How to Afford a Gap Year – A Complete Guide

how to afford a gap year - a guide

With your school days behind you, your parents may start nagging you to ‘find a proper job’. But you may have other ideas…

Recent research found that 20% of students took a gap year for 2020-2021, with one-third of them travelling abroad.

The good news is that gap years are not just for students with rich parents. There are plenty of ways that you can travel on a budget.

If you’re worried about how you will fund your gap year, this article is for you.

How to afford a gap year

Here are five ways to fund your gap year and one to avoid.

Get financial aid

If you choose to do a gap year program, some institutes offers college credit that can be used to fund your travel. This aid could be given in the form of federal funding or private student loans. Financial aids are one of the best ways to pay for a gap year because it will keep gap year costs low and prevent you from taking out a high interest rate loan.

Get a scholarship or grant

Depending on the purpose of your gap year, you may be eligible for a private grant or scholarship to put towards the cost of your travel, accommodation or activities while you’re travelling. To qualify for these loans there are financial needs and merit criteria that must be met. Search for gap year grants, federal financial aid or scholarships in your state online or speak to your local education institutes to find out what is available.


Work hard for a few months and you’ll soon find you have enough money to achieve your travelling aspirations. There are two options for students when it comes to earning money to fund a gap year:

1. Start a side hustle in advance of your gap year.

Earning money online is a popular way for students to make cash without the need for any initial investment. These jobs are also easy to fit in alongside studying and other commitments. Some of these side hustles can even be continued whilst you’re travelling, giving you a reliable source of income.

Become a freelancer – One of the most attractive benefits of freelancing is that you can start making money as soon as you get your first client. You won’t need to invest any money either as you’ll probably have what you need already (laptop, internet connection and software, both of which you can take with you on your travels). You can offer different services such as writing, proofreading and editing, web design, video editing and photo editing.

Start a blog – Anyone can blog. All you need is an interesting topic to write about and dedication to build traffic and followers. Travelling is a popular topic to blog about so make sure you have your own angle to make you stand out from other bloggers. You can set up your blog on a free platform such as or Blogger, so you don’t have to invest any money to get started. Once your website is up and running, promote your blog on social media and start connecting with other bloggers to reach a wide audience. Posting regular engaging and newsworthy content is the key to a successful blog. Bloggers make money once their blog is established from affiliate marketing, banner ads and sponsored social media posts.

Become a social media manager – many businesses don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to manage their social media platforms, which is why they outsource the job to a freelance social media manager. Working as a social media manager is a great way to earn money online without investment, and you can do it anywhere in the world. You don’t need any qualifications or skills to start work in this field, but being aware of the latest social media trends is a must. Typical tasks include creating and implementing a social media strategy and producing and scheduling engaging content for various platforms.

Transcription: if you have good typing skills, are a good listener, have a strong grasp of language and have excellent vocabulary skills, transcription is probably the most suitable online typing job for you. Transcribers listen to audio files and convert them into written documents. Many people like the variety that transcription jobs provide. One day you could be transcribing business meetings and the next you could be listening to a podcast or court hearing. It’s worth noting that transcription jobs typically pay per hour of audio that is completed rather than the number of hours that you’ve worked.

2. Earn money while you’re on a gap year.

If you’re too impatient to work and save money before your gap year, there are opportunities to make money while travelling. Who knows, you may even start a career in an industry that you love.

• Teach watersports – like the sound of spending your gap year days on the beach and the water, whilst earning some cash? As long as you know the basics of windsurfing or dinghy sailing, you can get qualified as a teacher within a few weeks.

• Work in a holiday resort – there are so many work opportunities at a holiday resort. This type of work isn’t about what the job is but where you are. You could be a driver taking people to and from the airport, a cleaner or work in the hotel crèche.

• Bar or wait tables – working in hospitality is flexible, giving you the time to travel and explore the country during the day and earn some dollars at night. There are so many interesting and unique bars around the world, you’ll have so much fun that it won’t even feel like work.

• Work on a superyacht – fancy travelling the world as a deckhand or stewardess on a superyacht? This can be a great money earner, but also hard work. Most of your hours will be spent ensuring the boat is kept in immaculate condition on the inside and outside.

• Work in a hostel or hotel – a great place to start when searching for work aboard is the hostel or hotel that you’re staying at. Chances are they may need an extra pair of hands to help with cleaning, maintenance or bar work.

