Gap year placement organisations

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by Deirdre Bounds

If you are a potential gap student, either leaving school next year and wanting to grab some fun before university, or you are about to graduate and need headspace before you enter The City and grab megabucks, one thing is for sure, you won’t be disappointed with the number of organisations who want your skills and money.

By far the fastest moving industry today is independent travel. Under this umbrella come placement organisations that arrange work for travellers who do not want to globetrot aimlessly or join an Ashram on the Indian coast.

Yes, we all know the reasons why we should take time out, we have read and been told about them often enough. Tom Griffiths, author of Before You Go (a groovy gap year guide) puts it in the proverbial nutshell, “At school or university you get the qualifications to get you started in life; however, travel gives you the confidence, personality and general broadmindedness to actually participate in life.”


This is all very well, but what are you going to do about it? You could find your own work and plan your own trip – details of how to do this can be found in the publications listed below. However for some, this is too daunting and others just don’t have the time to write the dozens of letters needed to organise their own work. Perhaps closer to the truth, they do not have the confidence to go it alone.

Fortunately, help is at hand. There are numerous organisations that can arrange your work placement. Some are good, some not so good. Before you choose the right organisation for you, take a good look at what it really has to offer and what you are getting for your money.

I feel a tad sorry for the would-be worker-traveller today. I mean just how do you choose and even make sense of the vast, and often overwhelming array of promotional material produced by gap organisations? I’m in the industry and even I get bamboozled with what these organisations can come up with – from asparagus picking in Australia to making signs for turtle sanctuaries in Indonesia. It all looks very glossy and wonderfully appealing but hey come on now, which one is best for you and will you get value for money?

Below are a few tips in what to look for with placement schemes.

  • The type of work or activity
  • Minimum and maximum age requirement.
  • Whether it is paid or voluntary work. If paid, is it a pocket money allowance or a decent salary?
  • The cost of the programme – most range from £1000 to £3,500 – a lot of money.
  • Extra costs not included – many do not include insurance or training – certainly TEFL courses.
  • Hidden costs not fully explained, for example travelling for a training session to a remote part of Britain can add another £100 to the already mounting costs.
  • What exactly does the cost include? Accommodation? Flight? Food? Ongoing training? Visa?
  • Is there a clear application procedure and what’s the turn around time? This is especially important for summer placements which are usually more popular. Apply as early as possible.
  • What about field support? Good support is essential. Is there support at hand for anything you haven’t planned?
  • If the organisation is a charity – questions such as who, where, what, when, how, as regards your placement fee, should give you a real idea of how ‘charitable’ the organisation really is.

One word of advice, please remember that placement organisations do not offer club 18-30 holidays for the brainy. If you want to go to the developing world, get ready for ‘developing’ conditions and don’t expect it all to be handed to you on a plate. Let’s face it, what can you learn from that?

Deirdre can be found either on the M1 or at the back of aeroplanes operated by suspicious sounding airline companies.

Further Information

i to i International Projects

More Links

Directory > Gap Year Organisations

Further Reading

Before You Go – Tom Griffiths
Work Your Way Around the World – Susan Griffiths, Vacation Work
Summer Jobs Abroad – David Woodworth, Vacation Work
Wanderlust Magazine

The latest editions of the above books are available from




blog // magazine // working abroad > volunteer & gap year