Taking a year off from university or the world of work to travel the globe for a year sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it? Whether you picture yourself trekking through the mountains of Nepal, volunteering at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, or learning French as you explore the museums of Paris. There’s not much that doesn’t make taking a year abroad an attractive option. Except, of course, finances.
Budgetary restrictions can seriously hinder those interested in taking a year abroad. For starters, it can be difficult to know how much a “gap year” will actually cost — which is important. Figuring out the cost is the first step in knowing if you will be able to afford such an experience.
How many days would you be able to spend abroad on a budget of $5,000?
From housing to visa fees to airline fares, there’s a lot of individual items that drive up the cost of a year abroad. Costs can also be affected by the location, activities, and duration, as well as by your decision to do a “gap year” independently or through a provider.
To save you a headache and stress, we crunched the numbers for you. We used a theoretical budget of $5,000 and calculated how many days you’d be able to spend on a gap year in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America. Please note, day to day expenses include dorm bed accommodation, low-cost meals, and basic transportation and activities in the location. Also, airfare costs will be higher for you if you are not flying out of the gateway airports selected below. Be sure to factor additional flight costs from your home airport into the pricing.
Alright, then! To the good stuff: how many days would you be able to spend on a year abroad with a budget of $5,000?
Independent Life Abroad
On an independent year abroad (if you’re in the working world) or “gap year” (if you’re a student), you’ll be charting the waters of your time abroad solo. This means you’ll have to put in extra effort to make your own travel arrangements, find your own activities, and manage your own experience abroad. In addition to allowing for greater independence, this option can also be the way to go if you are on a tighter budget.
Asia is one of the most popular destinations, largely in part because of its affordability. If you really just want to spend your 5K budget traveling, volunteering, and exploring a new country, Asia will allow you to spend three to five months on a $5,000 budget. Of course, if you want to spend more time than that in Asia, there are also a lot of opportunities for teaching English. As an ESL teacher in Asia, you could easily stretch your initial $5,000 budget to a year (or more) by supplementing it with an income. If this option interests you, learn more about how much you can make as a teacher. Also note that countries like Cambodia and Laos tend to be even more affordable than Thailand, and gappers commonly travel there after their visa in Thailand has expired.
Though a popular destination for gappers, Australia is by no means the most affordable on this list. Fortunately, though, they have a working holiday scheme (ad) which allows gappers to work while traveling in Australia. Even if you were to only make minimum wage with your work abroad, if you go on a working holiday visa, you’d be able to almost triple the amount of time you would have spent in Australia as a simple tourist. You can also lower your daily expenses by working in exchange for a free stay at a hostel, or subletting a room in an apartment via Gumtree.
Europe is a classic destination for post-graduation travel, learning a new language, or immersing yourself in one of the great culinary cultures of the world. Although you could certainly cut back on expenses by WWOOFing (working on an organic farm) or heading to some of Europe’s less expensive destinations (Portugal, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Greece, for example), your money won’t go as far here as it would in Asia or South America.
One tip for cutting down your daily expenses in the EU is to couchsurf or sublet an apartment. For example, if you sublet a furnished apartment via UniPlaces in Madrid, you could spend as little as $340 per month on rent. By cooking most of your meals and staying put, you could bring that $90 per day down to $30 — which would allow you to stay in Spain for the full 90 days you’re granted on a tourist visa — with about $1,400 leftover. Our suggestion? Head to Morocco or Turkey, where you can easily stretch the remainder of your $1,400 for another month or two.
4. South and Central America
South and Central America are generally affordable and popular destinations for gappers coming from North America. Flights tend to be pretty cheap (with most Central American locations accessible at less than $500 RT), overland transportation is even cheaper ($2 rides for long-distance buses in Peru, anyone?), and the cost of living is generally low. Brazil will be more expensive than other Latin American destinations, but you can easily find ways to stick around for six months or more on a budget of $5,000.
Again, WWOOFing, getting a English language teaching job, and/or staying in one place for a longer period of time will help you cut back on expenses and extend your trip. You can also find some reasonably priced Spanish language courses that include housing and food (if you’re placed with a host family). For example, with Tico Lingo, you can spend about $60 per day on housing, language courses, food, and incidentals — and thereby manage to stay in Costa Rica for about 75 days on $5,000.
Unsurprisingly, most African destinations are pretty affordable — though you might not always find the best flight deals to get there. But, your day to day expenses will be very low, especially if you’re traveling to Africa to volunteer in a more rural area. Activities and tours (e.g. going on safari or white-water rafting down the Zambezi), however, might eat into your budget. Definitely make room for a few excursions — after all, how often do you get to ride camels into the Sahara? — but budget for them in advance. Also noteworthy: South Africa is typically on the more expensive end, as far as African destinations go. Head out to a lesser-traveled spot, like Tanzania or Ghana, and you’ll enter more budget-friendly territory.
Year Abroad With A Program Provider
Program providers take much of the stress out of year-abroad planning by organizing the logistics of experiences overseas for you. Going on a structured program helps many students make the most out of their time abroad, and may open new avenues to students who wouldn’t have thought to explore on their own. As you’ll notice from the numbers below, however, this added assistance comes at a price.
On the bright side, program fees typically cover the bulk of your expenses: housing, food, in-country transportation, and even travel insurance. Be sure to take a close look at what’s included before writing off a program as too expensive — sometimes it might actually be on par with an independently-organized gap year.
Elephant Volunteering in Thailand with Global Vision International
- Program fees (4 weeks) $2,590
- Flights: $800 (round trip from LAX)
- Visa: none (30 days)
- Day to Day Cost for additional days in Thailand: $28.50
Volunteer in Kenya with Volunteering Solutions
- Program fees (4 months): $2,205
- Flights: $920 (round trip from JFK)
- Visa: $50
2-Month Volunteering Program in Peru with Camps International
- Program fees (2 months): $3,305
- Flights: $685 (round trip from Peru)
- Day to day expenses for additional days in Peru: $92
- Visa: none (90 days)
Gapforce Australia Adventure
- Program fees (2 weeks): $2,520
- Flights: $1,100
- Visa: none
- Day to Day Cost for additional days in Australia: $100
Gapforce Europe Tour
- Program fees (4 weeks): $4,500
- Flights: $1,000 (round trip from JFK)
- Visa: none (90 days)
A California native, Lauren Salisbury has found the best way to get to know a region of the world is to live there, and with that in mind has worked in four countries, including the United States, Australia, Spain and Costa Rica. Lauren earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and is now living in the Costa Rican rainforest, working as Social Media & Marketing Manager for Outward Bound. Lauren documents her travel adventures on her blog SomethingInHerRamblings.com.
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