How to make the most of your gap year

How to make the most of your gap year

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Are you planning to take a year between the end of sixth form and the start of Uni? If so, you’re one of the many young people across the UK (and around the world) who wants to explore the world and expand their horizons.[i]

There’s no need to rush into a university course you are unsure about or take on a dull job you’re not passionate about. Instead, take some time to explore your options, learn about yourself, and explore all that the planet has to offer.

What is a gap year?

First, you need to know exactly what a gap year is, and how it can benefit your long-term goals.

Simply put, a gap year is a year (or even longer) that you take between the end of your secondary schooling and before your entrance into university.[ii] Most young people choose to travel internationally during this ‘gap.’ However, the time can also be spent learning new skills, engaging in education, taking on an apprenticeship, or only working to save money.

You might backpack through South East Asia, scale the Himalayas, teach English in Moscow, undergo yoga teacher training in Peru, or pick fruit in Australia – the sky really is the limit! Whether you backpack, apprentice, take courses, work to save money, or learn new skills, a gap year will change your life.

While you might worry about the gap on your CV, most employers and institutions are thrilled to see that you’ve taken a gap year. Young people who have embarked upon a gap year

One quick note – we know that gap years used to be seen as the domain of only the rich and spoiled. After all, how else could someone afford to take time away from studies or employment? These days, people from all walks of life are planning for and taking gap years. Even if you’re the first person in your family to go to Uni, a gap year is still an option.

How do you take a gap year?

So, by now, a gap year probably sounds pretty amazing! But how do you actually go about making it happen? Here are some of the steps you need to take to make your dream a reality.

Start by planning

Wait, you’re taking a gap year because you want fun and spontaneity, right? Well, for all the pieces to fall into place, you also need to plan ahead. Trust me – a bit of planning will make your entire experience so much more worthwhile. The last thing you want is to kick yourself later because you didn’t plan properly in the first place.

Some of the factors you need to consider and plan for include:

  • Where will you go?
  • How will you fund your travels or lifestyle?
  • Do you plan to take courses, volunteer, or upskill during your year off?
  • If you’re not travelling, where will you live?

Check out the resources on Go Overseas or Go Abroad to learn more about some of the options and resources out there.

Talk to your friends and family about your plans

Chances are, someone in your friend and family group has done a gap year in the past. They will likely have some good advice and solid tips for your own journey. Ask them for honest advice about your plans – they might be able to see some holes or problems with your ideas.

When you’re actually out on the road, start a blog or dedicated Instagram account to keep everyone updated about your amazing journey. You’ll love looking back over this chronicle in the future.

Start brainstorming your itinerary!

Now the fun really begins. Start by jotting down all of the weird, wonderful, and exciting ideas and goals that you have for your trip. What do you want to learn? What skills do you want to acquire? Where do you want to travel? It’s important to be honest and practical about your limitations and abilities when you plan your attainable goals.

Now, kiss the plan goodbye

Wait, what? You’ve but all of the time and effort into planning and getting feedback, but now you’re supposed to kiss the plan goodbye? Exactly. Your careful planning and diligence set you up and gave you the baseline of knowledge necessary for a fantastic experience. Now it’s time to let go of the strict ‘rules’ and allow for some flexibility.

Plan on throwing away your plans, at least some of the time. This flexibility will allow you to take advantage of fantastic opportunities, follow your heart, and join new friends on adventures. Go where the wind takes you!

Costs associated with a gap year

Gap year costs will vary from person to person. Someone planning to backpack through India on a shoestring will undoubtedly spend a lot less than someone who prefers to splash out on hotels and posh accommodation in America.[iii]

No matter what your preferred level of accommodation and destination of choice, it’s crucial that you plan for the associated costs. Research your destination(s) online and ask for pricing advice on travel forums and in online groups. With this information, you can put together an accurate budget.

Are you planning on participating in an organised gap year programme? If so, they will be able to offer you a reliable estimate about how much money you should be prepared to spend on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Some programmes include lodging and food, but you will still need to foot the bill for your transportation and spending money.

Always ensure that you have enough money to cover emergencies, and always invest the extra cost in travel insurance.

How you can fund your gap year

Most people don’t have an endless supply of funds from the bank of mum and dad. So, how else can you fund your gap year?

  • Freelance from your laptop – Are you a strong writer, designer, or IT whiz? Take your laptop around the world with you and take on small jobs.
  • Work while you travel – Depending on where you travel, you may be eligible for a youth work visa. That way you can earn money in different jobs while you travel the globe. Even if you don’t have a visa, you may be able to subsidise your costs by trading shifts in hostels and backpacker bars for accommodation and food.
  • Apply for a gap year scholarship
    Are you planning to volunteer or apprentice during your gap year? Apply for a number of different gap year scholarships and cross your fingers!

Gap year ideas

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to your gap year! Here are just a few of our favourite ideas.[iv]

  1. Take the time to gain more skills and education – Whether you do this in your hometown or while travelling abroad, take the time to add to your CV and prepare your mind for Uni. Is there a topic you’ve always wanted to know more about? Or maybe you want to add another A-level to your Uni application? Why not take some online A-level courses?
  1. Travel the globe – Travelling is the most popular ways to spend your gap year. Travel throughout the world, learn a new language, meet new people, and check fascinating sites off of your bucket list. Just remember always to be respectful of local cultures – this may be your holiday destination, but it’s their home.
  1. Volunteer – There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer close to home, or why not travel abroad and lend your skills? If you don’t have a niche or skillset, you could likely work with animals, agriculture, or grassroots projects. However, be very wary of volunteer roles with children, particularly in ‘orphanages.’ Many of these orphanages are set up to bilk travellers out of money – the children may not actually be orphans, and are instead exploited for your benefit.[v] Any reputable agency will require you to undergo extensive training to work with children, and it isn’t usually appropriate for young travellers.
  2. Earn money – Of course, not everyone can afford to travel, or to fund their University education. Why not take a gap year to earn money to support your future studies?
  1. Do an internship at home or abroad – Not only will an internship boost your Uni application, but it will also add vital skills to your CV. An internship can help you learn new proficiencies, gain valuable contacts, and test out whether your chosen field is really right for you.

Pros and Cons

Everybody has their own unique reasons for wanting (or not wanting) to take a gap year. Make your own pros and cons list – if they apply, get started with the ideas below.

Pros of a gap year:

  • Learn new skills
  • Develop your independence
  • Make new friends
  • See the world
  • Rest your mind before the stresses of Uni
  • Add to your CV

Cons of a gap year:

  • Money – this is the most common reason why people choose to skip the gap year
  • Worry about being ‘left behind’ and being the oldest in the class upon return
  • May not be able to defer Uni acceptance offer
  • Worry that you’ll lose momentum for your education and never go back

So, will you take the leap?

A gap year requires planning, saving, and bravery, but the rewards are so very worthwhile. What will you do during yours?

Reference list

Alwine, R. (2019). What is a Gap Year & How Do You Take One? [online] Go Overseas. Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2020].

Bower, M. (2015). What do employers think of gap years? [online] Career Camel. Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2020].

Clark, J. (2018). How to take a gap year: before, during and after | GVI UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2020].

Dicks, J. (2018). Top 5 Things To Do In A Gap Year in 2020 & 2021 | Projects Abroad UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2020].

Rosenberg, T. (2018). The business of voluntourism: do western do-gooders actually do harm? [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 20 Sep. 2020].

Sherifi, M. (2017). Gap Year. [online] Gap Year. Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2020].

The Backpacking Site (2017). Gap Year Costs & Financing. [online] The Backpacking Site. Available at: [Accessed 18 Sep. 2020].






Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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