How much does a gap year cost? That’s an essential question to answer before you leave for yours! Figure out the cost of a gap year, and then get planning. ☆ One of everyone’s biggest dreams is to travel the world, and a gap year seems to be the most popular and affordable way to make this dream come true.
“But won’t it cost me an arm and a leg?” you might ask. The answer to that question depends on what you envision yourself doing on your gap year, what your destination is, the type of gap year you’d be doing, and other travel preferences you might have. So, our answer? It depends.
See, traveling the world does not have to be expensive if you know how to plan it well. So let’s just decide right now that spreadsheets are your new best friend, because we’ve broken down for you the expenses of how much you’ll need to spend to make your dream come true.
Your travel plan will determine your cost of a gap year
The first thing you need to decide on is if you’d like to go on your gap year with a certain program, or if you want to take this one into your own hands. If you decide to spend your gap year with a program, your budget should first start with the program fee. Check out everything that is included in the program fee already, such as how many countries you will hit, the duration, amenities, or extra activities. From here on, what you’ll factor into your spreadsheet could be quite small.
But if you’re determined to give this a try on your own, let’s start first with deciding where exactly you want to go…and be smart about it! If your tour sounds something like Germany-Japan-New Zealand-and whatever other country, it may be very hard to accomplish for cheap. Stick to a destination that allows you to travel easily and affordably between countries, and where the cost of living is not so high. For example Southeast Asia is a very popular destination for those on a tight budget.
How much does the average gap year cost?
It’s time to bring out your laptop and your spreadsheet, because we’re about to break the average cost of a gap year down for you. Keep in mind that these costs are what you have to account for if you’re planning your own trip, or if your program fee covers only the bare bones (make sure you touch base with a program advisor before you get too ahead of yourself). So…how much does the average gap year cost?
Flights between countries are likely to be the highest expense in your budget during your gap year. Consider purchasing yourself a multi-destination ticket, which can cover many stops for one price. It’s not only cheaper than booking each flight individually, but it is also much faster and convenient to have one ticket for all stops. Asia is one of the most budget-friendly destinations, with tickets that cost around $650 for a trip like Home – Sri Lanka – Bangkok – Singapore – Home (depending on where home is). Not bad, eh?
Depending on the countries you are going to travel to, you may or may not need a visa. If you’re going to Europe, the duration of your visa is a set 90-days for all 26 countries that are part of the Schengen accord. Usually the cost for visa depends on the type of visa you are getting and it can vary from $25 all the way up to $150. If you’re spending your gap year with a program, make sure you check if visa fees are included in the program fee. To make sure you get all the information you need about visas, check out GoAbroad’s resource for visas & passports, and do your research thoroughly.
You’ll have to sleep somewhere, and there will be countries you will be sleeping in longer than others. Depending on which countries those are, prices can vary widely, from as little as $7 per night for a hostel room in Bangkok, to as high as $30 per night in London. If you happen to have friends in some of the countries you are visiting, you might be able to crash with them for a night or two and save some $$$.
Nowadays there are more options for accommodation than ever before. Check out couchsurfing, hostels, room shares, homestays, Airbnbs, and hotels. Ensure that you have laid out a good plan for where to lay your head at night. Don’t simply wing it unless you want to run the risk of spending the night in a 24-hour McDonald’s eating McFlurries. Have at least a rough idea of your options and if something better or cheaper presents itself along the way, good for you. If not, at least you’re not wandering on the streets at night!
You gotta eat, right? And chances are that your accommodation does not come with breakfast, lunch, and dinner included. Pretty much like everything else, how much you’ll have to budget for food highly depends on your destination. For example, in Thailand you can eat an entire meal with drinks for about $3, while in Australia you will have to shell out at least $10 just for the meal. But if there is one thing that most countries have in common, it’s local markets. Cook a lot at home, or hit the local food markets where you can sometimes get three days’ worth of food under $5. The most budget-friendly countries when it comes to food are in Southeast Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe.
You’re abroad, in a new country, and you can’t just sit in one place. You gotta more around, see as much as you can at the lowest price you can find. Remember that this cost is not included in the airplane costs. This is your transportation within the country, or even between them. If you can take a quick bus ride to a neighboring country, then go for it. Just remember that it will chip at your budget. You need to account for every train, bus, cab, or Uber ride. Use public transportation and share rides to keep the transportation budget on the low side. You can cut even more on those costs if you are into bike riding or walking to your sightseeing destinations.
6. Insurance and vaccinations
If you’re going on a gap year, you definitely need travel insurance. You might have your own health insurance in your own country, but with travel insurance you will be covered overseas, in multiple countries, for the entire length of your travel. Some policies even cover certain extreme sports, such as skydiving and bungee jumping. Policies vary in cost and what they offer, so make sure you know what you are covered for. Prices for gap year travel insurance start around $40 per week, and the prices go up from there depending on the length of your travel.
