Motivations and Benefits of Student Travel - The Survey


This volunteer report reviews research conducted into the motivations of student travel and whether travelling enhances students career prospects.

The survey was sent to approximately 3000 Real Gap customers, who were either thinking of travelling or had recently travelled within the past 3 years, to which just over 306 responded.  To give a broader view of opinions, the survey was also sent to a mix of universities, colleges and sixth forms, employers and our partners working at our projects abroad.

The aim was to gain feedback from a range of stakeholders to find out their opinions on whether travel benefits student’s careers and to find out if they actively encouraged travel.

Real Gap is one of the leading providers of experience travel for students, offering a range of products from volunteering and month long travel experience tours to internships and paid work opportunities.

With over 30,000 customers having travelled with us in the past 5 years we wanted to know more about their motivations to travel and the benefits it has given them in their future careers.

Does travelling enhance students' career prospects?

The majority of the respondents from all the different groups interviewed agreed that travelling enhances career prospects. 74% of students who were thinking of travelling believed it would benefit them in job applications and a slightly higher percentage out of those that had booked or travelled (79%) agreed.

Some of the comments left by students highlighted the fact that travelling to improve careers is already discussed in schools with comments such as; “particular universities such as Harvard have introduced questions based around out of study time, what students do with their free time, and where students have travelled to, have or anticipating travelling”. Other students were already linking travel to their chosen subject, drawing upon how it could benefit their career.

79% of students that had booked a travel
experience agreed they thought it would improve their
career prospects

Out of the customers that had travelled, many commented about how they had benefited from travelling. Many drew on the fact that they felt more independent and confident, others commented on a greater insight into life, culture and people and how living away from home gained them more life experience and improved their decision making skills. Other opinions included, “people who have travelled have a greater insight into life, culture and people, which enriches the mind and makes your personality more appealing to employers”. “We have more life experience in different situations; therefore have better decision making skills.”

Out of the 306 people surveyed, 47 were over 25 (15%). Although Real Gap's main target audience is 18-23, a few people in different age ranges travel with us. This may have had an effect on the results as a few comments relating to this question were that they were over 60 or near retirement age. For these few customers, it is unlikely that travel would make a huge difference to their future career and maybe partly a reason for the 15% that said they did not think it would enhance their career. If this age range was omitted, it is likely the customers agreeing travelling benefits careers would be higher.

93% of lecturers believe that having adventure
or volunteer travel experience helps a graduates
CV standout and improves their chances of being
shortlisted for interview.

The over whelming majority of lecturers believed students would benefit from adventure and volunteer travel. The other 7% were un-sure about this question. The reason for this may be reflected in the comments left as one respondent commented that they agreed with volunteering, but did not agree that adventure travel benefited students. All other comments that were left were positive towards students benefiting from travelling.

I believe adventure and volunteer travel experiences and improve individual’s career prospects.

83% of employers agree that having adventure or volunteer travel experience helps a graduates CV standout and improves their chances of being shortlisted for interview.

I agree having adventure or volunteer travel experience helps a graduates CV standout and improves their chances of being shortlisted for interview

A whopping 83% of employers agreed that adventure travel and volunteering experiences helps a C.V stand out and improves chances of being shortlisted. Only 2 employers did not feel this was the case. Others were unsure. In other questions asked, employers commented that they did not feel adventure travel benefited prospects, but volunteering did. This may have had an effect on how this question was answered, leading them to choose, unsure. Many employers left comments of how they thought students would benefit.

I think any adventure or
volunteer experience can
help, it does not exclusively
have to involve travel.
Clearly, that can add
another dimension

One employer points out that it does not have to contain travel for students to benefit from volunteering or adventure. Many skills can be gained through helping out in local communities and developing hobbies and interests in native countries. There were many comments that highlighted self-confidence, maturity and independence should be gained through travelling.

93% of suppliers believe that volunteering will enhance a student’s career prospects?

I believe that adventure and volunteer travel experiences
enhance a student’s career prospects.

For the same question, 93% of in country organisers agreed that working at their projects would benefit student’s future career prospects; only 1 did not agree with this statement entirely but left the following statement:

“Our project leader for 2014 is Sian, who was a volunteer in 2013! 
She was such a good  and enthusiastic volunteer that we asked her to come
back and help be our volunteer co-ordinator in 2014.  She has since completed
her TEFL and is now leading our education side of the project. Her experience volunteering in 2013 has certainly helped Sian to start a career in teaching and
is learning all the time about animal husbandry and care.”


What are students’ motivations for travelling?


