University is a big step. You have to fight life out on your own, study hard, and become accustomed to a new place.
But what if you aren’t ready for university? – Maybe you want a year out, or maybe you still haven’t figured out what you’re going to study?
Not to worry. Many in this college/university limbo choose to take a gap year travelling.
But how do you know if that’s right for you?
Should I go on a gap year?
Gap years aren’t for everyone. Travelling can be tiring, frustrating, and if you’re a home-bunny, you won’t enjoy it.
But it can be life changing too.
Below we’ve covered the pros and cons of taking a gap year and hitting the road to help you decide whether it’s right for you.
Conversation topics – When you return from your gap year and head off to university, you can wow your new friends with stories of your travels. Being well travelled gives you a whole bootload of conversation ammunition.
You might not get another chance – Once university is over, you’ll have to head out and face the ‘real world’. That means clearing your debt, finding a job, and moving out. There isn’t much time for travelling after university, so before might be the only opportunity you have.
You’ll figure out what to study – In many instances, those who jump straight into university aren’t completely decided on what to study. So they pick something loosely based on their interests and just get on with it. In the time you spend travelling you can reflect, and discover what you’re truly passionate about.
You’ll make new friends – A serious amount of new friends. On your travels you’ll come across people from all over the globe. Not only is that a great cultural experience, but it means you‘ll have friends to call on whenever you head out on a holiday.
You’ll see the world – ‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page’ – Saint Augustine. So read every page; see the sites you’ve read about, visit cultures you couldn’t even dream of, and have a great time!
Cost – Travelling isn’t cheap. You need enough money for flight tickets, food, board, and nights out. If you haven’t got savings, it might not be worth getting yourself in a heap of debt over.
Missing out on friends – You might be the only one in your group considering a gap year, which is fine. But remember: when you get to university, your friends will be one year ahead. This isn’t really a massive problem, but it’s worth considering if you have a tight-knit group of friends.
Safety – Everywhere has dangerous areas, but if you’re travelling alone, you’re susceptible to a whole new range of risks. Backpackers are often preyed on by thieves and fraudsters looking to make a quick buck. You can take precautionary measures if you are going though. There’s a great blog on staying safe while travelling here.
A delayed career – A year is a long time. And that year is a knock-back to furthering your career. If you know exactly what you want to do and where you want to be heading in the next ten years, a gap year might not be for you.
Illness – There are a lot of illnesses your body hasn’t had experience with out there, and you might come across a few of them on the road. There’s nothing worse than being ill and thousands of miles from home.
It’s not for me. What should I do instead?
Like we said, travelling on a gap year isn’t for everyone. It has its ups, and it has its downs.
If you don’t want to hit the road, here are a few ways you can spend a year out without travelling.
Work – 12 months working before university means you can save up a serious amount of cash. Arrive at uni with a bank full of money. Or just spend the summer doing whatever you want with your friends.
Retake exams – It isn’t the end of the world if you didn’t achieve the A-Level results you wanted. You could either go through clearing to find another course (check out our definitive guide to clearing) or use your gap year to study and retake your exams.
Study – Ever wanted to learn a language, take part in a drama school, or get involved in a sport? Now’s your chance. You have a year to take on a new challenge.
Volunteer – Another popular option for many gap year students, volunteering is an excellent way to give back to your community. It looks awesome on a CV too!
I’m in, but where do I go?
So you’re going for it. You’re going to see the world, meet new people, and find yourself. Great. But where do you go?
Here are the four most popular gap year destinations.
South Africa – It has one of the most diverse landscapes on Earth, big cities, and incredible wildlife. No surprise it’s number five on the list then. It’s easy to get around too. Check out Rough Guide’s destination guide.
USA – The land of the free. For many Brits, America has a certain lure. Cowboys, road trips, surfers, and Hollywood – there’s something to do for everyone. No language barrier here either. Plus, they love the British accent. Find a destination guide here.
Australia – Why not head across the world and enjoy Christmas on a beach? It’s a huge country, and many ‘gap yearers’ recommend it. Again, it has a diverse range of wildlife, and there won’t be a language barrier. Plus you’ll come back with a killer tan. A destination guide can be found here.
Thailand – It’s thought that around 16 million foreigners visit Thailand each year, and it’s the most popular destination for gap year students. There are beach parties, paradise islands, cities to explore – it has everything. It isn’t too expensive either. Check out a guide here.
Some gap year advice
You didn’t think we’d let you set off without a bit of advice, did you!?
- Book your first night’s accommodation before you go, at the very least. You don’t want to arrive without anywhere to stay.
- Visit your GP six weeks before you go to find out what vaccinations you’re going to need.
- Research your destination thoroughly!
- Try and work out finances as best you can. Figure out how much you’ll need each day etc…
- Set up a way of communicating with friends and family back home. They’ll want to know you’re safe.
- Stay safe. Don’t do anything you feel uneasy about.
- Make sure you know which visas you’ll need and how to apply for them. Find a handy visa and passport guide here.
- Have fun! It’s a once in a lifetime experience!