Student life

A Parent's Guide To Gap Years

The results are in. The kids have worked hard all year to get the grades they wanted and are now toying with the idea of planning a gap year. While UCAS is reporting a much higher university application rate following the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s unlikely to be a big surprise if your child wants to take some time out of education to explore the world.

But with so much to think about, where do you even start when it comes to planning a year of travel? And what impact might COVID-19 have on my child’s gap year plans?

To help you out, we’ve pulled together a parent’s guide to gap years that provide helpful information about how your kids can make the most of their gap year, without breaking the bank!

Is a gap year a good idea?

When the subject of gap years comes up, the first thing most parents ask themselves is, “Is it a good idea for my child to defer entry to uni for a year or two?”

There’s no definitive answer to this, however there are a few things that should be considered before your child makes the decision to take a gap year:

  • Are they dismissing the idea of further education because they’re burnt out? Remember, they’ve just been through a rigorous exam process at school or college and may need a break from education. Taking a gap year may give them the opportunity to switch off that part of their brain for a while. Instead, they could spend their gap year working on their social skills, interacting with different people and learning from their experiences.

  • Are they taking a gap year because they have no idea what to do next? At the age of 18 or 19, who does? A gap year may give them the time to dabble in areas of work that they might not have been exposed to before, or to try their hand at volunteering. Gaining some life experience on their gap year might give them a clearer idea of what they want from their future career.

  • It could boost their confidence and prepare them for the real world. Of course, you’ll want to help your kids out a little while they’re travelling – whether it’s a money transfer every few months, or a phone call whenever they’re starting to feel a bit homesick. But ultimately, a gap year could help them to become more independant. They’ll need to make decisions about their accommodation, budgeting, and managing their own time effectively to make the most out of their trip, something that will pay dividends when they attend university or apply for jobs in the future.

How could COVID-19 affect my child’s gap year?

Let’s not forget that we are living in a post-global pandemic world - so your child may want to think carefully about where they go for their gap year, as well as what activities might be available once they’re there.

Depending on when your child wants to depart, they could find travel is restricted to their chosen destination – they should check the FCO website for up-to-date travel guidance, including the list of countries where travel is restricted to ‘essential’ travel only.

Luckily you don’t have to go to the other end of the world to get some valuable life experience. Volunteering abroad is a very popular gap year activity - so if your child unable to travel to their destination of choice, why not have a look into more local community projects and volunteering opportunities?

How much will a gap year cost?

Undoubtedly, taking a gap year will cost a considerable amount. So, this will be a valuable lesson in managing money for them. Ask them to create a spreadsheet that outlines all of the potential costs involved with several different gap year options, as this will help them think more realistically about the plausibility of their trip.

If they’re working to a tight budget, there are some cheaper options when it comes to accommodation and internal travel, so do your research before making any concrete decisions. It may also be worth considering a specialist gap year travel program, as some of these will include accommodation and volunteering opportunities as part of the package. Just make sure that you thoroughly check the tour operator’s background and understand the likelihood of incurring any hidden costs.

Calculate the total amount they have to spend on a gap year, and help them to stick to it. They might need to shorten their trip to stay within budget. If this is the case, then it’s important to manage their expectations and make this clear from the outset. It may be worth suggesting that they take on part-time work whilst they’re travelling. By working their way around the world, they might even be able to stay on their gap year a little bit longer.

How to plan a gap year with the kids

Finding the best gap year programs

Does your child have an idea of what they would like to do while they’re away? If so, encourage them to research their options thoroughly, and make a note of any program fees that might bump up their overall costs. Finding the best gap year program for them will take time and patience.

There are essentially four gap year activity options for them to choose from:

1. Work

Working abroad is the best way for your children to make sure that they’re financially stable for the entirety of their stay, and will give them a taster of managing their own rent and bills. They might even be able to save a little, which will come in handy if they decide to attend university upon their return.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering programs can provide a unique experience that they will remember for years to come. It’ll look great on their CV as well.

