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
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
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
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.
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
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
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet