Insane Gap Year Ideas
Planning a gap year or months? Whether you’re wanting to gain work experience, see the world, volunteer, study or just earn some cash while you decide what to do, our guest contributor David, has loads of suggestions to make it memorable!
Gap years have long been popular in the UK. The appeal is often to have a break from academic studies between sixth form and university (read how to defer your acceptance here), or once you’ve finally got your degree. For some people, this means travel and adventure and for others it can be work, social services or adding new skills.
This article will give you plenty of ideas. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be one of the most memorable experiences of your life!
Before planning your trip, check out the Foreign Office website for travel advice concerning health, safety and security, entry requirements and any travel warnings.
Also, check to see if any organisations or agencies you hope to travel with are part of ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents), Year Out Group or a similar association. It’s not essential, but it may give you peace of mind.
What do you want from your gap year?
Almost all gap year plans – in one shape or another – involve some form of self-improvement. You want to come out of the gap year more mature and more ready for what the rest of life has to offer. Many gap years include at least one or more of the following self-improvement ideas:
This is not only a way to have a positive impact on the world, but it can also help with personal development, as well as adding value to your C.V. later.
Check out the following websites for volunteering ideas:
There are many programmes that can take you to far corners of the earth, involving exciting adventures like white water rafting, rock climbing or dog-sledding.
Perfecting a language can benefit your academic studies as well as your job prospects after graduation.
Paid employment – There is nothing wrong with simply working in any job for a year between school and university, or while you figure out what you want to do after graduation. Ideally, you would get some work experience that will be useful later in your career, but sometimes, students simply work in an entry-level job in order to save up some money.
Work experience – In other cases, you might earn little to no money in order to build experience in an environment where you hope to gain permanent employment. This could be as an intern in a design firm, an internship at a natural park, or almost any field you can imagine.
Learn a skill or technology
There are many tutorials and courses available, on websites like Find Courses and Udemy.
A popular option is Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). You can take courses at colleges or private training providers all over the world.
Insane Gap Year Ideas
Take on climate change & sustainability
We all want to make a difference, but few people have the opportunity to work on long-term projects that can make an impact.
Where: Consider these projects in Thailand.
Interesting fact: GVI’s programs in Thailand include a wide range of volunteer projects ranging from education to working with elephants.
Recommendation: Consider the region where you might want to work and investigate from there.
Photo: GVI elephants conservation internship
Vlog around the block. Or world
Are you a blogger? Or a vlogger? Or do you want to be? The internet and platforms like Youtube have made this dream very accessible.
Where: Anywhere in the world where you want to tell stories and show off local life, attractions and realities.
Interesting fact: Setting up your own website to blog has never been easier with new (free!) templates from companies such as Wix and WordPress.
Recommendation: If you wish to vlog on Youtube, there are many tutorials about the best – and easiest-to-transport – equipment.
Feed a lion – carefully – in South Africa
Volunteering with wildlife can be a life-changing experience e.g. working at a sanctuary for lions and cheetahs in South Africa.
Interesting fact: There are many types of programmes but this one offers luxury accommodation as an option.
Recommendation: Consider the time of year, season and region where you might want to volunteer, as well as the animals that interest you.
Photo: Lion & cheetah sanctuary
Learn the only martial art from the Americas. And Portuguese!
Capoeira is a beautiful mix of dance and non-contact martial art, which dates back to times of slavery in Brazil.
Where: Maceió, Brazil (among other destinations).
What: You can learn both Capoeira and Brazilian Portuguese at the same academy.
Benefits: Fitness and language proficiency.
Interesting fact: Capoeira was developed by slaves as a way to be combat-ready while seemingly only ‘dancing’ to avoid the attention of slave owners.
Recommendation: Brazil is a huge country; consider where you want to live and learn.
Make a turtle happy … in Costa Rica
What: Affordable volunteer program to protect sea turtles’ habitat with La Tortuga Feliz.
Where: On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
Benefits: Great memories, sunshine and making a difference in a key ecosystem.
Interesting fact: July through October are the peak nesting seasons on Costa Rica’s East coast.
Recommendations: Check out this program if the dates work, but note that the West coast of Costa Rica has different species with different nesting dates. Also, read up on the wildlife in the Tortuguero National Park.
Photo: Baby turtle
Help at a zoo … in Peru
What: Volunteer World offers a zoo assistant programme in Peru.
Where: Huancayo, Peru, in the Central Andean Highlands.
Benefits: Live in a place you probably never imagined and gain fascinating work experience.
Interesting fact: The zoo has more than 100 species native to the Andes and Amazon regions.
Recommendations: Having some proficiency in Spanish would be a big plus!
Teach Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka
What: Volunteer Forever offers stays at Buddhist monastery to work or teach English to monks.
Where: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos or Nepal.
Benefits: Learn Buddhist philosophy and experience personal growth.
Interesting fact: UNESCO World Heritage site Luang Prabang has 34 preserved Buddhist temples.
Recommendations: This is not a money-making exercise, but could offer a rich cultural experience.
Photo: Buddhist Monks
Teach English overseas
What: There is high demand around the world for learning English. Look for short-term jobs at language schools, universities or public schools. Depending on your qualifications, work can range from a well-paid lecturer to a volunteer in a public school.
Where: Anywhere students are learning English in school.
Benefits: Cultural connections, teaching experience and income (in some cases).
Interesting fact: Dave’s ESL Cafe has become a go-to website for searching for teaching English jobs.
Recommendations: Research where work permits could be obtained more easily for English teachers.
