Popular 'gap' destinations around the world
Choices, choices! The world is your oyster but it can be hard making those all important decisions when planning your gap year. You will probably fit into one of two categories: either you know what you want to do but you need to decide where you want to do it, or you have a definite destination in mind you just need to decide what you want to do. If you need some ideas on where to travel to, this article is a guide to what have historically been the most popular destinations. By no means is this a definitive guide to the best places to visit, because as we all know, that is down to personal choice, but it will give you an insight into where others are heading.
Both the well established companies, and those who are new to the market, are keen to offer exciting new destinations in an attempt to keep the market growing during the economic squeeze. There will always be plenty of people who want to head the well trodden path to South East Asia, or hop across the pond to work in the United States or Canada, but to appeal to a broader type of gap traveller, more exotic destinations are becoming increasingly popular in the online brochures of working holiday companies.
I know many of you will want to get as far away from home as you possibly can on your gap year, but if funds are tight and your travel budget isn't huge there are some great year out opportunities throughout Europe. A great way to fund you gap year and see the sights is to work both the winter and summer season in a popular resort. The French Alps is where you'll find the most winter jobs and also the most seasonaires all looking for a good time on the slopes. Positions can include chalet host, chef, driver, bar staff, DJ and ski/ snowboard instructor (you can find out more by visiting our dedicated ski & snow section).
The summer equivalent is working for one of the many travel companies based in the beach resorts around Europe. Countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and France all have large British companies operating on their shores and they all employ resort staff for the summer. The alternative to working is to do some good old traditional backpacking.
There's plenty of traditional backpacking routes throughout Europe, but why not try some of the less visited countries, but ones that are becoming more popular like Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Our top pick: Croatia
Heading down under has always been a bit of a pilgrimage for young British people. If we haven't been tempted ourselves, we all know of someone who has made the journey. Back in the day it was a case of hitching a lift on a merchant vessel and some of the cities like Wellington were nothing more than small towns by today's standards. In the modern day, more and more Brits are heading to Australia and New Zealand to work and have fun on their gap year and it is easy to see why. Both countries are welcoming to travellers, there is a massive backpacker scene to get involved in, the climate is great, there are no language barriers, the lifestyle is amazing if you like the outdoors and it is easy to find work to fund your trip along the way. The only really downside is that it is getting expensive over there because the standard of living is so high. Actually there is another downside in the shape of all the snakes, spiders, sharks, crocs, etc.
Our top pick: New Zealand
Asia has always been a right of passage for the young gap year traveller going back to the early days of the gap year as we know it. The 1960's and 70's saw a change in British society and young people were looking to expand their horizons so they started visiting countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal etc in search of a spiritual experience. This was know as the hippie trail and it's one that is still followed today. There is of course much more to Asia, first of all it's a major transport hub with many long haul flights stopping in Malaysia and Singapore, perfect for a chance to explore! Countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are right up there in the popularity stakes because of the tropical climate, amazing culture and low cost of living. Then there's the thriving economies of Japan and China if you're after something a bit different.
Our top pick: China
Volunteering in African countries became popular in the 1980's when the struggles of drought hit countries such as Ethiopia were in the forefront of peoples' minds.
These days you can find gap year projects right across the continent including conservation work, teaching, sports coaching, medical and childcare. Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Zanzibar are just some of the countries that welcome volunteers, safaris are obviously big business but they also need volunteers to help support the rangers with animal welfare, animal monitoring and conservation work. Sports coaching and teaching are also extremely popular in these countries and the benefits to the local community are enormous.
Our top pick: Zanzibar
Finally we go across the pond to North and South America. The USA will always be a big draw for young travellers with most of us so familiar with American culture and the TV shows! Summer Camps are big business and a great place to experience overseas employment. Canada is a mecca for wilderness lovers and winter sports junkies and similarly to the European Winter season, there are plenty of opportunities to live and work on the slopes. Moving south, the culture of South America has a particular appeal, especially the Inca Trail in Peru which see thousands of gappers trekking to visit sites such as Machu Picchu, 'The Lost City of the Incas'. Buenos Aires is popular with language students looking to immerse themselves in the local culture and then there is the classic backpacker route from San Francisco down to Mexico, a favourite with surfers for decades.
Our top pick: Canada
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the world is well and truly your oyster and the destinations we have talked about are just a tiny snapshot of what is available. It pays to really plan ahead to gain as much information about your preferred destinations so you can fit as much into your itinerary as you can. But to be honest wherever you go there will be plenty to see and do, it's just a case of making that decision and ensuring you enjoy every minute of you gap year!