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As students receive their A level results today, and look forward to starting their time at University, tens of thousands¹ will look to take some time out for travelling or a Gap Year.

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Volunteering abroad is a popular choice for many ‘gappers’, from sports coaching or assisting in a local school, to conservation and construction, these activities often shape people’s travel plans.

There are lots of things people need to think about in order to make sure that they find a project which is a positive experience for volunteers and, most importantly, the host community. To help volunteers ABTA has published five tips for planning a volunteering trip:

  1. Do your research. It is important you thoroughly research the activities and projects you want to take part in, and the companies you are looking to book with, before committing. Ensure that whatever company you choose, volunteering projects provide a genuine benefit to the local host communities and activities are tailored to your skill set as well as providing a memorable life experience for you.
  2. Use your skills. Consider how your own skill set can add value. Appropriate placement training will not only provide gappers with enhanced skills for the rest of their life but will ensure that they make a real and valuable contribution to the volunteering project, which will also vastly enrich their experience on their gap year.
  3. Expect a background check. Companies should carry out background checks on people who want to work with children or vulnerable adults, and provide necessary support when you are abroad.
  4. Be aware of orphanages. There is growing evidence² orphanages can negatively affect the children who are in this environment and by working in orphanages, volunteers can inadvertently cause harm to children. ABTA has been taking an active role in supporting child safeguarding for many years and advises its Members to move away from volunteering in orphanages.³
  5. Look into animal sanctuaries. If you are considering volunteering in an animal sanctuary, be aware that a genuine sanctuary should have a no breeding policy and that physical contact should only take place for essential management or veterinary purposes.

Nikki White, ABTA Director of Destinations and Sustainability, said:

“Thousands of young people will head off on their gap year over the next twelve months and many of them will be looking to put this time to good use by volunteering. It is very important that students use the services of a reputable company, which will ensure that they have the appropriate training and supervision whilst overseas. Volunteering can provide unforgettable experiences and make a very real difference for local communities but it can also lead to intense disappointment or in some cases do actual harm if it is not managed properly, so it is incredibly important that you take your time and do thorough research before committing to a project.”

ABTA is also providing gappers with practical advice to help them have a safe and enjoyable year out:

  • Check with your travel company and with the Foreign Office for “dos and don’ts” and “no go” areas for the country you are visiting.  They will also tell you about visa requirements and how to get relevant visas, do this well in advance. This is especially important if you are going to be working.
  • Choose a reputable gap year travel company with a good track record that is a member of a trade association such as ABTA.
  • Get a good quality travel insurance policy and make sure it covers the activities you want to take part in as well as the length of time you will be away. The cheapest policies will not necessarily provide you with the level of cover needed for a lengthy stay overseas.
  • Research local customs and culture before you go. You will understand much more about the host destination, fit in better and avoid unwittingly causing offence.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary jabs and inoculations; do this at least eight weeks before you travel. Check here https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home
  • If you are going to a country with malaria always take anti-malarial medication and always finish the course.
  • Don’t be tempted to hire a moped or quad bike to get you around, they are both potentially very dangerous and if you have an accident it is very unlikely that your insurance will cover you.
  • Tell your bank where and when you’ll be travelling, if you do not they may stop your card
  • Keep electronic copies of all your important travel documents and leave a copy with someone at home.
  • Keep a list of emergency contact numbers - your bank, insurance company, British Embassy or consulate.
  • Keep in regular contact with your parents – they will only worry if you don’t!


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