15 Apr Average cost of a gap year
Taking a gap year can have transformative effects on your future – unfortunately, it is also a relatively expensive undertaking. If you are prepared to make lifestyle sacrifices, though – you can save up enough dough to get out to experience the world for months at a time.
So, what is the average cost of a gap year? As tempted as we are to respond, “How long is a piece of string”, we will use costs based on the most common itineraries to give you a realistic idea of how much money you need to save in order to hit the road in search of adventure and enlightenment.
Many don’t include this number in their average cost of a gap year. However, your health plan at home won’t cover you if you break your leg or come down with malaria in a developing country. Before you even think about putting one foot outside your door, you need to consider the cost of travel insurance.
If you get unlucky, but you’ll be in a world of financial hurt – bills can quickly build into the tens of thousands of dollars, especially if you require specialized care.
In contrast, you’ll pay way less for your travel insurance cover – for those looking to travel to Thailand from the United States (California) for five months, World Nomads calculates a basic plan premium that costs $353 USD.
With diligent budgeting, you’ll be able to sock away this amount in a paycheck or two – talk about a quick win!
Flights, transport, and visas
Unless you plan on swimming to Thailand or anywhere else you plan to travel, you’ll need to board a flight to get there. Plane tickets are the most expensive one-off purchase you’ll make – to get from LAX to BKK one-way, you’ll need to set aside $378 USD if you book for a November arrival as of the writing of this article.
Prices fluctuate considerably, but the longer you wait, the greater the chance it will spike on you. Before you dismiss this as a small cost like the travel insurance figure mentioned above, remember you will need to book at least one other one-way flight back home – if you have ambitious plans, you may need many hundreds of dollars more to cover your anticipated costs.
On the ground, buses vary wildly in expense, from a low of $1 USD per hour in many parts of Asia and Andean countries like Ecuador to eye-poppingly expensive rides across Argentinian Patagonia – one company we approached in El Calafate wanted $200 USD for a 30-hour bus ride to Bariloche.
And then, there are visas – some nations offer visa waiver programs which allow you to enter without cost, but many nations require them. Some are offered on arrival, while some nations require you to prearrange one outside the country.
Like buses, costs are all over the map – many cost $20-30 USD, but a few visas will leave a sizable dent in your wallet. Brazil is a prime example of this, as they require Americans to pay a $160 USD reciprocity fee – ouch!
When plotting out your itinerary, you need to figure out this cost. It may turn out to be an intimidating number, but knowing it is essential if you want to know the average cost of a gap year for you.
If you are travelling on limited funds scrapped together from a summer job, you’ll want your money to go as far as possible. For most people in your shoes, this means staying in hostels – this is nowhere as bad as it sounds, as not only will you save tons of money (bunks only cost $5-$30 USD per night on average throughout the world), but these accommodations are infinitely more social than hotels.
Multiply $20 USD by the number of nights you plan to be overseas, and you’ll come up with the amount you need to save for lodging. Away for five months? Save up $3,000 USD, and add it to your total.
You’ll also need to eat – unlike plants, photosynthesis is not an ability we’ve evolved yet. While meals can be had on the street for $1-$2 a plate in Southeast Asia, you’ll be spending more for these eats in places like Europe.
Assuming you eat half your meals out at an average cost of $10 USD per day and you rely on groceries to pick up the slack (at $20 USD per week), you’ll need to save up around $1,200 USD for a five-month trip.
Activities and other fun stuff
While there are plenty of free things to do that will help keep the average cost of a gap year down, lacking the funds to partake in activities can kill your buzz in a hurry.
Drinking is the most common contributor to the average cost of a gap year for many young travellers: you may end up partying a lot at first (4-5 times per week to start), then slow down to 2-3 times per week after the first month.
The cost of a night out can be dramatically different depending on where you are, but a good time can be had for $20 USD in most parts of the globe – budget around $1,400 USD for this purpose (drink responsibly).
As for organized activities, this cost is highly variable depending on what interests you, but you can spend as little as a few dollars tipping a city tour guide or several hundred dollars to go skydiving or on a safari.
$50 USD per week is a good average for activity spending – accordingly, save up at least $1,000 USD to ensure your gap year is an action-packed one.