Gap year ideas in The Independent features in the Independent today…

A world of opportunity: Gap years are an enriching option whatever your age – or your exam results

What’s the attraction?

Tomorrow, a nervous batch of school leavers will open that envelope or scan that list with the trepidation and excitement that A-level results day brings. Many will use the grades they have achieved to start university this autumn, while plenty more will use the next year to explore the world and broaden their horizons.

Traditional gap-year destinations are shifting, with old favourites such as Australia slipping down the popularity tables thanks to punishing exchange rates, as more “exotic” and less expensive destinations such as Peru, Tanzania and Fiji become more sought after. The university tuition-fee rises, which come into effect in September 2012, are also having an impact, with many would-be gappers forgoing time out – or delaying travel until after university. Gap-year volunteering provider, Projects Abroad, experienced a 10 per cent drop in applications this February.

But taking a break from the normal routine isn’t just for school leavers. Redundancy, divorce, becoming a parent – there are all sorts of reasons why mature travellers are taking career breaks and setting off to see the world.

Whichever category you fall into, it is important to think through what you want from a gap year, and whether you have the resources to do it. Is it an extended holiday you’re after, or would you prefer to spend your time volunteering? Happily, the gap year has re-invented itself from a rite of passage where oats could be sown, thrills sought and selves found in a far-off country, to something which can enrich the mind (and CV) and broaden perspectives.
Learn a new skill

It’s likely to be a long time before you’re able to have so much time on your hands again. Put that to good use by learning a language, and possibly more, while you travel. NotInTheGuideBooks( sells one-week trips in Ecuador where you spend your mornings learning Spanish and your afternoons getting to grips with surfing. Prices for these short courses start at £144 per person, including instruction but not flights or accommodation.

Or you could learn the ropes while you travel by working on a yacht. To sail the seven seas, or even just one, search the posted opportunities on, or You have to be registered with the sites to post and read listings.

To get even closer to the water, consider booking a trip with Global Vision International, whose roster of volunteering programs includes a Mexican project where travellers can learn how to dive and carry out research on Caribbean coral reefs. Prices start at £1,675 per person for a five-week placement, including food, accommodation and training but not flights.

Stay safe

For many, a gap year will be the first trip independent of parents, or to an unfamiliar country or culture. Safety should always be taken seriously, as should making sure that you’ve covered health, insurance, emergency funds and cultural and legal advice with the same care that you have invested in plotting a route. The “entry level” guidebooks from Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are well-targeted, while the Overlanders’ Handbook (Trailblazer, £24.99) will be useful for more hard-core travellers.

The Foreign Office has set up a microsite especially for gap-year safety tips: The Foreign Office also recommends signing up to or to get up-to-the-minute travel advice on the go.

What Google will tell you…

“Hire a personal GPS: if you are heading off the beaten track, hire a personal GPS tracking device that regularly pings back your co-ordinates by email and SMS to a nominated friend or family member. It must have an SOS alert button too.”

– The women-only online travel community,

What Google won’t tell you… until now

“With 200,000 students expected not to get a university place this year and so many being forced to take a gap year, consider using the opportunity to enhance your UCAS application to beat the competition next year. Joining a game ranger in Botswana or a coral conservation project in Belize, for example, will make vet and marine biology applications stand out in 2012. A positive, worldly experience out of a negative result.
Who said that?

“I took a gap year. It was the last stage of my tentative teenage quest not to be a boring person – or at least to deceive the world into thinking I wasn’t.” – Comedian David Mitchell

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.” – Euripides

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