Is the snap year the new gap year?

The old gap year order has changed. While it's still a common rite of passage for young people to take a year to explore the world, the gap year’s shorter, punchier younger sister – the ‘snap year’ – is here to stay. Tom Hall, Lonely Planet's UK-based web editor, takes a look at the trend.

Are round the world travellers taking shorter trips?

We spoke to six companies offering traditional gap year products, with five reporting increased demand for shorter programmes. Louise Prior of STA Travel told us they’d noticed their clientele was embarking on ‘shorter blasts of travel,’ with an average trip length of just 54 days. Similarly, Stuart Lodge of roundtheworldflights.com told us of ‘a 22% increase in the amount of passengers travelling round the world for between 2–3 months – suggesting people are cramming many highlights into a shorter time.’

Is there a culture change among gappers?

Not only is the snap year shorter in length (technically not even a year), it’s also a more serious undertaking than the backpacking trips of yore, with volunteering and CV-boosting internships proving popular among people soon to set out into a tough jobs market. There are signs that students are skipping traditional gap years to take snap years in their holidays – gap year organiser Real Gap reported an increase in summer demand among students and school leavers alike.

Tough economic times in many countries mean it’s harder to afford staying away for long periods for students and grown-up gappers alike – but Richard Oliver, Chief Executive of Year Out Group, questions the financial logic of the snap year. ‘I think the trend for shorter gap years has been driven by economics, but in my view, it’s a false economy’ says Oliver. ‘The flight will cost the same if you’re going for a week or for a year – but once you’re there it’s likely the living costs will be significantly less than staying at home. I think employers want to see people staying for longer. They want to see commitment.’

Traditional gap-year locations

The classic gap year destinations show no sign of losing their allure to young travellers:

  • Ecuador. ‘For learning Spanish. Unlike some other South American countries, in Ecuador the language is fairly close to European Spanish – making it the perfect introduction.’ - Alice Baines, The Leap.
  • South Africa. ‘Volunteers might expect to be working in destinations where conservation is needed to preserve species.’ - Lara Solomon, Responsible Travel.
  • Thailand. ‘This country has always been a key destination for gap year students and is still going strong – as is the whole of Southeast Asia.’ - Will Jones, i-to-i.

Up-and-coming gap year locations

The usual suspects are giving away to some new destinations. Here are three up-and-coming gap year locations:

  • Colombia. ‘A country we’re being asked for more and more as the political situation is starting to stabilise. There are some truly incredible beaches and friendly locals.’ - Louise Prior, STA Travel.
  • Venezuela. ‘A lack of infrastructure make it a tricky destination to navigate for independent backpackers – but it’s perfect for organised travel.’ - Alice Baines, The Leap.
  • Nepal. ‘If you want to explore Asia, we would say head to Nepal – a stunning country which has preserved its culture.’ - Anne Smellie, Oyster worldwide.