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Gap year guide to Europe

Gap year guide to Europe

A gap year can come in a variety of destinations and itineraries: Learning a language, getting international experience, or exploring the world one country at a time are just some of the possibilities (and perks) for taking a break from school or work.

After the United States, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand, it’s time to see what Europe – aka the continent where delicious food, captivating cultures, and breathtaking sceneries are never more than a short train or plane ride away – has in store for gap year enthusiasts.

Why Europe?

Europe is a continent shared by cosmopolitan cities, staggering mountain ranges, and tranquil beaches on perfect islands. With such a variety of amazing experiences on offer, there’s more than enough to satisfy your wanderlust, no matter what form it comes in. Whether that’s skiing or hiking through the Alps, sun-worshipping on the beaches of Spain or France, or marathon-shopping in Milan or London: Few places come with so much history and fame. Europe offers the perfect blend of modern buildings, iconic neighborhoods, and renowned landmarks.

Exploring and broadening your horizons has never been easier: Flitting across Europe can be done in comfort and style – and with your favorite choice of transportation. Plus, think of the cuisine! Just as varied as the landscapes, a sumptuous array of dishes awaits the hungry (or just food-loving) traveler. Munch your way through tons of tiny tapas in Madrid, salivate over creamy piles of spaghetti carbonara in Rome or tuck into a hearty weisswurst in Munich.

Learn or Teach Abroad

Europe’s diversity is not only culinary or geographical, it’s also linguistic: You’ll hear myriad different languages and a lot of countries are bilingual or even multilingual: So, why not learn a language abroad? At EF, we know that there is no better way to learn a language than to dive straight into the culture you’re discovering. Enroll in a Spanish course and move to colorful Barcelona, learn English while exploring bustling London, enjoy sunny Nice as you improve your French, or live la dolce vita while becoming fluent in Italian in iconic Rome. Not only will you practice your newfound vocabulary every day and learn miles faster (we promise!), but  you’ll also meet friends for life and really get to know your new hometown.

Spending part of a gap year teaching abroad is also popular and very rewarding! During the workweek, you can teach languages or any other skill – and in some cases – even earn an internationally recognized qualification. Use your weekends and school holidays to travel around your host country (and the rest of Europe) and finance your international exploration with the job. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a real difference to others, and it also looks great on your CV!

Explore more with ease

With so many countries crammed so tightly together, it’s super easy to explore a whole bunch of them in quick succession. No long-distance flights are necessary; in fact, you could wake up in one city and go to sleep in an entirely different country without even needing to board a plane. Just pack your passport and get an Interrail (train) pass that lets you take advantage of the network of high-speed trains that crisscross Europe and make international travel a piece of cake. A month of interrailing and sightseeing in Europe’s major cities can be the perfect follow-up to a few months’ working abroad.

If you prefer to reach your destination even faster, short-haul flights service every capital and a lot of smaller cities in each country. Budget airlines like easyJet, Ryanair, and Monarch offer gloriously cheap flights if you book (way) in advance or journey mid-week or at an off-season time. Watch out for flash sales, too, as you could bag a real bargain at the last minute.

Do a Season

Finding employment abroad is a great way to finance your international explorations during a gap year. Plus, you’ll have a blast spending time with like-minded people while learning a new language and boosting that global experience and those soft skills that make your resume shine. Luckily, there is a whole host of seasonal job options open in a variety of European countries, so there’s something to suit everyone.

If you’re a keen skier, signing up for a ski season is a no-brainer, and if you can’t shred those slopes yet, a gap year can be the perfect time to learn. Ski resorts are always looking for staff and ski schools need instructors, while tour operators look for holiday reps to run activities across the Alps or kitchen-savvy cooks to host wooden chalets in alpine villages. While the big companies (like Crystal and Nielson) might not pay the big bucks, you’ll usually have your accommodation, lift passes, and kit hire arranged for you. And the best part: You can spend up to six months breathing fresh mountain air and skiing some of the best powder in the world: Pick a big resort at a high elevation – like Tignes, Val d’Isere, or Val Thorens – this will bag you a longer season, because of slower snow melting, while offering you a huge ski area to explore. Just remember to plan ahead – interviews for winter season jobs start as early as June and July.

Alternatively, set off to soak up the sun as a watersports instructor and spend the summer months teaching sailing off the coast of Sicily or head to Tenerife to become a PADI scuba diving instructor. If you’re a keen sailor, websites like CrewRecruit make it easy to find maritime jobs as a crewmember on a variety of sailing boats or yachts and for all levels of experience. For those who can keep up with the pace of Ibiza or Mallorca, resort reps are always in high demand on the party islands of the Mediterranean. If you’re still looking for ideas, Seasonworkers makes finding a job easy and has a whole host of options to get you inspired.

On a practical note

Visas in Europe vary between countries and depend on your nationality. Just like anywhere in the world, be sure to do your research, have a passport that is valid for the length of time you plan to spend abroad, and leave ample time to actually obtain a visa. There are plenty of websites  that have untangled all the legal jargon to give you a simple answer no matter your plan.

Image by Roman Boed, Flickr / Creative Commons

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