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Gap years and voluntary service:

There are now a myriad of organisations offering gap year experiences. Many charge large amounts of money for your experience. Insist on knowing exactly what is being offered and what they expect of you - questions you should ask include:
  • what is the cost? are there any other costs to be met?
  • is transport to the venue included?
  • what accommodation is provided? Is it shared?
  • what meals are provided?
  • how many hours work is required? What type of work?
  • do they pay anything?
  • what facilities are there for out-of-hours recreation?
  • what is the status of the organisation -charitable or profit-making
  • what is their ethical policy?
  • can they provide references?
Once you have answers to these, you should go and take up the references, and also search travel forums for comments by previous volunteers.
You really want the project to be of local value, as well as giving you a valuable experience, so do probe the organisation on ethical issues. There are good guides to going about this at or its sister site, covering topics like how they present the work they do, how organisations match volunteer skills to the project, how volunteers are selected, what sort of pre-departure and return briefings are provided.

Special feature -Raleigh International
Raleigh ( is a youth and education charity that runs adventure and challenge expeditions for 17-24 year olds from a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities and life stages with the aim of increasing the leadership skills of young people and their awareness of their role as active global citizens.
Since being founded in1984, more than 30,000 people have taken part in Raleigh's expeditions, Raleigh also recruits 'volunteer managers' aged 25 and above, who are selected on the basis of their specialist skills, as well as their energy, enthusiasm, leadership, team working and motivational skills.
Raleigh runs around a dozen expeditions a year to Borneo (Malaysian), Costa Rica & Nicaragua and India.Typically a full expedition last ten weeks for venturers and thirteen weeks for volunteer managers who receive an additional period of in-country training. For those short on time, there is also the option for venturers to take part in a five week expedition during the summer.
During a full 10-week expedition venturers will work on three projects: community, environmental and adventure. The community phase includes projects such as installing gravity-feed water systems in remote Nicaraguan villages, constructing eco-sanitation units in Indian villages or building kindergartens in Borneo; the environmental phase could include working to transform a former prison island off the coast of Costa Rica into a wildlife refuge or building elephant trenches in India; and the adventure phase sees participants trekking through diverse landscapes such as rainforests, tea plantations, climbing volcanoes or perhaps learning to dive and conserving coral reefs in Borneo.
Raleigh has a permanent field base and permanent staff in each of its expedition countries which means that we can build relationships with local communities and government to ensure that the projects are genuinely needed, worthwhile and sustainable.
As a youth and education charity Raleigh's emphasis is on helping young people realise their potential, and taking part in an expedition facilitates an increase in self-confidence, the building of skills such as team working, leadership, planning and problem-solving, as well as a pride and satisfaction from helping others through immersing young people in new and challenging situations. Education and career prospects are enhanced through taking part in an expedition, as well as giving young people a chance to become more socially, environmentally and globally aware.

If you are interested in joining as a Venturer or Volunteer Manager, you can apply online through

Useful organisations:

  • Duke of Edinburgh Award -useful guide to thinking about a gap year including budgeting, checklists and other useful tips.
  • -sets out to be the most comprehensive Gap Year information source on the web.
  • Gaps for Grumpies -adventure travel and volunteering for the over 40s.
  • Gapwork -gap year information site. gapwork gives information on jobs abroad, gap years, summer work, UK gap years and overseas voluntary work.
  • -a complete guide to taking time out.
  • -resource for planning a gap year -advice, message board, volunteering.
  • Gap Year Worldwide -a gap year guide, with ideas, volunteer placements & more...
  • Global Adventures -a division of the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), one of the world's leading educational and cultural exchange organisations. More than one million young people have participated in AIFS programmes since the organisation was founded in 1964.
  • Global Vision International -conservation expeditions, volunteer work, training courses and career opportunities in Mexico, Ecuador and Costa Rica and take part in volunteer conservation and community work in over 20 countries worldwide throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia.
  • Lattitude Global Volunteering -an international youth development charity (formerly Gap Activity Projects). Their mission is to educate and develop young people worldwide by providing inclusive opportunities for them to make a positive difference to the lives of others through a distinctive, challenging, structured and supported international volunteering experience in a culture and community different from their own.
  • Madventurer offer a combination of award winning volunteer projects and adventures in some of the most fascinating destinations in the world. They aim to help local communities in developing countries with volunteer projects, and at the same time enable travellers to gain life-changing experiences through cultural integration, challenge and adventure. Destinations include Fiji, Ghana, India, Kenya, Peru, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda. Projects combine volunteering, adventure or sports projects -rugby, hockey, football, netball, cricket, basketball, swimming, tennis and volleyball.
  • MondoChallenge -the career break specialists -currently has projects in Chile, Ecuador, The Gambia, India, Kenya, Nepal, Le Sénégal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Romania. A not for profit organisation.
  • One World 365 -an online directory of gap year work, volunteer and teaching opportunities.
  • Qest Overseas -gap year provider specialising in South America and Africa, and offering ethical volunteering and expedition experiences for 17-25 year olds.
  • Real Gap -gap year provider with an ethical bias -volunteer with wildlife conservation, work with children or teach English abroad for just a few weeks up to a full gap year out.
  • Simply Volunteer -overseas volunteer opportunities in their simplest form -Placements include teaching English, conservation, community, building, sports coaching, media and marketing.
  • Volunteer Abroad -short-term volunteer development assistance around the world.
  • VSO -Voluntary Service Overseas is an international development charity that works through volunteers and aims to fight global poverty and disadvantage. They are one of the longest standing volunteer organisations, and tend to look for people with relevant skills and experience -there is a searchable databse of opportunities on the site.
  • Worldwide Volunteering -extensive database of volunteer opportunities and advice on fundraising.
  • WWHOOF -World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms offers "WHOOFERS" the opportunity to volunteer on organic farms throughout the world in return for food, accommodation and the chance to learn about organic lifetsyles.
  • -national database of volunteering opportunities in the UK.
  • Year Out Group -information and guidance on taking a gap year or career break for young people and their parents and advisers.
  • Yomps -a small gap year and career break company based in Brighton who aim to provide a very personal service, the most important aspect of which is that they know their clients by name. They offer a wide range of adventure expeditions, volunteer projects, overlanding tours, scuba diving courses and safari trips.

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Featured books:

gap-year guidebook 2010
Alison Withers
Paperback -Nov 2009
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Gap Years for Grown Ups
Susan Griffith
Vacation Work Publications
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Before You Go: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Gap Year
Tom Griffiths, Kathy Rooney (Editor)
Paperback - Aug 2003
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