Gap years present a time of freedom and choice that you may never get to enjoy again. With that, they also bring a lot of pressure. What to do with this limited window of opportunity between education and entering the world of work full-time? Many people, if they’re lucky enough, may have the option to travel.
Gap year travel can be a formative experience, providing personal growth, a global perspective, and improved career potential. It offers far more than a year off; it can also be time spent accumulating valuable experiences and practical learning. If you’re considering a gap year, explore destinations and activities that match your interests as you plan an adventure to set you up for a bright future.
If you’re wondering what to do in a gap year, find out more in this comprehensive guide. We’ll take a detailed look at the long-term advantages of gap year travel and offer gap year ideas for locations and activities.
The benefits of gap year travel
There are plenty of practical reasons for considering a gap year of travel. One common concern about taking a gap year is how it might look to employers if you’ve had a year out. However, it can actually be more of an asset than a hindrance. If you’re wondering what to do in a gap year to enhance your CV, bear in mind that you’re already taking huge strides towards that, gathering skills that will stay with you for life.
Here’s how it can pay to plan your gap year with your future in mind:
Education beyond books: While traditional education has its merits, nothing can quite replicate real-world experiences. Travel allows you to learn about history, geography, and various ways of life through hands-on exploration.
Personal development: Travelling exposes you to diverse cultures, people, and settings. This can be incredible for self-development, communication skills, understanding the world and broadening your mindset.
Demonstrated skills: A well-planned gap year can be a valuable addition to your CV. Employers often appreciate qualities such as adaptability, problem-solving, and cultural awareness, which are developed during travel. Navigating the complexities of foreign countries and other ways of life also requires resilience and independence. These attributes are highly marketable.
Language proficiency: Immersing yourself in a foreign culture is one of the most effective ways to learn a new language or enhance existing language skills.
Networking: Your interactions with people from around the world during your travels can be invaluable for both personal and professional growth. The connections you make may even lead to job opportunities in unexpected ways. Your network may extend across the globe, opening professional doors you’d never have considered at some point down the line.
Global perspective: Employers value people who can work in a diverse environment, with an open mind and fresh ways of thinking. Your gap year demonstrates your ability to assimilate into different cultures and work with people from various backgrounds.
Specific expertise: If your gap year experiences align with your desired career path, they can provide specific skills and knowledge that make you a more attractive candidate.
Where is best to take a gap year?
Here are some suggestions for where to go on a gap year, along with suggestions for specific things you can do in each place.
1. Southeast Asia
A gap year in Southeast Asia is an opportunity to explore vibrant cultures and striking natural landscapes, engaging in diverse experiences.
Check out some ideas to help you plan a gap year here:
Backpacking: Take off on a backpacking journey, visiting countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia. From bustling cities to serene beaches, and lush jungles, there’s so much to love.
Get active: Engage in high-octane activities such as scuba diving, trekking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting. Southeast Asia offers ample opportunities for outdoor adventures.
Trekking: Marvel at the region’s natural beauty by trekking in the lush jungles of Indonesia, hiking in the northern regions of Vietnam, or walking through the tea plantations in Sri Lanka.
Meditation and yoga retreats: Southeast Asia is a hub for meditation and yoga retreats. Join an organised getaway that focuses on self-growth, to relax, de-stress, rejuvenate and learn more about yourself.
Europe presents a tapestry of cultures, histories, and terrains. You can visit renowned cities or opt for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
Here are some ideas for things to do in a gap year travelling Europe:
Backpacking: Embark on a backpacking journey, visiting multiple countries and cities, taking in iconic destinations like Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Prague.
Adventure sports: Engage in exhilarating sports like skiing in the Alps, hiking in the Pyrenees, or cycling along the Danube River. Europe offers a range of outdoor activities.
Rail travel: Make the most of Europe’s extensive train network to explore multiple countries. A Eurail pass gives you convenient and cost-effective travel.
