The A To Z Of Gap Year Travel
If rumours of the gap year’s demise are true then this post will go mostly unread as students instead forego a break between A levels and university to avoid the rise in tuition fees. Plenty though will either worry about the financial hangover later or consider a year out a worthwhile investment in their future.
A is for… Archaeology
While a gap year can be all about living in the moment it can also be a chance to venture into the past. Past Horizons lists numerous digs around the world where volunteers are welcomed.
B is for… Backpack
Take your time and pick a good one because you will spend a lot of time with this baby. It won’t take long with it on your back to realise whether the choice was a good or hateful one.
While the truth is even in developing countries public transport is usually good, shooing taxis away is a bigger problem than finding one and many hostels provide a free pick up service there will always be times when a long walk is unavoidable and it is on those days when you will marvel at those travelling with only carry on luggage.
Though that is not for everyone it is recommended to keep your main bag under 20kg to avoid paying excess weight fees to airlines.
C is for… Camp
Looking after other people’s kids is a great way for students to circumvent America’s usual strict visa requirements. Each year millions of parents pack their children off to one of the thousands of summer camps scattered amongst the American wilderness and thousands of visas are dished out to camp counsellors detailed to look after them. Once camp has finished counsellors have a few weeks to explore the states before catching their free flight home.
D is for… Danger
Crime, revolutions, wars and natural disasters are just some of the things that parents may tell you go on abroad and they will want to be assured that their little golden haired Amelia, as they still call you ignoring the fact you have grown into a hulking brute, is safe. In the UK the Foreign & Commonwealth Office provides safety alerts while in the USA responsibility falls to the State Department, who produce this handy Smart Traveler iPhone app.
E is for… Europe
If in possession of the right passport by birth or ancestry, or lucky enough to qualify for a temporary work visa, Europe can offer more, and more diverse, work opportunities than any other region of the planet. Millions of others, not looking for jobs, flock to the beaches of the Greek Islands, the culture of the Italian renaissance cities, the history of London, Paris or Prague and the hipster vibe of Berlin.
F is for… Festivals
From the Night of the Radishes in Mexico to Burning Man in Nevada and the Edinburgh Fringe, the world is full of people finding excuses to down tools to have a party. My favourite is Songkran, an enormous water fight spread over several days in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, but you may prefer Baby Jumping in Spain, Cheese Rolling, the Day of the Dead, La Tomatina or Munich’s Oktoberfest.
G is for… Gadgets
Laptops, mobile phones, iPods, iPads and numerous other devices have changed the way we travel. On the plus side keeping in touch with friends and family is easy and cheap, destination information is always to hand and armed with the latest news and gossip returning home after a long trip is no longer such a culture shock. On the negative side technology has contributed to the death of random travel experiences.
H is for… Help Exchange
A great way to remain on the road for longer is to swap your sweat for a stay in the home of a host in need of muscle. A number of websites exist to match the two including the more established Help X, and Workaway and newcomers HelpandHost.net and VolunteerStays.com.
I is for…Internships
It can be easy for a jealous future employer to imagine you off your tits on a Goan beach for the entire year but that image is easy to dispel with a period of work experience. The Year in Industry has vacancies in the UK with over 300 employers such as Shell, Rolls-Royce or L’Oreal. Alternatively, the English Speaking Union offers the highly prestigious Capitol Hill Exchange between Westminster and Washington DC. Numerous internships and work placements are also advertised in the Jobs Abroad Bulletin.
J is for…Jordan
Often overlooked by Middle Eastern trippers Jordan is the land of a thousand welcomes and the location of spectacular Petra, rock hewn capital of the Nabatean people and most famous as the location of the Holy Grail in the third Indiana Jones film.
K is for… Kitchen
If you can cook, you can eat. Tourism thrives only through the efforts of short term seasonal workers. From Corfu to California a wage awaits for those with culinary skills ranging from poaching an egg to preparing a banquet.
L is for… Languages
English speakers can easily make it around the world possessed only of a handful of foreign words and a more extensive range of hand gestures and miming skills. Sometimes a knowledge of the local language is even frowned upon and a barrier to helping foreigners learn our prestigious lingua franca. But travellers who do want to delve deeper into a culture will be better rewarded by learning a foreign language.
