A gap year guide for parents

A group of British and American gap year volunteers in Chile, standing in front of a glacier and a mountain. I hope this blog might help parents new to the concept of a gap year, having experienced the gap year as a parent and also as founder of Oyster Worldwide, an established UK based gap year provider.

What benefits are there in having a gap year?

For some parents, hearing that your son or daughter wants to take a gap year is great news. Stepping off the conveyor belt that takes a school leaver to higher education is a great opportunity to learn life skills such as independence, confidence, problem solving. A gap year involving travel can help understand different cultures, attitudes and often leaves the young traveller appreciative of how good life at home really is. Having a gap year should help settling into university or employment a lot easier than coming straight from school. A well planned gap year should include more than just experience and ideally a skill such as learning a language or learning to cook. Many young people gain a qualification such as a ski instructor qualification a teaching certificate such as TEFL. Finally, a constructive gap year can help when writing a CV and gives any job candidate lots of experience to draw on.

Whilst the idea of gap year for a son or daughter sounds good in principal, it soon raises a number of questions and possibly concerns that I shall try and answer.

Will my son or daughter be safe on a gap year?

In general terms the “gapper” should be no more at risk than being at home. Potentially there are greater risks when travelling beyond the western world but these are partly offset by some of the activities a young person might enjoy at home, e.g. driving, drinking, partying. Signing up to a structured gap year with an organisation for at least part of the trip should minimise the risk. It falls to the organisation to assess risk, set safety standards and offer appropriate support when in country. Independent backpacking/travel holds potentially more risks than an organised gap year because the risks are less quantifiable, however with good planning, preparation and a sense of caution there should be no cause for concern if you avoid travelling alone.

Travel insurance is a boring but important part of making a trip a success. Good gap year organisations should be knowledgeable about the necessary cover and recommend particular policies. Generally you get what you pay for when it comes to insurance and cheap policies have a high excess. Checking out the arrangements an insurer has for emergency repatriation is important.

All travellers should use the free services of their government’s foreign department. In the case of UK citizens the Foreign Office Travel Aware campaign and consular support in country are excellent.

Will I know where they are and how often can I expect to be in touch?

There are so few parts of the world that are beyond the reach of wifi and a mobile signal it’s unlikely that you will be out of touch for long. If your son or daughter is travelling with an organisation, you have a little added peace of mind that you can the organisation and explain you haven’t heard news for a while- at Oyster Worldwide, we are very used to this. Gone are the days of queuing up in a post office overseas to pick up a letter sent to C/O Poste Restante, Bangkok, Thailand as today’s parents might have done. Times have changed and families now expect to be in touch every day regardless of where family members are located. The flip side to expecting regular contact is that it can be alarming when communications suddenly dry up for no apparent reason. Phone signals can fail anywhere in the world as can power supplies. It is more than likely there was a good reason for radio silence. It’s worth considering downloading the free phone app Find Friends that enables you to pinpoint exactly where anyone who has signed up is located. A young person may not be that happy to be tracked into a dodgy looking bar 24/7! If they don’t mind you tracking them it will give a parent almost total peace of mind.

Final words…..I hope the points in this blog have reassured you a little. It is rare that anyone gets into serious difficulty on a gap year and it is very common to hear it is the best year of their lives – something that is hard to bear as parents when you haven’t been round as much!

Oyster Worldwide offer a wide variety of options from paid work in ski resorts to volunteer sports coaching programmes to animal conservation projects. If you wanted some friendly, no obligation advice, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Roger Salwey, on +44 1892 770771

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