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The Independent Online

Taking a gap year has grown in popularity over the past decade with university admissions tutors now recognising its value in helping students mature and therefore handle their degree courses better. Five years ago, an estimated 20,500 students applied to take a gap year between school and university; last year the figure had risen to more than 28,000.

Taking a gap year has grown in popularity over the past decade with university admissions tutors now recognising its value in helping students mature and therefore handle their degree courses better. Five years ago, an estimated 20,500 students applied to take a gap year between school and university; last year the figure had risen to more than 28,000.

But don't think that any old gap year experience will do. It may not fit your footloose and fancy-free aspirations, but admissions tutors are looking for evidence of a year well spent. Besides, proper planning up front will minimise many of the potential problems you could encounter.

The good news is there have never been so many gap year programmes from charities and commercial organisations. This has opened up a wealth of new, exciting opportunities. But be realistic – choose an activity that suits you well. And be selective – recent participants on certain organised gap year programmes criticise some organisers for high charges and not passing on enough of their fee to the actual projects overseas they send volunteers to.

Being stranded without money is a common gap year problem, along with getting ill and, on occasion, being the victim of crime. The chances of the former can be reduced by travelling on an organised programme which will usually have been paid for up front. While avoidance of illness cannot be guaranteed, you should minimise the risk by taking all reasonable precautions up front – relevant vaccinations and being vigilant about water and the food you eat.

Make sure you know what your blood group is to enable prompt treatment in an emergency. If you are travelling in areas where the quality of blood supplies is unassured, consider enrolling with The Blood Care Foundation, part of a worldwide network of blood banks. To find out more contact 0113 238 7575.

Don't cut corners by not buying insurance or by opting for "free" insurance bundled into the price of your ticket without checking that the level of cover is sufficient for your needs. But above all remember: generally, travelling is safe and easy. Keep your cool. And try to learn from the things that go wrong rather than let them ruin your trip.

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