17 Aug

Our gap years: Lesson learnt and wish lists

From receiving your A levels results to taking a career break, going on a gap year or extended break can be a life changing experience. This week ABTA released the top ten Gap Year destinations giving advice and travel tips to future ‘gappers’.

Taking a gap year or extended break can be exciting, daunting, and confusing all at the same time. Here at ABTA we have reminisced on our own gap years and shared stories of what we have learnt.

Like us, you may be asking questions such as, is the destination safe? Should you learn another language? Do you need vaccinations? What cultural differences should you consider? How much should you pack? Or, maybe you are thinking of working or volunteering abroad whist travelling; what do you need to know?

So, here is the advice from our own ABTA colleagues who have taken a #gapyear.

Sabrina Regis-Rocher, ABTA’s Finance Manager

I went to Ghana in November 2009 with an association to volunteer abroad to teach maths.

I would certainly recommend this experience, it felt good to help local children who found happiness in the smallest of things, and I found it so fulfilling. My time went so fast and my time teaching local children made me forget about the stomach bug I certainly caught by contaminated drinking water. 

As a small tip, I would say check health advice for the country you are visiting. My memory of Ghana is that it is a very hot country and the hygiene standards were not always ideal. It is important to stay hydrated and drink only from closed water bottles. I drank from water bags, and I learnt to keep the plastic away from my mouth and I washed my hands regularly. 

My only regret is not staying for longer.

Daisy Parker, ABTA’s Campaign and Media Manager

After university, I spent several months backpacking in South America. The thing that really enhanced my travels was taking a Spanish course right at the start of the trip, it made getting around so much easier and it was great to be able to speak to people we met along the way.

My other tip for travellers would be to disconnect. I went travelling before smartphones so we would queue up for hostel computers to use email and Facebook, I think I phoned home once during my trip (sorry mum). Taking a step away from my normal life definitely made me more open to meeting new people and made my travels more rewarding.

Natassja Etherington, ABTA’s HR Assistant

Unfortunately, I never had a gap year as I would have been hit by the higher university fees, so I went to university straight after my A levels.

If I could have gone on one, I would have loved to visit New Zealand and Australia or take an extended break to road trip around the Scandinavian and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland and the islands around there.

The advice I got for travelling to new places was to do some research by searching for the destination’s hashtag on social media for recommendations.

Matt Robinson, ABTA’s Senior Marketing Consultant

When I travelled to Thailand, I visited Bangkok. My travel advice is to always plan and book accommodation in advance before heading half way across the world.

I also recommend listening to your travel guide as they have local knowledge. My mistake was getting into a Tuk-Tuk and asking for ‘a tour of the city’, which my guide advised against.

Instead of being taken around the main attractions of Bangkok, I was instead taken to a number of "export" jewellery shops. To explain - Tuk Tuk drivers often get paid fuel vouchers by the jewellers for getting customers to visit their shops. In the end, my tour took longer than expected and I wasted a morning going to shops I did not want to visit. So, if you visit Bangkok, always have a specific destination in mind before getting into a Tuk Tuk.

Esther Riske, ABTA’s Senior Membership & Financial Protection Officer

Many years ago, I supported myself to go backpacking in Penang and Kuala Lumpur. It was such good fun and liberating. I understand it can be scary but my advice is to bite the bullet and go! I learnt so much about life, other people and myself whilst travelling on my own.

I recommend people to visit Kuala Lumper’s Twin Towers, visit Petaling Market and if you go at Chinese New year, you should visit Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, which is spectacular.

My advice would also be to talk to the locals and at least attempt to speak to their language. They love it! It shows that you are interested.

Victoria Bacon, ABTA’s Director of Brand and Communications

I did an extended backpacking trip to Mexico and Costa Rica many moons ago, and I did loads of backpacking trips in my 20s. My two bits of travel advice are:

When you’re backpacking, every ounce of weight counts – a handy tip someone gave to me before I went was pack all of the clothes you intend to take, than take them out and reduce everything by a half. It was brilliant advice!

Also, when you’re backpacking in hot countries, there’s a lot of hanging around in the heat at bus stations, train stations, so get a decent hat, and one that you won’t be embarrassed by when you look back at your pics . . .it will feature a lot (at least mine did!).

Leo Evan’s Holmes, ABTA’s Facilities Manager

When I was 21, I took a 48 hour Greyhound coach trip from San Francisco to Austin, Texas. I met people from all walks of life and remember seeing lots of desert, reading lots of books and listening to tonnes of music. I also went through tight border controls, ate cheap homemade burritos and generally saw a different side to America. My advice if you are thinking of taking a coach through America is that you should be prepared for very little sleep.  

I would also suggest you look after your passport, learn to listen to your travel companion as you are bound to have small arguments and take fewer clothes than you think you need, especially if you travel somewhere hot.

Lizzie Andrews, ABTA’s PR and Media Executive

When I was at University, I studied abroad for six months in Australia and then took some time backpacking around the east coast before I went home. My top advice would be to buy good walking shoes as when I went to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales I climbed in flip-flops and had to do a lot of stopping! I would also do my research on the airport security controls, as you do not want to miss flight connections.

John de Vial, ABTA’s Director of Financial Protection and Financial Services

I had been spending my summers canoeing and mountain walking for a few years and after two years at college studying Engineering, I planned to go traveling with two friends before University.

I signed up for a working summer doing what I loved on adventure holiday camps around Exmoor. It was a great summer and made me realise that I needed to change course and follow a career in travel and tourism; I have never looked back as I have enjoyed every day.

I would highly recommend a gap year working or volunteering, particularly if you are unsure of your next move in these times of high course fees, something I did not have to worry about! Do your research and check out any volunteering organisations, but use the time to challenge yourself and your direction, as well as having fun and perhaps saving a little to smooth the finances for Uni.

If you have any questions about taking a gap year, let us know your questions by tweeting us @abtatravel with the hashtag #gapyear