Going straight to Uni straight after A-Levels can be an
anticlimax. Everyone promises you're going to have your mind blown
by the excitement of new friends and parties - but returning to
sitting with books and notes in the library feels suspiciously like
an achievement treadmill. You should be thrilled by studying your
new subject - not bored by it.
Gap years, then, can be a perfect chance to take a well-earned
break. University will wait for you (unlike most jobs) and, at this
point in your life, you have no mortgage, kids or pets to tie you
down. These three gap year suggestions won't break the bank - but
will change your life.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic
Farms (WWOOF) is a membership charity that was set up to help city
dwellers learn farming skills by volunteering on organic,
biodynamic and communal farms around the world. You work for free,
but the farm gives you your meals and board. For anyone who
harbours 'Good Life' fantasies - maybe hoping to set up an
allotment or discover permaculture - this is the perfect
opportunity to try farming without leasing a ranch and a tractor
and spending £5,000 on fertiliser!
American Hannah Dunby (20) says 'woofing' for a month on her gap
year was the best fun she ever had. She joined a communal farm in
Hawaii which grew corn and vegetables to sell in a farm shop to
"It was paradise", she told me. "In Hawaii, stuff just - grows!
The only work I had to do was picking corn for a couple of hours a
day - I'm pretty small, but it was hardly strenuous. And then?
After a delicious homegrown meal in the canteen? I spent my time
exploring Hawaii, going to the beach, watching stunning sunsets and
making new friends!"
But Ben Davies (25) was not so lucky when he went to a farm in
Fife, Scotland. "Because I'm an epileptic", he said, "the owners
refused to let me use the bath - health and safety nonsense.
Because there was just that one bath, I couldn't wash all month!
And not in a 'hearty country way' - just in a smelly way. The work
wasn't so hard, but I felt trapped - I didn't have a car, so I
couldn't explore my surroundings."
If you think the differences between their experiences was just
the difference between Hawaii and Scotland, never fear - once
you've become a member of WWOOF, you choose where you apply, and
can do your research before you get there.
Inter-rail is the greatest European travel opportunity ever
invented - yet it's still woefully underused in Britain. In 1972,
the train companies of Europe collaborated to offer cheap travel
with 'interrail' tickets. Now, under-26-year old European citizens
can buy one month's unlimited train travel around Europe for £359.
The catches? You can't use the ticket to travel in your own country
(so you'll have to pay for Eurostar) and some countries charge
"I'm always sick on ferries, I find cars claustrophobic and I
hate planes" says inter-railer Lara Bradshaw (21). "But I love
trains. You get to watch the countries merge and the scenery change
as you travel. You also see local people on trains - like the guy I
saw eating a whole lemon, skin and all, in Sorrento, or the Dutch
emos I started a chat with."
But doesn't the cycle of new cities and hostels get you down
after a few weeks on the road? "No - you sleep on the train!" Laura
insists. "Really - you can pay a bit extra for a 'couchette' (bed)
on overnight trains, and you're rocked to sleep as you go. It's
cheaper than a hostel, and you arrive in a new city refreshed!"
Chinese, Korean and Japanese school pupils, university students
and adults are all desperate to improve their English. If you're
willing to work for a pittance and sleep in a tiny concrete flat,
there are dozens of agencies that can organise a teaching job for
"China's not a foreign country - it's a foreign planet", says
Sally Heywood(20), who taught English in a small rural Chinese
school for a year. "I really tried to learn Mandarin - but it's
ludicrously difficult for Westerners. So when you teach those 30
kids 'baa baa black sheep' or 'heads, shoulders knees and toes',
seeing their achievement is just magical!"
Sally explained that the children she taught weren't learning
English from scratch - they had English vocabulary, but needed to
learn grammar and sentence construction. Crossing the language
barrier was no challenge with such well- behaved children, she
says, and making up lessons was creative and fun.
I ask Sally how she found Communist culture.
"Weird stuff goes on in China, I don't deny it", she says.
"There's a lot of 'saving face' - where people lie to make things
sound better. But meeting individuals - making amazing bonds with
children and local people - was a once in a lifetime experience. I
still email my new friends, and I can't wait to go back to visit