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Don’t worry – we’re not about to pelt you with ‘broaden your horizons’ clichés. But we have got some juicy insights into all things gap year travel, from the UK’s favourite destination abroad to how you can get more from your trip.

We surveyed over 2,000 travellers aged 16 and over from all around the UK to find out about our national attitudes and preferences on gap years and work sabbaticals. We wanted to see who’s travelling where and why, and what gappers are learning from their time out. If you’re thinking of taking time out to travel, read on for the insights, and some top tips to help you plan your perfect travel experience – along with insights from seasoned travellers who have been there.

Travel is good for you

Well, that’s what our respondents said anyway. Overwhelmingly, nearly all of those who had taken a gap year or a work sabbatical agreed that it had benefitted them – whether personally, adding to their CV, or all-round. As travel blogger Erin McNeaney of Never Ending Voyage points out, ‘Navigating the challenges of life on the road takes you out of your comfort zone, and will increase your confidence and develop your problem-solving skills.’

Go while you’re younger

Taking a gap year at a younger age is more likely to increase your confidence than taking one over the age of 25. Of course, that’s not to say that time out to travel won’t benefit you anytime though – 90% of seems to play a part in that – 40% of respondents said that taking a gap year or work sabbatical benefitted their world knowledge significantly.

Become worldly-wise

That’s probably no huge surprise; the challenges and scrapes you face while travelling – whether trekking through the jungle or simply getting up the courage to confront the language barrier – are character-building stuff. And if you have a few more stories for the pub and breaking the ice with new colleagues then you’re bound to feel more self-assured. Just don’t be that friend who starts every story with ‘This one time when I was travelling…’

There’s also something to be said to getting to know yourself better through travel. Lucy McGuire of the Travel Journo sums it up:

 ‘It sounds cheesy, but I’d go as far to say that a travel sabbatical really can help you learn things about yourself and return home a slightly different – and perhaps new, improved – person.’

Penang cityscape
Penang temple
Beach in Penang

The top destination: you might be surprised

Gap year travel means different things to different people. But if you had to guess the most popular destination, you might be tempted to go for the classics – Europe for interrailing? Southeast Asia for backpacking and full moon parties? Australia, maybe?

Actually, top of the list was the USA (Oz was, unsurprisingly, second). It might not be the first country you picture when you think of an adventure abroad, but it makes sense – whatever your motivation for travelling, you can probably find an experience to suit you in the USA, whether it’s exploring the Deep South, road-tripping Route 66 or corralling kids at a summer camp.

Break the mould and learn the lingo

Call us sceptics, but our survey data also suggested there’s another motive at play – English-speaking destinations were a hit across the board, with the lack of a language barrier also proving a main motivator for choosing a destination. If you’re planning a trip yourself and really want to get out of your comfort zone, think about your main reasons for choosing a destination. If you’re willing to get over the awkwardness many of us feel at attempting a foreign language, you could get even more out of your travels.

Think outside the CV

Beyond the usual kinds of work experience, travel can also lead to opportunities you never thought of. Almost a third of travellers said they’d gone abroad to escape work stress or take time out from education. That can mean a chance to simply have some fun, but it can also take you down a totally different career path – whether that’s making a living from travel, or through an experience you can only get abroad, like conservation work. We asked some top travel bloggers for their thoughts on the benefits of time out, and they were (as you’d expect) effusive:

Taking a break to travel gives you the space to step back and reassess your life to decide where you want to be in the future and what steps you need to take to get there. Years of extended travels eventually led us to live our dream life as a writer, photographer and video creators. We’ve now been doing this for nearly a decade and if we never took a chance to take four months off to cycle from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, we wouldn’t be where we are today. 

Dave and Deb, the Planet D

Wouldn’t you love to jump on a flight and see the world? That’s what gap years and work sabbaticals are for. In fact, based on our research, 26 per cent of people in the UK have taken a gap year and 15 per cent have taken a work sabbatical. But why take one? What motivates people to go abroad? What do they get up to in their chosen destinations? How are they even funding these trips? This infographic highlights the findings from our survey and details why people are making these life-changing journeys, and why they don’t.

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 Top 8 destinations for gap years and sabbaticals 

Want to start planning your trip? These are the top 8 destinations, as chosen by gap year and sabbatical travellers in the UK. Here, we cover everything you need to know – from why, where and when people are going, to what you must do and eat!

You’ve decided it’s time – you’re itching to get out there and see the world. But where do you go? What will you do? Don’t ignore those itchy feet; whether you’re still studying, freshly graduated or your nine-to-five has gone stagnant, follow our flowchart to help you determine your ideal break abroad.

Gap Year Flowchart

The last thing you need is to be underprepared for your big adventure. Check out our Gap Year Travel Checklist which highlights essential to-dos before you travel and the key items you’ll want to take with you. From deciding what type of gap year you want to take, to buying travel insurance – tick off this checklist and it’ll be plain sailing.