Gap gets bigger as a whole new world of opportunity opens up

Earlier this year, a three-minute comedy sketch called Gap Yah became one of YouTube's most watched clips.

Posh boy Orlando, was the brainchild of actor Matt Lacey who summed up the sketch as "a satire on the great number of people who seem to be leaving these shores to vomit over the developing world."

The clip has now clocked up almost two million hits and struck a chord with anyone who has ever had the misfortune to ever ask a gap yearer whether they'd enjoyed their summer.

However, the image of those who opt for a little time out may be changing. As the choice of jobs for school-leavers and new graduates dries up in the clampdown on spending in both public and private sectors, more travellers – from their 20s to their 50s – are keen to work abroad, and plenty might not hurry back.

"A major change is under way in planning gap year travels," says Gordon Mathie, managing director of i-to-i, which runs TEFL (Teaching English As A Foreign Language) courses . "While the cost of volunteering breaks has probably seen the average length fall from three months in 2002 to around four weeks in 2010, there is rising demand for TEFL jobs abroad where the pay can cover living costs and leave a little spending money left over at the end of the week.

"Generally, we find it's an even mix of wanderlust and lack of opportunities at home which persuades graduates to try TEFL.

"More people want to work abroad for a few years – with the long-term aim of returning to Britain when economic prospects look brighter."

A recent survey by High Fliers research found that just over 36 per cent of final year students expect to find a graduate job when they leave university this summer.

That partly explains why i-to-i, which has volunteers working in more than 20 countries, is reporting a rising demand for teaching jobs abroad, noticeably in China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan where some TEFL placements pay 1,000 per month and provide accommodation.

The grass isn't always greener. In other countries the going can be much tougher, with some students having difficulty in getting paid anything at all. However, for increasing numbers what starts as a gap year turns into something much more permanent.

"When I was last in China three months ago, I met people on internships as a way of getting to know how the system works, and then using the experience they gain to get a more substantial position in Korea or Thailand," says Mathie. "The TEFL qualification really can make you terrifically mobile.

"There is also a growing demand from the older

segment of workers over-50. Many people losing their job in that group have the cushion of redundancy pay, and they see

the opportunity to work

abroad as a signpost for the rest of their lives.

"In many cases, if they really enjoy their new career, they might stay abroad

permanently. The choice of suitable jobs for older workers is hardly likely to get wider in a sharp recession."

Year Out Group, an umbrella organisation for 38 different specialists in gap year experiences has placed more than 350,000 students since 2000. This year of the 55,000 or so people it expects to place, around 73 per cent will be

aged 18-22, around 20 per cent will be 'career breakers' in their middle years and perhaps 5-6

per cent will be early retirees, over 50 and "keen to put something back".

"In the first rush of applicants in January-April mostly from those about to take A levels, some companies saw a 25 per cent increase in applicants," says chief executive Richard Oliver. "One company – Project Trust – which takes only 18 to 19-year-olds, has seen a 45 per cent increase this year. It has placed more than 230 people for 2010 and already accepted applications for around 30 per cent of its places in 2011.

"The second wave of applications is about to begin – and with reports suggesting that 200,000 people applying to university will be disappointed by September, we expect many to volunteer to take up a position with our members abroad.

"This can be a very positive way to get a career going. Research has shown that young people who can plan and develop a project and then carry it out, in unfamiliar surroundings, are bound to come over as more mature and confident people when they come back to try again for a university place or to start work in a new career.

"I would say there are minimum periods to take on these challenges. For teaching, you must do at least a term, while conservation projects can last anything up to six months.

"If you are chasing a qualification – winter sports instructor or a water sports qualification – it can easily take 10 weeks – and it might involve costs of 5,000-plus. But it might enable you to find a career."

And of course, it all still comes at a cost.

"Anybody preparing for a challenge around the globe should really start with a

lump sum of 1,500-plus – to cover flights, insurance and

other necessary costs," adds Oliver.

"But for those who

work hard and who are determined to get as much as they can out of a year out, it will be money well spent."