A gap year needs no credit cards

rucksacksStudent university applications are expected to be down by more than 20,000 when place-finder UCAS closes applications tomorrow.

As higher tuition fees kick in, as many as a third of young adults plan to go on a Gap Year to gain work experience and skills, according to American Express. It says as many 1.3 million young adults could head off between now and August.

Exodus

Research from American Express Platinum Charge Card has found that more than a third (34%) of 16-24 year-olds plan to go on a gap year this academic year. Half of these - the equivalent of 1.3 million young adults - plan to head on their travels between now and August.

It says the exodus has been exacerbated by the fact that record numbers of young people applied for a university place for September 2011, leaving unsuccessful applicants looking for a 'Plan B'.

Of those planning to take a Gap Year, 43% will focus on paid-for employment, or a combination of work and travel, in order to save money or to fund their trip. Less than a fifth (19%) plan a Gap Year experience of rest and relaxation.

Bank of mum and dad

While the majority of these travellers (58%) will finance their trips independently using savings or money they have earned, nearly a quarter (26%) will have some parental help and 11% will see their entire trip paid for by mum and dad.

Fear of running out of funds while overseas is one of the biggest concerns for those planning a gap year. But while more than half (56%) have budgeted for major expenses, a quarter (25%) of travellers have a more relaxed approach and have not budgeted at all, instead they plan to "see how it goes" when abroad.

Of those looking to travel within the next 12 months, the majority (47%) would ask their family for assistance if they had a financial emergency during their trip. In fact, mum and dad rank higher than the British Embassy when it comes to where travellers would turn first if they ran into trouble overseas, be that losing their passport or falling ill.

Reality check

American Express has a reason for this kind of survey – to flog its credit cards. It claims that one in 10 parents have already set their children up with a supplementary card (a card tied to a parent's account) to ensure they have access to funds in an emergency. And it claims it offers gap year travel insurance included with the card.

The trouble is – and I speak from experience – having a second bit of plastic in your wallet, or even in a separate pocket of your rucksack will be no help to most travellers in an emergency. When I was a student (a long time ago) I was robbed abroad twice – once my vehicle was broken into and once I was drugged in park and woke to find my rucksack had been stolen with everything in it.

Banking improvements

In those days it would take a week for parents to be able to transfer money to other European countries. These days it would take minutes, hours at the most. Another credit card is just another reason to be targeted by thieves or another excuse to run up debts that young people cannot afford.

So, good luck to any young people going travelling. But I'm not giving my kids an American Express card.
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