Gap years have long been a common occurrence for students in Europe and Australia but are just now catching on in the U.S. Some students use them as a chance to gain work experience, some want to see the world, and others just want to feel a little more ready to head to college. Whatever the reason behind choosing a gap year, there are numerous possibilities for customizing the experience to your own unique needs and interests. Here, we share just a few inspiring ideas for trips and experiences that you're sure to remember for years to come.
If you'd like to gain valuable work experience during your gap year, consider these ideas.
- Teach in South America. Want to mix an adventure in the wilds of South America with some teaching experience? Head to Ecuador to help young children learn English and gain academic skills while enjoying some jungle treks, mountain biking, and white-water rafting.
- WWOOF your way around the world. If you need a way to fund your gap year, consider WWOOFing it. Not sure what that it is? It's a group called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms that can help young high school grads work as they travel by offering work on farms around the world.
- Take on an internship in another country. There are numerous programs that can help you find internships abroad, letting you gain experience while living and working in a new and exciting location.
- Help people with small tasks. Another way to help fund a gap is by taking on jobs found through HelpX, a site that matches up those who need help with smaller tasks like building, farming, and even sailing with those who need free accommodation and food.
- Help out with the family business. If you think you might want to go into the family business, take a gap year to work, getting to know the ropes. You might find a major that will suit your career in the business, or learn that it's just not for you.
- Work on a farm or ranch. City types can expand their horizons during a gap year by heading out to the country to get experience working on a farm or ranch. Get a bit more adventurous by heading to a farm overseas.
- Start your own business. Always dreamed of being an entrepreneur? Use your gap year to pull together a business plan, inspired by your travels, internships, or great ideas you've always wanted to try.
- Teach English somewhere far-flung. Head to Asia, South America, or the Middle East to see what life is like on the other side of the world and gain some valuable work experience in the process.
- Become an au pair. Being an au pair can be a truly wonderful way to experience a bit of the world while working. You'll get to live with a local family, learn the language, and taste all aspects of the culture.
- Work on an oil rig. While it might not be for everyone, working in an extreme situation, like on an oil rig, can be an amazing life experience that will more than prepare you for the challenges of college.
Many people want to spend their gap years traveling as much as possible. These are just a few ideas for some seriously amazing trips.
- Take a train ride though Europe. Europe is perhaps one of the easiest places to get around by train. Buy a Eurorail pass and you can travel to 23 different countries.
- Backpack through Asia. Find a friend, grab a backpack, and trek through the beautiful mountains, coasts, and cities of Southeast Asia. If you don't find backpacking fun, you can always take a more traditional trip as well.
- Take a safari. Love wildlife? A safari is a great way to get up close and personal with many animals you've only seen in zoos.
- Hop on the Trans-Siberian Railway. An overland trip, like one offered by the Trans-Siberian Railway, is a great way to see a country. The thousands of miles of this railroad stretch through China, Mongolia, Manchuria, Russia, and North Korea.
- Take an extended road trip. America is a big, big country and chances are pretty good that even if you're well-traveled you haven't seen even a fraction of what it has to offer. A long road trip (in a reliable car) with some friends can help you to see some of the sights you've been missing.
- Become a global foodie. If you've ever seen the show No Reservations then you know that half the fun of visiting new places can be tasting the local cuisine. If you're a lover of fine foods, why not make that a focus of your travels?
- See great works of art. No matter where you travel in the world, there are bound to be museums and monuments where you can see some of the most iconic and beautiful works ever created, a real education for any budding art historian or artist.
- Visit all the national parks. There are 58 national parks in the United States, making it possible for the determined traveler to hit nearly all of them in a year.
- Drive a camper through Australia. The Australian outback, as barren and open as it is, has a mysterious sort of appeal. Rent a camper to explore this huge country down under, outback, cities, and coasts alike, during your gap year.
Give your gap year a deeper meaning by helping others. Find some great ideas for a variety of volunteering trips here.
- Help wildlife in Borneo. Borneo is a popular place to volunteer, largely because of the wildlife. You can work at centers that help rehabilitate orangutans, monkeys, and even some unique species of birds.
- Volunteer in your community. While it can be exciting to volunteer abroad, it's likely that there are plenty of organizations closer to home that could use your help as well. If you're not sure where to start, consider an online network like VolunteerMatch.
- Help rebuild America. The National Civilian Community Corps or AmeriCorps is a great place to learn leadership skills while helping communities in need.
- Volunteer for community projects in Africa. Whether you teach school, help bring water to villages, build homes, or something else entirely, a trip to Africa can help you see the world while helping others.
- Work to save an endangered species. Both within the U.S. and in a variety of places around the globe people are working tirelessly to help rebuild and protect populations of seriously endangered species. You can help the effort by volunteering your time.
- Become part of a conservation effort. Check out opportunities offered by the Student Conservation Association to use your time off to help save trees, national parks, and American wildlife.
