap year is a great way to gain life experience and employers are encouraging it.

In a gapyear.com survey, 85% of the UK HR professionals agreed that relevant work experience was more valuable to a job-seeker than an average non-vocational degree and 63% said that a constructive gap year spent volunteering or gaining work experience overseas made a job application stand out.

Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com, said: “It’s never been more important for young people to make the most of their time between school and career. This survey shows that a constructive gap year involving independent travel, volunteering or work overseas makes a big difference to potential employers.

“It’s understandable that anyone with a university place this year won’t want to defer, but, for the many thousands without that option, a constructive gap year has to be one of the best alternatives. There are lots of temporary jobs going in places like Australia. And that sort of work can easily be combined with time spent volunteering in South East Asia or language-learning in China or Japan.”

Life is a Series of Gaps Years

Everyone’s talking about backpacking and travelling. People who are about to go travelling talk about it. People who are travelling talk about it. And people who have just come back from travelling talk about. Everyone’s talking about travelling and gap years. And when they’re not talking about it, they’re sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogger; photos, updates, videos, blogs. They’re all linked together and they’re all promoting gap years.

Pre-university gaps, during and post-university gaps, career-gaps (fastest growing gap year market), pre and post-baby gaps, ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ gaps, post-wedding gaps, pre-retirement gaps (second fastest growing market) – the list goes on. From the age of 18, people will now become ‘serial gappers’ as they head through each life stage, taking a gap year to prepare themselves for the transition ahead. The result will be a change in the mentality of society, away from the ‘live to work, work to live’ routine of a slow climb up a career ladder to a more exciting life path which simply involves doing what they enjoy in life and achieving that dream.

People will forever want to travel, to experience and to share. After all, life is short. Why waste your time doing things you don’t enjoy?!

Top Tips for your Gap Year:

  • Do your research – speak to people who’ve been there and done that. Have a search around the site. We’re here to give you the best possible gap year advice and information.
  • Take time to plan and prepare – it can take 9-12 months lead up to plan and raise the funds.
  • Budget but don’t get hung up on saving money at all costs so that you miss out on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – have a reserve of money to fall back on.
  • Be open-minded – even in your own city you may see things that you haven’t experienced before.
  • Use the time to make contacts – this is an important time to develop networks that could help you in your future career. Get one the message boards and see if anyone is planning a similar kind of trip as you.

The original version of this article can be found on GapYear.com, along with loads more information about gap years and travelling abroad.