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Fantastic gap year destinations

So you've finished your exams and fancy seeing some of the big, wide world before you think about your next career step. We've pulled together some all-important reading material (the enjoyable kind) about which destinations to put at the top of your list.

1. Peru

Now that you can fly direct from London to Lima with British Airways, Peru is more accessible than ever before, and it’s also wonderfully cheap. Expect to pay around £1 for a cerveza (beer to you and me). It’s a fantastic base for explorations further afield – hop on the Andean Explorer train in Cusco for a scenic train ride to Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian border. Or book a cheap flight with one of the many budget South American airlines to get to neighbouring countries like Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia. If you’re staying put, top attractions in Peru include Macchu Pichu, Colca Canyon, and the Amazon rainforest (the Tambopata Reserve has some wonderfully remote lodges).

Good news – you don’t need a visa to visit Peru from the UK. If you’re planning on working during your trip, it’s best to check visa requirements with the Consulate of Peru.

Peru's most popular attractions include Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu

2. Indonesia

Base yourself in Indonesia and you’ll be spoilt for choice. We recommend starting with some island-hopping in the Gilis. A bus-like ferry service constantly zips between these three, palm-fringed islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air). Sumatra is where to head for some volcanic action. Or head for Bali to meet fellow backpackers – the resort area of Kuta is packed with nightclubs and bars, although it’s worth avoiding in March, when Australia’s “spring breakers” fly over from Oz in their hordes. To escape the crowds, head north to Ubud, with its bright green paddy fields and traditional villages. Or make for Padangbai, a quaint fishing village which is a popular diving and snorkelling spot.

While you won’t need a visa for stays of up to 30 days in Indonesia, if you’re planning on staying longer or working in the country, you should apply for a visa online before your trip.

Bali is one of the world's most popular gap year destinations

3. USA

America’s got something for all types of traveller, and it’s ideal for those who want to spend their gap year earning some cash and gaining some work experience. Disney and Universal Studios’ theme parks both offer short-term employment opportunities if you fancy exploring sun-soaked California or Florida, but there are plenty of other ways to fund a year in the US, especially if you get your hands on a J-1 visa. This allows visitors to sign up for casual work in America, whether you’re hoping to spend the winter working as a ski lift operator or paying your way with a waitressing job. If you’re keen to take in as much of America as possible, opt for a USA Rail Pass, which can be purchased as a 15, 30, or 45-day ticket.

For shorter stays in the USA, British citizens will need to complete an online pre-registration form on the ESTA website, ideally at least 72 hours before your trip. This allows you to travel to the USA for up to 90 days.

USA

4. India

Whether you’re just passing through or planning to stay longer in this beautiful country, India is a great place to head on a gap year. It’s also fantastically cheap, and you can expect to spend even less in rural areas. Starting with the cities? Delhi’s Red Fort is a must-see, as is the Taj Mahal, which can be found in Agra (easily accessible from Delhi as a day trip). In Mumbai, squeeze in a visit to the Gateway of India and soak up the chaos of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, a UNESCO world heritage site. But there’s so much more to this magnificent country. Go hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas, hire a house boat in Kerala, or chill out on a tea plantation in Tamil Nadu in the South. It’s also worth remembering that Sri Lanka is just a short hop away.

You’ll need to apply for a visa before your trip and you can find out more on the Indian High Commission website. British citizens may be eligible to apply for a stay of up to 60 days in the country on a double entry e-tourist visa (e-TV). You can check eligibility criteria and apply online on the e-tourist visa site. 

Wondering where to find the world's best curries and the planet's most spectacular landscapes? That would be India

5. South Korea

South Korea is attracting a growing number of gap year travellers and many are now exploring well beyond the bright lights of Seoul. It’s a wonderful melange of hi-tech and tradition – you’ll find a lightning fast subway system alongside ancient temples and forested parks. Head further afield to discover the lesser-known top tourist attractions in South Korea. These include the fertile farmlands of Boseong, with their wooden houses (known as hanoks) and Damyang, known as the bamboo capital of South Korea. Food is cheap and delicious. Barbecued cuisine is especially popular, and no visit to the country is complete without a stop-off in a traditional tea house. Some of the best can be found in Seoul’s Insadong district.

UK passport holders can travel to South Korea for up to 90 days without a visa, but you’ll need to show your onward or return ticket on request. For longer stays or if you’re planning on working while you’re here, you should always check the visa requirements.

The capital of South Korea is Seoul, a vibrant city where history sits side by side with modernity

6. New Zealand

If you’re planning on working while in New Zealand, you’ll need to sign up for the Working Holiday Scheme Visa, but this can be applied for once you’re in the country. If you’re simply exploring, British passport holders can stay for up to six months without applying for a visa.

