The Parents Guide to Gap Years

gap year students around a laptop looking for travel advice

Your child has announced they’re planning a gap year. Yikes! For many parents this can result in a flurry of emotions, and it can feel daunting, worrying and exciting at the same time. You’re likely to have a huge list of questions. Is it a good idea? Will they be safe? How much will it cost?
You want your child to make the right decisions, and are probably keen to help them. Here in our parents’ guide to gap years we highlight the key things to consider to help your child research, plan, fund and enjoy their gap year.

What is a Gap Year?

Gap years are time spent out of formal education and permanent employment. They are traditionally spent after leaving school or university, but can be taken at any stage in life.

There are so many options for a gap year. It can be a time for your child to work out what they want to do next, try a sector they are interested in and visit new places.

Many people associate gap years with travelling, but there are so many other options. Your child could spend time volunteering, earning money or learning new skills. We think that a gap year should be seen as a “year out”, not a “year off”.

There is no fixed duration for a gap year. They often last for a year, but some young people choose to fit them into a shorter period of time, often combining them with time spent working.

Shorter gap years are often known as gap semesters, which tend to last for a few months.

What are the benefits of a Gap Year?

People choose to take a gap year for a wide range of reasons. Some people need time out between school and university, or after university and starting a career. Others are desperate to travel, and want to do it before they are in full-time employment. Some people just don’t know what they want to do next, and need time to think things through.

Whatever the reason for taking a gap year, your child will learn an incredible amount. For example, a gap year provides:

● The chance to explore the world and experience new cultures and destinations
● The opportunity to develop new skills which will enhance their CV and job prospects
● The ability to work on problem-solving and communication and gain confidence while being independent
● The time to think about their future path in education or their career
● The chance to hone their money-management skills

What can my child do on their Gap Year?

Planning a gap year can feel overwhelming for many young people. If your child needs some gap year advice, try our guide to how to plan a gap year in eight steps.

There are so many ways to spend a gap year. These include:

Travelling

When most people think of gap years they imagine travelling the world, exploring new countries and living out of a backpack. And for many people, that’s their gap year reality.

Before your child gets into a permanent career, gets a mortgage or takes on other responsibilities, they could spend their gap year abroad.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there were many popular gap year routes around the globe. Look to Australia and New Zealand, North, Central and South America, swathes of Asia and Africa. It’s hard to find a destination that hasn’t welcomed gap year travellers!

Post Covid-19 gap years are still possible, but they now take even more planning and require the ability to be flexible with plans. You can discover more about the changes to travel restrictions on our blog. You can also check out the latest Government’s advice on which countries your child can visit.

Volunteering

Gap years are also often associated with volunteering. Popular choices include volunteering in schools, with conservation or environmental organisations and helping with community projects.
Volunteering will give your child the chance to learn an incredible amount about themselves and others. It looks fantastic on their CV, and can transform their outlook on life.

Check out our guide to volunteering on a gap year.

An Internship

Internships are offered by companies, organisations and charities of all sizes, and provide employment for a set amount of time. These are very popular with those leaving school or university.
Many internships are paid roles, but some are on a voluntary basis. They can be based in the UK or abroad.

If your child chooses an internship they can select a field that interests them, and gain valuable experience. Do they aspire to work in finance, tackle marketing, or spend their time in IT? An internship is a fantastic way to try a job out.

For those who find something they love, an internship will help them stand out when they go for job interviews. If they discover the sector isn’t for them, they will still have gained important new skills, and will have a much better idea of what career might be for them. It’s a win win!

You can find out more in our guide to internships.

Teaching

If your child hopes to go into teaching they can try out life in a classroom by teaching during their gap year. Even those who hope to go into a totally different career will gain new skills by spending time teaching. For example, they will quickly develop their interpersonal, communication and people management skills.

Those who want to teach English to non-English speakers often choose to gain a qualification first with a TEFL and CELTA course, before going on to a paid job.

Or perhaps your child would like to join a teaching program and become a teaching assistant overseas, either as a volunteer or in a paid job.

Working in Sports and Camps

If your child loves sports, why not suggest sports coaching? There are a wealth of opportunities including working in a summer camp or adventure organisation.

They could also learn to be a ski or snowboard instructor or work as a chalet host. And if they are happiest in water, what about teaching water sports, such as sailing, diving or surfing?

How to fund a Gap Year?

Gap year budgets vary hugely, from those who travel on a shoestring to those who splash the cash.
You can help your child start to calculate a budget by encouraging them to research early on. Remind them to work through obvious costs, such as flights and accommodation, and to include ancillary costs, such as insurance and a rucksack. Find out what kit they’ll need to take on their gap year here.

Financial advice you could share includes:
● Setting up a spreadsheet to log their predicted costs and create a realistic budget.
● Creating a dedicated savings account, which is only used for their gap year.
● Encouraging them to look at their spending habits to find areas they can cut back on.

Next, talk through how they can earn the money they need. You could suggest:
● Working before they travel.
● Working while they are travelling. Many people choose to pick fruit, work in a bar or restaurant or do temping. We’ve outlined some popular choices in our guide to gap year jobs.
Fundraising activities to help drum up extra cash.

Is a Gap Year safe?

The vast majority of gap years go smoothly, but it’s always good to be prepared. Ensuring your child has a well-planned itinerary is key, and stress the importance of always booking their first night’s accommodation in advance, before arriving in a new destination.
Remember, most gap years abroad involve travelling to well-trodden destinations which are used to catering to young tourists.

In the past parents would have to wait for letters or postcards as their children set off across the globe. Today, thanks to video calls and emails, it’s so much easier to stay connected. Before your child sets off, investigate the cost of taking their phone with them, looking at roaming charges. For some it works out cheaper to buy a pay as you go phone abroad.

Other things that might reassure you about their safety include:

● Before your child sets off, talk to them about keeping in touch. Explain how often you’d like to hear from them, and why it’s important to you. They may not be able to call as much as you’d like, but it never hurts to remind them to drop you a line!
● Many young people choose to travel with a friend, which can help alleviate some parental worries. Knowing your child will always have someone to share the planning and travelling with can be a big relief.
● Look into thief-proof bags, bag locks and rucksack anti-theft devices. A bag worn close to the body or a bumbag they can wear under their clothes could also prove helpful.
● Ensure they have the relevant insurance in place before travelling.
● Remind them to take the same precautions they would at home, such as avoiding walking alone at night and always letting someone know where they are going.
● Talk about alcohol. While they may not be sober for their entire trip, they don’t want to get too drunk.
● Pack them off with an emergency first aid kit.
● Highlight the importance of respecting local cultures and customs, and talk about how they can research these before arriving in a destination.
● Stress the importance of choosing reputable suppliers, especially for adventures and tours.
● There’s a lot to think about on a gap year, and we’ve rounded up a list of gap year essentials that people often forget about. It includes insurance, documentation, visas, money and vaccinations.

Planning a gap year is an exciting time. With your help and support your child will be able to create a gap year that’s perfect for them. We hope this gap years for parents’ guide has helped you, and if you have any questions please get in touch.