Gap Years: All the inspiration you need to take a break

A well-planned and productive gap year can launch your career in the right direction. By Russ Thorne

In the 17th and 18th centuries the concept of the “grand tour” gained popularity among wealthy young members of the British nobility. An early ancestor of the gap year, the fashion was to travel overland through Europe gaining a cultural and personal education, returning with trinkets and scholarly artefacts as a souvenir of your experiences.

Nowadays, gap years have evolved and no longer require an army of valets accompanying their masters’ rakish progress towards Italy, although the idea of dedicating some time to self-improvement before beginning a career or continuing education has remained. But with university fees rising, competition for places more energetic than ever and the global economic situation looking determinedly gloomy, it could be easy to dismiss the gap year as a frivolous waste of time.

However, a gap year – whatever form it takes – still has a lot to offer. For a start, both universities and employers value the boost it can give a candidate’s CV. “Most recruiters look favourably upon graduates who have taken gap years,” explains Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. “Employers are looking for graduates who can demonstrate skills such as team work, communication and leadership, and these kinds of transferable skills can be developed on well-planned and productive gap years.”

A well-planned and productive gap year can come in many different shapes and sizes, and certainly doesn’t have to be about backpacking through Asia for several months (although this remains a popular option). It’s all about the preparation, and that means beginning at the end, says Tom Hall, of the guidebook publisher Lonely Planet. “The best way to approach the gap year is to picture yourself at the end of it, and think about what you want to have done and seen and what skills and experiences you’d like to pick up,” he explains.

This might mean ending up with a wishlist of countries to visit or discovering that gaining some work-based skills is top of your priority list; and it’s perfectly possible for you to do both.

One popular option is voluntary work, which could be a local activity or something that takes you to the other side of the world. In the UK, Volunteering England ( co-ordinates projects all over the country: you could help the National Trust keep an historic property in good condition, join St John’s Ambulance as a first aider or carry out small tasks via Orange’s Do Some Good mobile app.

If you’d like to roam further afield, some organisations run community projects overseas, perhaps carrying out conservation or humanitarian work. They usually charge a project fee that can run into several thousands of pounds, which volunteers are expected to raise themselves. Careful research into the organisation you travel with is vital, but a well-run project can make a lasting difference to an area, as well as giving volunteers the chance to work with local people and visit parts of the world that might otherwise be inaccessible. Agencies worth checking out include Raleigh International (, and Camps International ( It’s useful to visit the forums on to hear about a company’s reputation before committing to a project.

Another popular option is Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Tefl), which gives participants qualifications to instruct students overseas. It can be a good way of picking up some language skills and experiencing daily life in a new culture. Organisations offering courses include i-to-i ( and Cactus ( A slightly different angle is spending time working with young people on a summer camp in the US, instructing them in areas such as sports, music or drama and gaining teamwork and communication skills along the way. The fixed length of the camps might appeal to those who also want to travel in the country afterwards, or who want to spend the remainder of their gap year working. Several companies recruit camp staff, including Bunac ( and Camp America (

Moving away from structured programmes, a gap year can emphasise independent travel and remain worthwhile, with or without periods of volunteering or working. There are countless options, from exploring Europe by rail to cruising around New Zealand in a camper van, or taking an around the world backpacking trip, building up passport stamps and self-confidence. Using your gap year simply to travel is still valid, believes Hall. “A classic backpacking trip still has much to offer. It’ll equip you with skills in budgeting, learning languages and often teamwork, communication and problem solving.”

Importantly, none of these options exists in isolation. Whether you’re hoping to head to university or start a career at the end of it, a gap year can allow you to work and play, gaining skills that will impress employers or universities while earning money for the future. It can teach you how to make friends and influence people, but also let you stop for breath after years of full-time education and decide on your next step. You don’t need to carouse through Venice like the grand tourists of old and return with marble statues under your arm; but you can end the year with a collection of experiences that leave you feeling better prepared for the road ahead.

“There’s a visible difference between people who’ve taken a gap year and those who haven’t,” says Hall in conclusion. “Post-gappers come across as being more worldly, experienced and confident. They tend to show greater independence and drive, all of which are a huge help in either establishing yourself at university or getting that crucial foot in the door. Plus, you’re never short of something to talk about!”

"I now have more life experience, more friends and more confidence"

Zoe Buller's gap year, spent between home and the US, helped her decide on a career and gave her the experience she needed to enter university. She’s currently studying primary education at the University of Derby.

“My gap year began as soon as I finished sixth form, when I went to a Salvation Army summer camp in the US to work as a lifeguard. It was a great experience, working with people from around the world on a 400-acre camp with children from urban New Jersey.

I then came back from camp and continued working as a waitress at a restaurant, then worked part-time as a teaching assistant and used my free time to do youth work, travel and assist Duke of Edinburgh canoeing expeditions.

I decided to take a gap year because I hadn’t truly made up my mind as to what I was going to do with the rest of my life. But after my experience at camp, spending every waking minute surrounded by children, teaching them to swim and interacting with them day in day out, it seemed pretty clear my future career must involve children.

My year then had a focus: gain experience for uni while using my free time to have fun, visit people and enjoy my freedom! I’m very glad I took a gap year, it’s the reason I got into university and I now have more life experience, more friends and more confidence in myself. It was the best decision I could have made - without Camp Tecumseh and my gap year, my life would not be the same. Simple as that!”

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant - IT Channel - Graduate

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a Value-Added I...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor