This week we take a closer look at the ever-changing world of gap years and investigate how the concept has developed since it first caught on. We will look at where people choose to go, comparing today’s gap years with some of the earliest recorded excursions, as well as exploring the motivations and reasons for going. We will also show you some of Frontier’s earliest gap year projects, showcasing some of the images and locations of our earliest projects.
The gap year originated in the 1960’s, following the end of the Second World War when young people were encouraged into travel and cultural exchanges as a chance to broaden their horizons. Travelling on a budget was also very popular amongst the ‘hippie’ communities at this time, who worked their way overland to places such as India and Nepal.
Much of this early travel was quite unstructured, with the main aim being to take in as much as possible for the lowest cost. However, in 1967, the structured gap year concept was born, with volunteers beginning to take part on projects in various locations. Unlike today, many countries were off-limits to foreign tourism, being either too dangerous or inaccessible. Many of the early volunteer opportunities began in African countries, such as Frontier’s maiden project in Tanzania in 1989. Nowadays, Frontier offer more than 300 projects in over 50 different countries covering 5 separate continents, leaving the current generation of volunteers and adventurers spoilt for choice.
With their roots in the 1960’s, both independent travel and voluntary projects have since been the two main strands of the gap year concept, with a fusion of the two being a popular option today.
The 1970’s saw a boom in the gap year market, with the number of organisations offering different services growing as demand for independent travel increased. In 1973, a guide book titled ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’ was written by Tony Wheeler. This publication would go on to become the most successful series of guidebooks in the world under the brand name Lonely Planet.
The independent travel market suffered somewhat of a setback during the 1980’s as the baby-boomers had settled into family life. It was not really until the children of these pioneers of the backpacker movement had grown-up that the popularity of independent travel picked up again. As well as being encouraged to follow in the footsteps of their free-spirited parents, this new generation were also influenced by a sharp decrease in air-travel prices. These circumstances provided the impetus for a huge increase in young people taking gap years, with many seeing it as a ‘rite of passage’ in the education process.
The gap year in its current format embraces a vast array of experiences. Whereas originally it was mainly focused on environmental conservation, the modern-day volunteer can do anything from a journalism internship at a newspaper in Buenos Aires, to providing much needed help at a Cambodian orphanage. One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is that taking part in a structured project will have a significantly positive effect on both the personalities and career prospects of the people that choose to go on them.
Make sure you come back for Wednesday's Now and Then feature as we have raided Frontier HQ’s photography vaults, sifting through hundreds of old grainy photographs to show you some of the kit and clothes our volunteers used to wear on our earliest gap year projects!