Volunteer with children in Africa
What: Many programmes are in place to assist children in poor areas of the globe. These positions can be in schools, orphanages, NGOs etc.
Where: Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania … just about any country.
Benefits: Rewarding work, personal growth and experience for your C.V.
Interesting fact: Projects Abroad has a wide range of programmes.
Recommendations: Consider what country or culture interests you and keep in mind the relative stability of the country at the moment.
Photo: Volunteer with children in Africa
Train in Muay Thai in Thailand
What: Muay Thai is a popular version of kick boxing that originated in Thailand.
Where: There are gyms (or “camps”) where trainers have learned English and have experience with foreign visitors
Benefits: This is fantastic for your fitness and learning a form of self-defence could always be useful.
Interesting fact: Tourist areas in Thailand often have many bars that host live Muay Thai matches.
Have a USA adventure as a nanny
What: The Au Pair program allows international students to spend a year in the USA as a nanny. It is well-regulated with a designated number of work hours and time off as well as a ‘stipend’ (payment) for educational purposes.
Where: Anywhere in the USA where a family is willing to hire a nanny.
Benefits: This is a budget-friendly way of doing a year abroad and it includes a weekly stipend.
Interesting fact: About 15,000 Au pairs travel to the USA each year to be nannies.
Get experience assisting vets in Argentina
What: Projects abroad offers a programme to work at a veterinarian clinic.
Where: Area of Cordoba, Argentina, the country’s 2nd-largest city.
Benefits: Great work experience for someone interested in agriculture or veterinary medicine.
Interesting fact: Cordoba is the top destination for domestic tourism in Argentina; many people visit the historic district and surrounding natural beauty of the region.
Recommendations: Consider taking a Spanish language course before you go.
Grow crops and help pay for your travels – in Australia
What: UK citizens can qualify for working holidays in Australia and seasonal farm labour is a great option.
Where: Anywhere seasonal labour is needed.
Benefits: Fresh air, money for your journeys and memories.
Interesting fact: Seasons are reversed in Australia vs. the northern hemisphere.
Recommendations: Check out this resource for where workers are needed.
Photo: Farm work, Australia
Add new skills … and get tips!
What: Hospitality training and work experience in the field.
Where: Check out Greystone College’s certificate program in hospitality with work experience (“co-op”) in Vancouver on Canada’s beautiful West Coast.
Benefits: Gain work experience and help pay for the cost of your travel.
Interesting fact: Greystone also has locations in Toronto and Australia.
Recommendations: There are courses like this all over the world, so check what’s available where you want to travel.
Learn base jumping, if you like adrenaline pumping
What: LTBJ – The Base School offers courses taught by experienced jumpers.
Where: USA, UK, Switzerland, Italy and Australia
Benefits: Everything will seem simple and safe after learning this sport!
Interesting fact: Carl Boenish invented base jumping in 1978 when he became convinced that sky diving equipment could be used for lower heights.
Recommendations: Consider your tolerance for risk, learn the basics and prepare meticulously for any jumps.
Photo: Learn to base jump
Hit bucket list destinations using an Interrail Pass
This is a pass that can be used on different national train networks across Europe.
Where: A Global Pass can take you to over 40,000 destinations across 33 European countries.
Benefits: Simplification of ticketing and advantageous pricing
Around the World in 80 Days… or more
Use airline alliances for an around-the-world ticket, such as this one from Star Alliance
Where: Anywhere that your airline alliance flies.
Benefits: This can be used for any combination of adventure travel, tourism, volunteering or anything else on your bucket list.
Interesting fact: Star Alliance claims that this airfare can take you to 1300 destinations and 190 countries!
Recommendation: Check all the major airline alliances before committing.
Dive off the Coast of Tasmania, you devil
Where: Travel to Melbourne or Sydney, where there are regular flights to the island.
Benefits: Cool adventure!
Interesting fact: In 2007, a barge was sunk off the coast of Tasmania and now it is the site of a reef that is teeming with life.
Recommendation: Make sure to find other adventures in mainland Australia before or after your diving trip.
Open new (ski lodge) doors by getting qualified to teach skiing or snowboarding
Where: Any good ski area but Switzerland is a great place to consider.
Benefits: This can lead to seasonal employment opportunities or working holidays in interesting places.
Interesting fact: Switzerland has 335 ski resorts that employ ski instructors.
Recommendation: Wherever you go, check whether you need a temporary work permit.
Photo: Learn to be a ski instructor
As you can see, there are many ways to spend a gap year!
So, your journey starts with considering what you want to get out of it, what your budget will allow and what programme might help with self-development or add value to your C.V. Keep in mind that you can combine a project like teaching English with exploring epic nearby wonders.
Ask yourself these questions: What money have you saved and what can you do with it? Are you motivated by environmental concerns or social responsibility? Will you need something to stand out for your first job after university? What regions interest you? What language could you master?
The possibilities are nearly endless, so reflect a bit and then start to research what’s out there. Make sure any organisation you want to travel with has a trusted reputation, and discuss with your family and/or people who have been before, to understand budget limitations, safety concerns etc.
Make it fun. Make it epic. Make it meaningful. Whatever plan you make, your gap year will be memorable.
This article has been adapted for UK students and graduates from ‘Epic gap year ideas for American students’ on Spanish Studies Abroad.
About the author
David Anderson is an American who – yes, it’s true – has travelled the globe for work and leisure. He never was able to do a gap year programme but thinks it’s a great idea for young people. He is naive enough to believe that travel for self-improvement and to learn languages and cultures helps to bring the world closer together.
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