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The old gap year order has changed. Thanks to recent tuition fee rises, the gap year’s shorter, punchier younger sister was born – ‘the snap year’ – and it’s here to stay.

We spoke to six companies offering traditional gap year products, with five reporting increased demand for shorter programmes. Louise Prior of STA Travel told us they’d noticed their clientele was embarking on ‘shorter blasts of travel,’ with an average trip length of just 54 days. Similarly, Stuart Lodge of roundtheworldflights.com told us of ‘a 22 per cent increase in the amount of passengers travelling round the world for between 2–3 months – suggesting people are cramming many highlights into a shorter time.’

Not only is the ‘snap year’ shorter in length – it’s also a more serious undertaking than the backpacking trips of yore, with volunteering and CV boosting internships proving popular among people soon to set out into a tough jobs market.

There are signs that students are skipping traditional gap years to take snap years in their holidays – gap year organiser Real Gap reported an increase in summer demand among students and school leavers alike. Tough economic times mean it’s harder to afford staying away for long periods for students and grown-up gappers alike – but Richard Oliver, Chief Executive of Year Out Group, questions the financial logic of the snap year.

‘I think the trend for shorter gap years has been driven by economics, but in my view, it’s a false economy’ says Oliver. ‘The flight will cost the same if you’re going for a week or for a year – but once you’re there it’s likely the living costs will be significantly less than staying at home. I think employers want to see people staying for longer. They want to see commitment.’

Oliver also points out that, in that business-oriented mind frame, new countries need to come into the picture. ‘If you’re going into business and you’re working in a global market, you’re going to need knowledge of one of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China. I’d hope we see these countries becoming big gap-year destinations’, he notes.

Traditional gap year locations
Ecuador has long been the preferred location for a Spanish language immersion. ‘Unlike some other South American countries, in Ecuador the language is fairly close to European Spanish,’ explains Alice Baines of The Leap. ‘That makes Ecuador the perfect introduction.’

For environmentally conscious gappers, South Africa is in the top of their destination wish list. ‘Volunteers might expect to be working in destinations where conservation is needed to preserve species,’ says Lara Solomon of Responsible Travel.

Prime beaches and inexpensive travel has made Thailand a star in many gap year’s plans. ‘This country has always been a key destination for gap year students and is still going strong – as is the whole of Southeast Asia.’ Will Jones, I-to-I.

Up-and-coming gap year locations
Colombia is the midst of a tourism rebirth. ‘A country we’re being asked for more and more as the political situation is starting to stabilise,’ says Louise Prior of STA Travel. ‘There are some truly incredible beaches and friendly locals.’

Neighboring Venezuela is also starting to show up in backpackers’ itineraries. ‘A lack of infrastructure makes it a tricky destination to navigate for independent backpackers – but it’s perfect for organised travel,’ says Alice Baines of The Leap.

To experience Asia at its best and escape the crowds, travel experts are recommending Nepal. ‘If you want to explore Asia, we would say head to Nepal,’ advises Anne Smellie of Oyster Worldwide. ‘It’s a stunning country which has preserved its culture.’

Tom Hall is Lonely Planet’s UK-based web editor. He can be found tweeting about travel issues on @tomhalltravel.

This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.

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