Gap Year Guide

Many students are opting to take a gap year to go travelling and it’s certainly no surprise; the chance to experience culture from around the world, broaden their horizons and visit some of the most exotic locations on earth is an extremely appealing prospect.

Here at easyCar, we have compiled an in-depth guide to taking a gap year, drawing on the knowledge and expertise of a number of people who were brave enough to undertake what was, for them all, a life-changing experience. Our eight graduates – Rochelle, Lisa, Saskia, Mike, Charlotte, Louise, Jennie and Phoebe – visited over twenty countries between them and came back armed with some amazing insight into the world of gap year travelling.

Making the decision to take a gap year, whether in a group or by oneself, can be incredibly daunting. Leaving behind friends, family and all of the home comforts that we have become accustomed to is not something that can simply be done overnight. To get the most out of any gap year experience, planning is essential and we have put together the following resource to help students who are considering such a trip. We have tried to cover all bases, from where to go and what to do, to health and safety and financial advice.

Where to go

The first, and possibly most important, decision to make is where to go. Websites like gapyear.com and The Gap Travel Guideprovide inspiration for aspiring travellers and there are many different locations that all have the potential to provide a sensational experience for students. For many, their choice of destination results from a lifelong ambition, while others simply make a spontaneous decision based on wanderlust. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has put together a list of the top ten most popular destinations for gap years and we have used this information to provide the following guide on where to go. To find out more about each of the countries, simply hover your cursor over the question marks.

 What to do

Once the destination has been established, the issue of what actually to do arises. Students, in particular, take gap years for a number of reasons; many wish to improve their CVs or gain relevant work experience, particularly in teaching, whereas others just want to embark on an adventure to explore a new country. Volunteering for charity organisations is another possible motivation, with a number of various opportunities available.

  • Paid work and internships: There are many different opportunities for gap year students to earn money and simultaneously acquire vital experience in new and exotic locations.
  • Teaching courses: Various companies run schemes that give students the unique chance to teach English in foreign countries.
  • Charity projects: Volunteering for a charity project could involve anything from helping out those in need to rainforest conservation and this kind of work is extremely rewarding.
  • Exploring and touring: A lot of graduates simply relish the opportunity to travel to new places and use their gap year to experience as much different culture in the most breathtakingly beautiful countries as possible.

Charity projects: Volunteering for a charity project could involve anything from helping out those in need to rainforest conservation and this kind of work is extremely rewarding. Exploring and touring: A lot of graduates simply relish the opportunity to travel to new places and use their gap year to experience as much different culture in the most breathtakingly beautiful countries as possible.

Health and safety

One of the most vital things to consider when it comes to travelling, especially when the countries involved are so diverse and exotic, is health and safety. There’s no point setting off on the greatest adventure of your life (and shelling out a considerable amount of money for the privilege) if you haven’t received the proper vaccinations. It is imperative that you leave plenty of time to research and then obtain the jabs appropriate for your country of choice.

The following table details some of the most common and dangerous diseases that can potentially be contracted while travelling. We have provided a list of symptoms and high-risk locations for each illness, as well as the amount of time required to receive the course of injections necessary to protect yourself. Be aware that this is only a brief guide and, if you are planning a gap year, please also seek advice from your doctor.

Disease Symptoms Spread through High risk areas Minimum time required for vaccinations
Cholera Diarrhoea, vomiting, dehydration Contaminated food and water Africa, India, South East Asia, the Middle East, Central America 2 weeks
Diphtheria Coughing, sore throat, fever Coughs and sneezes Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, South America 1 month
Hepatitis A Flu-like symptoms, jaundice Contaminated food and water, person-to-person contact India, Africa, Central America, South America, East Asia, Eastern Europe 2 weeks
Hepatitis B Flu-like symptoms, jaundice, itchy skin Infected blood or bodily fluids (sexual intercourse or sharing needles) Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia, South Pacific islands 6 months
Japanese Encephalitis Brain inflammation Mosquito bites North East Australia, East Asia 1 month
Meningococcal Meningitis Rash Coughs and sneezes Africa, Saudi Arabia 2-3 weeks
Poliomyelitis (Polio) N/A Contact with human faeces, contaminated food and water, person-to-person contact Africa (Nigeria, Niger, Egypt), Pakistan, Afghanistan, India 1-3 months (with diphtheria & tetanus)
Rabies Paralysis, spasms, thirst or hydrophobia, delirium Animal saliva Asia, Africa, South and Latin America 4 weeks
Tetanus Muscle spasms and contractions Open wounds Worldwide 3 months
Tick-borne Encephalitis Flu-like symptoms, brain inflammation Tick bites, drinking unpasteurised milk Russia, Siberia, China, Japan, Austria, Hungary, the Balkans, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Scandinavia 1-3 months
Tuberculosis (TB) Coughing, weight loss, night sweats Coughs and sneezes South America, Sub-Saharan and North West Africa, tropical Asia-Pacific regions 2 weeks
Typhoid Diarrhoea, high temperature Contact with human faeces, poor sanitation and personal hygiene Africa, India, South and South East Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America 1 month
Yellow fever Headaches, high temperature, bleeding Mosquito bites Sub-Saharan Africa, South America 10 days

