Travel the World: Gap Years and Personal Finance

Featured today is a guest post from Plonkee who writes at Plonkee Money. Plonkee lives in the UK, enjoys writing about personal finance and loves books! Be sure to subscribe to the Plonkee feed for more great articles.


Photography: Oia by Wolfgang Staudt

I don’t know what it’s like in the US, but here in the UK, it’s reasonably common for people to take a gap year between finishing school and going to University. The typical gapper will spend several months working in a menial job, and then take off for a few months travelling the globe with the traditional route through Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.

Now, it could be argued that people would be better served by going to Uni as early as possible, getting their degree as soon as they can and then getting out into the workforce to earn, save and invest for a rich future. And, I shouldn’t really argue since that’s more or less what I did – although not deliberately.

But, I think that’s missing several important points. Firstly, the life experience gained by travelling is immense – even though most people spend most of their time in developed English speaking countries, nearly everyone goes to a less developed country at some point – if only because it’s so cheap. Coping with different cultures at the age of 18, certainly helps you grow up and makes you more self-reliant. On starting Uni, it’s always easy to pick out the very independent ex-gap year freshers.

Secondly, the very act of travelling independently on a budget is good practice – you learn to cut costs, snaffle out good deals and save money on the less important things so that you can afford to go bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand. Not only are these skills useful for life as an impoverished student, they’re invaluable in the rest of your working and non-working life too.

Finally, and most importantly, the money for a gap year trip is saved up by the 18 year old themselves. They work hard for the money, and they need to make sacrifices in order to go – because there’s only a year to do it all in, and if there isn’t enough money then the trip will have to be cut short. The discipline of saving up for the things that you want to do, and paying for everything in cash, is one that everyone needs to learn at some point, better at 18 than at 30, or 40, or even later.

And a round the world trip as a lesson in personal finance is certainly one of the more enjoyable ways to learn.


4 thoughts on “Travel the World: Gap Years and Personal Finance

  1. Early Retirement Extreme

    Forsooth, traveling is very common for Europeans, some even do it in the year before high school. Another popular choice is doing an au pair or another kind of volunteering job somewhere. My sister has practically made a career out of that ;P Personally, I did not skip school and eventually I got to do my (free) travel when I visited a collaborating university, so doing a higher degree in a worthwhile project is also a possibility.

  2. plonkee

    I actually did my own travelling via a J1 exchange program with the States, and then the next year a round the world trip, whilst I was at University. But I think you can actually learn a lot more by doing it younger.

  3. Lily

    One more reason to travel before starting a real job: Once you’ve joined the work force for good, it will be difficult to take any significant time off. Sure, you could vacation for a week in exotic places, but you miss out on the cultural immersion and depth/breadth of experience you’d get only by traveling for a few months.

    I landed a fairly lucrative job for after graduation while I still had a year of school left. One of my contacts at the firm offered me this advice: “Travel the world before you start, because you won’t have the opportunity once you start work. Go into debt if you have to – you’ll make up for it with your salary. But you’ll never be able to make up for the experiences you’ll miss.”

    I’m not sure I’d advise everyone to go into debt to be a globetrotter for a while, but if you have the means, it’s certainly worth it. I definitely regret not spending more time traveling now that I’m trapped in the corporate world with less than a month of vacation days each year. (Not shabby, but not enough for a grand Experience with a capital E.)

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