- Join City Year. Give a year of your life to this organization, focused on helping keep kids interested, engaged, and excelling in school.
Give yourself the experience of a lifetime with these gap year ideas.
- Go on an expedition to Antarctica. If you're the adventurous type (and don't mind some chilly temps) a trip to the bottom of the world could be a pretty cool (pun intended) way to spend a few months out of your gap year.
- Walk the Appalachian Trail. Stretching from Maine to Georgia, this popular and well-worn trail will test your mettle as you navigate your way through the mountains, valleys, and forests of the eastern United States.
- See the Seven Wonders of the World. While you'll only be able to see one of the ancient wonders, you can still take in the modern wonders, or embrace the natural wonders, all of which can be equally awe-inspiring.
- Become a sailor on a tall ship. Becoming a sailor on a tall ship is one way to embrace your love of the sea, while seeing ports in the U.S. and around the world to boot.
- Run away with the circus. As silly as it might sound, if you have a skill or talent that might be valuable to a circus, traveling from town to town with one really could be a life-changing experience.
Get an education while you see the world when you try out these ideas.
- Learn a language in a foreign country. These days, knowing another language can be a huge asset to your career and there's no better way to do it than with complete immersion. Head to France to learn French or China to learn Chinese for an incredibly valuable and educational gap year.
- Learn how to do something new. Just because you're not in college doesn't mean you can't take classes. Use your gap year, wherever you choose to spend it, taking classes in art, cooking, dance, or whatever else interests you but isn't applicable to your future career.
- Explore the ruins of an ancient culture. One of the most awe-inspiring experiences you can have learning about history is by seeing the ruins left behind by an ancient culture. Head to Peru, Egypt, Greece, China, or dozens of other history-filled destinations for a thoroughly educational and inspiring experience.
- Take an extended sailing trip. There are a number of different companies that offer classes on a ship, so you can learn while sailing to and exploring the world's most amazing port cities.
- Make a documentary. If the idea of making a documentary during your gap year excites you, consider signing up for the Brown Ledge program that trains students on documentary technologies and works to explore different cities in the U.S. using them.
- Study a foreign culture. Don't be an armchair anthropologist! Get out there and do research in the real world, studying people, places, and cultures around the world while you're taking time off from school. You may eventually be able to adapt your research into a stellar final thesis. If you can't afford to go away, you can also study people in your hometown.
- Research in the Galapagos. For many, spending six months to a year in the Galapagos doing research and working with conservationists sounds like a dream come true. If it appeals to you, contact the Darwin Foundation and you could just be spending your gap year in these amazing isles.
Athletic types will love these ideas for amazing gap years.
- Train for an athletic event. If you've always dreamed of taking part in an Ironman or maybe even heading to the Olympics, a gap year can be the perfect time to train and get in the best shape of your life. Even better, you can earn money while training others in the sport of your choice.
- Bike through a country. Travel can also be a serious workout if you explore by bike. Pack up your wheels and head abroad to see the world by your own power.
- Surf the world's best beaches. Aquatic types can spend their gap year catching waves at some of the world's best surf spots.
- Pick up a new sport and practice like crazy. Always wanted to be a skater? Feel the need to be able to shoot a bow? Your gap year offers ample time to build these skills.
- Ski your way through your gap year. There is plentiful skiing the world over, and for dedicated skiers, a gap year may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hit the slopes in places like Canada, Switzerland, Chile, and even China. You can even get training to become a ski or snowboard instructor, a skill that you can use to earn money while in college, too.
Use these ideas to make your gap year a deeply spiritual and moving experience you'll never forget.
- Go on a pilgrimage. One of the most famous pilgrimage routes is the Camino de Santiago, which thousands of pilgrims, some religious, some not, still walk or bike each year. You can follow this route or one of the dozens of other pilgrimage routes around the world for a purpose-driven and empowering way to spend your gap year.
- Go on a yoga or meditation retreat. Whether you choose to stay close to home or travel halfway around the world, a retreat of this nature can help you build focus, find your purpose, and calm your mind.
- Fulfill as many lifelong dreams as possible. You likely won't have a time in your life when you're as free, healthy, and fearless as you are during your gap year, so make the most of it by fulfilling some of your life dreams. Some may be big, like seeing the pyramids, and some may be small, like swimming at night, but whatever they are, go for them!
- Head to a kibbutz. Learn to work in a communal setting by taking part in a kibbutz in rural Israel. Before you start, you may even have time to see some of the country's most holy sites.
- Help promote peace. Get in touch with an organization like Volunteers for Peace to find out how you can spend your gap year helping to promote peace in locations around the world.
- Take a spiritual journey through India. India has long been the destination for those in search of spiritual answers. Whether you find a guru or simply take in the sights and sounds of this diverse and fascinating country, you're bound to learn more about yourself in the process.
- Visit the world's holy sites. No matter your faith, visiting some of the world's most famous holy sites is a deeply moving experience that may just help you find guidance and inspiration for your future.