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Honest disadvantages of a gap year

sitting over dundas peak in Canada

People only seem to talk about the positives of a gap year and how amazing they are. And don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed each and every gap year I’ve been on to date (since 2015 I’ve completed 5 gap years). But not everything you want to happen will. Some things are out of your control and you might not enjoy every moment.

However, I don’t want to put you off. I just want to share some honesty. Travelling on your first (or 4th) gap year can be exciting yet scary. Fun yet frustrating. There are many different feelings you will likely expect throughout and that’s ok!

So that’s why I’d like to talk about the ugly side of gap years and the disadvantages that can come with taking one. I feel that by knowing the worst that could happen, you’re always prepared!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through my links I may make a small commission at no extra charge to you.


What is a gap year?

A gap year is a common trip that many people take before university or starting their career. Typically, most gap year participants are between the ages of 18 and 25 but that’s not always the case. Take me for example, I’ve been taking gap years continuously since 2015.

Some common types of gap year include working holiday’s which is the main style of gap year I have always focused on. What is a working holiday, you ask? They’re a great way to travel for al ong time while also working (legally of course) in your chosen destination.

It’s a time when many people will travel overseas to one or multiple countries to “find themselves”. It’s when people gain some real-world experience before they dive head first into their degree or career.

Don’t forget your paperwork! Here’s 18 Important travel documents needed for a long trip.


Different types of gap year?

Although the most common type of gap year is one taken at 18 years old before heading to university, it’s not the only type of year out. To give you an idea of what other types of gap years people might take I have tried to highlight them below:

Internship – This might be relating to the field or industry that you plan to go back and work in or study for. This is one of the “more productive” variations of the gap year and looks great on a resume or CV.

Just travelling – This is the most common style where the traveller will take their savings and live their best life overseas. Typically where people tick things off of their bucket-list and head home when their money runs out. Plus usually moving from hostel to hostel (or more expensive accommodation)

Working overseas – Popular with people who are nervous about running out of money overseas or who want to do a lot more than their current savings will allow. Many people will go abroad on a working holiday visa. This could be working in multiple temporary jobs or working in something relating to your future field.

Volunteering abroad – This could include an official volunteering program arranged through an educational party or individual volunteering platforms like WWOOFing and WorkAway. This is a way for travellers to feel productive, helpful and do something completely new.

Volunteering at an elephant park

This is a picture of me volunteering at an Elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand 2015


Why do people take gap years?

People take gap years for so many different reasons. Many people finish high school or college knowing nothing but their studies since they were a toddler. The idea of being able to pause “real” life and experience something new will always be appealing.

There is something about being somewhere new and experiencing a life completely different to what you’re used to – even if it is only temporary. 

Some people might be planning a career change and want to clear their mind and make sure it’s definitely what they want to do. Others may have been in their job for years and are finally ready to cash in on their holiday and vacation days all at once.

Someone else might be about to embark on a high intensity university course followed by a masters, and they know this is the only “free” time they will have for 8 years.

But remember, not everyone will fit into these few boxes. I personally didn’t go to university and wouldn’t class myself as a career woman, I simply went on my first year overseas because I didn’t like my hometown and was inspired to see the world.

I also didn’t read much about the disadvantages of living abroad or gap years before I went.. & I really wish I had.

Whatever a person’s reason is for embarking on a gap year, doesn’t change the fact that there are positive and negative aspects to taking one. 

If you’re planning on being abroad a long time, consider your currency exchange in advance. The company I keep using after all of my travels is Wise (once known as TransferWise). They have a simple to use app as well as a website and have competitive exchange rates. Transfer money using Wise


The Disadvantages of a gap year:

Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages to taking a gap year that you might not have considered yet:

You could be homesick

Nobody necessarily knows they will get homesick – until it happens. Many people that have a dream or plan to go somewhere long term, don’t realise how much being away from home actually affects them until they are already in their destination.

Although you can plan video chats and regularly text (depending on where you are) it just isn’t the same as a hug or being together with friends and family in person. Check out how to deal with homesickness after moving abroad.

looking at the fresh waterlakes in Tobermory - disadvantages of a gap year
It can be lonely on a gap year alone – Tobermory, Canada

Can be hard to keep in touch with people back home

Don’t get me wrong, we are currently living in the technological age where (almost) everyone has access to the internet; but it can be hard to keep in touch with those back home. You could be located somewhere with an awkward time difference with home – you could be going to sleep as friends wake up.

Or you could be travelling through a remote region (perhaps the Australian outback) with barely any mobile phone service – let alone internet access. This can make you miss out on important updates from those at home and can make you feel lonely. 

