Diaries of a Gap Year Student Part 3: Making your Gap Year Work for You

Before you get ahead of yourself and plan the year of your dreams climbing mountains in Nepal or foraging deep in the Amazon, it’s a wise decision to take a step back and think about the relatively boring subject of how to fund your trip.  Although you should never let anyone dissuade you from travelling because of the cost (my savings, if you could call the pitiful pennies in my bank account savings at all, were meagre but I still managed to pull together enough cash in 6 months to fund my trip and the summer beyond comfortably), there’s equally nothing worse than having to pull out of the experience of a lifetime when you’re travelling because funds are running low. 

Now, you can look at work in your gap year in two ways.  Firstly, you can see it in purely financial terms, i.e. how much you can earn in the shortest possible time. The second, and probably more useful way of looking at it to someone fresh out of school, is to see what you can learn from your work.  Consider that we live in a world where most graduates leave university without any work experience at all.  To an employer, they may have plenty of pieces of paper which indicate a level of intelligence, but little else differentiating them from a sea of near-identical applicants.  It’s crucial to make your gap year job work for you. 

You might question the value to your future career in working for, say, a high-street retailer, or serving as a waiter – but remember that no experience is ever wasted. 

Some examples…  A friend of mine worked for River Island as a shop assistant.  She hated it, but now uses the experience she gleaned there to help her run her own homemade chocolate business (a great friend to have I can tell you!).  Another worked for an engineering firm as a low-paid intern, but later used the contacts he met during his year out to secure a well-paid job graduate job in one of the most competitive firms in the UK. 

Yes, it can be difficult to find a job, but countless agencies exist solely to find low-paid work in all kinds of job sectors.  Likewise restaurant and bar jobs come up frequently, and you should never underestimate the value (or the fun) of working in a restaurant to learn a whole range of skills, from basic accounting and stock management, to team work and client management. 

In my own case, I had thoughts that I might one day decide to be a lawyer.  I joined an agency which found me a relatively well-paid job in a law firm.  Happy days!  Except that from the day I started, to the day I left two months later, I hated every waking moment I spent in that soulless office. 

My first job at the law firm

At the time, I could see no benefit to working there whatsoever (apart from the pay check), but with the wonderful benefit of hindsight I can see that it was a key moment.  It was then I decided that being a lawyer wasn’t for me (saving two years and a small fortune in law-conversion fees), that where I worked and what I did was actually more important for me than how much I earned, and that I would from then on be determined to work as hard as I could to avoid having to work in such a place again.  

I chose, instead, to work as a waiter in Fishers Restaurant, Bristol, and never looked back.  There were some dark times, sure.  I once dropped a hot Irish coffee all over a particularly difficult customer and her white Prada handbag (unintentionally of course).  I suffered pretty severe burns to my hands when a bread bucket went up in flames and I had to rush with it through the restaurant at 100mph to put it out – and then there was the time I accidentally got a live lobster to attach itself to a chair and couldn’t get it off again (I really was a dreadful waiter)… but it was a lot of fun.
Fisher’s Restaurant

The Christmas Party at Fishers

I met some great people, secured a job for every holiday when I returned home from uni, and learned how to not to deal with live shellfish.   Before I started I could barely work a filter coffee machine – but working there taught me so many life skills which I’ll forever be thankful for.

On top of this I got a paper round (don’t laugh!).  A 20 minute bike ride, 6 days a week earning £25 per week.  £25 per week for 20 or so weeks is £500 – equating to roughly half a month’s travel expenses.  Not bad when you look at it like that – you’ll sure be grateful for the extra cash when you’re travelling the world!

So, there you have it, a brief guide to how to get the most out of earning to pay for your gap year travels.    You don’t need to stick yourself in a dead-end job.  Indeed you should use the time while you can to learn as much as possible to stand you in good stead in the years to come.  Even a bad experience can be turned into a good one if you learn from it.  And, if you learned nothing else here, please remember to always tip your lowly waiter – especially when they save you from 3rd degree burns.

Whether you’re a newbie traveller looking for help or a backpacking veteran with words of wisdom to share, our community is waiting for you.

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