• Photography – combining your passion for photography and travelling can be a good money earner. Local companies may want to buy your work or sell it on, gaining you royalties every time your image is downloaded.

• Be a ski instructor – whilst this job does need professional qualifications, it can be extremely rewarding to wake up each morning and get paid for what you went travelling for. Once you’ve got your certificates, start looking for jobs at ski schools.

• Work on a cruise ship – there are a huge number of jobs on offer on a cruise ship. From restaurant work, entertainment, looking after children or offering personal trainer services. It’s a great way to see the world while earning decent money.

Volunteering programs

If you can’t afford to travel without earning some cash along the way, gap year volunteering programs are a great way to see the world, help people in need and save on expenses while travelling.

Many gap year programs provide their volunteers with accommodation and meals in exchange for your time assisting on projects such as conservation work to teaching. Typically you only pay for your flights, travel insurance, snacks, weekend meals and optional activities. Each program will have a list of what’s included in the price, so always check so you know what you’re expected to pay for.

The top 5 volunteering trips include:

1. Cape Town community volunteers – contribute to the community and improve the lives of locals in settlements, schools and crèches.

2. South Africa wildlife and conservation – work alongside zoologists and conservation staff to help monitor and protect wildlife.

3. Amazon wildlife volunteer – help care for and feed the incredible animals in the Amazon jungle

4. South Africa childcare volunteers – become a valued member of the community by teaching children new skills and caring for them while their families are earning an income.

5. Nepal monastery experience – teach English to young monks in a Buddhist monastery.

During all of these programmes you will be given free time that you can use to explore your surroundings and culture. Where will you volunteer abroad?

Start a FundMyTravel campaign

FundMyTravel is an online platform where users can create a personalized fundraising campaign, collect financial contributions from site visitors and share the campaign with extended networks through social media and advising tools.

It’s free to create a campaign but FundMyTravel will take 5% of all donations to keep the site running and technical support open.

Here’s how it works:

1. Create a campaign to tell people about your story and get them interested in your trip. Use photos and videos to grab the attention of viewers and set a financial target that you want to meet.

2. Share your campaign via social media and email to boost donations.

3. Any donations made will be sent to your account without having to wait until you meet your set goal.

Making your campaign stand out is key to getting donations. Here are a few tips and tricks on what makes a good crowdfunding campaign.

• Only use well-written copy that is free from errors.

• High-quality photos should be used to make the page more interesting.

• The headline at the top of your campaign should be simple, specific and memorable.

• Give a clear, short explanation as to why you’re setting up crowdfunding and tell people what you will use the money for. If you’re doing any charity work whilst travelling, let everyone know what you will be doing.

• Ask people to share your page, even if they can’t donate themselves to increase views and potentially donations.

Don’t apply for personal loans

You need to be at least 18 to get personal loans approved (although most lenders have a minimum age of 21), however it is still difficult to achieve because young people don’t have experience in managing debt and their income and credit score is typically very low or non-existent. These factors can also push the interest rate up, meaning you will pay considerably more than what you initially borrowed.

A loan is typically repaid over three to five years, meaning you could be making repayments for a long time after you get back from your gap year. If you have financial difficulties when you return from travelling, you may not be able to make the repayments which will damage your credit score and prevent you from having spare cash to save for other things.

Plan your gap year

Early planning is the best way to make your gap year financially achievable. The more time you have to research, consider scholarships and grants and get the right cost for you.

Decide where to go and what to do

Some gap year locations cost more than others, so it’s important to know where you want to travel before setting your budget.

The time of year you go will also affect the total price that you pay. Avoid tourist seasons where possible as the price of accommodation, travel and activities tend to rise during these times.

Can’t decide where you want to spend your gap year?

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you proficient in a second language or have a desire to learn one?

2. Your budget, including accommodation, travelling and food.

3. The activities you want to do and sights you want to see.

Still need inspiration? Here are the top most popular countries, starting with the most requested gap year destination.

1. Australia – whilst it’s not the cheapest gap year destination out there, there are ways to minimise spending such as car sharing with other back packers and making the most of cheap supermarkets.

2. New Zealand – there are so many reasons to pick New Zealand for your gap year destination including a working holiday visa program and English-speaking population.

