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Gap year travel

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A gap year is an extended break that some people take at a life transition, such as between studies, between study and work, or between careers.

There's no need for such a trip to be precisely a year, of course, but a year is a typical length of time for people who have just finished secondary school: they typically have to delay university entrance for a year to take the time off. Some of the same principles can be applied to just a summer between school and college, or any extended break "between jobs".

This article discusses options for low budget long-term travel of the type that a gap year traveler might be interested in.

Prepare

Pre-departure planning is important. No matter how much you plan for the trip there may be instances where you have to throw all the planning out the window. However, there are certain things you should watch for and plan for:

Visas

Check with the appropriate consulate or embassy in your country to find out if you will need a visa to visit the country of your destination, especially for an extended period of time. Some countries have extremely detailed and complicated entry/departure laws, and treat visits of a week or two very differently from longer stays. IATA Visa Database [1], provided by Delta, is an excellent place to check whether you need a visa or not.

Itineraries

Itineraries are important for two people: the traveler and the traveler's family. Some parents will be more supportive of allowing their son or daughter to go abroad if they know where they'll be. An itinerary may be helpful in the event that an emergency happens and somebody needs to contact you while you're away, and helps to satisfy a parent's instinctive need to know where their children are. An itinerary describes the route of the journey or tour or the proposed outline of one.

Money

If you're traveling to one area, check the cost of living there. If it's high you'll probably want to budget more carefully and save some money before leaving. The lower the cost of living the less you'll have to save, but be sure to have a back up reserve in emergency cases.

Consider opening a second account in your home country and allow your parents or a close relative to have access to the account. In the event that you have to come home early they can withdraw money from the account, which can be used to purchase a return ticket for you.

Get in and around

If your gap year is going to involve several stops in several different countries and continents, you should look into the many budget tickets designed for long term travel. Gap year travellers are often referred to as backpackers and will often receive discounted travel. Examples include:

By plane

Open ended return tickets allow you to come home at any time within given period (often a year, sometimes six months, rarely 60 days.) They're generally more expensive than regular discount round-trip tickets, but genrally much cheaper than a fully-flexible/refundable round trip (or two one ways, except on some routes where there are the inflexible discount one-ways.)

Open-jaw tickets allow you to return from a different city than the one you flew into, and may be worth saving you the cost and time of returning to the city you started in; fares will highly variable - in the best case, the cost will be in essence the average of two discount round trips, in the worst it will be comparable to two one-way tickets. It always pays to check for yourself in these cases.

If your travel plans are more ambitious than that, round the world flights might fit your needs.

  • Most major airlines schedule flights out to 330 days out, rather than a full year.
  • While it's generally possible to change discounted tickets for a fee to allow more time, most discount fares have a limit on their time of validity (often 30 or 60 days, sometimes 6 months) and exceeding it will often result in a very large increased fare on top of the change fee.
  • Another alternative a one way ticket is to buy two return tickets and "toss" the second half of the ticket. While this is fully legal, it violates many airlines' "Conditions of Carriage" and can mean a loss of frequent flier miles earned on the first half of the flight.
    • This can also be handy if your travel plans are open, but border crossing or visa rules require proof of an onward ticket (alternatively, look at low-cost carriers within the region.)
    • Also with legacy carriers, never "toss" or skip a middle segment of a single ticket without formally cancelling it, as a no-show segment will result in cancellation of later segments. Cancellations in advance may or may not be allowed, and if allowed will often require paying a change fee or fare difference. Low-cost carriers are often more flexible on this - check with the individual carrier for their rules.
  • In some cases for legacy airlines, it's cheaper to buy tickets departing from within the developing world from the airline or local travel agency after you get there, rather than directly from an airline or from a travel agent at home. This is almost never the case with low-cost carriers.

By train

Long term train tickets aimed at backpackers and travelers. Sometimes these will let you travel more cheaply than any local fares. Examples include the Eurail pass in Europe, the Backpacker rail pass [2] in Australia, and for travelers in North America, see Rail travel in North America.

By boat

By car

By bus

Work

A long trip may be impossible to save for in advance. Often gap year travelers want to support their journey by taking work, often of a low-skilled and/or intermittent nature. Unfortunately, working in other countries often requires a work visa. Typically these are onerous for gap year travelers: you need to find an employer to apply for the visa, the visa is expensive, and the employer must show that they cannot hire someone with your skills locally. The work visa will be tied to your term at that employer. However, there are some visa schemes and work schemes that cater specifically to those who are looking for a job to support their travel.

