A gap year work exchange allows you to travel the world with all your living expenses taken care of -- and you may even make money while you're at it!
In exchange for your labor, you'll often get accommodation, free meals, Wi-Fi, laundry, and other similar benefits. The possibilities for escaping the 9-5 grind are endless: you can be an au pair, work in a hostel, and be a part of the agriculture process on a farm, to name a few.
There are a few opportunities for a gap year work exchange available. Three of the most popular options include:
- Farm and agriculture
- Hostel work
- Au pair
Farm and Agriculture Work
If you have a passion for a homegrown, (literally) down-to-earth job, consider looking for farm and agriculture work abroad. You'll be working the land, eating fresh and local produce, taking care of animals, and making food right at home -- in a different country. There are many organizations, WWOOF being the largest, that connect volunteers with organic farmers worldwide. In exchange for help with various tasks around the farm, the volunteer will often receive food, accommodation, and a valuable educational experience.
Hostels give travelers (and workers) the chance to meet people from all over the world. Typical duties may include handling the reception desk, changing sheets, laundry, and cleaning. In exchange, you'll get free accommodation -- but usually not a paycheck.
Being an au pair means working as a live-in nanny for a family overseas. Au pairs will often help with cooking, cleaning, assisting kids with homework, taking kids to activities, and babysitting when the parents are not home. Plus, au pairs often get a living stipend and free language classes along with the job.
Where to Go
Now that you’ve given thought to what you’re going to do, don’t go running to catch that plane just yet! Many countries and multiple continents choose from for a gap year work exchange, and some have particular advantages over others.
New Zealand and Australia are beautiful, friendly, and for Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, the legalities are easy with working holiday visas. With the vast landscapes and variety of outdoor activities available, you'll have lots to do and see outside of your work hours.
Many people dream about cities like London, Paris, and Rome, but aside from studying abroad, spending an extended period of time in Europe, legally, can be difficult if you're not from the EU. Ireland especially is great for Americans because, like New Zealand and Australia, you can go there on a working holiday visa, but you have to have been enrolled in postsecondary education within the last 12 months.
Latin America is a bit more of an affordable alternative to the costly cities in Europe if you're craving a similar dose of vibrant culture. Practice your Spanish and explore the great cities and historical landscapes while enjoying your work exchange abroad.
On the other side of the hemisphere, Asia is steadily becoming the top destination for gappers around the world. With so many countries and cultures to choose from, the possibilities will suit everyone from the city slicker to penny pincher. If you're thinking of challenging yourself with a new language, Asia is one of the best choices available.
Planning Your Trip
The cost of your gap year work exchange depends largely on where you go and the organization you sign up with (if you do at all). Some programs may charge a fee in exchange for organizing and planning your work exchange. Other costs to consider are your visa applications, plane tickets, transportation fees, side trips and excursions, meals, and phone and internet bills.
Again, your housing depends on the program or work that you'll do while on your gap year work exchange. You may be staying with a host family in some cases, and you may be living with roommates in others. Some work exchanges expect you to find your own housing, so plan accordingly!
Finding a Job
Programs and work opportunities abroad vary widely in all aspects, including the level of support offered. Certain programs will help participants every step of the way, while others demand a higher level of independence. If you are going abroad with a visa, passport, and the clothes on your back, you will have to be creative in planning your trip, finding work, and meeting people.
Expand your network by joining a meetup group, connecting with others who have successfully found work exchange abroad, and looking through job boards for legitimate offerings. Here are tips on how to use your gap year to boost your resume later.
Look into your host country’s weather conditions before you go, and be prepared for all seasons. Only pack what you can carry (try to stick to one large backpack and a personal item -- like a purse/small backpack). Leave your valuables at home, and don't forget to pack a power adaptor for your electronics.
Most importantly, bring travel-sized toiletries that'll last you for the first month only. You can buy more at your destination, so save your packing space for your essentials -- and souvenirs!
Health & Safety
It’s important to remember that the healthcare offered in a foreign country may not have the same standards that you are used to, the doctors and nurses may not speak English, and the cost of healthcare can be free, or it may cost an arm and a leg. Consider purchasing traveler's insurance for the length of your stay.
You may also need certain vaccinations to live safely at the destination of your choice. Consult your doctor before your departure for the right vaccinations and medications to take along with you.
Safety precautions differ for travelers depending on their destination, but as a rule of thumb, keep your belongings close to you and don't venture outdoors alone at night. It's best to make copies of your valuables (like your passport) just in case your belongings get lost during your trip. If your intended city has special religious or cultural customs, make sure to follow them accordingly.