With stiff competition for top universities and a volatile job market, it seems more important than ever for school leavers intent on taking a gap year break from education, to plan their time carefully. Using this opportunity to enhance their CV and develop new skills is more important than ever. Planning, problem solving, teamwork, cultural awareness and communication skills all have future benefits.
When devising their itinerary, ask what they will learn or achieve, other than a social life and a sun tan! Volunteering in either the UK or abroad brings experiences of other cultures and communities, developing a social conscience or community spirit. Learning a new language will enhance their CV. Time spent working before travelling instils an appreciation of the value of money and hard work, rather than reliance on the bank of mum and dad. If living at home, increase the expectation to contribute as an adult by helping with household jobs and managing their own money.
Parents can be worried by horror stories from popular gap year destinations, or by listening to their naive teenager talking excitedly about travelling by local bus, motorcycle or camper van. Good insurance cover gives some reassurance. Keep copies of their itinerary, passport, visa and bank card details incase these are lost or stolen. A good self-defence course, particularly for girls, will be a sensible investment. Research local laws of the countries they are visiting, making them aware of cultural differences, particularly where alcohol or human interaction are concerned.
Agree how and how often you will communicate while they are away, but do remember they will sometimes forget! The trick is to give them the independence to broaden their horizons, but with support mechanisms on stand-by, should anything go awry.