With it's rich history of emperors with expansive territories, royals fighting for power and the enlightening Renaissance Europe, is a continent that attracts historical lovers, educators, tourist and travelers. As the continent that linked the "new world" to the eastern lands of Asia, Europe has been the land bridge between many cultures.
With so much culture, history, and beautiful landscapes to explore, trekking around Europe for your gap year is a no brainer!
For centuries, Europe has been the region of choice for students and travelers wanting to enrich themselves and do some exploring. Where you travel to Europe is really up to you and your interests! However, having an open mind to try new things and go to locations you did not plan on can become the most awesome experience of your life.
Though English is commonly spoken throughout Europe, it's always helpful to have a basic understanding of the language of your host country. Many gap year programs include language courses, and participating in these is strongly recommended.
Adventure Travel: Your Gap Year in Europe will be an adventure in and of itself, but there are a few places that you can go to satisfy your more extreme adventure interests. You can find everything from sky diving, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, sailing, scuba diving and motorbiking.
Popular destinations for adventure travel include the Northern Lights and fjords in Iceland, the Alps and Interlaken in Switzerland, Mont Blanc in France, the islands of Greece and the beautiful landscapes of Spain and Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula.
If you aren't quite the thrill seeker and all this sounds like too much, feel free to just relax along the shores of the Mediterranean!
Teaching English: Teaching for a semester is a great way to offset your costs while traveling abroad. Some of the popular destinations to teach in Europe include France, Spain and the Czech Republic.
Many companies in France hire ESL teachers to work in teaching business English. With Spain's beautiful cities and countryside, it is an excellent opportunity to work while learning or improving your Spanish. Madrid is a popular location with it's rich culture and history. The Czech Republic offers the lovely city of Prague with a lower cost of living compared to Western European countries.
It is generally recommended, if not required, to have a Bachelors degree and TEFL certificate for most teaching positions in European countries. The best thing to do is research the guidelines and requirements for securing a position teaching ESL based on the country you want to go to. Costs of initial set-up will vary and there are many wonderful blogs, forums and websites where you can get more cost-specific examples of ESL teachers already living abroad.
Volunteering in Conservation: For those with a passion for animals and traveling, volunteering with a conservation effort is your ideal match. Tethys Research Institute based in Milan accepts volunteers for helping to collect data on whales during their research. In Greece you can volunteer to help with sea turtle protection. Other available programs may vary based on the landscape and conservation efforts. Some programs have organized trip costs that will include the costs of your food and lodging during the time you volunteer.
If you are planning a Gap Year before you go to college, volunteering while traveling is a great way to continue to build your resume for college applications. If you have already finished college, you can take this time to explore a new field of interest.
Planning Your Trip
Planning a gap year in Europe can seem a bit daunting, but being money savvy and open minded will help your dream become a reality. How much money you need will vary based on your travel destinations, how long you actually spend abroad, and if you are planning on working or not.
As spontaneous as one might want to be for their trip, doing some planning ahead of time might be wise. Purchasing tickets in advance through airline websites that offer deals is a great place to start. Staying in hostels is cheaper than hotels and offer a more personal experience as you are able to meet other travelers or country natives vacationing in the area. Eat foods from local eateries and street vendors when available as this is cheaper than eating in restaurants.
Never be afraid to stay with friends either! If you have friends or relatives living in another country do not turn down their invitation for a visit. This can lead to introductions to new individuals that can make your trip more memorable.
It is generally recommended to save at least $3,000 after paying for flights, other travel expenses and medical insurance. However, having an extra few thousand on top of this will leave room for any emergencies or extra travel plans added on during your adventure!
The key rule is to make a realistic budget and leave room for some extras. Researching and planning out itineraries for the best deals possible will leave you with more spending cash for daily living. Plan your trip as if you were moving to a new place and try to cover all aspects you can imagine within your budget.
Cost of Living
Cost of living in Europe may be different than your home country. For cheaper areas, check out Poland, Czech Republic and Romania. More expensive countries include England, France, and Switzerland. The biggest expenditures you'll have are housing, food, and transportation, so be cautious of which places you choose to go.
The cost of living and travel depends on which locations you have targeted. If you want to learn the basics about more cities in Europe with low cost of living, Price of Travel has an updated list of cities with basic costs outlines.
Health and Safety
Violent crimes in Europe tend to be lower than the United States, but petty crimes such as pickpocketing may be common in some areas. Keeping your valuables on you at all times and keeping wallets chained to your pants are some preventive measures to take.
Traffic in some countries can be more aggressive in the states and its best to be aware of your surroundings. It's also worth noting that some countries drive on the opposite side of the ride, so be sure to always look both ways when crossing the street.
Generally, the health standards in Europe are high with a low risk of disease. To be on the safe side, travelers should always make sure they are up to date with common vaccinations as a precaution.
Contributed by Heidi Cruz
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