3. Learn a new skill

This may encourage the kids to delve into something new they’ve never concentrated their studies on before, like learning a new language.

4. Travel

Planning a year of travel will inevitably be the most expensive option, so you may have to help them do some careful budget planning.

Once they’ve started looking at options, check out the online reviews. This will reveal any glaring issues with the company that could be cause for concern.

Take a look at the company’s website in detail. What are their values and background? How long have they been operating? This may play a part in whether you’re happy for your children to take part in a pre-designed gap year program. Gap year travel programs should usually have a support team on hand to help those who are joining them too.

How to find gap year accommodation

Hostels? Apartment rental? Shared housing? Planning gap year accommodation can be tricky, especially if your intrepid traveller is going it alone. You’ll want to know that they’re safe and living in a clean, healthy environment. Here are a few tips to help you and the kids put an action plan together:

  • You don’t have to cringe at the thought of hostels anymore! In fact, modern hostels are clean, and pleasant environments for the kids to stay in on their travels. Shared hostel rooms could even mean an opportunity for them to meet some new people.
  • Are they looking for an apartment rental? Bear in mind that it can be difficult to book an apartment abroad without physically viewing it, so they might want to book a hostel for the week while they hunt for more permanent accommodation. They can use the week to get their bearings, ask the locals for some advice, and find somewhere that could be a good base for the rest of the year.
  • Nervous about them living alone? If they’re taking part in a group program, it’s very likely that there will be other kids in the exact same boat. Encourage your child to find social media groups associated with their gap year travel program so they can get in touch with the other kids they’ll be travelling with. This is a great way for them to make friends before they even arrive, and will assuage any fears you may have about them living alone.
Staying connected when taking a gap year

Just because they’re flying the nest doesn’t mean your child won’t want to stay in regular contact. They may even feel overwhelmed on occassion if it’s their first time away from home, so it’s important to find the most cost-effective contact method before they head off.

Explore the options of your child taking their personal phone travelling with them, or buying a cheap Pay As You Go (PAYG) phone once they’ve arrived. If they’re staying in one place, a PAYG phone may be the cheapest option, although they’ll also want to take the time to understand the potential costs involved with data roaming while they’re abroad.

If they are taking their own phone, don’t forget to check it’s still protected abroad. Endsleigh’s mobile phone insurance will protect your child’s phone up to 90 days worldwide against theft and accidental damage, with 24 hour replacement once their claim is approved (if stolen or unrepairable) – so there won’t be any excuses for not staying in touch!

Once they’ve sorted out a phone, don’t forget to schedule in regular video and phone calls so you can hear all about their travels. But remember - they’ll be having the time of their life, so don’t panic if they miss a call or two!

Gap year safety

After all this planning and budgeting, we know that the one thing on your mind as they step onto the plane will be their safety. And even though you’ve bought them all the travel gear they need, and prepped them on the importance of haggling, you’ll still want to know that they’re safe and sound.

Here are some top gap year safety tips that could help to keep your kids safe while travelling abroad:

  • Although keeping costs down is likely be a priority for you, it might be worth slipping them some extra cash so they can afford to stay in a safer neighbourhood.
  • Pack them off with a theft-proof bag that zips at the back, rather than the front. This will make it more difficult for opportunistic thieves to access their belongings without alerting them.
  • Invest in a sturdy doorstop. When travelling from one place to the next, simply putting a doorstop on the inside of their room will give them an additional element of security.
  • Make sure they have sufficient gap year insurance in place* to protect themselves, their gadgets and their belongings. Check their policy before they make a purchase to ensure it covers every eventuality.

*Please note that any new policy purchased after 10am on Wednesday 18 March 2020 will not cover any cancellation claim in relation to coronavirus. This includes, but is not limited to, cancellation due to your diagnosis of coronavirus, FCDO advice or flights being cancelled. We will continue to cover any medical claims because of coronavirus if you are travelling to an area where no FCDO advice against travel exists.

Find out more about gap year insurance.

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