How To Mind Your Gap Year

A gap year is great; it looks good on the CV, lets you explore the world, put off deciding on your career and build up a tan all at once. All of which makes choosing the right one crucial. This can be difficult when the only source of advice is your friend with the tattoo who keeps saying how spiritual Thailand was.

Worry not because HasAnyoneBeenTo.. has teamed up with RealWorld Magazine to clear a path in the gap year jungle and proudly presents our guide to the best resources out there.

Books/Websites: Want to do it yourself, but need to know how? These sources are indispensable.

Green Volunteers (ISBN 9788889060148)
Fabio Ausender
This a great guide for anyone who loves animals. You can volunteer with all kinds, from Eagles to Elephants and Great Whites, in all kinds of places, like South Africa, Costa Rica and Swaziland. There are also projects closer to home, such as seal watching in the Shetlands.

Costs for accommodation and fees vary, from nothing to thousands of pounds. Luckily, this book has a handy tick chart system so you can filter projects by price, animal, length of stay or place. Once you’ve bought the book, you also get free, unlimited access to their updated online database.

Gap Year Guidebook 2010 (ISBN 9781904724704)
Alison Withers
A handy annual guide of places to go, things to do and all that background information you need about visas, first aid and insurance. Great for thumbing through for inspiration.

Volunteer South America
It is far from the prettiest website out there, but this is a fantastically comprehensive and user friendly site. With no affiliations to anyone, it lists all the volunteer opportunities in South America, and with a quick hover over the name you get details of who they want, if they charge and what they cover. A must for the South American traveler.

Adventure Organisers
Want a group adventure? These guys are great.

Not for those who want to travel on a budget, Raleigh offer charity working-adventures that are also good for the environment. You can volunteer in Borneo, Costa Rica, Nicaragua or India, and stay from three and half weeks to ten weeks. Projects include building wells, teaching children and working on conservation projects. Costs range from £1,500 to £2,995.

Global Xchange
A serious organisation for those who not only want to make a real difference but are maybe considering humanitarian work as a career. Not only must you take part for 6 full months, but you also have to apply at least 6 months in advance.

Be prepared to attend assessment days. You will be teamed up with a partner and spend 3 months in their country, and 3 months here in the UK. Upcoming exchanges include Xi’an (China) to Glasgow and Kaduna (Namibia) to Brighton. You’re expected to raise at least £600 to show your dedication to the programme.

Work Experience and Learning
Looking for ways to make your CV stand out before you even get to the world of work? Then these are the programmes for you.

Work the World
If you want a career in medicine, you can never do too much to get ahead. Work the World offer medical student elective placements that meet all British Medical school requirements, whilst giving you the chance to explore some far flung spots on the globe. Specialities include dentistry, midwifery and new radiography placements.

It’s not exactly cheap, with costs ranging from £940 for two weeks in Nepal, to £1840 for 6 weeks in Tanzania, but that covers all your costs bar flights and visas, and the experience will be priceless.

Cactus Language
Spend up to 3 months living abroad and brush up on your language skills while there. If you like, Cactus will cover everything, from lessons and accommodation to day trips and socials. You can also do shorter courses in more exotic locations, like learning Quechan in Peru, if you fancy breaking up a hedonistic round the world trip with a little culture and education. Prices range from 1 week for £150 to 3 months for £1000.

Global Vision International
As well as offering standard adventure and volunteer gap years, GVI also give the opportunity to train up while travelling. You can gain a TEFL qualification in Thailand, a BTEC (Level 2) in Team Leading, or in more specific subjects like biological survey techniques. You can even become a qualified Safari Guide.

GVI also offer a job placement finding service for those who TEFL qualify with them. Fees range from £495 to £8315 for an entire year abroad.

Agencies: Just need someone to put you in touch with the right people?

Wwoof (WorldWide Opportunities on Organics Farms) has been running since 1971, and has spawned it’s own verb- wwoofing. The premise is simple and successful- you get to travel round the world and be housed and often fed all in return for a few hours working on someone’s farm. There is usually a small sign up fee to access each country’s list, but this is a fantastic resource for those on a tight budget.

Another list of people looking for volunteers, but here there is less emphasis on the eco and so a much wider range of jobs, from bar tender in the Venezuelan Rainforest to theatre technician in the Negev Desert. This site also has a ‘last minute’ section, for hosts who need someone urgently. Great if you’re in the mood to just get away fast. You can view hosts for free but to contact them it costs €18 for 2 years (€24 if you’re a couple).

Something A Bit Different

The Adventurists
The adventurists work hard to make sure you can have a real adventure while raising money for charity. Don’t think your friends will pay to see you sit in a tub of baked beans? How about to see you battle your way unaccompanied across South America on a sofa-bike? Yes, a sofa-bike.

Other challenges include the Worlds longest horse race, a Rickshaw Run across India, and the now famous 10,000 mile Mongol Rally.

Warning: These are serious adventures, with no back up crew and no safety nets. Think long and hard before entering these challenges.

Advice and Planning: Wanting to go it alone? Make sure you do some research before heading out the door.

The Man In Seat 61
The ultimate resource for rail and ferry travel. Mark Smith started the site as a hobby and it remains entirely unaffiliated. This man knows his stuff, and can get you from London to pretty much any point in the world without flying. He can probably also tell you what the food will be like and how good a nights sleep you’ll get.

Weather to Travel (ISBN 9781858900292)
Mike Harding
A slim little volume, this book will suit the undecided adventurer. The weather can make or break a trip so use this guide to find out what it’s doing where and when. You can either browse by country or by time of year.

Lonely Planet Forums
The best way to find out how to do something is to ask someone who’s done it. With a bit of hunting, you’re bound to find you answers here.