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Gap Year Insights with MD at Gap 360

by Vicky Lessen

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your history in the Travel Industry?

Sure, I am married, have a 12 year old son, and live in Rotherfield, East Sussex, not far from Tunbridge Wells, where our office is based.

Over the years I have had many different jobs. My first job was driving a milk float, but that was just while I waited to find a job in travel. My first travel job was in the early days of adventure travel in the 1970’s and involved driving an expedition truck from London to Kathmandu, with another guide and 20 passengers. It was a wild trip, through Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, including the notorious Kyber Pass.

From there I went to the USA and worked as a travel advisor in a student travel organisation based in Boston. I left there with 3 others and we started our own organisation doing the same thing. It grew fast and was sold 6 years later.

After returning to the UK I ran a company that offered adventure tours in North America. Then in 2003 I started in the gap year field, and my organisation grew to be the largest gap year company in the UK. In 2008 a large multi-national company came along and made us an offer that we could not refuse, and so we sold.

After a couple of years off, I started Gap 360 with Jane Mclellan and James Jeremy, two highly experienced gap year travel executives.

Can you tell me what the difference is in terms of goals in Gap 360 compared to your previous company?

We are a company that is run by its owners, who all work in the office every day. As we are independent we can make decisions quickly and we are directly involved with our customers and the processes involved in making someone’s experience with Gap 360 the best it can be.

All our staff are experienced travellers, having taken at least one gap year. Therefore whatever your question, at least one member of our team will be able to give you the very best advice from personal experience.

We aim to offer excellent value for money too, and we want our trips to be available for everyone, so our lowest priced trip costs just £199, although the average is about £900.

Can you tell me which destinations/programmes are becoming your best sellers?

We offer a wide variety of trips, including paid work abroad, volunteering experiences, adventure tours, teaching positions, learning new skills, and round the world trips. Our most popular trips include the Thai Adventure, Absolute Oz Jobs, Au Pair in USA and South Africa Wild Adventure.

Why do you think these programmes are becoming best sellers?

Well, each one is different. First time travellers often book onto the Thai Adventure as it is a safe, cheap and a social way to explore an exotic country. Thailand has wonderful temples, beautiful beaches, exciting towns and cities and off the beaten track adventures…and the weather is great too. Most people book on their own, but soon make friends as the groups are small and friendly.

Opportunities to travel and work abroad are something people have always sought after on their gap years. Absolute Oz Jobs is a brilliant package that offers young people a week’s orientation in Sydney, followed by a year of jobs. Australia is a world class destination with so much to see and do that you need several months to do it justice.

The South Africa Wild Adventure programme is popular because South Africa is such an amazing country and so very different from the UK. Seeing wild animals up close in their natural habitat, meeting the local people and volunteering in their communities are wonderful experiences.

Your target market appears to be 18-30 years, but do you think there is a specific time to take a gap year?

A good time for many people to take their first gap year (and when I say gap year I use the term loosely, it could be a lot less time than a year) is at 18, after leaving school and before going to university or starting a career. Taking the time out to discover the world will actually help you discover yourself, and help you make the right decision for your future.

An increasing number of young people go off to university and drop out after a few months realising that the course or subject wasn’t right for them. A gap year can help you re-evaluate your expected career path, and you never know, you may uncover skills you were not aware of, or fall in love with a new experience. People return from a gap year experience as more mature young adults, able to make better decisions.

Another good time is after graduating from university, or after a few years of working. You are definitely ready for a break by then!!

How long can people travel for?

We offer a large variety of trips, from as short as two weeks to as long as two years.

Finally what can expect when booking a trip with Gap 360?

  1. Efficiency.  Being an independent company you can be assured your arrangements are being dealt with directly and efficiently, without layers of burocracy getting in the way.
  1. A good experience.  Our travel advisors and support staff are well travelled and understand what it’s like to take a gap year. They will help you every step of the way.
  1. Value for Money. Our trips are affordable. We try to keep our costs low to ensure that you receive good value for money. We also understand that your gap trip is hugely important, and we need to maintain reasonable standards so that you can have a great experience. Our trips are not the absolute cheapest around but our prices are very affordable. We also offer a low deposit, and difference finance options to help you pay for the trip.
  1. A support network at home and abroad – Once you are travelling with Gap 360, your arrangements are handled by a local office. Should something go wrong on your trip you have someone available locally to turn to. In the event something serious happens, you also have access to a 24/7 phone emergency contact in the UK, answered by a Gap 360 staffer.
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