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Gap year Q and As

Monday 23 June 2008 Trends

Deciding on whether to go on a gap year or not is a massive decision which will affect the rest of your life. We got the expert advice of founder and legendary gapper Tom Griffiths to answer some of our users (from a diverse group) questions.

Mary, Gloucester - Can I use my gap year to pick up some work experience to help me in my future career?

But of course… Your gap year is the perfect opportunity to do this. If you’re interested in a particular area, for example the media, now’s the time to find out if it’s for you. Get in touch with your local paper and radio and TV stations and grab all the chances you can.

My tips? Be professional and make a good impression. Get all you can out of each experience. Ask for references, and keep hold of the contacts you make: they could be your fast track into a dream job.

Future lawyers, riding instructors, accountants and teachers… all should make use of this opportunity.

Harriet, Woking - My son really wants to take a gap year now he’s finished his A Levels but I think he’d waste it, so I’d rather he went straight to Uni this year. How can we compromise?

You probably won’t want to hear this, but the final decision is his. Considering he’ll do what he wants to do whatever you say (this is normal at this stage!) much of the pressure falls on you to make sure the two of you don’t fall out…

Encourage him to present you with a plan. This will get him thinking seriously about how to get the most out of his year.

Then sit down and discuss it with him and you’ll probably find a compromise falls into place. A gap year could be the making of him. People who’ve taken gap years are considerably less likely to drop out of Uni, and employers appreciate the life skills they’ve gained.

Vicki, Wakefield - I’m worried that if I take a break I won’t be able to get back into studying…

This is a myth, often propagated by parents who don’t want their kids to travel!

Some people decide to change their university course after taking a gap year, but as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing – it shows that you’ve consciously thought about things and have a clearer idea of what you want to do.

A few come back from their gap year and decide not to go to Uni, but these are the people who – if they hadn’t taken a gap – would’ve ended up dropping out anyway.

Nick, Cardiff - I want to travel independently - where do I start?

First things first: sort out a plan. Make a list of the top countries you want to visit, the top sights you want to see and the top activities you want to have a go at. Take time to research all this stuff – how feasible is it?

Can you afford it? Are you sure you can travel overland from Delhi to Delaware? Research will a big part of your gap year, but it’s not like school. This is the kind of research that gives you a distinctly tingly feeling…

Round the world tickets, rail passes, travellers’ discount cards… you’ll find all these things help you to get the most out of your travels. They’re all out there; you’ve just got to find them.

Linda, worried mum, London - How can I get money to my son if he gets into trouble while travelling?

Don’t worry, there are several ways. You could do an emergency money transfer through a company like Western Union or Moneygram. You and he would both need to find one of the company’s agents – they’re dotted all over the world – and then you could get money to him easily.

Alternatively he could give you power of attorney over his accounts. This would mean you could pay money into his account and he could take it out from a cash machine wherever he was.

Or why not tell him to use his credit card and offer to pay off the bills for him? Ouch! For emergency use only!

Kathy, Chesterfield - I’m worried about my safety while travelling, especially in the current world climate…

We all see worrying things in the media, but the idea that travel is dangerous is a myth. In fact, it’s safer to take a gap year than to study at Uni.

Check out your destination country on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website (, which will tell you if, for example, there are areas you should avoid.

There are various great travel safety products that will help you to feel more secure, but the most important thing to take with you is your common sense, and you can’t buy that in shops. Plan your trip carefully, do your research, and don’t be stupid.

Travel is an overwhelmingly safe and enjoyable experience, but you won’t know that until you get there… you’ll just have to take my word for it!

Pete, Edinburgh - Visas… vaccinations… flights… there’s so much to sort out I’m worried I’ll forget something!

Don’t panic. There’s a reason why people like us here at exist, and that’s to help you sort all this stuff out.

Browse our site, chat to those who’ve been there and quite possibly done that on our message-boards, or read one of our two books, Before You Go or The Virgin Travellers’ Handbook.

Vikram, Cheshire - Uni looks like it could cost a packet and I want to take a gap year just to work and save money – do you recommend this?

Go for it. You can earn a load of money – especially if you’re living at home and your outgoings are low – and build your CV too.

Employers in later life will see that you’ve worked hard to achieve your goals and will be impressed, especially if you do a job now that’s relevant to your future career.

It’s easy to earn money; saving the stuff can be more tricky. You’ll look a bit silly if you’ve got no dough at the end of the year.

Work out a saving plan and you’ll probably be able to afford a treat like an overseas trip and still arrive at Uni with a chunky bank balance.

Jenny, Bucks - Hey Tom, I’m spending about two months in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. What is the best way to take money? My friend says travellers cheques are a waste of time.

The trick is to take a bit of everything, split it up and keep it in various places. Travellers cheques aren’t the most flexible when it comes to spending admittedly, but they are great in the event of emergency.

Take them in US dollars as they are accepted by most people in the countries you’re heading to. Cirrus or Maestro cards are useful pretty much everywhere and a credit card can be a life saver.

You’ll also find that US Dollars are useful in most places, but you will definitely need local currency; particularly when buying smaller day-to-day items.

It is vital that you split your money up between your backpack and your daypack, so that if you lose one or someone goes through it, then you've got the rest as back-up.

Find or make good hiding places to stop opportunist thieves... e.g. cut a slit in the inside back cover of an address book to hide your credit card.

Lucy, Surrey - I’m going to be away in Australia for four to five months and have about £1500, is this enough? Hopefully I plan to get a job though. Is cash in hand work available?

If £1500 is all you have, then you can of course make it last five months. Getting jobs in hostels in return for accommodation, or even a small wage, when you travel around can help.

Taking a tent and camping instead of using more expensive hostels will save you loads of cash (but will take you away from all the live stuff happening around the hostels).

Buying a car that you can kip in (only for long periods in Oz) and giving people lifts for a bit of cash (safety issue) - can also save you money if you can then sell it on for a good price. Spending your money on seeing Australia as opposed to funding the clubs and bars also helps...

The Working Holiday Visa will allow you to work legitimately in Oz. Not allowed to encourage you to find cash in hand work, as if you are caught you will be thrown out of the country and never allowed back.

Yes, it does go on, but I wouldn't bank on it. Legitimate work is available though... – your complete guide to taking time out. The UK’s largest travel community, with 100,000 pages of advice and information on every aspect of gap years, career breaks and budget travel. The site features a comprehensive database of volunteering opportunities, a free downloadable round the world planner and an active and friendly community of travellers ready to answer your questions!