Wild camping: Venture into the European wilderness by backpacking through national parks, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, or camping in the Scandinavian forests.
Arts and culture: Europe is known for its vibrant cultural scene. Attend theatre performances, music festivals, and art exhibitions.
A gap year in Africa can be a life-changing experience, with the chance to see diverse cultures and mesmerising environments, participating in meaningful projects.
Here are some suggestions for gap year travel in Africa:
Volunteer work: Africa has a range of volunteer opportunities, from teaching and healthcare projects to wildlife conservation. You can work with local communities or contribute to environmental preservation efforts.
Wildlife conservation: Get involved in wildlife conservation efforts in countries like South Africa, Kenya, or Namibia. Participate in projects that protect endangered species and their habitats.
African safari: Come face to face with Africa’s iconic wildlife by going on a safari. Visit national parks and game reserves to witness the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo) and other incredible animals.
Historical and cultural tours: Explore Africa’s history and cultural heritage by visiting ancient sites and museums, and attending festivals. Countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Ethiopia are particularly rich in historical sights worth seeing.
If you prefer adventure closer to home, the US offers a diverse range of experiences, from the grandeur of the Grand Canyon to vibrant cities on the East Coast.
Here are some ideas for gap year activities across America:
Take a road trip: Embark on an epic road trip across the country. Take famous routes like Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Great River Road. Visit national parks, cities, and small towns along the way.
Discover national parks: Spend your gap year visiting some of the United States’ 63 national parks. Hike in the Grand Canyon, camp in Yosemite, or uncover the wildlife in Yellowstone.
See the cities: Live in a major city for a few months and immerse yourself in its culture. New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago contain a whole lifetime’s worth of unforgettable experiences.
Amtrak inter-railing: Purchase an Amtrak rail pass and tour the US by train, for a unique and scenic way to travel across different states.
6. Pacific islands
The Pacific Islands are idyllic for relaxation, water sports, and immersion in local culture.
Here are some gap year ideas for making the most of your time here:
Island hopping: Explore multiple islands within the Pacific, such as Fiji, the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Each island offers unique experiences, from pristine beaches to lush rainforests and vibrant cultures.
Scuba diving and snorkelling: The Pacific Islands are renowned for their crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life. You could look to obtain an official scuba diving certification, or simply snorkel in coral reefs to witness the underwater beauty.
Teaching English: If you have a strong command of the English language, consider teaching English as a volunteer or through paid programmes, to help local communities improve their language skills.
Yacht crew: If you’re interested in sailing, you could join a yacht crew as a deckhand or steward/stewardess. It’s a unique way to take in the islands while working.
Hiking: There are excellent hiking opportunities here. Trek through lush rainforests, scale volcanic peaks, or walk along coastal trails to discover the islands’ natural beauty.
A gap year in Australia allows you ample time to see what this vast country has in store. There are a variety of fun ways to fund your travels through work exchange programmes too. The combination of adventure, cultural exploration and practical experience you’ll enjoy can be both educational and personally rewarding. It brings a chance to discover unique landscapes and perspectives while enhancing your skills and knowledge.
Here are some ideas for things to do in a gap year in Australia:
Explore the natural world: Take time to visit iconic natural wonders like Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Australian rainforests. You can find plentiful work for travellers here, to finance these adventures.
Work on a cattle station: Many cattle stations in the Outback have opportunities for work exchange. You can assist with tasks such as mustering cattle, maintenance, and other farm duties in exchange for food and accommodation. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in rural Australian life and gain a deeper understanding of the country’s agricultural industry.
Volunteer for conservation: Australia is known for its unique wildlife. Consider volunteering with companies that focus on wildlife conservation and environmental protection. This allows you to contribute to preserving the country’s natural treasures.
Learn about Indigenous culture: The Indigenous culture in Australia is rich and diverse. Use your gap year to connect with Indigenous communities, participate in cultural experiences, and gain a deeper appreciation for the world’s oldest living culture.
