With its rich history of emperors with expansive territories, royals fighting for power and the enlightening Renaissance Europe, is a continent that attracts historical lovers, educators, tourists, and travelers.
For centuries, Europe has been the region of choice for students and travelers wanting to enrich themselves and do some exploring. Taking a year between high school and college or college and grad school provides the opportunity to see the world, make memories, learn new skills, and clarify career goals. Where you live and travel in 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.
Although 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.
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!
Au Pair in Europe
Another popular thing to do during a gap year in Europe is to become an au pair for a family. It's common for European families to hire an au pair to look after their children. Duties include helping kids get ready for school, picking them up from school, playing, or doing homework with them. Usually, an au pair will live in a spare bedroom and may get some meals. Due to provided housing, the stipend as an au pair is low at about $100 - $300 per week. You might not be able to save too much, but it will give you enough pocket money for weekend trips, exploring your new city, and a night out on the town with fellow au pairs or ex-pats.
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 its 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 bachelor's degree and TEFL certificate for most teaching positions in European countries. The best thing to do is to 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 English 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.
Popular Destinations in Europe
While on a gap year in Europe, you have quite a few destinations to choose from. Iceland's a great place to start from, before making your way from West to East.
Alternatively, you could spend your gap year in one destination, working as an au pair in Paris, WWOOFing on a farm, or learning a new language.
If you plan on traveling throughout your gap year, take a look at our gap year itinerary ideas for Europe.
Expenses During Your Gap Year in Europe
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 gap year in Europe 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 about which places you choose to go to.
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 & 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. However, you should buy health or travel insurance for the duration of your trip. To be on the safe side, travelers should always make sure they are up to date with common vaccinations as a precaution before their gap year in Europe.
Contributed by Heidi Cruz
Want to earn $10,000 towards your gap year?
US residents ages 14-25 are eligible to apply for our USA Gap Year Fairs Scholarship, due Apr 15th. Register for a gap year fair to learn about eligible programs!
Gap Year Programs in Europe
View the latest job postings on our job board. A great way to earn work experience during your gap year!
How much does a gap year in Europe cost?
The cost can vary depending on the activities, length, and location. Countries like Poland or the Czech Republic will be cheaper to live and travel through than Italy or France. Generally, you should expect to spend between $50 - $100 per day for accommodation, meals, and experiences, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits. This would come out to about $1,500 - $3,000 per month totaling to at least $18,000 for one year. It can be less or more depending on if you work along the way or join a gap year program.
Are gap years common in Europe?
Yes. Due to a few factors, it's common for Europeans to take a year off before attending a higher education institution. Since it's a common practice, it's also more accepted by society as a natural option after high school. The continent is also made up of countries in close proximity to each other, making it easier to hop from one country to the next.
What are the most popular gap year destinations in Europe?
Every country in Europe has its own draws and fascinating things to explore, however, some of the most popular destinations that gappers love to visit include Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Greece.