17 Aug

ABTA reveals top gap year destinations

Offers tips for gappers as tens of thousands expected to take a gap year

Hundreds of thousands of British students have just opened their A-Level results and many will be looking forward to starting their university lives in the autumn, but thousands of others will be taking a year out to travel overseas either to volunteer, gain work experience or simply have the adventure of a lifetime.  

In 2016, over 92,000 students¹ commenced their university courses aged 19 and many of those will have delayed going to university due to taking a gap year. This year, tens of thousands of school and college leavers are also expected to take a gap year trip before starting their courses in 2018.

ABTA is revealing the most popular destinations and activities for gappers and advising young people on how to make the most of their gap year as well as how to remain safe when they are on their travels.

Top gap year destinations

Some ABTA members specialising in gap year travel have reported increases of more than 30% in bookings over the last twelve months with Australasia, South East Asia, the USA and South America being the most popular destination choices. Some are also reporting an increase in interest in trips of a shorter duration.

Thailand has taken the top spot from last year’s number one destination Australia which is now at number two. Other destinations of note include South Africa and Argentina which have entered the top 10 this year.

The top gap year destinations reported by ABTA Members specialising in gap years are:

  1. Thailand

6. USA

  1. Australia

7. Cambodia

  1. Vietnam

8. South Africa

  1. Peru

9. Argentina

  1. New Zealand

10. India


Volunteering and social awareness

Amongst the most popular trips for gappers are volunteering trips. ABTA Members have reported that gap year students regard these not simply as a way to boost their CVs but as a way of making a real difference and a positive contribution. Example trips include beach conservation in South America, forest conservation in Madagascar and medical internships in South Africa.  

Gaining work experience more important than partying

The clichéd image of a gap year as a year-long party is rapidly losing ground as many use it as an opportunity to gain work experience either on internships or in paid employment. ABTA Members have reported that “partying” is the least important factor for people when booking a gap year, with students apparently planning for the future and seeing gap years as a way to boost their CV in a competitive job market.

Adventures, activity and cultural tours

According to ABTA Members, activity tours including trekking, white water rafting and biking, plus cultural tours to historic and fascinating cities are all proving popular this year. Many gappers prefer the security and company offered by travelling as part of an organised group and they find it a great way to share experiences with like-minded people and make new friends.

Nikki White, Director of Destinations and Sustainability, ABTA said: “For many young people, a gap year will be the first time that they have spent a significant time away from home and it should provide positive experiences and memories of a lifetime. However, foreign travel can present a range of challenges, particularly in less affluent countries where many gappers will be travelling. It is incredibly important that gap year students do their research and plan thoroughly so that they can travel in safety and get the most out of their experiences. Gap year students often pay out large sums of money to specialist companies and it is really important that they book with a reputable company to avoid disappointment and ensure that their money is well spent. ”

ABTA’s top tips for gappers

  • Check with your travel company and with the Foreign Office for “dos and don’ts” and “no go” areas for the country you’re visiting.  They will also tell you about visa requirements and how to get relevant visas, which is especially important if you’re going to be working.

  • Choose a reputable gap year travel company with a good track record that is a member of a trade association, such as ABTA, so you have a point of contact and support should anything go wrong.

  • Get a good quality travel insurance policy and make sure it covers the activities you want to take part in as well as the length of time you will be away. The cheapest policies will not necessarily provide you with the level of cover needed for a lengthy stay overseas, or for extreme sports. 

  • Research local customs and culture before you go to understand more about the host destination and avoid unwittingly causing offence.

  • Make sure you’ve had all the necessary jabs and inoculations; do this at least eight weeks before you travel.

  • If you’re going to a country where malaria is prevalent always take anti-malarial medication and always finish the course.

  • If you’re volunteering, think carefully about the kind of activity you’ll be doing, especially if the volunteering is with children. It is recommended you use an operator that matches you with suitable projects. Check that they do background checks when volunteers are working with children or vulnerable adults and that they will provide you with necessary support when you are abroad.

  • Working, volunteering or learning a skill overseas will be enriching as well as challenging. It will most certainly be good for your personal and professional development.

  • If you’re travelling to a non-English speaking country take some basic language lessons before you go and take a phrase book and pocket dictionary in the local language, you’ll find it much easier to fit in when you first arrive. If you’re going to rely on a mobile device for translation, check the costs involved.

  • Tell your bank where and when you’ll be travelling to reduce the risk of them stopping your card.

  • Keep electronic copies of all your important travel documents and leave a copy with someone at home.

  • Keep a list of emergency contact numbers in a safe and accessible place.

  • Above all, when looking at the different options, go with the project and adventure that feels right to you.

For more information visit www.abta.com/gapyear

¹ Source UCAS

17 August 2017