Gap year advice

Gap Year

If you want to broaden your horizons and take time to think about your future, a gap year before university or work will help build your confidence.

Taking a gap year between school and university is an increasingly popular option – but what sort of gap?

Employers and universities do want to see that you have used your time wisely. However, there are hundreds of challenging opportunities out there waiting for you.

Use your time

Employers look for applicants who have the skills to be able to adapt to the work environment, and are mature and confident. Taking a gap year gives you the chance to be independent, to travel or work away from home in the UK.

Many students return feeling mature and responsible, having learned more about themselves with time to reflect away from parental and school pressures. The break from study prepares you for the new challenges of university and an enhanced CV will give you an edge in the marketplace if you’re looking for a job. Realise your potential

The time you spend working on a gap project can vary from a ten-week expedition to a full 12-month commitment. Many people plan their gap to include a period of work and then travel. There are many companies who can help you organise a gap year, including BUNAC, Raleigh and BSES.


Travelling Overseas

Going abroad for a gap year requires careful planning.

You may need to get a passport if you have never been abroad before or organise a visa for the countries you want to visit. Whatever you want to do, it pays to get organised as soon as you can.

Here are some tips on what to do in advance:-


Travel Health

It’s difficult to underestimate the value of taking certain precautions for the sake of your health before you travel abroad.

If you get ill or have an accident, access to treatment may be difficult or too expensive for you to afford to pay yourself. So don’t neglect to get travel insurance before you go abroad; it’s probably the most important thing you can do before you set off.

You can make life a whole lot easier for yourself if you apply for a European Health Card which entitles you to free medical attention in Europe. Pick up a form at the post office for more details.



If you’re travelling to, or passing through, a country that requires you to be vaccinated against certain diseases, you may need to produce certificates of proof before you’re allowed in. Check with your doctor’s surgery, who will be able to advise you.


Insurance - don’t leave home without it!

You will need insurance to ensure that you are compensated financially for any loss, damage or injury that may occur. Insurance can provide short-term income if you are unable to carry on working because of an accident or illness, and can reimburse for the costs of being unable to travel.

It’s remarkable then that nearly 50% of all travellers carry no insurance when they go abroad, a situation that leaves some in great difficulty.

If you become ill whilst travelling, don?t forget that medical treatment abroad can be expensive, so it’s vital you are insured before you go. Financial payment cannot lessen the effects of losses, theft or accidents, but it contributes to financial security and can help you out of difficult situations.

Check what your policy offers - many do not cover sports or activities that many travellers enjoy taking part in.



The safest way to take cash abroad with you is in the form of traveller’s cheques.

Cash, if lost or stolen, will never return but a traveller’s cheque can be refunded to you if it goes missing.

Each traveller’s cheque has a unique serial number, and you’ll be asked to sign each one when you buy them. When you exchange them for cash you’ll have to sign for them again, and show your passport. You can exchange traveller’s cheques at banks, bureaux de change and most large hotels.

If your traveller’s cheques go missing then you can phone the company that sold them to you (they should provide you with an emergency phone number) and quote the serial number of the missing cheques.

Obviously you need to keep the receipts showing the serial numbers of the cheques and quote them. Keep these numbers in a separate place from the cheques themselves!

It's also handy to have the local currency in small denominations for buying things in local shops.

Another useful way of carrying money that is available [as far as I know] from Lloyds TSB, STA Travel, but probably others as well, is a credit/debit and ATM card that you load up with a certain amount of your chosen currency before you leave.


If you’re planning travel abroad, you’ll need a passport at the very least.

Get an application form from your local post office or visit the UK Passport Service online. You will have to have your form signed by a professional who has known you for two years, for example a teacher or doctor.

Take the signed form back with a copy of your birth (or adoption) certificate, two identical passport photos and the standard fee of £42.

Instead of sending it yourself - and to check for errors - if you pay an extra £6 to the Post Office, they will check your form, send it off for you and get your passport back to you within two weeks. Couldn’t be easier!

You can contact the Passport Agency on 0870 521 0410.

If you've already got a valid passport it's worth checking that it has at least 6 months of validity after your arrival/departure date in the country you're going to. Some border controls demand that you have this.


Many countries outside Europe ask you to produce an entry visa as well as your passport at immigration, before you’re allowed in. If in doubt you can visit the Foreign Office website.


Trouble abroad

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t break the law.

If anything, this is even more true when you’re abroad, as it’s probable that you will know little, or nothing, about local law, custom or convention. However, ignorance of the law will probably not help if you do find yourself in trouble.

The best advice is to respect the country and its people and stay well clear of anything that may seem illegal or suspicious. Above all - use your common sense. Follow these simple principles, relax, and enjoy your time abroad!

However, if you do end up in real trouble abroad, you can get in touch with the national embassy that represents you. Their powers are limited but they can help if you lose your passport, and they will help you deal with the local authorities to some extent, if needs be, and help you get a lawyer.

Be warned however, that embassies cannot solve all your problems abroad for you, and they won’t pay for your flight home if you get really stuck.


Travel Check-List

Crucial items on your travel checklist should include:

  • Passport
  • Travel visa (if needed)
  • Work permit (if needed)
  • Driving licence (if necessary)
  • Certificate of Insurance
  • Details of British embassies abroad
  • A good guidebook
  • Traveller’s cheques
  • European Health Card (if travelling within the EU)
  • Health insurance (do not leave home without it!)
  • Immunisation and vaccination certificates

Staying in the U.K.

Think gap year and you automatically think about travelling to exotic locations. But that’s only one possible option.

You don’t have to even leave these shores to enjoy the benefits of a gap year.


Volunteers needed!

While many of us associate volunteer work with travelling abroad, there are plenty of voluntary gap year options in the UK.

Community Service Volunteers (CSV) matches the interests, experience and skills of 2,000 young, full-time volunteers with people throughout the UK who need their help.

You are placed in a range of settings, perhaps working with homeless people or enabling students with disabilities to live independently at university. You are provided with free meals and accommodation and an allowance each week. Being a CSV volunteer offers some of the toughest challenges you can face and can be just as stimulating as working overseas.


Work experience

Getting some decent work experience under your belt can really help you break into the job market as it proves to employers that you are determined and are comfortable working in an office. Work experience is more than just a qualification.

In order to land yourself that dream job in your chosen field you need more than just a qualification. You need experience!

Each occupation requires a different range and mix of skills. In order to improve your skills, you’ll need to know your own personal level of ability. This will enable you to improve as a professional and also help you know whether or not you actually want to do a particular job.

Often CVs are kept on file for long periods so any contact details you give have to remain accurate in the long term. A daytime phone number is most important, include your mobile number if you have one. Include an e-mail address, a Hotmail address is good because you will have it for life. If you have your own URL domain name put it down for added class, for example [email protected]