18 Aug

ABTA reveals top gap year destinations and advises British teenagers to plan thoroughly

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 looking forward to planning the once in a lifetime adventure of a gap year.

In 2015, 29,000 students¹ deferred their university entry and in this year tens of thousands of school and college leavers will also be deferring and many of these will be taking a gap year trip before starting their courses in 2017.

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 20% 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.

There have been some winners and losers over the last twelve months with Australia retaining its number one spot but Thailand has taken over from New Zealand at number two and Colombia, Laos and Cambodia have entered the top 10. Countries to keep an eye on for 2017 include Japan and Indonesia, both of which having seen growth in popularity in the last twelve months.

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


6. New Zealand


7. Laos and Cambodia


8. Colombia


9. East Africa


10. India

Gaining work experience and funds

With an eye on budgets and on their CVs, working overseas – including internships -remains the single most popular activity for gap year travellers. With tuition fees to pay off and an increasingly competitive jobs market, working on a gap year means turning up to college with money in your pocket, prevents there being a twelve-month hole in your work experience and also helps to maximise time spent overseas. It is also a great way to meet local people and experience different cultures.  

Other popular gap year activities

After work experience and job placements, the next most popular trips for gappers are volunteering trips. These include working on a wide range of projects including renewable energy in South America, marine conservation in Madagascar and wildlife and ecological research in South Africa.  Gap years are also about having fun with activity tours, including trekking, white water rafting and biking, cultural tours to some of the world’s most historic and fascinating cities, all on offer. Many gappers prefer the security and company offered by travelling as part of an organised group, particularly if they are travelling on their own. It is also a great way to make friends with like-minded people and share your gap year experiences.


Nikki White, Director of Destinations and Sustainability, ABTA said: “A Gap year should be one of the most memorable and formative events in the lives of the thousands of young people who will be heading off overseas in the next twelve months. Foreign travel can present a range of challenges, especially in less affluent countries and it is incredibly important that gap year students do their research and plan in advance so they can travel safely and get the most out of their experiences. Gap year students also often pay out large sums of money to specialist companies and it is really important that they ensure their money is well spent and placed with a reputable company.”

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. 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.
  • 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 and 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