Whether you’re fresh out of high school, college, or further down the line in your career, taking a gap year is an awesome way to travel the world, develop new skills, and get some real experience.
Taking a year off doesn’t mean you have to lounge around your parents’ house while you “figure it out”.
There are countless gap year options around the world including professional programs, community-oriented services, internships, volunteer opportunities, and even more casual opportunities.
Though I waited until after college to take my gap year, it was a time when I worked on building a business, expanded my writing portfolio, and explored the world all in one fell swoop. Years later, I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!
So, how should you spend your gap year?
In this article, we’ll cover:
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10 Gap Year Ideas
#1 – Living in Hostels
Ever dreamt about spending your gap years backpacking Europe or Asia but weren’t entirely sure how you’d financially support yourself? Working at a hostel will not only give you hospitality experience (it always looks good on a resume), but it will also allow you to deep dive into your gap year destination, build a community, and make some money while you’re at it.
Using the Worldpackers service, I nabbed a job at a hostel in Spain a few years ago and found it to be the perfect way to get accustomed to a new country. The Worldpackers platform allowed me to source a hostel remotely, meet my prospective team, and plan my itinerary.
Some of the more popular hostel jobs include being a party planner, running social media, cooking, giving local tours, and doing handiwork.
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#2 – Conservation Projects
If you’re looking to make a positive impact on the world and are passionate about animals or the environment, then planning your gap year around an ecology project is the way to go.
Various gap year programs deal with conservation, but Worldpackers has a whole area of their site geared towards permaculture and eco-living.
In this kind of endeavor, you’ll live either on a farm or with a local family while you learn specialized wildlife or ecosystem skills.
Training is often provided onsite so you don’t have to worry about having experience beforehand. That said, you can tailor your experience if you have specific career goals in mind!
Think working in the jungles of Thailand, conserving wildlife in a tropical Costa Rica destination, or learning about game reserve ecology in South Africa.
👉 Read Next: Workaway vs Worldpackers – Which is Better?
#3 – Dive Into a Marine Conservation Project
Along the same vein as the above point, marine projects are perfect for someone interested in a gap year program that specializes in ocean biology and reef conservation.
Not limited to participants majoring in the field, marine programs include hands-on training in ecosystems, biodiversity maintenance, and overarching environmental impacts.
#4 – Farm Work
Want to learn specialized sustainable farming techniques abroad in exchange for money, room, and board? Then working on a farm abroad through Worldpackers could be one of the most suitable gap year ideas for you.
Working on a farm can be done almost anywhere in the world, with popular destinations being Australia, Nepal, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Italy.
Think picking fruit, learning about organic food production, and learning all about local permaculture.
#5 – Become an Au Pair
Looking for a gap year idea that will help you gain experience childminding while building language skills abroad? An Au Pair is essentially a foreign nanny who exchanges childcare services for accommodations and financial help.
Generally speaking, becoming an Au Pair would mean signing up for a specific gap year program in this field, with the emphasis being on learning your destination’s language and culture.
Au Pairs usually make a weekly stipend of between $150 – $200 USD (although this can fluctuate pretty significantly) and are subject to fairly comprehensive background checks.
#6 – Teach English
Becoming an English teacher abroad can be one of the most rewarding gap year travel experiences — you’ll meet locals, have a team of professionals around you, and have ample time to explore your destination.
Depending on the company that you teach English with (there are countless related gap year programs), you’ll need one or multiple of the following qualifications:
- ✔️ Have a TEFL Certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
- ✔️ Be able to commit to a minimum amount of time
- ✔️ Have a bachelors degree
- ✔️ Produce a clean background check
#7 – Work on a Cruise Ship
Though you’ll need an area of expertise, working on a cruise ship is a great way to broaden your skills, spend time on the ocean, explore many different places, and get legitimate paid work.
Common entry-level cruise ship jobs include being a deckhand, working as a kitchen helper, being a cabin steward, doing laundry, and working as a bell hand. Of course, if you have experience in a specialized field, you can also apply for jobs in entertainment, hospitality, management, and the culinary arts.
