To apply for sponsorship from a company, the first thing you need to do is to identify how this trip will benefit you. By doing this, you are telling people that they are not just paying for you to go on holiday, but they are buying a stake in your future. Then, like any CV, the key is to ensure you are personalising your application and making it specific to them - why should they help you, how will this benefit them?
It's not just businesses that you should be targeting for your fundraising efforts. There are literally thousands of charities in the UK alone willing to help realise dreams. Not every charity will apply to you, but if you put in the research time necessary to find the appropriate ones, you could be rewarded with a financial grant. Charities local to your area are probably a good start. Your best chance of raising the money is to head down to your local library and find the Directory of Grant Making Trusts. This is usually in the 'reference only' section so bring a notepad and settle in for an hour or two.
When writing to a business, charity or organisation asking them to sponsor your trip DO make your proposal as clear and official as possible. Some points to include are:
Remember, the more creative you get, the more likely you are to succeed. Combine a professional presentation of the information in a memorable way - make sure you stand out!
You don't even have to go abroad to get sponsored for a 'gap year'. If what you choose to do in your time out from education or work is of benefit to the community or environment there is probably a grant out there for you.
If you are going abroad, volunteering obviously holds more sway. It is easy to discern the fact that you will be working hard to enhance the lives of others, it is still important to target people/companies who already have an interest in the country/placement you are hoping to do.
If you are looking to do a vocational placement, try to get funding from that field. Will big organisations (who usually have some sort of funding system for charity work) sponsor your placement in exchange for a write-up about your trip that they can use for their own purposes?
Expeditions and tours are more challenging, for obvious reasons, but even these can benefit you. Is this the first time you are travelling overseas on your own? Is this going to broaden your horizons? Will you be doing any home-stays as part of your trip? How will that benefit them? (See our Responsible Tourism page for more information.)
Even if you can't get official funding, you can always find ways to raise the money yourself. From bake-sales to car washing, the classic money-making schemes are all available to you. But while you're at it, make sure you highlight clearly the reason why you're doing this - big posters help. You never know, someone may pass by and, having travelled to that part of the world themselves, decide to be rather generous.
Be aware that everything is time dependent. You will need to apply up to a year in advance for grant applications, as these are usually (but not restricted to) annual payouts. Luckily everything else is all down to how much time you can put into it - the more time and more opportunities you provide for others to sponsor you, the more likely you are to reach that target.
Whatever you're thinking of doing, get creative, reach for your dreams.