It’s that time of year again. University students all over the country are about to face their biggest wake up call to date. As the end of term approaches the realisation will set in that mornings do exist, daytime television is actually appalling and student debt has become a reality.

Gap year experiences -

Gap year experiences

The next step for graduates is crucial and there are plenty of directions to take, some more appealing than others. Firstly, there’s the stay at home and ‘sell your soul’ to a temping agency option or perhaps duller still, noisy factory production line work, which so many graduates are forced into when their academic careers finish. A second option would have been to secure a place on a prestigious graduate training scheme before leaving university but not every student is that fortunate or organised!

A third option is to leave the country. And let’s face it, if the alternative is packing chickens in a temperature controlled warehouse on a dull industrial estate, the whole overseas ‘thing’ suddenly becomes a lot more appealing.

Factory Work - Saving to Travel

Factory work – a bit monotonous but can help save for your trip!

Some argue that a gap year spent travelling is simply just blatant avoidance of responsibility and ‘getting a proper job’, whilst others understand the benefits of independent travel and would strongly recommend it before embarking on a career.

The benefit of travelling as soon as you graduate is that you are not tied into a job because once your career starts its harder and a little scarier to leave if you’ve been receiving a salary and have commitments.

The more places you see the more confident and more open minded you become. It broadens your horizons to the point where you say to yourself ‘I could go and live somewhere else’ and you actually have the courage to go ahead and do it.

Taking a gap year abroad can also boost your skillset for future employers, for example, your organisational skills are improved by co-ordinating your own travel itinerary and interpersonal skills develop because you’re meeting new people day in day out. It also gives you a little bit more time to build character and confidence.

Travelling the globe does require some brain work. The early decisions’ concerning flights and routes form the rough direction of your entire trip. The beginning is also the most expensive part. Common routes for fresh faced graduate travellers are Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore then onto Australasia, some then choose to return via North America and some come back via South America which is becoming more popular. A lot of people include Australia and New Zealand because they’ve heard fantastic stories from family and friends and they can even work out there and there’s no language barriers, although a thick kiwi accent can be tricky to understand at times!

The price can cause a few headaches but savings can be made depending on the time you travel the price depends on the time of year you travel. Fuel prices can dramatically affect prices when you consider how much aviation fuel you’ll be using to encircle the globe. However a RTW (round-the-world ticket) is still good value. Shop around for prices and you could get a multi-stop London – New York – Miami – LA – NZ – Sydney – Hong Kong – London from £899 including tax. Prices tend to go up in November and December but it’s actually not bad value of you compare that to a two week package holiday these days.

As cash is in usually in scarce supply on graduation, the ability to work abroad is more of a necessity than a choice. True, the jobs may be menial, but topping up your tan on a vineyard or serving drinks whilst flirting with hordes of foreigners in distant climes has to be more appealing than the night shift at the local chicken factory. Working holiday visa’s provide a great way to interact with the locals in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where cash earned can help fund further onward travel.

Volunteering abroad is also becoming a popular post-university choice. It provides a great way to gain relevant work experience which employers view very highly indeed. More and more people are buying up volunteer project packages because they want to give something back to the local communities.  Programmes can vary from graduating journalists working on newspapers in India or earth science graduates working on conservation projects in South America. Volunteer gap years don’t always have to be related to their studies either – a lot of people just want to do something different like working in local schools or orphanages in Africa.

Parents, quite rightly, are instantly concerned about safety where overseas travel is concerned. The risk element seems exaggerated when you’re in a foreign country yet people forget that crime and illness are part of everyday life at home. Muggings can happen anywhere in the world so you’ve just got to have your wits about you. Apply the laws of common sense, don’t be going walking off in the dark on your own or flashing a camera for all to see. The moment you feel compromised leave the situation, its much better to be safe than sorry.

If the thought of being mugged does put you or your parents off, remember that a backpacking trip doesn’t have to be independent. Plenty of tours are available to provide a little more security and peace of mind. They’re cost effective and give you the opportunity to meet fellow travellers. Tours including transport and accommodation are available for just £19 per day in Asia.

On the sensible front, every traveller should take gap year travel insurance. At £330 for the whole year it’s good value, less than £1 per day. In the unfortunate circumstance where you need to use it, you’re covered for the important things, even dental treatment and doctors’ fees. Keep your valuables on you at all times and exercise the same kind of caution you would do if you were in a hostel in Wales for example. Gap year travellers should check the foreign and commonwealth office website for the latest travel advice if they are in any doubt over security issues.

To make a trip worthwhile it depends on what you choose to do with all that ‘free time.’ The stereotypical backpacker of yesteryear was a long haired, shabbily dressed and hygienically challenged youth who did very little with their time apart from surf, play guitar and get drunk. Nowadays backpacking is becoming a more fulfilling occupation and one which can have a very positive effect on your CV.

Just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean you’re not building on skills that will be attractive to future employers. Current research shows that employers want something more than what you’ve learned on your degree course. In terms of travelling, it’s important to identify the skills you’ve used during a gap year and sell them through your CV and don’t be afraid to give examples no matter what the context. Employers look for organisation, communication and team working skills – it doesn’t matter whether you gain those abroad or here in this country.

Travelling is not a silver lined option that will ensure you return home as Superman allowing you to walk straight into your dream job. Stay realistic and accept there are dangers associated with gap year travel. The major danger of taking a year out is that you’ve been out of the job market for a year and another is wasting the year, you may also forget technical information which is important especially on vocational courses.

Another factor to bear in mind is the economic health of the job market itself. Companies recruitment needs can change like the wind so monitoring the situation whilst you’re away is highly recommended. Job market changes are something a gap year graduate must seriously consider, but young people are luckier these days, you can take your laptop away and access internet cafés, you’re not totally out of touch. You can even apply for jobs while you’re away. Simply make clear your situation and state when you’d be available for interview.

Answering the travel sceptics who perceive gap year travel as something which is detrimental the CV, is a task that rests with the individual graduate. Travelling the globe, in its various forms, can be a very beneficial experience and has many advantages including character building, developing self-organisation skills and heightening cultural awareness.

These benefits are conditioned however, by the manner in which the year is conducted. If you’re planning a year out and worried about the long term effects on your career, stand back and ask yourself ‘what is it going to add to my CV?’ Don’t assume that taking a gap year will make you a better person or improve your chances of employment manipulate it into a situation where it will.

To sum up the benefits of gap year it boils down to the fact that you grow as a person, self-confidence improves massively and helps you look at situations when you get back in a different light. It’s a great learning experience and helps you become more independent.

Even if you’re slightly curious about tasting authentic local Thai food, camping out in the Australian outback, skydiving over glaciers in NZ, exploring Macchu Picchu at dawn, playing beach footy with the Brazilians (list not exhaustive) then you should seriously consider popping in to your local travel agent straight away.