24 August 2012

There is very little free money available for career breaks, but we've rounded up what we can. Some of it's not actually free, it just looks that way, so make sure you know what you're doing before you apply for anything.


The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust offers grants for travel. They're for between 4 and 8 weeks, and although they say 'gap year' activities won't be considered, they mean degree placements and internships - you can still apply if your career break is going to bring benefits to the wider community.

The Rotary Club offers scholarships and exchanges, but these are mostly aimed at young people. The ones aimed at grown-ups tend to be focused on various types of study.

You might be able to get a grant from your local Lions Club, if you are a member. The nice lady at the UK headquarters who we spoke to stressed that each club is different, each will have their own application process and criteria, and of course, each will have a different amount of available money!

The Ferguson Trust offers £300 grants for 'students on gap years' and they tell us there's no upper age limit.

You can search for a grant on the Turn2Us website - it's mainly for poor folk needing help with welfare stuff, but you can search for grants for learning opportunities, and personal/professional development. There's also a list of grant-giving foundations on the Association of Charitable Foundations' site, but it's not very easy to read or digest - a lot of the grants are very specific.

Finally, you can get off the computer, go to your library and find the Directory of Grant Making Trusts (yep, it's a book - old-school, eh?). Weird little local grant-making trusts will be in there - and you might be eligible for some of their money!

Sort out your own fundraising

If you take a career break with a volunteering organisation (especially one that's featured on this site - they're all listed here), they may well be able to help you with fundraising. Some of them even produce their own fundraising guides! The reason for this is that many started out with (and still work with) the gap year market, ie 18-year-olds with not a lot of spare cash. So they're used to helping out with fundraising - and they know what works.

It's easier if you're fundraising for a worthy cause, ie volunteering, where the benefits can be shown. You can even set up your own JustGiving page - especially useful if you've got rich and/or generous friends and family.

Ask Grandpa

Grandpas may vary - but often older relatives with a bit stashed away are happy to help their family, particularly if your career break is going to help you onto a new career path. This is easier the younger you are - if you've hit 55 and are still running to the Bank of Mum and Dad it's a bit weird.

Get sponsorship

Your own company (if you're taking a sabbatical) is an obvious place to start - after all, you're saving them your salary for the time you're away!

If that's not an option, you could see if any relevant company wants to sponsor your blog, YouTube channel, or other site. Having a decent online presence will help (that means lots of Twitter followers and Facebook fans) - travel blogs are hugely competitive these days but we know a few people who are making a least a bit of money out of it. You have to be very good at writing and/or photography though - don't think that just because you can string a sentence together you can create a decent article!

Find God

If you're religious, you might be able to get funding through your place of worship - lots of religious organisations have funds available to help make the world a better place. That means you have to go and do some volunteering, you can't ask your church to stump up the cash for you to go to a full moon party in Thailand!

Win stuff

No, not the National Lottery. Enter travel competitions - we've featured 2 this year that have given away an entire gap year! The best way to find out about these is on Twitter or Facebook. Those links go to our profiles because we do share lots of relevant competitions - but also follow other travel competition accounts. You can also sign up to our newsletter because any big competition will be announced there (it goes out once a month and we don't pass on your email address).

Do you want to know a secret? The bigger the prize, the fewer entrants a competition gets, because people don't think they'll win.

Borrow money

Ick, we hate this because debt is evil (are you listening George Osborne?). Having said that, it's sometimes the only way you're ever going to make a change. Do not apply for a loan from one of those companies that advertise on daytime telly. The best loan for a career break is a Career Development Loan which can only be used for studying and training. It's backed by the government, and unlike a normal loan, you don't pay interest on it while you are studying.

We really don't recommend borrowing money in any other way for a career break.

Access money that's already yours

The best part is, when you get your cheque or rebate through, it feels like shiny new money! Before you go away, cancel the following and get the unused portion back (obviously it'll vary a bit according to terms and conditions, if you've paid upfront and whatnot):

  • Phone and broadband account
  • Mobile phone contract and mobile insurance (if you're not taking it)
  • Council tax
  • Car tax
  • Insurance (car, home contents, buildlings if you've sold your house, etc)

Also see if you can get any money back from utilities - gas, electric and water, particularly if you've had estimated bills.

When you return, reclaim your income tax using Form P50. This bit of the HMRC site explains it all and there's more information on overpaying tax in this section. Your refund could be several hundred pounds so it's worth the few minutes that it takes to fill in the form!

Tips on accessing free money for your career break

  1. Do something worthwhile on your career break. It's much easier to get free money for learning or volunteering than anything else.
  2. Be super-professional in your approach. Write proper letters on nice paper when applying, or put together a decent proposal if applying for a grant. No-one's going to give you free money if you just wing them an email saying 'I want cash innit'. 
  3. Show the organisation how they benefit. Grant organisations are set up with a specific purpose, so it's up to you to show how you meet that purpose - eg if your volunteer work is going to help educate poor children. If it's sponsorship or similar, you need to offer tangible, concrete benefits to the company giving you the money.
  4. Be creative in what you offer. It's not enough to promise to tell all your mates how great the grant or sponsorship organisation is. Offer to make a video, do a presentation on your return, keep an online diary - whatever it takes to give them some publicity.
  5. Be nice.