Once you’ve arrived, the only problem is that there’s simply too much to see. The North Island is where you’ll find the vibrant city of Auckland, as well as Wellington, the capital. It’s the perfect city for nature lovers, surrounded by water on three sides and filled with parks and nature reserves. Rotorua is where the adrenaline junkies head. Here you’ll find spurting geysers, pools of bubbling mud, and hot springs, ideal for soothing those post-bungee jump aches and pains. The South Island is where you’ll find the elegant city of Christchurch, along with the Abel Tasman National Park and the Otago Peninsula, famous for its penguin colonies. Who doesn’t love a penguin?

New Zealand is a fantastic gap year destination

7. Australia

Australia is another destination with more than enough to satisfy the appetites of wanderlust-fueled gap year travellers. If you’re aged between 18 and 30, it’s relatively easy to get hold of a 24-month working holiday visa. Bear in mind that if you’re considering bar work, you’ll need to undertake RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) training. You can find out more about working holiday visas on the Australian Visa Bureau website. If you’re not planning on working, you’re likely to have more travel-related flexibility, but you’ll still need to apply for a visa. The easiest way is to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) through your travel agent or airline, which costs around A$20.

Get between Australia’s cities using low cost flights offered by airlines like Jetstar and Virgin Blue. Or consider signing up for the road trip of a lifetime by opting for long term car rental from a specialist company like Travellers Autobarn. If you’re on a budget, Greyhound buses are an efficient, cheap way to get around. As for where to go? Popular destinations for backpackers include Byron Bay, Fraser Island, the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Sydney and the stretch of the East Coast between Sydney and Cairns.

Gap years in Australia will be an experience you'll remember for the rest of your life

8. Anywhere in Europe

Some of the world’s best destinations are right on your doorstep. Whether you fancy exploring the tourist-free cities of eastern Europe (Estonia and Latvia have become especially popular in recent years) or dream of spending the winter working in a ski resort in the French Alps, Europe offers a wide range of experiences for all types of traveller. If you’re planning on covering a lot of miles, opt for an Interrail pass, which can be purchased for individual countries or as a multi-destination pass. As an EU citizen, you’ll also be allowed to work in most European countries, although it’s imporant to research the rules and regulations in each country. Some, such as The Netherlands, will insist on a temporary residence permit. This can often be granted by the local police force. It’s always best to check entry requirements on the Foreign Office website before planning your trip.

Figuring how to travel around Europe on a gap year is easy

9. Thailand

Whether you want to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, or island-hop your way around the south, Thailand is a country built for backpacking. Don’t underestimate the biggest cities either. Metropolises like Bangkok and Hat Yai might seem daunting to begin with, but they’re great places to get your bearings and to connect with other backpackers. And if you’re after some beach time, consider skipping the crowded coastal regions like Phuket and Pattaya, and opt for lesser-known Trang, on the western coast instead. It’s less-developed and prices are low, and you’ll also find some of the country’s best national parks, including Hat Chao Mai National Park, which is famous for its turquoise waters and limestone outcroppings.

While you can stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa (which can be extended to 60 days), you’ll need to apply for a visa through the Royal Thai Embassy if you’re planning on working in the country or extending your trip.

Thailand has some of the world's best beaches, and it's also one of Asia's best destinations for divers

10. Japan

Japan isn’t the cheapest of countries, and while we’re not suggesting you spend your entire gap year here, if you’re spending even a short amount of time in Asia, Japan should definitely be top of your list. It’s easy to get around (and surprisingly cheap too – one week rail passes which cover the entire rail network cost around £200) and traditional ryokans (cheap, traditional inns) will seem like five-star hotels compared to those cramped hostels in Bangkok or Bali.

Save money by eating at the country’s vending machine restaurants, which can be found in most cities, but are especially common in Osaka and Tokyo. These backpacker-friendly restaurants have machines outside the entrance. Simply choose your dish by finding the image which tempts your tastebuds, press the button next to the photo, insert some Yen (a main course and drink will set you back around 1000 Yen/£7) and hand your ticket to a member of staff, who will guide you to your allocated seat. Suddenly McDonalds looks rather complicated.

You can stay in Japan for up to 90 days without a visa, but if you’re planning on working while you’re here, you’ll need to apply for a visa before you arrive, as visas aren’t issued once you’re in the country. The best way to do this is to contact the Japanese Embassy in the UK.

Japan is a great gap year destination

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Information correct as of 18th July 2019, obtained from https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. Please always check the latest guidance on the Foreign Office website before booking a trip and ensure your passport has at least six months’ validity.

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