How to Plan a Gap Year Adventure
Most people attend school from the time they are 3 or 4 years old until the age of about 22 or 23. Those taking on post-graduate studies are in school even longer! And then it’s work, work, work until… How about taking a break from that common routine before college or before starting a career? Join the masses and DO IT.
These breaks are referred to as a Gap Years, and are typically used to go abroad for work, travel, or studies.
Few can explain gap years better than Jonathan Barnes, who is the editor of The 2013 Gap-Year Guidebook. We had the opportunity to get Barnes’ thoughts about taking a gap year, how to start planning the adventure, and more.
Tell me about The Gap-Year Guidebook? And what exactly is a gap year?
I was very proud to take on the editorship of this leading guidebook for the 2013 edition. The book was first published in 1992 but there have been big changes in gap year trends over the past 20 years and the challenge for the book is to provide the latest and most relevant information and advice in the most eye-catching and easy-to-read way.
The term ‘gap year’ is best known as the break that students take after finishing school, usually before they head off to university, to get out and see the world before knuckling down to full-time education or a career. But nowadays, people take a gap year for all sorts of reasons – to volunteer, work or study overseas or at home, or maybe for a temporary break from their career. And it doesn’t have to be for a year – we’re hearing about more people taking ‘snap gaps’ of three or six months. The one thing such trips have in common is they’re about taking time out of the normal routine to do something different, fulfilling, challenging and memorable.
The Gap-Year Guidebook covers just about every kind of gap year activity you can think of. It has 12 chapters, looking at preparation, finance and travelling tips, and working, travelling and studying at home and overseas.
What are some of the specific benefits young people get from taking a gap year?
Younger ‘gappers’ are likely to arrive at university refreshed and focused, maybe with a new perspective on life, broadened horizons and plenty of ideas of what they want to achieve and where they want to go in the future. In the current tough jobs market, however, more young people are using their trips to boost their CV – perhaps by undertaking voluntary work, an internship or completing training courses – to make them more employable.
In a nutshell, what should readers expect to learn from the book?
It will help readers decide which type of gap year is right for them, give them lots of ideas of what to do and where to go, and provide them with advice and information, from sorting finances to help packing bags, to make it all happen.
I tend to think of gap years being spent abroad. Is that generally the case or do people often stay closer to home?
That is the traditional view, yes. But latest trends show that more people are staying in their home countries for their gap year or career break, perhaps because of the tougher financial times. There are plenty of worthwhile activities and deserving causes right on your doorstep if you look for them. That’s why the guidebook has chapters on working, volunteering and learning at ‘home.’
Can you give examples of some really cool or interesting gap year adventures?
We’ve got some great examples of gap years in the guidebook, written by those who have been there and done it. There is a cookery student who gained her qualifications and went on to work in kitchens across the world; a guy who went on a scuba diving expedition in Madagascar to learn scientific survey methods; another guy who spent three months coaching sport to kids in deprived areas of South Africa…
You hear about Europeans coming to the USA to work at Disneyland, for example. Or perhaps at Yellowstone National Park. What are some of the overlooked Gap Year opportunities in your opinion?
I don’t think people immediately think about working or volunteering in their home country for their gap year, but it’s something definitely worth considering. You could take an internship with a company, or perhaps help with the running of a hospital radio station, for example. It might not be the traditional view of a ‘hedonistic’ gap year, but it could change your life.
Teaching English as a foreign language is also maybe not the first think you might think of, but those who have gone overseas and done it say it’s an incredible experience, as well as a great thing to have on your CV.
Do young people “invent” their own gap year experiences or are their programs put together by study/work abroad organizations?
Some people have a definite idea of what they want to do and they can put together their own gap year from the options available. The possibilities really are endless. There are also a lot of gap year companies out there, all who offer something different. You could sign up for a particular activity or project, or look for companies that offer a bit of everything with a package deal. We work with a lot of great companies in producing the guidebook, who present a fantastic range of opportunities between them.
How can you make sure an organization is reputable?
It’s important to thoroughly check out the organization you go with. We include a directory of companies with The Gap-Year Guidebook and we do everything we can to make sure those we feature are reputable. There are lots of things to consider: do you go with a big or small company, for example? But make sure you fully check everything you can about a company; speak to them, go through their website and literature, meet them if possible. Make a list of questions, and make sure you are happy with the answers they give you. You can also take out insurance on your trip, and there’s information on this in the guidebook.
I tend to think of Europeans taking gap years. It’s not such a big thing in the USA. Or am I wrong?
Traditionally, I think you are right and the numbers of US students taking gaps are still relatively low. But the experts we deal with tell us that more young people are seeing the benefits of taking some time off, whether to ease the pressure from full-time education, to reassess their career prospects, or to broaden horizons. There certainly seems to be a growth in gap year fairs and companies in the US and colleges are becoming more flexible with policies to defer admission.
Does your book explain how to secure all the proper documentation, such as passports, visas, and so forth?
Yes, a large section of the book is about preparing for your trip, doing the research, and what you’ll need to go where. Information is changing all the time, and is different in different countries, so the guidance is a snapshot in 2013, but with good advice on where to look to keep up-to-date with new developments.
What other initiatives and information do you offer with The Gap-Year Guidebook?
We have a website, www.gap-year.com, which runs in partnership with the book and features the gap year providers we work with. It also gives us a chance to post articles all year round. We also run a Travel Photography competition, inviting readers to send in pictures of their gap year. It always produces some great images, and one made it on to the cover of the 2013 edition!
Can you recommend a few Gap Year resources (obviously your book!), i.e., social media, websites, organizations?
I’ve just mentioned the website, and we also run a Twitter and Facebook account. Part of my job as editor of the guidebook is to gather leading advice from experts in the field. We work closely with the Year Out Group (www.yearoutgroup.org) and Gapadvice.org (www.gapadvice.org), who are both excellent.
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