Do you think gap years only apply to a certain age group? Think again.
You can be fresh out of high school with the world at your indecisive feet. You can be in desperate need of a break after hustling hard for your certificate, diploma or degree. Or perhaps you’re just weary, run down or at a loss of direction mid-career and need something more than the standard 21 days of leave per year.
Do you think a gap year only becomes “real” when you go abroad? Look at the exchange rate and think again.
A gap year can be anywhere, for any length of time (yes, a few months too), for anyone, doing anything you want.
South Africans – especially those freshly out of high school - are not the first ones to jump on a plane with a backpack, flip flops and anti-mozzi spray to spend a whole year abroad to explore the banana pancake trail of Southeast Asia.
It’s too expensive. Back in the day you needed R7 000 a month to survive in the land of whiskey buckets, today it is bordering to R14 000 or more. And that’s without the flights, travel insurance and anything other than sleeping in dormitories for most nights.
So what about going local for your gap year?
You will have the chance to experience an array of activities, you will know your way around (and can’t easily get cheated into paying the “foreigner price”), you can travel in your own vehicle (just think of it as one epic road trip), still find inexpensive accommodation such as dormitories, explore parts of South Africa still unknown to many, volunteer, support local communities and have one heck of an enriching experience while doing it all.
And isn’t that what a gap year is all about, it’s the experience and the personal journey that matters, not the location.
There are numerous gap year ideas for South Africans in South Africa. You can help out on a farm, manage a backpackers or guest house, teach at a local school, help out in a shop or a bar, do general maintenance on lodges, be part of an art project, help with horses, do gardening, maintain hiking trails, cook or even build.
The general rule of thumb is that your host provides the accommodation and often all the meals in exchange for your help; maximum 4-6 hours per day and 5 days a week. During your off days you can explore the city or town, and when your time is up, you can move on to the next location and next job to explore another part of South Africa. Each opportunity or job will specify the minimum and maximum length of stay and it usually starts around a minimum of two weeks and can lead up to a maximum of two months.
Hosts will usually specify what they need help with and whether or not they’re looking for volunteers with certain skills; volunteers can have peace of mind and connect with previous volunteers, read reviews left by previous volunteers and some organisations even do thorough background checks on both the host and the volunteer.
Where to find your gap year escape in South Africa:
Find something you’re interested in or passionate about – something that will enrich your gap year experience – and go for it! If you stay on a farm or at a backpackers for a month, work half-day, relax and explore the rest of the time your expenses will be minimal before you move on to the next job.
Who knows, you might even find a new career path or find a permanent job in an exciting new location?
The following websites and online communities connect volunteers with hosts and it cuts out the agency fees (that will see you forking out thousands of hard-earned bucks) and the middle man by putting you in direct contact with your hosts.
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an international non-profit organisation that links volunteers with organic farmers. Volunteers offer help (usually 4-6 hours per day) in exchange for food, accommodation and the opportunity to learn more about organic agriculture. If you’re willing to work, want to have a hands-on experience and learn, then this might just be for you as you can experience different farming techniques and provinces in South Africa through WWOOFing.
The annual membership fees are R150 per year for South African citizens and R200 per year for a couple (this will give you access to platform to contact hosts).
There are currently 153 host farms spread across South Africa.
Visit www.wwoof.co.za for more information.
If farming is not for you, don’t stress. There are other options. HelpX started in 2001 and is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farm stays, homestays, accommodation establishments (lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats) who are willing to host volunteer helpers on a short-term basis in exchange for food and accommodation.
When you register you will be a free member but won’t be able to contact hosts directly; by paying €20 (R320) you will have a Premier Membership that is valid for two years and it will allow you to see all the details and reviews of host.
Some of the current opportunities on HelpX are based in Sodwana Bay, Drakensberg, Wilderness, Baardskeerdersbos, Cape Town and Stanford (to name a few).
Visit www.helpx.net for more information.
Workaway, a community with more than 30 000 hosts in 170 countries, is the bridge between volunteers and hosts and whether you want to contribute your time to an NGO, have a cultural exchange, help at local school or work on a farm or with animals, you will definitely find something that will pique you interest. Workaway also focuses on creating opportunities for those who want to learn a new language.
Workawayers have to pay $32 (R434) for a one year membership and it will enable you to contact any of the hosts on the host list and give you access to all the other features. They also regularly update their blog and post about experiences, tips, travel and general volunteering information. New members will get access to a weekly advisory webinar where they can interact with a member of the Workaway support team.
Some of the current opportunities on Workaway include planting trees in the Overberg, working at a backpackers on the border of Addo Elephant National Park, surfing (and working) in Jeffreys Bay, homeschooling and dog-sitting in Bloemfontein and working on a bee farm in Port Elizabeth.
Visit www.workaway.info for more information.
If you don’t want to work but want to cut some cost on your accommodation, why not try Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is moving from one friend’s (or stranger’s) house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch or room; the stay is consensual between the host and guest and the duration, rules, etc. are usually worked out in advance.
While 100% safety can never be guaranteed when Couchsurfing, it usually works on mutual respect and hosts and guests can make an informed decision whether or not they want to host someone based on the profiles and the reviews left by other hosts/guests.
It is common practice for guests to seek non-monetary means to show their appreciation, such as bringing a gift, cooking a meal or teaching a skill.
Visit www.couchsurfing.org for more information.
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