There is no doubt, gap years are big business. Most students consider taking a year out at some point before entering the world of career and responsibility. Many follow the usual trails: South East Asia, South America, Australia, or a combination thereof. We all know that person who was staying in a youth hostel on Bondi beach, only to bump into someone from school. Great! A reunion. On the other side of the world! If you are looking for a cultural experience, not just a year-long holiday/party, try to avoid planning a whole year of gap year hotspots. Sure, go to a Full Moon Party, but try to add something a little less ordinary, so that your gap year will be truly extraordinary.
WWOOF around the world
WWOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) was established in 1971, to allow people living in London and on a tight budget to get involved with the countryside. In 2000, WWOOF went international, branching into 15 new countries. Today, you can WWOOF in around 100 countries across the world. The concept is simple: you work alongside other WWOOFers, immerse yourself in culture, learn about different agricultural practices and meet like-minded people. You negotiate direct with your hosts how long you will stay, and they will tell you the kind of work you will be doing. In exchange for your labour, you get bed and board. It can be hard work, but it allows you to get a genuine cultural experience, for free. Oh, and you also get that warm fuzzy feeling that you are doing something good – for the planet and the local community.
Gap years don’t come cheap, so working as you go can be a great opportunity. Look for work that pays enough for you to get by, but will also enhance your experience. Au pairing can be a good option – it will enable you to live with a family and get a good insight into the culture. You will also be able to gain some valuable experience, teaching children English. Before you accept an au pair job, it is important that you get a good idea of what the job involves, the hours you will be expected to work, and your days off. While living with a family abroad will be insightful, without enough free time, it could feel oppressive and you do want time to explore, after all.
If your main priority for your gap year is partying your way around the world and sleeping it off in the beaches, bar work may be the best option for you! You will have the opportunity to socialise with tourists and locals and will get paid while you do it. Be aware that there can be serious competition for bar work – it can help to apply before you go, or start searching for work as soon as you arrive.
Go Lucky Dip
Are you feeling brave? The best way to make sure that your gap year is a unique journey is to let Fate decide. When you arrive at your first destination, go to the port/bus station/train station and hop on the next ferry, bus or train to leave. This exhilarating, liberating method will make sure that your choices are completely random and totally unique – they may take you somewhere utterly brilliant, or you may end up somewhere less than amazing. No problem: if you don’t like it, hop on the next bus! As this approach to a gap year may lead you away from the typical tourist zone, it is best done in pairs. Regardless of where you are and who you are with, it is a good idea to let someone at home where you are headed.
Gap years are a big part of the travel industry and when you search for flights on your gap year you are likely to be faced with a broad choice of options, ranging wildly in price and convenience. If you have time, research your flights yourself. Pick the locations you want to visit and look up each individual flight. If you don’t mind a couple of stops, or even overnight layovers, you will find much cheaper flights around the world. What’s more, if you book your own flights as you need them, you will have the flexibility of staying a little longer in one location, or leaving earlier to explore somewhere else. Your gap year could be your last chance for complete spontaneity – why not grab it with both hands?!
Whatever you do, wherever you go, there are things that you need to Remember on your Gap Year:
- If possible, travel in groups of two or more, particularly if you are going to more remote areas.
- Always let someone know where you are heading (in this technological age, this is easier than ever).
- Always carry plenty of water when travelling: take as twice as much as you think you need.
- Take snacks or glucose tablets with you, just in case you are travelling for longer than you thought!
There are plenty of organisations that offer gap year services: you can pay thousands of pounds to volunteer for a month, or you can pay a flat rate and rely on an agency to find work and accommodation for you. This may be the preferred option when you are at home: after all, 3 months, 6 months, or even a year of unknown destinations can be daunting. But there is a whole world out there, waiting for you to discover it. If you follow the same path as everyone else, you could miss the best moments of your life.