How to Take a Grown Up Gap Year
The traditional gap year is turning a corner. No longer is it confined to upper-middle class kids spending a year travelling before or after university. Today, thanks in part to a less-than-sturdy economy, if you were to pick any destination in the world at random, you’d find all sorts of folk – young and old – in the midst of fulfilling their travel dreams.
Taking a career break is no longer unrealistic as people are being made redundant, or are unable to find work in the UK, and are choosing to spend their time (and money) exploring distant shores. Plus today employers are looking more and more for people with a diverse range of skills including awareness of other cultures, communication and foreign languages. People now accept that being experienced in ‘the world’ can actually boost your career.
Having taken my year out at the age of 23, I often think about how I would do it differently a second time around. So if you’re considering a career break or simply want to travel and experience the world in a meaningful way, here are my top ways to make the most of your ‘grown up’ gap year.
Helping others is like chicken soup for the soul. If you’re used to living your life at a million miles a minute, then taking a step back and looking at how someone less fortunate than yourself lives their life could be just the jolt you need to put things into perspective.
There are tons of options for ‘voluntourism’, including building houses for villagers in Kenya, mentoring young people in India or helping to protect an endangered species in South America, whilst building in other travel experiences along the way. If you prefer your experiences a little more ‘grass-roots’ (e.g. without the support of a specialised volunteering company), there are plenty of websites with the sole aim of connecting people willing to give their time to projects around the world. Some of my favourite sites for fee-free volunteer projects are Global Help Swap and The Ethical Volunteer.
Spend time with local people
If you’re 18 and released for the first time into the world, it’s highly likely that you’ll take the opportunity to party whenever the opportunity arises, and mostly this will be with fellow travellers. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. However the beauty of taking a gap year when you’re slightly older and wiser is that you’ve got a lot of the partying out of your system, and you’re there for the culture.
One of my favourite sites for real, local experiences is With Locals which specialises in homestays, cooking lessons, and craft workshops in Southeast Asia. The site takes payment beforehand but offers a money back guarantee if you don’t have a good experience. It’s a safe, affordable, quirky way of interacting with local people, learning from them and benefitting from their know-how.
Learn a new skill
What better opportunity than when you have all the time in the world to learn a new skill? Why not study for your PADI Open Water certification, for example, and dive some of the clearest, tropical, most fish-filled waters on Earth? Sound good? You can take your PADI almost anywhere but some of the best places to take your first tentative dip are Koh Tao, Thailand (for its great value and laid-back après-dive scene), or of course the world’s largest coral reef, The Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia.
Not your scene? Then why not teach English as a foreign language (TEFL)? There are literally thousands of TEFL courses, you can even get your qualification online, and with it you’re armed with possibly the greatest way of earning your way around the world. It’ll look awesome on your CV too.
Find your own way
It’s so difficult nowadays to find somewhere which hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed and shared online. It seems there is a never ending source of opinions and ‘insider tips’ and the more you read, the more confused you can get. The best way of really knowing is to get out there and see it for yourself.
So next time you’re exploring a new country why not try this? Before you go, Google your destination, find blogs, read people’s experiences, seek out a few places you absolutely MUST NOT miss out on. Then write them down (yes, with a pen and paper), and as soon as you touch down at your destination KEEP AWAY from a computer. Dodge that wifi and avoid the temptation to Google every single place you visit. Sure, swing by those cool places you’ve read about, but find your own way. That’s what travelling is all about, right?
This post was written by Hayley (aka the Lovepuffin) who has travelled extensively and worked for some of the best travel brands in the business. She shares her tips and advice for getting the most from your travels on her blog lovepuffin.me. Keep up with her on Twitter @lovepuffin and Facebook at Lovepuffin Travel Blog too.