3. Italy – flights to Italy are fairly cheap and travelling on a budget can be achieved by using bus or ride sharing.

4. Spain – with a rich culture and history and diverse environment, Spain is a great place to spend time in.

5. China – there are plenty of volunteering opportunities in China, allowing you to work and travel at the same time.

6. USA – America provides real-world skills and experience that becomes invaluable throughout the rest of your life.

7. Canada – volunteering to preserve parks or teaching others to ski are some of the top reasons why people choose to spend time in Canada.

8. France – with a thriving art and fashion scene, France makes the list of top gap year destinations.

9. Netherlands – known as one of the happiest places in the world, people travel from all over the world to experience the unique culture in the Netherlands.

10. Germany – with enchanting villages, beautiful scenery and traditional festivals, Germany is a perfect place to spend a gap year.

Create a budget

Budgeting for your gap year is not as daunting as it may seem. In fact, planning your finances can help you understand your goals and objectives, creating a plan that ensures you don’t miss out on anything that you want to do. Follow these steps to create a strong gap year budget.

1. Identify all costs involved, including:

• Flights

• Vaccinations

• Visas and other documentation

• Medical checkups

• Travel insurance

• Hostel expenses

• Intra-country conveyance expenses

• Activity or entertainment costs

2. Review your current financial situation

Ask yourself the following questions to determine your finances.

• Do you have any money already saved that could be used to put towards your trip?

• Do you own any assets or stock that you could sell to finance your gap year?

• Could you earn extra money from a side hustle to raise some cash?

• Can you cut back on unnecessary spending and free up some of your monthly income?

The answers to these questions will help you see what money you have access to. If the answer is no to all of the above, don’t panic. There are still ways you can budget and achieve your travelling dreams.

Create a list of expenditure estimates

Do some research on the cost of food in your chosen destination and set a daily food and drink budget. Also look into accommodation prices such as hostels and familiarise yourself with the area in terms of where the nearest markets are so you can pick up cheaper food.

Decide on a schedule

Your schedule will ultimately drive the budget for your gap year. Are you planning on spending your time in just one country or visiting multiple countries over a 12 month period? The cost of living across the world and exchange rates will make a huge difference in terms of what you pay for when travelling, so always plan ahead.

Figure out the logistics

Now you’ve got a schedule, the next step is to arrange your logistics. Use comparison sites to book your flights as early as possible. When travelling via aeroplane you will always save money by booking in advance. Don’t forget to apply for visas and other paperwork that you may need such as medical tests and certificates.

Track your expenses

Tracking your spending whilst you’re travelling is a smart financial move. Do this in alignment with your budget so that you can adjust your spending habits accordingly if you’re spending too much. There are plenty of budget planners to choose from, however apps may be the most efficient way to log and access your finances on the go.

Always over budget

A budget is based on an estimate of expected expenses. This means that it’s not always possible to stick to it and sometimes unforeseen expenses occur that you hadn’t planned for. Putting more money aside than your budget suggests is a smart financial move when travelling abroad. This emergency fund will stop you from worrying if you need to access money for reasons that you didn’t plan for.

Money saving tips while travelling

This handy list will help you cut some of the expenses that come with travelling.

Travel off season – if you choose to travel when fewer people are going to your destination, most things will be cheaper from flights to accommodation. A top travelling tip is to use overnight trains and buses if you’re moving cities during your gap year. This means that you won’t have to pay for a night’s accommodation and tickets are usually cheaper during the night.

Use hostels – hostels have amazing benefits for travellers such as communal living spaces, kitchens, lounges and some even provide free tours of the city that you’re staying in. The best bit is that staying in a hostel will cost you a fraction of the price of a hotel. The longer you stay at hostels, the cheaper the daily rate usually is. Some places even offer a free night after paying for a certain amount.

Cook your own meals instead of eating out – shopping at local markets and preparing your meals at the hostel kitchen will save you a small fortune while travelling. Locals will also be able to tell you where the best place to get discounted ingredients is, so don’t be afraid to ask. Share food with your local travellers to keep costs low and make new friends in the process. Avoid dining in tourist hot spots because the price of food can be up to three times the price.

Use free attractions – most destinations have free attractions so do your research to see what’s available where you’re staying. Most museums and some other tourist attractions generally don’t have an entrance price.

Take advantage of student discounts – many countries accept student discounts so remember to pack your card and ask venues if they offer student discounts.

Funding a gap year

Don’t let money worries get in the way of your travelling dreams. Having an affordable gap year is possible with the right knowledge and careful budgeting.

For the latest help and advice on managing your finances as a student, visit our library of personal finance articles.

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