Just keep in mind that cruise ship jobs can be very competitive, so you’ll need to apply well in advance and have your ducks in a row as far as paperwork goes.
#8 – Veterinary Internship
Have a passion for animals that you’re looking to progress into a career? Then you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of veterinary internships abroad.
You don’t have to choose between your dreams and your veterinary career with this gap year idea!
Being a vet assistant abroad is perfect if you want to get experience with animals, make money, learn from qualified veterinarians, and raise awareness about the ethical treatment of animals.
And of course, this option isn’t just for those wanting to build a career as a vet — it can be for anyone who wants to interact with animals on their travels in a sustainable way.
#9 – Go on a Campervan Trip
Feel like taking an adventurous European road trip?
Buying a campervan and exploring a continent in-depth is one of the most popular gap year ideas, especially as van life is becoming more and more normalized.
Though you’ll have to save up a fair chunk of change to buy a van and keep yourself on the road, this method can be quite economical in that you won’t have to pay for accommodations and you can cook your own meals. It’s definitely a creative way to find cheap places to stay in Europe!
#10 – Teaching Assistant
Encompassing more than just teaching English, working as a teaching assistant abroad is a gap year idea that is perfect for the budding education professional.
With this, you’ll teach alongside teachers in your chosen destination while creating lesson plans, developing your language skills, forming your teaching style, and adding some solid experience to your resume.
In most foreign teaching assistant roles, you’ll get private room and board, meals, and a weekly stipend or salary.
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5 Tips for Taking a Gap Year
Tip #1 – Decide What You Want to Accomplish
Before you commit yourself to a gap year program, take into consideration what you want to get out of the experience.
Popular reasons people take gap years is to get real-world job experience, become a more confident traveler, beef up their resume, make a positive impact, and get out of their comfort zones.
What kind of gap year you have will depend on your why, so make sure you fully explore this before you travel.
Tip #2 – Research Good Travel Insurance
If you’ll be spending any real amount of time abroad, then investing in good travel insurance is something I personally always do.
For more, see our guide to the best travel insurance for nomads on the market depending on your travel style and specific needs.
Tip #3 – Research Medical & Visa Requirements
Different countries have various medical and visa requirements, and to get into your desired country, you’ll need to know this information beforehand. For example, you won’t be able to work in parts of Africa or South America without a yellow fever vaccine.
Especially now in our COVID-19 era, having proof of vaccination will be essential to travel into many countries around the world.
Tip #4 – Create a Detailed Budget
Successful gap years start with creating detailed financial projections. In this, be sure to include costs such as:
- Air Travel
- Ground Transportation
- Visas & Medications
- Toiletries & Clothing
- Activities & Sports
Of course, many of these items may be covered by your gap year living situation, but having a plan will go a long way in making sure you’re financially sound at the end of your experience!
If you need help creating a budget, check out my backpacking budget planner for helpful tips!
Tip #5 – Apply in Advance
Not a decision to leave for the last minute, applying for your gap year program, internship, hostel job, or homestay will need to be done well in advance.
This will give you time to find travel deals, sort out your situation at home, pad your wallet, and get any necessary documentation in order.
Even if you don’t plan on pursuing a formal gap year program, you’ll still need to do a ton of planning — it is a full year, after all!
Gap Year Ideas FAQs
What do people usually do during a gap year?
With gap year travel programs, people usually gain experience, explore new countries, learn a new language, save money, and expand their education.
How do you travel in a gap year?
In order to travel in a gap year, you’ll have to save money, decide on a location, explore your options, get the necessary paperwork together, apply for a job or program, and then book your flights.
How can I make the most of my gap year?
You can make the most out of your gap year by volunteering abroad, landing internships in your field of expertise, signing up for a specialty program, and thoughtfully structure your time.
That’s it for my top 10 gap year ideas! If you want more inspiration, be sure to check out my list of the best gap year destinations.
Taking a year to explore the world and add some cool items to your resume is a great way to get clarity on your life and career while having a blast.
Have fun on your gap year!
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