MAPPED: SA ranks 8th in world's 10 most popular gap year destinations

2017-08-24 11:29 - Unathi Nkanjeni
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Cape Town - With student life a reality for many, the gap year remains a rite of passage that still needs to be taken - offering a different type of learning and life experiences at various locations around the world.

While the idea of taking time out to travel is seen as "a fresh start" and a trend for decades already, current political climates, with things like Brexit, could mean a narrow window of opportunity to travel affordably for South Africans.

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However many students are choosing to come to South Africa for their year off.

According to a survey done by African Business Travel Association (ABTA), SA ranks 8th as one of top ten popular gap year destinations for those choosing to delay their studies or employment in order to gain some real life experience.

In 2016, over 92 000 students started their university courses a year later than normal, according to ABATA, which shows that South Africa and Argentina entered the top 10 this year, knocking Colombia off the list

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Thailand has taken the top spot from last year’s number one destination Australia, which has now moved to number two. 

The 2017 top gap year destinations reported by ABTA members specialising in gap years are: 

The study shows amongst the most popular trips for gappers are volunteering trips - with gap year students regarding their trips not simply as a way to boost their CVs but as a way of making a real difference and a positive contribution to the places they visit.

Example trips include beach conservation in South America, forest conservation in Madagascar and medical internships in South Africa.

SEE: Travel and Make Money: A Gap Year Teaching Abroad

According to the survey, “partying” is the least important factor for people when booking a gap year, with students apparently planning for the future and seeing gap years as a way to boost their CV in a competitive job market.

Activity tours including trekking, white water rafting and biking, plus cultural tours to historic and fascinating cities are all proving popular this year.

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ABTA says many gappers prefer the security and company offered by travelling as part of an organised group and they find it a great way to share experiences with like-minded people and make new friends.

“For many young people, a gap year will be the first time that they have spent a significant time away from home and it should provide positive experiences and memories of a lifetime," says Nikki White, ABTA's director of destinations and sustainability.

"However, foreign travel can present a range of challenges, particularly in less affluent countries where many gappers will be travelling.

"It is incredibly important that gap year students do their research and plan thoroughly so that they can travel in safety and get the most out of their experiences.

"Gap year students often pay out large sums of money to specialist companies and it is really important that they book with a reputable company to avoid disappointment and ensure that their money is well spent. ”

Here are some top tips for gappers:

Check with your travel company and with the Foreign Office for 'dos and don'ts' and 'no go' areas for the country you're visiting. They will also tell you about visa requirements and how to get relevant visas, which is especially important if you're going to be working.

Choose a reputable gap year travel company with a good track record that is a member of a trade association, so you have a point of contact and support should anything go wrong.

Get a good quality travel insurance policy and make sure it covers the activities you want to take part in as well as the length of time you will be away. The cheapest policies will not necessarily provide you with the level of cover needed for a lengthy stay overseas, or for extreme sports.

Research local customs and culture before you go to understand more about the host destination and avoid unwittingly causing offence.
Make sure you've had all the necessary jabs and inoculations; do this at least eight weeks before you travel.

If you're going to a country where malaria is prevalent always take anti-malarial medication and always finish the course.

If you're volunteering, think carefully about the kind of activity you'll be doing, especially if the volunteering is with children. It is recommended you use an operator that matches you with suitable projects. Check that they do background checks when volunteers are working with children or vulnerable adults and that they will provide you with necessary support when you are abroad.

Working, volunteering or learning a skill overseas will be enriching as well as challenging. It will most certainly be good for your personal and professional development.

If you're travelling to a non-English speaking country take some basic language lessons before you go and take a phrase book and pocket dictionary in the local language, you'll find it much easier to fit in when you first arrive. If you're going to rely on a mobile device for translation, check the costs involved.

Tell your bank where and when you'll be travelling to reduce the risk of them stopping your card.

Keep electronic copies of all your important travel documents and leave a copy with someone at home.

Keep a list of emergency contact numbers in a safe and accessible place.

(source: African Business Travel Association)

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