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The rise of the Grey Gap Year

When you think of a ‘gap year’, images of backpackers and hostels are likely to be the first thing that springs to mind, but this kind of travel is no longer just for the young.

The mature gap year market is booming and an increasing number of over-50s are embracing the travelling bug and taking extended breaks to see the world. In fact, one in four over-55s has either been on a gap year or is planning to take one, according to research by the Post Office.

If you have found yourself getting itchy feet as you grow older, there’s a number of ways in which to see the world, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here’s how to do it.

Be flexible when you leave

When to go abroad is often just as important as where. For instance, taking a trip in the ‘shoulder season’, the period of travel between low and high seasons, offers some serious advantages to holiday makers with an eye on their wallet but who still want to enjoy the best a destination has to offer.

According to, a general rule of thumb for picking a shoulder season is to avoid school holidays and the ‘obvious’ times to travel, but to keep as close to high season as you can.

You can often save even more on flights all year round by opting to travel midweek. Jetting off on a Tuesday is more than a third cheaper than a Friday, according to Which?, the consumer group. What’s more, travelling on a Sunday will increase your airfare by as much as 45%.

Get creative with accommodation

Where you’re going to lay your head while travelling is something that is usually determined by your budget and your travel style.

Many mature travellers – understandably – do not want to spend their nights in a youth hostel, so if you want to cut costs without compromising on comfort, why not consider house-sitting?

Here you live in a person's home for an agreed period of time while they are away, rent-free and can be either a short term stay of a weekend or up to a year or longer. House sitting via sites like, and is free, except for an annual membership fee, which is typically less than £50.

For the more adventurous, sites such as HelpX, lists farms and other projects looking for volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.

Consider a shorter break

Instead of a whole year off you could reduce the time spent away to save money. So instead of a year or nine months, try three – or even fewer.

Research by life and pension provider LV= has shown an increase in travellers abandoning the traditional gap year for what it dubbed a five-week ‘snap’ year. LV= estimated that 2.75 million Brits were planning a snap year over the next 12 months to go overseas to volunteer, backpack or take a career break.

Save money while spending

Many travellers waste cash unnecessarily through costly card transaction charges, because they don’t understand the fees levied when bills are converted into sterling from local currency. This can be especially problematic when visiting a number of countries. Cash machine fees which charge you every time you take cash out can soon mount up, too.

Avoid currency charges altogether and opt for a prepaid currency card. Available from most major credit card providers, these chip-and-pin protected cards are separate from your bank account and many offer competitive fees.

To find the best card for your needs, visit Bear in mind that once at your destination, it is always cheaper to opt to pay your bill in the local currency.

Decline offers to pay in sterling because while the transaction may be more convenient for you at the time, the rate will be shocking.

Don’t forget your financial responsibilities

Unlike their teen and 20-something counterparts, mature ‘gappers’ cannot usually forget about their financial responsibilities back home. Many will have a mortgage, pension and bills to pay, all of which can’t just be ignored when you jet off on an adventure of a lifetime.

If you’re planning a long period of travel it can be worth talking to a financial planner to help you see how much you might need and how you can best save it. You can find one in your local area by searching your post code through Unbiased.

It’s also important to make sure you have a Will or, if you already have one, that it is up to date. Bear in mind that Wills are legal documents, and small errors can cause big problems, so it's preferable to have someone legally qualified draft it for you

Also worth a look is your home or car insurance, as if you have legal cover as part of your policy, a Will service may be included .

Are you planning a ‘Grey Gap Year’? Perhaps you’ve just got back from one? We want to know our stories and tips. Head to the Forum to have your say

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

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