Expert views

To get some first hand, inside information on gap years, as well as some top tips, we interviewed eight graduates who travelled to a plethora of locations. They drew upon their experience and knowledge from their time in the following countries:

Rochelle – India
Lisa – Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
Saskia – Cameroon
Mike – USA and various European countries
Charlotte – Norway
Louise – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia
Jennie – USA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand
Phoebe – South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia

We asked our experts a series of questions so that we could provide the best possible advice.

What did you do?

Rochelle: I worked for a government PR company during the week and travelled on weekends.

Lisa: I took a language course and volunteered in a nursery school.

Mike: I travelled in America and it was all about sightseeing and visiting different cities. I travelled on my own so I had the opportunity to meet loads of amazing people and have some incredible experiences with them. I travelled around Europe and got to see a lot of new places I’d never been and do some amazing things.

Charlotte: I travelled around Norway and the surrounding countries. I studied Norwegian and tried to soak up as much culture as possible.

Louise: I climbed a volcano, learned to paddle board, visited temples and landmarks and ate a lot of amazing food.

Jennie: I went backpacking and did a lot of travelling to see the tourist places but also tried to do the things that the locals enjoy.

Phoebe: I did charity work and some exploring and teaching, as well as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and going on safari.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

Rochelle: I enjoyed living and experiencing a completely different culture and class of people. It was a big eye-opener.

Lisa: I enjoyed getting to know a completely different culture and living in a foreign place.

Saskia: The fact that I not only changed myself, but also those that I studied with. I showed them the beauty of Cameroon and that it was a place worth going to.

Mike: Meeting new people, seeing some amazing places and the unpredictability of everything. It’s always exciting not really having a plan or not knowing what the next day will bring.

Charlotte: The best thing would have to be the people I met there. Funnily enough, most of them were English but I made lifelong friends who I still visit now.

Jennie: Meeting new people from all over the world and, as a Swede, getting to speak English most of the time.

What did you learn?

Lisa: I learned a lot about myself and what I want in life. I think it was a more precious experience than anything else I had done before.

Saskia: That we are pretty much the same wherever we live. Just the facilities that we have at our disposal differ quite considerably.

Charlotte: I learnt that I am a lot more independent than I realised, as I turned up at an airport in Norway with an address of a place to stay and managed to have the best year ever.

Louise: I learned about a completely different way of life; their culture was so different to ours.

Jennie: I realised that people, no matter what age, have a lot of things in common and have fun together.

What advice would you give to others considering taking a gap year?

Rochelle: Do it! You will never get another opportunity in later life to do the things you will do on a gap year. I got to do things I could only dream about and, even though it was terrifying doing it all alone, you will make friends there – you won’t be the only one!

Lisa: Do it! You will never regret it! There are a lot of organisations out there like Travelworks and EF who, if you have never been away on your own, will give you support and be there for you on the other side of the world.

Saskia: It’s one of the few periods in your life where you can truly take your time. So I suggest you do just that and immerse yourself in the local culture. You will learn so much more than any institution or lecture room could possibly teach you.

Mike: Don’t plan too much. Have an idea of where you want to go but leave time for your plans to change. Sometimes, you meet people along the way and find you want to go somewhere different with them or maybe you end up wanting to stay somewhere longer. Most of the fun comes from spontaneity.

Charlotte: Do a bit of research before you go and try and talk to people who have already been. This will give you more of an idea of what to expect and things to take that you might not realise.

Louise: You don’t need to plan everything before you go; half the fun is being able to decide what you do and where you go once you are there. Also, staying in dorms in hostels is a great way to meet people.

Jennie: You have the time to think about yourself and do exactly what you want before you settle down. Think big and do it!

Phoebe: Don’t waste your time. Help other people. Plan the first bit before you go, then leave room for changes of plan when you get there!



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