How can I travel cheaply for a gap year?
If you’re wondering what to do in a gap year with no money, you can still put together a gap year plan to remember. These options allow you to travel on a minimal budget while gaining valuable experiences and contributing to the communities you visit:
Couch-surfing and house-sitting: Travel the world on a shoestring budget by couch-surfing, which involves staying with locals for free. You can also look for house-sitting opportunities, where you take care of someone’s home and pets while they’re away. This not only provides free accommodation but also a unique local experience.
Work exchange and volunteer programmes: Many countries offer work exchange opportunities, in which you work in return for food and accommodation. Certain websites connect travellers with hosts around the world who need help on farms, in hostels, or with various projects. Similarly, consider volunteer programmes where your expenses may be covered in exchange for your time and skills, whether it’s in conservation, teaching, or community development.
What is a gap year for an 18-year-old?
A gap year for an 18-year-old is a period of time typically taken after completing secondary school and before starting college or entering the workforce. During this year, young adults often choose to explore various experiences, which can include travelling, volunteering, working, or pursuing personal interests.
Like with post-university gap year alumni, the aim is to gain life experience, promote self-discovery, and get a broader perspective before committing to further education or a career. It’s a chance to step outside the usual academic path and discover your interests and aspirations. However, young adults can be more limited in what to do during a gap year, before they’ve grown in confidence or had a chance to save money for travel.
What to do in a gap year before university
In addition to some of the options above, this earlier phase of life may be better suited to some of these options for things to do in a gap year:
Work and save: Gain work experience and save money for your university expenses. You can work in your home country or take on short-term jobs or internships abroad.
Entrepreneurship: Consider starting a small business, freelancing, or developing a project that fits your interests. Even if you don’t fully expect it to generate income at this time, it can be positioned as a project to help you get onto a specific university course, or a case study for applying to roles you’re interested in. Whatever the outcome, entrepreneurship can be a valuable learning experience that serves as a real asset for securing future roles.
Check out Cheap Small Business ideas to start up, on a year out or as a side hustle.
Online courses: Take advantage of online courses to acquire new skills or learn about subjects that interest you. There are many websites offering a wide range of courses, both free and paid. You could also see what grants are available in your area to support your pursuit of new skills.
Pursuing hobbies: Explore personal interests or hobbies you’re passionate about, whether it’s learning to surf, taking up photography, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. These experiences can be both enjoyable and character-building.
Reading and self-reflection: Use your gap year to read widely and reflect on your goals, values, and aspirations. Consider keeping a journal to document your thoughts and experiences, which can help you to get to know yourself and you can also refer back to for future inspiration.
Fitness and wellness: Focus on your physical and mental health. Join a gym, take yoga classes, or develop healthy routines to improve your overall wellbeing.
Financial literacy: Use the year to learn about personal finance, budgeting, and investing. This knowledge will serve you well in university and beyond.
Document your experiences: Start a blog, write a book, or create a photo journal to document your experiences during the gap year. It’s a creative way to preserve memories and potentially share your journey with others.
Get Sports Travel insurance with SportsCover Direct
If you’re embarking on gap year travel that will take you into the next phase of life, you want to make it as stress-free as possible. Venturing into the unknown and being open to the fact that anything could happen, is all part of the excitement. But there are still steps you can take to protect yourself as much as possible. This is why having the right travel insurance is one of the smartest steps you can take as you plan an adventure to remember.
Wherever life takes you, don’t let anything get in the way of making memories and shaping yourself. SportsCover Direct’s sports travel insurance provides options for single annual multi-trip policies, so that you’ll have global protection as you explore new destinations. It includes cover for medical costs, trip cancellation, and more. If you already have travel insurance in place, opt for our bolt-on policy. We also have a Sports Accident Insurance policy that includes personal liability and income protection.
Read more and get a quote online. If you have any questions at all, just let us know.