The main motivations were to explore the world and have fun, although from the results of the survey shows students were also considering how travel can benefit their careers at the same time. This may be down to increased competition in the job market and students looking at how they could stand out in the crowd. The results from the teachers’ surveys also show that over 70% of the institutions questioned, actively promote travel and extra activities to enrich students’ experiences; this may also be contributing to the swing from students travelling purely for fun to having fun whilst developing themselves as a brand.

Travel & Develop Brand: ‘You’!

Students that had not yet travelled motivations were, ‘To see the world and explore’ - with a large response at 72%, to travel for fun came in second at 63%, to help me get a job in the future at 33% and to improve my C.V at 31%. As customers could tick more than one reason, the responses show that although customers’ main priorities are exploring and having fun, they are also considering their future and how travelling will help their career. Surprisingly, none of the customers questioned were thinking of travelling because of their parents influence! Some of the comments left were, that they want to get experience for their Zoology degree, to offer help to countries that need it, to learn more about myself and to meet new people and to have a break before starting university to be sure of the right academic route. Internships are a great way to gain practice in an industry studying in.

87% of people booked to go travelling to see the
world and explore, 0.37% did because their
parents wanted them too!

For customers that had travelled, 87% stated they travelled to see the world and explore. 70% travelled to gain life experience and 67% to have fun.  Again, parents influence was the lowest reason at less than 1%, stating this was a reason for travel. 16% of people said they were travelling to improve their C.V and travelling to meet family, to delay university and because their friends were travelling all received a few percentages each. 8% of people stated other. Some of the comments for motivation of travelling were:

It was surprising to see the number of customers within this age group travelling for esteem and self-actualization, falling at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Customers left comments like, they travelled to find themselves and to get over relationships or current issues in their lives, to meet people or because they were stuck in a rut.

It seems some of these reasons may be linked to why people are not particularly motivated to travel just because their friends are. Only 3% gave this as a reason for travelling. Volunteering and adventure travel proves to be more of an independent decision.

What was your main motivation for encouraging them to go travelling?

What are the potential skills students could develop through travel?

72% of customers felt they may achieve increased confidence through travelling.

Students that had not yet travelled chose an array of skills they thought they may benefit from a travel experience. Independence was voted top at 72% with increased confidence at 70%. Positive energy 58%, organisational skills 56% and working outside comfort zone 52% were also rated fairly high. Only 4% had never considered the skills they may learn through travelling. Only one person made a personal comment stating they wanted to learn foreign customs.

80% of students stated they benefited from increased confidence from travelling.

80% of customer that travelled stated they thought they gained increased confidence, closely followed by independence at 79%. The next skills customer felt they benefited from at 71% were working outside of their comfort zone. Positive energy (62%) and a greater self-awareness were chosen by 55%. Enhanced communication skills, decision making and team building were all stated by around 40% of respondents with, leadership, organisational and increased foreign language skills chosen by around 30%.

In the comment section, customers left other comments about new skills that they adopted were “Increased awareness and perception,” “feeling lucky,” and “more mature.”

“It also made me appreciate the things I have in my life
a lot more. I realise how lucky I am to have the things I have,
I felt so grateful to even be able to sleep on my own bed with
a roof over my head when I came home. If anything, I feel the
experience overall made me a more appreciative person.”

85% of employees stated they would encourage students to gain increased confidence, independence and decision making skills through travel

Employers chose a huge array of skills that they thought students would achieve through travelling. Increased confidence, decision making and independence were all chosen by 85% of employers. Learning a foreign language was voted by 83%. Enhanced communication skills, organisational skills and working out of comfort zone all featured high as skills a student should adopt. Interestingly only one employer thought none of the skills are likely to be learned.

In fact, out of the employers interviewed 46% had themselves taken this kind of travel as a student. 22% wish they had. Employers responded to this question with personal reflection. Some of the comments included:

100% of lecturers surveyed would encourage students to gain increased confidence and independence from travelling

Lecturers also chose confidence and independence as top skills that students should gain from their travelling experiences. Decision making and enhanced communication were also rated highly with 87% of lecturers also opting to choose these skills. 80% of lecturers recommended students gain a greater self-awareness and 73% also opted for leadership skills, organisational skills and working outside of their comfort zone. Interestingly fewer people (67%) chose learning a language and team work. Positive energy was only chosen by 40% of respondents.

Partners working with customers on the projects had a similar view. 100% of partners felt that customers would benefit from increased confidence. Enhanced communication, working outside comfort zone and positive energy were also rated highly with 79% of respondents selecting these skills. Overall all skills were rated highly. Leadership and decision making was rated the lowest skills with 50% and 57% retrospectively.

