As students celebrate or commiserate their A-level results, thoughts will be turning to their next move. While many will be heading off to university, an increasing number are opting to take a year out, and travel plans are top of their agenda.
Last year, ABTA reported a 20% increase in bookings for agencies specialising in gap-year travel. Australia was rated the number one destination, followed by Thailand.
Tour operator Oyster Worldwide, who specialise in gap-year and career-break trips, say animal welfare projects are most popular with school and college leavers, with most booking four-week trips.
Similarly, STA Travel has seen a growth of interest in experiential travel, ‘voluntourism’ and animal welfare projects.
For anyone toying with the idea of a gap year, here are some of the options available.
1. Turtle conservation in Costa Rica
Turtles nest along the coastline of this tiny Central American country, famed for its biodiversity. But industrial fishing and egg poaching has caused a decline in the population. Contribute to the work of a conservation group by spreading awareness in local communities and helping to safely hatch turtle eggs.
How much: One week costs £879; additional weeks cost £260 per week. Flights extra. Available July-December for up to 12 weeks. Book through oysterworldwide.com
2. Overland across Africa
If you want to see the world on a shoestring, travelling by truck on an escorted tour is one of the best (and safest) options. This epic 22-week expedition travels from Morocco through West Africa then on to Cape Town in South Africa. Be prepared for bad roads, extreme climates and lots of adventure. Tag on a volunteer project at a wildlife reserve.
How much: £4,850, including flights. Volunteer project is £755 for two weeks. Book through oasisoverland.co.uk
3. Learn how to dive in Madagascar
Use time wisely by learning a new skill, with the advantage of studying in an exotic location. Spend 10 weeks on Nosy Komba island becoming an advanced PADI qualified diver, while also doing marine conservation work. There is also a chance to explore other areas of the coast of this vast Indian Ocean island.
How much: £3,648, including all tuition, accommodation and food. Flights extra. Four or six-week stays also possible. Departures in January, April and September. Book through theleap.co.uk.
4. Teach English and learn yoga in India
The meditative coastal city of Cochin, Kerala, is the setting for this 12-week programme, which includes daily Hatha yoga lessons plus work with volunteer projects teaching English in schools, or helping with women’s empowerment projects. Spend weekends relaxing on a houseboat or visiting tea plantations.
How much: £2,317, although shorter stays are also possible. Flights extra. Available various dates throughout the year. Book through volunteeringjourneys.com.
5. Work as a tour rep for Mark Warner
A great option for those who haven’t had time to save money, these paid positions offer an opportunity to see the world while making a financial gain. The activity holiday company has summer positions in the Med and winter ski seasons in France, Italy and Austria. Some employees love it so much, they sign up for both seasons. They hire childcare staff, watersports instructors, tennis coaches, cycle coaches, chefs and general resort staff.
How much: Nothing! They pay you. Find a list of vacancies at markwarner.co.uk/recruitment2/.