M is for… Mickey Mouse
From selling soft toys to dressing up as the face of the company, Disney can help pay the bills racked up on a year out. The mighty mouse is prevalent on the high seas, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Other theme park jobs are available.
N is for… Nannying
Once again other people’s children provide a way for girls (and the very occasional boy) to stay away from home for longer. While qualified nannies will earn far more and have more of the world open to them, au pairs and mother’s helps will find plenty of childcare vacancies in Europe and some in the USA and Canada. A new destination is China, where a growing middle class are starting to want western child carers for their status and ability to impart their language to junior.
O is for… Overlanding
Overlanding can mean any form of transport that doesn’t take to the air or sea but generally refers to large trucks that ply their way around Asia, Africa and South America. Trips can be as short as a couple of weeks but the classic journeys – to Kathmandu or Cairo to Cape Town – can take over six months.
P is for…Photos
Whether it is sweeping landscapes, man made wonders or just simply snaps of friends you will be sure to take lots of photos on a year out so it is well worth learning how to develop your photography skills so they look good on Flickr.
Q is for… Queensland
Almost every round the world ticket goes via Australia, a country that has reciprocal working holiday visa agreements with numerous other countries. Get one of those visas and the bars, hotels, offices and orchards of Queensland and the other Australian states and territories become ways to top up the funds spent travelling the thousands of miles to get to the other side of the planet.
R is for… RTW
The cheapest flights can get a traveller around the world for under a thousand pounds. What. A. Bargain.
S is for… Sleeping
Whether it is hostels, villas, boutique hotels*, house sitting or couch surfing there are numerous ways to lay our heads down for the night suitable for all budgets. Over the course of a long trip most travellers on a budget will experience both places where the cockroaches are provided free and rooms we never want to leave.
T is for… Teaching English
Native English language speakers have an advantage in their job seeking arsenal simply because of where they were born. Typically employers seek teachers with a degree (in any subject), which, travelling before university, gappers won’t have but there are always a few exceptions to the rule.
An alternative is to work as a language assistant. The Hermann-Lietz-Schule, in Haubinda, Germany looks for native English, French and Spanish speakers to work for an academic year from August to July. This ad placed this year on the Jobs Abroad Bulletin provides more details of what they look for in an assistant.
Another option is to set yourself up in a park and offer private lessons just like Wandering Earl did in Chiang Mai.
U is for… University
There’s time for that next year.
V is for… Volunteer
Volunteer work can serve several purposes from altruism to saving money and enhancing a CV. We will shortly be launching a new website listing free or cheap volunteer opportunities around the world but volunteers have become a source of income for many NGOs and companies and it is not untypical for unskilled volunteers to have to pay substantial fees to get involved.
Accusations that some projects are not worth the money or, worse, do more harm than good or exist only to solicit funds from volunteers, are sometimes justified. But often the large sums required to join some projects pay for activities that would be next to impossible to experience as a mere tourist or traveller.
W is for… WWOOF
One guaranteed cheap way to take on a volunteer role is to join WWOOF. Standing for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, WWOOF is the oldest of the work exchange networks and has been helping people swap their labour for bed and board since 1971. Now the organisation can fix members up with over 6000 host farms in 100 countries.
X is for…X-ray
On average in the USA an X-ray costs between $50 and $200. While this is affordable other more expensive procedures will bankrupt the unlucky traveller falling ill without insurance.
Y is for… Yachts
A quick look at an atlas will reveal planet Earth has lots of big, blue bits between the landmasses. These are called oceans and are generally traversed by flying over them in a metal box with wings. Smaller blue bits are seas and can be crossed by ferry. A far more interesting option for getting around the wet bits of the planet is to head to a marina and try and get aboard a yacht as unpaid temporary crew.
Typically crew will be expected to pay their way as well as provide a few skills needed for the journey. Sailing skills will be a distinct advantage but an ability to get on with others and cook a mean bacon and eggs without falling overboard are often enough to get the gig.
More advice from Women on the Road
Z is for… Zoos
Which you will never need to visit again. Instead experience wildlife in their natural habitat. Numerous gap year organisations and NGOs offer, often hands-on, experience with wildlife ranging from sea turtles to lions.
*We stayed courtesy of the owners and like to say thank you every now and again by linking to their great hotel.