Comments left included “Environmental awareness; knowledge of conservation issues; practical conservation skills (such as plant identification or learning how to build a fence or a walking trail, how to plant a tree, how to collect seeds...numerous!)”, “Humility and to have an open mind” and “learning to make a plan”.

What travel experiences are students taking, and what types of experiences are more likely to benefit students’ careers?

Although the question asked for what specific country respondents would like to travel to, the majority of answers (22%) from both customers that had not booked and customers that had booked, stated they wanted to visit a country with culture.

Australia was the biggest destination that people would love to visit with an average of 15%. Both customers that had booked and those who hadn't booked put it at the top of their bucket list. This was slightly surprising as it isn't the top selling destination for Real Travel. The majority of people who wanted to go to Australia were 18-20, although it was a popular choice with all ages.

America came in 2nd with 13% of the votes with Thailand following with 9%. Not surprisingly, Thailand is the third most desirable country to travel to, as it continues to be the top backpacker destination. Again, it was most popular with the 18-20 age category. The next biggest country was one which had wildlife opportunities, with 7% wanting to holiday alongside nature.

New Zealand, Africa, Japan and Brazil all proved to be popular destinations amongst both groups of respondents. Brazil was a popular destination with the male respondents. This could be due to the amount of coverage and publicity Brazil has with the world Cup. The amount of people who wanted to go to Japan is surprising. It was a popular destination across all age categories, primarily the 21 to 23 age category. Female travellers accounted for 86% of votes for Japan. South Africa was the most popular destination for male travellers, of which 40% of people who said they wanted to go to South Africa were male.

Some of the other destinations mentioned but less popular in the research were; Peru, Vietnam, Road trips, Mexico, Northern Lights, New York, Mountainous areas, Maldives and rainforests.

There was also a difference in choice of destinations determined by the age of the traveller. Younger travellers (age 17 or younger) favoured destinations such as; Africa, America, China, Brazil, Japan and South East Asia. Many of the trips were favoured if there was wildlife there. Africa was widely chosen due to the game reserves and elephants there, so was China to work with the Pandas. Many people also chose Brazil for the rainforest and wildlife.

As soon as customers were age 18+ the choices of destinations become more varied with more specific reasons for wanting to travel. Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and South America (especially Brazil and Peru being popular in this region) were the more sought after areas. Respondents left lots of varied reasons for wanting to visit destinations such as The Bolivian Salt Flats – to study photography, Iceland to see the northern lights, black beach and research the glacier retreat. Peru – to visit Machu Picchu, Costa Rica for its friendly atmosphere, Mexico for its fun and gritty atmosphere and New Zealand for its landscape, adventure and adrenalin pursuits.

93% of Employers stated ‘volunteering’ is the travel experience that is most likely to benefit students C.V

The type of experiences that students undertake is also important. Employers felt that certain types of travel will benefit a students’ C.V. Volunteering came out top with 93%. Professional Internships came second with 85% and taking paid work oversees came third with 71%. Employers also though adventure travel would benefit students’ C.V. Beach holidays and city breaks were only seen to benefit students at a few percentages equating to one or two employers. A comment left was that independent travel is important to benefiting a students’ C.V.

100% of
lecturers feel
that volunteering and professional internships
would benefit a
student's career.


Lecturers were able to choose more than one travel experience that they though students would benefit from and both volunteering and internships were chosen by everyone. Paid work overseas cam a close second with 93% of respondents also choosing this option. 7% of lecturers felt city breaks also benefited students but no one felt a beach holiday was beneficial.

Comparing the views of employers and lecturers to the experiences that were taken by students, volunteering was the biggest experience taken with 67% of students opting to do a project. Some of these projects were combined with adventure travel whereas others just booked the volunteering project. 60% of the respondents travelled on a cultural experience tour, 21% booked a beach based experience, 10% opted to work abroad, 8% chose a city break and just 1% completed an internship abroad.


What kind of travel experience did you choose? (tick all that apply)


In comparison to respondents that have not yet booked, cultural experience was the top experience that people would want to do with 63%.  Paid work overseas was the second choice with 54% closely followed by volunteering at 52%. Beach holidays were then the following choice at 39%, and then city breaks at 26% and lastly internships at 20%.




From the research conducted it is possible to draw the following conclusions:


Overall, travelling will benefit student’s career prospects. 74% of students that had not booked agreed which rose to 79% of students that had booked or travelled. Educational institutions and employers confirmed this view that they would benefit their career.


Comments left by employers demonstrated a clear value for students travelling and improving their skill set and agreed it would help candidates to be shortlisted for an interview.  Volunteering and professional internships were seen as highly beneficial experiences for students to gain given the range of skills they can acquire.