If you are doing a tour in Africa, it is highly recommended that you vaccinate yourself before your travels. Anti malarial tablets are essential, and make sure to bring the proper type of clothing with you (like long sleeves and trousers) in order to avoid mosquito bites. It’s also a good idea to do research ahead of time and see if there are any other health concerns concentrated in your destination, such as rabies or Dengue, so that you can take the proper precautions. Don’t forget to pack essential medications that you’re taking, as they may not be available in your destination.
Invest in a good backpack of about 60L — you want to travel light and with essentials. If it’s something you can find where you’re going, get it when you arrive to save on luggage space. For instance, any toiletries can be bought when you arrive and may be cheaper. Bring travel adapters if you need any, an external charging battery for your phone, a travel towel (it will come in handy in places that may not have any), an international phone plan (you can’t always find WiFi) and a comfortable pair of shoes. Your feet will be very grateful.
Last but not least, budget for all the tours and activities that you want to do during your gap year. Add every ticket or entrance fee for museums, galleries, concerts or events, getting a diving certification, buying souvenirs, visiting national parks, and so on. Usually, once you arrive in a new country you end up wanting to do more, or maybe other things than you initially planned for, so having a little bit more money than what you budgeted is always a good idea!
Affordable places to take your gap year
It all sounds good and nifty, eh? But still don’t know where to start with your destination? Here are some of the most affordable-yet-mesmerizing places you should consider for your gap year!
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for gappers on a tight budget, with its incredible temples, beautiful beaches, jungles, cheap lifestyle, delicious food, and amazing sky bars. And you can experience everything! You can easily find accommodation for $2 per night, or if you want a night of luxury, it will cost you about $20.
The food at the local food markets, and street food in general, is a lot cheaper and even tastier than what you get at some high quality fancy restaurant. Transportation is also incredibly cheap and you can take the bus and train to explore the entire country. Or even better, get yourself that “around the world” ticket and jump over to Singapore, Cambodia, or Indonesia. A whole year might seem like a lot of time, but you don’t know how fast that goes by when you’re enjoying yourself.
Mexico and Central America in general have incredibly affordable destinations that makes everyone’s gap year an unforgettable experience. Hotel prices start as low as $2 per night, and there is delicious street food at every turn you take, so you never have to worry about going hungry.
Activities, such as diving in Honduras, are known to be some of the cheapest in the world, and if you spend most of your days at the beach your budget can easily be kept in check. Mexico itself has enough activities and wonderful places to offer that can keep you busy throughout the entire year, but you should definitely make quick jumps to Belize, Honduras, or Nicaragua. See how you can fit them in your budget, because it would be a shame to miss.
3. South Africa
If you truly dream of a unique and memorable gap year, experiencing South Africa can be a rewarding experience. Discover the home of the most magnificent wildlife that offers the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino), breathtaking wildland with incredible safaris, parks and reserves, ancient culture and traditions that the people still proudly practice, and unique activities such as surfing, jungle trekking, safari rides, and even shark diving.
Things like food and accommodation are very affordable in South Africa, especially if you shop at the local markets for meats, vegetables, and fruits, and their transportation system is one of the most inexpensive in the world. Let’s put it like this — the cost of living in South Africa is at least 50% cheaper than the majority of major cities in the world. How does that sound for a gap year?
Also on the list as one of the most popular yet affordable places for your gap year is Vietnam. Spend a thrilling year in Vietnam motorbiking, kitesurfing, discovering ancient temples, exploring the world’s most spectacular cave system in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, relaxing on the beach, or hiking through the countryside.
At the end of the day, grab yourself a freshly tapped beer from the local vendors for as little as 10 cents in Hanoi, and eat something different every day from the myriad of street food choices. To top if all off, you can get yourself a nicely-sized, modern room for as little as $7 per night. Don’t care much about the room, because you only need it to sleep and are spending most of your days out and about? Then sleep in a hostel for $2 and spend the rest of your money on more amazing activities.
The cost of a gap year will buy you an unforgettable 365 days
How much does a gap year cost? Hopefully not as much as you were originally imagining! We’ve broken down what you should take into consideration when you’re figuring out the cost of a gap year, and what a gap year program includes. At the end of your spreadsheet, you might come to an amount in the thousands — an average gap year cost being about $5000 — but if you put it into perspective with how much you’re spending at home for an entire year, you’ll quickly figure out that it is not nearly as expensive.
The cost of a gap year involves paying less than half the rent, and less for food and activities, all while you’re learning new life skills, immersing yourself in new cultures and languages, and learning more about yourself as a person as you step out of your comfort zone, pushing your limits and setting yourself on a path to success.
You don’t have to rush into your decision, but sitting down for a few minutes and doing some math will be time well spent. This is a life-changing decision and you need to make sure you are prepared for what you’re signing yourself up to! Ready for an amazing way to spend an unforgettable 365 days of your life?
This article was written by Lucy Dinu. Lucy is an entrepreneur and world traveler—plus writer by day, and reader by night. Born and raised in Romania, Lucy has lived in three different countries and, together with her husband, has traveled to over 20. She strongly believes in personal development, speaks five languages (with a sixth in progress!) and is passionate about everything that puts a smile on people’s faces. Through her unique traveling stories, Lucy aims to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and explore the world.