Delay your career by a year

Whether you are taking a gap year before starting college, halfway through your studies or after graduation before you get a job. Whatever way, you are delaying your career by at least one year.

This can seem like a long time when you try to get back into the workforce and need “3 years experience” as a brand new graduate. This can sometimes be seen as one of the biggest disadvantages of a gap year.

There is a ‘gap year stigma’

I’m not sure why, but there are unfortunately many people who disagree with gap years. Whether they’re just hurt because they will miss you. They think gap years are unproductive. Or maybe it’s people who are jealous, or are just so comfortable at home that they couldn’t imagine leaving for a year.

Breaking the news to some people that you’re leaving can feel like you’re talking about a taboo topic. This can lead you feeling bad about wanting to go on this adventure – which isn’t a nice feeling to have.

Have you read: The advantages and disadvantages of working abroad?

You might need to request permission to take a gap year

This doesn’t seem to be a universal rule, but some colleges and universities require you to ask permission before embarking on a gap year. This is mostly the case if you plan to take a year out midway through your studies rather than before they begin.

Plus, to guarantee you still have a spot to come back to on your course when the year is up. If your educational provider needs to grant permission before you can leave, this can take a bit of time (you know how schools can be) so you need to be proactive and ask them sooner than later.

Bear this in mind if you are already mid career and want to take a long break. Unless you have been at a job long enough and have “earned” a sabbatical (another name for gap year) you might be out of luck being able to take a year off and returning to the same role. 

Some employers don’t like seeing gaps on a CV/Resume

Unfortunately if a person has too much time off from their studies or work, it can put employers off. They normally prefer to hire people that seem more “together” and have recent work experience as it makes you seem more professional.

There are plenty of positives you can gain from a gap year, just be prepared it could take a bit longer to find an employer that agrees. If you are planning on a career-based future this can be one of the more frustrating disadvantages of a gap year.

A selfie in the rain on vancouver island
You’ll have to take your own pictures (this was before I bought a tripod!)

You’ll be alone and only have yourself to rely on

Some people go on a gap year trip with a friend. But many people go on their year abroad solo. This can be scary especially if you are new to travelling. If you have something happen that you are unprepared for, you will only have yourself to rely on to fix or solve the issue.

Plus, If you are a person who is mostly extroverted, it can seem much more lonely than you might expect when travelling alone. Even the most confident people can occasionally feel lonely in new environments.

To meet friends abroad why not check out my post on How to make friends in a new city

After too much time off you can forget your skills 

When you are at school or college, you are studying and writing everyday. When you take too much time away from studying, it can seem more difficult when you start up again.

Take the 6 weeks of summer holidays as an example, my handwriting would get significantly worse over summer until I was actively writing everyday in school again.

The same happens with skills. If you take too much time away from practising your craft, you will become a little rusty. This can make you feel less comfortable when you try to get back into it. You risk falling behind while you try to catch up.

Worrying you will lose the desire to return to your studies

Gap years can be amazing and fulfilling, that’s what worries many schools and parents (they’ll likely consider this one of the disadvantages more than you). If you enjoy your time away too much you might lose the desire to return to your studies or career completely.

Being away from home, and enjoying the freedoms a gap year brings kills the motivation for many people. Unfortunately it happens a lot more than people would like. If this is something you are worried about it’s always better to have some kind of plan in place that you can try to hold yourself to.

Fear of missing out on the fun at home 

If you have spent all of your life at home, with a solid group of friends, then you’ll probably get some FOMO when you’re away. Your family and friends will continue to have birthdays, parties, events – but you won’t be there to take part.

This can take its toll and can make you feel down that you’ll be missing out on an entire year’s worth of activities with those you love.

If not working, it can drain your savings

Gap years can be expensive. You have flights, a passport and visas to think about. Unlike at home where you might have had free accommodation living with family, you now have to fund your accommodation and food every.single.day for the entire time you’re away.

Anything you want to do, you have to pay for. Anywhere you want to go – you have to figure out how to afford it. All of these costs can add up, and if you are not working on the trip, this can drain your savings very quickly.

Heck, even if you are working abroad, you may not be able to save enough to continue your journey if you are travelling in an expensive place

sitting in a hammock at moraine lake
When I put my hammock up, I don’t want to do anything but relax – Moraine Lake, Canada

Hard to stick to a productive schedule / waste time

So you chose to take part of your gap year in a hot country. You find yourself at the beach everyday. This becomes such an easy way to just do nothing and end up being unproductive. Once you get a taste for the relaxed lifestyle it can be hard to break out of it.