Educational institutions themselves are now placing a higher emphasis on highlighting different opportunities to students offering enrichment to their skills in additional to the traditional focus on purely academic learning. 


Confidence and independence were skills that all types of respondents thought students were likely to gain through travelling amongst new cultures and having to fend for themselves. Interestingly, 85% of employers rated learning a language as an important skill to develop whereas a much lower number of educational institutions and students believed this skill was as important.  This highlights a gap in expectations of employer’s ideas of skills that students have and what is either taught or encouraged by influential people in student’s lives. Travelling to a destination that a student already has basic languages skills for is a good way to develop what they have learnt and build up their C.V profile. For students with no second language skills, projects with language tuition incorporated are a great way to add to their skill set.


The research indicates students are focused on independently developing themselves as a brand with many highlighting the importance of their travel experience in benefiting their career, especially in the medical and animal management industries. Given the competitive nature of the employment market students are increasingly recognising the value of adding practical experience gained overseas to validate their academic studies,  even the soft skills developed such as maturity, confidence and communication skills will directly benefit themselves and their C.V’s.  These perceptions were upheld by most employers with many sharing their stories of how their own travel experiences helped them in their interview process.


Developing “Brand Me” was a common theme with self -esteem and self-actualization now being sought much earlier in student’s lives than earlier generations. Many students left comments that they wished to mature their views about life and culture, improving their perception of life and finding themselves.


Many respondents stated they were using travel to deal with relationship issues or to change their lives.

Real Gap’s Reflection

The findings from the research reflect direct feedback with students when visiting Colleges and through conversations the team are having with our customers that they are focusing more on “Brand Me”.  In response to this feedback Real Travel offer a broad range of overseas professional & volunteering internships all of which have had excellent feedback from both educational institutes and employers. 

The topic of backing up academic learning with practical experience has also been widely discussed in the media and in early 2014 the Financial Times featured an article including our in country partner documenting that internships were the new key to securing your dream job trends have indicated that both Medical and Animal Management are proving to be popular choices such as the Game Ranger internships in South Africa students the chance to volunteer alongside experiencing life on a Big 5 Game Reserve whilst completing a FGASA level one field guide qualification. There are many other areas that students can gain international experience such as fashion, marketing, business, marine science, journalism, physiotherapy and more

The importance of personal development cannot be underestimated for anyone starting out on their career journey with many employers opting for assessment centres as a means to select candidates it is important to be able to stand out from the crowd not just on paper but also in person.  Spending time at an overseas volunteering project is a fantastic way to challenge and learn about yourself whilst helping others away from the usual home comforts.

Volunteering often starts at home and in recognising this i-to-i volunteering is working alongside our partner universities rewarding those students who do volunteer in the local community by partly funding the opportunity to volunteer on one of our project abroad.

Recognising there are lots of options for students to choose from when considering how and what to do during their travels we work closely with a number of partner institutions supporting lecturers in educating students through talks, workshops and work with students on projects and dissertations. Some of the talks conducted are; Travelling independent safety, How to make a gap year productive, taking a professional internship abroad and sustainable tourism.

Real travel would like to thank all our customers that took part in this research as well as the educational institutes, employers and suppliers.


For further information on our findings please contact our marketing department at [email protected]

Appendix 1: Demographics


Out of the 3000 of customer’s surveyed 306 customers responded. These customers broke down to the following demographics:


Customers that had booked or travelled

Are you?

262 customers responded to these questions who were 19% Male and 81% Female.

Which category below includes your age?


6% were under 17 years old,

45% were 18-20,

26% 21-23

9% 24 – 25

17% Over 25+




Customers that had enquired and not booked

44 customers responded to this question which were 20% male and 80% Female


Are you?



Which category below includes your age?


66% were under 17 years old

16% were 18-20,

5% 21-23

7% 24 – 25

7% Over 25+



The demographics of the majority of women responding reflect the Real Gap customer base.



Educational Institutions

The survey was sent out to a selection of educational institutions that covered sixth forms, colleges and universities. The following institutions responded and participated in the survey:

University of Surrey, University of Hertfordshire, Canterbury Christ Church University, Ravensbourne College in Greenwich, NWK College in Dartford , Sheredes  and Turnford School in Hertfordfordshire.


This survey was sent to a range of employers in various industries who had responsibility for employing staff, of which 46 individuals responded.

Partners in Resort

The survey was sent to 14 partners in country. Respondents came from a range of countries worldwide that included: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia.



Research conducted June to August 2014