The origination of the 'Gap Year' concept came in the decade following the Second World War when youth travel and cultural exchange was discussed amongst Governments as a useful tool to create more of a global understanding to prevent future global wars. However, the first 'Gap Years' actually started in the UK in the 1960's when the baby-boomer generation in the midst of the 'Swinging sixties' headed off to India on the infamous Hippie Trails, inventing the 'independent travel market'. And in 1967 Nicholas Maclean-Bristol set up Project Trust, an Educational Trust, and sent his first three students to Addis Ababa, inventing the Gap Year Volunteer Placements market. These have been the two key elements to the gap year market ever since - 'independent travel' and 'volunteer placements' [also known more recently as 'Voluntourism']. Work Travel (or 'Work & Travel') appeared as a third key element with the introduction of student work visas (or 'Working holiday visas') in the 1980's.
1970's: the pioneers and the growth
The demand for what was essentially new 'Independent Travel' continued through into the 1970's and resulted in the pioneers of the independent travel market establishing businesses to satisfy this demand. Australian Graham 'Screw' Turner based in London in 1973 loaded a double decker bus with the first paying customers and drove them to Kathmandu. They arrived 3 weeks late. Top Deck Travel, the company he founded, still exists today. In the same year a young Brit by the name of Tony Wheeler, headed off on an overland trip across Asia. His need for basic travel information inspired the book 'Across Asia on the Cheap' and was the first title under his Lonely Planet brand, which became the world's largest travel guide publisher. With a tour company and self help travel advice, the independent travel market was born. In 1979, another Australian Dick Porter, founded STA Travel to bring in the final piece of the puzzle. A high street travel agent for students and 'youth' (those under 26), with which he was able to develop global youth travel as he opened student travel agents around the world. Initially 'Student Travel Australia' it rebranded to the 'Student Travel Association'. Nowadays it is simply 'STA Travel'.
Whilst the first uses of the actual term 'gap year' are hard to find, it was certainly helped along with the launch in 1977 of GAP Activity Projects, a UK organisation facilitating volunteer placements for the 'Gap Year' in between school and university. Continuing on from where Nicholas Maclean-Bristol had forged the way 10 years earlier with Project Trust, GAP Activity Projects brought the gap year to the schools. A year later in 1978, The Prince of Wales with Colonel John Blashford-Snell formed the basis of what we know today as Raleigh International, launching Operation Drake, the first ever Gap Year Expedition - a round the world voyage following Sir Francis Drake's epic route. In 1984 Operation Raleigh was formed, renamed Raleigh International in 1992, by which time gap years were becoming more popular as a pre-university option to the wealthy few in private schools around the UK.
1980's: steady growth
In the UK in the 1980's the baby boomers were settling into family life with their young children and so travelling less and the next generation were influenced by the obsession for money, careers and wealth generation. The housing market crash meant less funds available for parents to fund youth travel. Steady UK and global growth continued as STA Travel opened up branches around the world. Other businesses followed suit (Usit Campus / Usit World), round the world tickets were developed for this new breed of young gap year traveller and the scene was set for the explosion of the 1990's.
1990's: the boom
A combination of the baby boomer's children reaching 18 (whose parent's encouraged world travel as they did in their youth), the UK coming out of recession and new, exciting, colouful media channels to bring gap year products to market resulted in an explosion of activity in the UK as Gap Year Travel and Gap Year Volunteering took off pre, during and post University. Demand grew, prices for air travel fell and the roots of it becoming a 'rite of passage' were set. In Australia the first serious waves of young Australians heading to live and work in the UK started to appear.
2000-present: online developments, global growth, natural aging
The modern Gap Year pioneers came in the form of Tom Griffiths and Peter Pedrick who brought the gap year market onto the web in 1998 with the launch of gapyear.com. The two pioneers have invented products, offerings, phrases and concepts that form the skeleton of the global ‘Gap Year’ industry seen today. Known as the 'Gap Year Guru', Tom Griffiths is recognised as a global authority on gap years and acts as a media spokesperson around the world.
July 2005 Mintel Gap Year Reports show a market valued UK outbound at £2.2bn and globally at £5bn. The fastest growing travel sector of the Millennium, predictions are that the global gap year market will grow to around £11bn by 2010. The market demographic is split into those aged 18-24 (pre, during and post university), 25-35 ('career gap', also known as 'Career Break' and 'Career Sabbatical') and 55-65 (pre and post retirement gappers). Very much an option for all in transition between life stages, the affect on the entry into higher level Education, the changing travel markets and staff retention in businesses around the world is staggering.
Gap Year growth is accelerating across all age groups in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The US is expected to witness a boom in the coming years as the small percentage of those who have passports starts to rise.
Youthworks run a gap year option in Sydney for Christian school leavers called Year 13 Gospel Gap Year It has a continuous option for students living in Sydney, and an intensive option for regional NSW, Australia-wide and international students.
Prince Harry popularised Africa as a Gap Year destination when he volunteered in South Africa in 2004. Other opportunities available include working in skis resorts in Canada, Camp roles in America and working in the Australian Outback.