Maintaining a productive daily or weekly schedule while you are living your best life can be challenging. You went on the gap year to get away from the regimented student or career lifestyle back home.

It can make some employers assume you are lazy

Many people assume a gap year is just going away and getting drunk everyday for a year. This can lead to the wrong impressions in the workplace.

If you take a year out, some career folk might assume that’s all you did while away and might make their own assumptions that you are lazy. It can sometimes be difficult to prove yourself innocent and hardworking.

You could get sick or injured abroad

Yes, you could technically get hurt at home too, but it’s a little more complicated when away from home. Easily parent’s highest rated disadvantages when their kids take part in a gap year.

Unlike back home, if you get hurt you have to deal with travel insurance (make sure you get insurance for your whole trip), a possible language barrier and possibly lots of money.

In many places, it is extremely expensive to get medical help in an emergency if you are not a resident of where you are. And let’s say you got so sick your trip couldn’t continue, you’d have to spend all of that money AND lose your trip. It’s not enjoyable (or always possible) flying long haul when you’re seriously ill. 

Can be hard to immerse into new cultures

Not everybody is open-minded and that’s a hard fact. You might think you are, and then find it difficult to really immerse yourself into a new culture. When you dive into the deep end it can be overwhelming if you don’t appropriately prepare.

You might not be fond of the local food, wildlife or be struggling with the language barrier. Or maybe you came face to face with a local custom that is hard to comprehend where you come from.

All of these can seriously put new travellers off and make them feel withdrawn which can make it harder to enjoy and appreciate another culture.

blown tyre on vancouver island
In Vancouver Island, Canada our car blew a tyre

Things can go wrong

You might have a flight delay due to bad weather. Maybe you lose your wallet at the train station. Your bus might break down on the way to your tour. Perhaps someone steals some of your stuff at the hostel. You literally never know what could go wrong.

All that matters is that things could go badly. This can be way more stressful than if the same things were to happen at home because it can be harder to know where to turn when you’re in a new destination. This is often one of the biggest worries and disadvantages for the traveller during a gap year.

Want some good news? Gap year advantages: 12 reasons why you should go

After too much time off you can forget your skills 

When you are at school or college, you are studying and writing everyday. When you take too much time away from studying, it can seem more difficult when you start up again.

Take the 6 weeks of summer holidays as an example, my handwriting would get significantly worse over summer until I was actively writing everyday in school again.

The same happens with skills. If you take too much time away from practising your craft, you will become a little rusty. This can make you feel less comfortable when you try to get back into it. You risk falling behind while you try to catch up.

You simply might not enjoy it

There’s a chance that the trip you thought you wanted actually isn’t your kind of trip at all. You may have got your inspiration and done your research based off of an instagram page, but they might be your total opposites.

If you spend all that time planning, travelling and spending money only to hate it, that could be quite distressing as you could feel that a lot of your time has been wasted.

One good thing to come from hating your trip, is knowing what you definitely wouldn’t want to do again, but that doesn’t change how it might make you feel in the short-term.


Need to prepare for your own gap year?

If you are new to planning gap years and trips, let me give you some recommendations to help you along the way. If you’re planning on staying overseas for an entire year you’ll have plenty of time to plan the itinerary, but you should at least plan your outbound flight and accommodation. Take a look at my travel resources page for more details as well as below:

Flights

If you’re travelling further than a road trip can take you, you’ll probably need to consider flying. If that’s the case, my go-to comparison site is SkyScanner. Use this to find the airline and itinerary you like, then book the flights directly on the airlines website.

Accommodation

No, I’m not suggesting you pay for a years worth of accommodation before you leave home, but I’d highly recommend paying for at least 1-2 weeks after landing. If you’re looking for an affordable way to meet people, I will always recommend HostelWorld. If instead you want some more luxury and completely your own space, then a hotel could be more suited to in, in which case I would suggest checking Booking.com.

Tours & Activities

Generally when people travel overseas they want to experience fun activities. This could be taking a city tour, or doing an excursion that is specific to the destination. Whatever it is, the two sites I recommend the most are: GetYourGuide and Viator.


Summary of the disadvantages of taking a gap year

I hope this list of disadvantages hasn’t put you off of going on your trip or gap year completely. My only goal is to try and show my readers both sides to a long term trip – rather than only the perfect parts you’ll see on social media.

Check out the eight countries British citizens can get a working holiday visa so you can get an idea of where to go!

Where did you go on your gap year? Are there any other downsides that you think I have missed?

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2 Comments

  1. Such an interesting read! I’ve always been pro gap year, but I get that it’s not for everyone. But, I do think they should be more normalized in the U.S!

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