If you are a citizen of certain countries, you can work in some other countries without needing a visa at all:

  • citizens of a European Union country can work in other EU countries without a visa
  • citizens of Australia and New Zealand can each work in the other country without a visa

Gap year travelers who are under 30 should look into visa arrangements where you can go to a country for a certain period of time, often 12 months and sometimes up to 24, and work intermittently. The intention of the visa is that you work in order to fund your trip, and there will typically be restrictions on your working including: not working for more than a certain amount of time during the visa period, not working for any one employer for a long period, working only in specified industries and sometimes not working in jobs that further your career path.

These are typically reciprocal arrangements: your country will offer visas of this sort to citizens of certain other countries and those other countries will do the same for you. Hence it is best to check with your own country's foreign affairs officials to see if you have reciprocal visas, and if so, with which countries.

See Working abroad for suggested employers and industries, and Teaching English for one type of job.

Education

An increasingly more popular option for those planning a gap-year is to travel and learn. This is especially popular with school leavers, allowing them to take a year out before university, without compromising their education. In many cases, enrolling on a gap-year course abroad can actually improve your chances of moving into higher education back in your home country. Typically there will be a tuition fee to enrol on these educational programs. There are two reasons for this: firstly, many of these courses are run by private institutions, and secondly, because international students rarely attract government funding.

There are a number of organisations offering gap year educational programmes. A few of these include:

  • Theatre Cyprus - A Gap-Year Theatre Training Programme [3], a Gap-Year drama programme that offers a 10 month course in Cyprus and also allows time to explore the surrounding continents (Europe, North Africa and the Middle East).

Volunteering

As an alternative, or to complement the working holiday, many people have chosen to embark on a volunteering experience. These meaningful experiences allow individuals the chance to give back to the international community, whether this be teaching in underprivileged schools, working with animals in Africa, or helping with community development project. Typically there will be a fee to participate in these programs, and participants are not paid. Prince Harry most famously embarked on a volunteering Gap Year in 2004 when he went to South Africa.

There are many organisations offering gap year placements. A few of these are:

  • Yomps[4], Gap year, career break and adventure specialist, from volunteering in Africa to learning to surf in Ecuador, Yomps has it all.
  • Shumba Experience [5] Specialists in conservation and veterinary projects in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
  • Xtreme Gap [6] The adventure travel and extreme sports gap year company
  • Global Vision International [7], Specialists in gap year expeditions such as marine expeditions in the Indian Ocean and exploration in Patagonia. GVI also has over 150 volunteering projects around the world.
  • Gap Medics [8], Specifically aimed at students looking to go to medical or nursing school - Work experience and volunteer opportunities in The Caribbean, India and Tanzania.
  • RealGap UK [9] RealGap DE [10], Specialists in gap years, career breaks & adventure travel holidays. RealGap are experts in providing unique & exciting volunteer projects, working holiday programmes & backpacking packages across the world.
  • The Leap [11], a family run British organisation that offers gap year placements in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.
  • Gap Year Ghana [12], small organisation specializing in volunteer placements in Ghana, West Africa.
  • Raleigh [13] Youth and education charity offering challenging enviromental, community and adventure programmes for 17-75 year olds in Borneo, Costa Rica & Nicaragua and India
  • Projects Abroad [14], Global organiser of overseas voluntary work placements. Projects Abroad runs placements like Teaching, Care, Conservation & Environment, Medicine & Healthcare, Sports, Culture & Community projects and Journalism.
  • EDGE of AFRICA [15], Small organization that offers volunteer and internship placements in Southern Africa. Conservation, community and sports volunteer placements available as well as family and tailor made positions.
  • VAE Kenya [16], a small UK organisation that organises challenging teaching placements in rural Kenyan schools.
  • Skills Venture [17], a new company that runs short sabbaticals for US and UK business professionals, spent providing mentoring and consultancy support to entrepreneurs in Kenya.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions(CCS) is a non-profit organization that offers 1-12 week volunteer abroad programs in 12 countries, where you work side-by-side with local people, stay in a CCS Home-Base, and learn first-hand about local customs by participating in Cultural & Learning Activities.
  • Praktikawelten [18] offers more than 300 volunteer projects in 17 countries as well as work and travel programs in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
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