So you want to go on a gap year?
Increasing numbers of people are now taking a year off to go and do something completely different with their lives. Typically and traditionally this has been students taking time off before they go to university but now we are seeing older people deciding to get out of the rat race or the rat race choosing it for them when they are made redundant.
What is a gap year?
Traditionally, (well off) youth have always taken time out to prepare themselves for the wider world or good society. In the eighteenth century, the Grand Tour saw upper middle-class men of means taking off through France and Italy in search of art and culture and Western civilisation. The modern day equivalent is the gap year. Although not limited to the English gentry, these days people "of means" will take time off to work, study or volunteer in search of challenges, fulfilment and memorable experiences well beyond the search for civilisation and the muses.
Gapadvice estimates that 230,000 young people, 90,000 career breakers and 200,000 retired people are taking time off every year and the biggest increases are currently in the mature travellers and career breaker groups. Last year, American Express Insurance reported that sales of year-long travel insurance doubled for the 30 to 50 age groups.
Why go on a gap year?
Common perception is that young people take gap years to improve their CVs. However, it seems that "taking a year out" is no longer enough to help you stand out for prospective employers. According to Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com "What matters more than what you do is what you get out of it. Did you do what you did on your own initiative and did you raise the money to do it yourself?". So it's fine to go and sit on a beach, but get there by your own means. He thinks that employers will take a much better view of that than worthy work in a Chinese orphanage funded by Mummy and Daddy. So hey, where's the beach?
The fastest growing sector in the gap year industry is career breakers. Economic downturns and a seeming willingness of companies to get rid of expensive 40 and 50somethings has created a glut of early retirees taking off and doing something completely different with their lives.
A number of organisations are now placing people on overseas projects helping them to extend their working lives and use their skills in places where they can do some good. All the more so because they are living longer and healthier lives.
Whatever people do, it's almost guaranteed to be a life changing experience
Where should I go and what should I do?
There's plenty of advice out there to help with this one. Planning is of course essential to stay organised and stay healthy. The previously mentioned Gapyear.com, Gapadvice and Gogapyear.com are good places to start.
Ask yourself what is the purpose of the trip and what do want to get out of it. Especially if you're a student and you want it to look good on your CV. Do something that's out of your comfort zone, give yourself a challenge, if everyone is canoeing up the Amazon, do it backwards. Show initiative and make bold decisions. Or if you want to find your inner self, go lie on a beach, but go under your own steam and preferably take the long route.
Ah the insurance question! Well, we would be talking about insurance, wouldn't we? It's a travel insurance web site after all. depending on where you go and what you do, there are a number of things you should consider insuring against.
Travel problems: Losing your tickets and your passport, cash or your luggage. Airlines won't just issue a new ticket if you lose yours and the Embassy won't do the same with your passport just because you look honest. these things take time and money.
Extreme sports: Thinking of jumping off a mountain or just sliding down it in a slightly dangerous way? Or maybe you'd just like to do something more sedate like riding a horse or playing some golf. A specialist insurer will cover you for exactly what you do and not try to wiggle out of paying up because the contract is written in such general terms that they can say your not covered for what happened to you.
Medical problems: If you do fall of a mountain, do you have any idea how much it would cost to a) get a helicopter to come and collect you? b) repatriate you if you did some serious damage? Think tens of thousands. Minimum. With proper medical travel insurance, all that will be paid for. What's more, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, you'll get cover for that. What more can I say?