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How to Choose a Gap Year: A Buyers Guide!

How can you be sure your impact will be positive? Chosse wisely...

Google ‘gap years’ (as I do….ALOT!) and you will find yourself entering the sometimes shady but always inspirational world of overseas volunteering. Hundreds of different and equally worthy looking NGO’s, grass roots charities gap year companies vie for your attention whilst appealing for volunteers to assist with exciting projects in far-flung places, all at varying prices…

Now let’s be honest, we all search for a bargain and we all love a deal so the quest to find the cheapest option is always in the back of the mind. But when it comes to making your choice about something as important and ‘one-off” as taking a gap year make sure you read and compare the small print – what’s really included and what are you really going to be doing on a day to day basis and with how much support?

How can you be sure your impact will be positive? Choose wisely...

When picking a gap year company to travel with, it’s important to do your research. Don’t be lured in by the first exciting trip promising you the world. Shop around and ask a lot of questions so that you can get a clear and honest view of what is actually on offer. It is also important not to be too focused on the price at first. You will obviously have a budget to stick to but don’t write a company off because they are slightly more expensive or let a much cheaper one trump them. It may be that once you have asked the relevant questions you realise that you will be getting much more for your money and taking part in a much better trip if you go with the more expensive one. This isn’t always the case but certainly something worth bearing in mind.

Make sure that whichever gap year company or organisation you eventually pick is having a positive impact in the area that you’re going to. You don’t want to find yourself in another country in a town or city in which the local community doesn’t like the company in question as you’re going to be met with resentment and animosity. This can be found out by asking the right questions when initially applying. Are volunteers actually needed in the area? Where does the money you pay actually go- are the projects well supported? The last thing you want is to be teaching in a local school and find that the regular teacher has been fired in order to accommodate for volunteers. You need to be assured that you are helping the locals rather than replacing them and taking much needed jobs.

Self proclaimed ‘Queen of the Gap Year’ Alice took her first great leap into the unknown at 18, heading to East Africa to work as a hostess in a remote Kenyan Safari Camp with gap year organisation ‘The Leap’. Six wonderful months and several run-ins with Hungry Hippos later and she was hooked. After graduating in 2006 she high tailed it to South America to ‘shake her jungle coconuts’ once again, joining a team of Leap volunteers in the Amazon Rainforest and working on a mix of conservation and teaching projects with the local indigenous community. Since then her backpack has barely touched the ground! Now she’s living the dream by working for the volunteer organisation that opened her eyes to the world and spends her days planning life-changing adventures for others…and of course road testing gap years in Africa, Asia and Latin America whenever she can. It’s tough, but someone’s gotta do it! Alice manages a daily blog for Leap volunteers.

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