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What Is A Gap Year and Why Should You Take One?

Written by Alice McLeod on 09 / 02 / 2024

Gap Year Advice

Gap year – a period typically taken after finishing school but before starting university, where one temporarily steps away from traditional education or employment to explore other avenues. For many, this is a time to travel, backpacking around the world, making friends and experiencing new things along the way. So, what exactly is a gap year, why do people take them, and what are some popular options for someone taking one?

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year, simply put, is a period of time, usually a year, taken off by students or young professionals to explore interests, gain experiences, or simply take a break before continuing their formal education or entering the workforce full-time. While the idea of taking a year off may seem unconventional to some, it's a transformative experience for many.

Why Take a Gap Year?

People opt for gap years for a multitude of reasons, each as unique as the individual taking one. Here are some common motivations:

  1. Personal Growth: A gap year offers an opportunity for introspection and personal growth. It allows individuals to step out of their comfort zones, challenge themselves, and gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.
  2. Academic Exploration: Some students may feel burnt out after completing the busy exam period at school or during their college years. A gap year provides them with the chance to explore academic interests outside of the traditional classroom setting, through internships, volunteer work, or travel.
  3. Career Development: For others, a gap year serves as a valuable time to gain practical skills, professional experiences, or clarity about their career goals. Internships, apprenticeships, or even starting a small business during this time can be incredibly beneficial.
  4. Cultural Immersion: Traveling and backpacking during a gap year allows individuals to immerse themselves in different cultures, languages, and environments. This firsthand exposure fosters cultural competence, empathy, and a broader perspective on global issues.
  5. Rest and Rejuvenation: In today's fast-paced world, burnout is a prevalent concern. Taking a gap year can provide much-needed rest and rejuvenation, helping individuals return to their studies or career with renewed energy and focus.

What to do on Your Gap Year?

The beauty of a gap year lies in its flexibility and adaptability to individual interests and goals. Here are some popular options for how to spend a gap year:

  1. Traveling Abroad: Whether backpacking/interrailing through Europe, volunteering in rural communities in Kenya, or getting hands-on experience with turtle conservation in Costa Rica, traveling abroad offers endless opportunities for adventure, cultural immersion, and personal growth.
  2. Volunteering: Many organizations around the world offer volunteer programs in areas such as conservation, education, healthcare, and community development. Volunteering provides a meaningful way to give back while gaining valuable skills and experiences (which will look great on your CV). All of our team gap year programmes contain elements of volunteering, meaning you can give back to the communities you're in.
  3. Internships and Apprenticeships: Securing internships or apprenticeships in fields of interest allows individuals to gain practical experience, build professional networks, and explore potential career paths. You can add many experiences from your gap year onto your CV, making you stand out on both university applications and at job interviews.
  4. Language Immersion Programs: Spending time in a foreign country immersed in language learning can be both challenging and rewarding. Language immersion programs offer a unique opportunity to develop linguistic proficiency while experiencing a new culture firsthand. If you'd like to learn a new language without the intensity of a classroom setting, then a gap year programme that has language classes built in is a great option, take for example our Colombia or Plastic Oceans trips.
  5. Independent Projects: Whether it's writing a novel, starting a business, or pursuing a passion project, a gap year is an ideal time to focus on independent endeavors that may not fit within the confines of traditional education or employment.

In conclusion, a gap year is more than just a break from the norm – it's a transformative journey of self-discovery, learning, and exploration. Whether traveling the world, gaining professional experience, or pursuing personal passions, the possibilities during a gap year are vast. There are a myriad of ways to plan a gap year, but if you're insure then contact us and we can help you plan the perfect gap year.

Want to make a difference on your gap year?

Join one of our team gap year volunteering and adventure programmes to give something back on your gap year. We send teams of gap year travellers all over the world to get involved with local communities, immerse themselves in authentic culture, and make friends for life.

See programmes


How long should I travel for on my gap year? Most people travel for no more than 6 months of their gap year, the rest of the time being used to earn the money to finance the travels (check out our top tips here). The average is to travel for 3/4 months.

Do universities care if you take a gap year? As long as you have done something worthwhile with your time then unis won't care that you've taken a gap year. Learning a language, volunteering, and the soft skills you'll get from travelling will all prove to a university that you were right to take a year out.

How do I find a good gap year volunteering team programme? Do your research into different companies and what they offer. Cheapest isn't always best, so make sure you're asking all of the right questions to establish whether the programme is the right fit for you. You can read our guide to choosing a gap year programme here.

Do I need gap year travel insurance? You should never travel without insurance, so before you go make sure you're fully covered for all you're going to do on your gap year. Read our article here about what to look for.

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Want to make a difference on your gap year?

Join one of our team gap year volunteering and adventure programmes to give something back on your gap year. We send teams of gap year travellers all over the world to get involved with local communities, immerse themselves in authentic culture, and make friends for life.

See programmes

Need inspiration and direction?

Get in contact with the gap year travel specialists.

Here at The Leap we can help both team traveller through our programmes and/or the backpacker.

Jot a message below or call us on +44 1672 519 9222

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