Interested in taking a gap year but not sure you can afford it? The thought of traveling the world for an extended period of time is an exciting thought but for many, the cost is a major factor to consider before making serious plans.
Luckily, there are gap year options for all interests and budgets. Don't let the cost of a gap year keep you from embarking on a potentially life-changing adventure. To help guide your research, we've highlighted the most affordable gap year programs for 2023 as well as top tips to help you fund your gap year abroad.
Why do I have to pay for gap year programs?
It may be cliche but the old saying, "nothing in life is free" rings true when it comes to taking a gap year. Activities like language immersion and experiential learning understandably come with a price tag but even volunteering and internships can cost you. You may be wondering why you would have to pay to volunteer or intern since you're providing a service free of charge, so we'll give you a quick rundown.
When it comes to volunteering or interning, your program fees may go to the following:
- Project supplies
- Staff salaries (coordinating projects, finding placements)
- Mentoring and/or support
Do your research to understand where your program fees go and to determine if the organization is trusted and ethical.
Read more: Why You Should Pay to Volunteer Abroad
1. Volunteer in Ghana with Plan My Gap Year
- Cost: starting at $497 for two weeks; $2825 for 24 weeks
- Duration: between 2 to 24 weeks depending on program
- What's included: accommodation with wifi, 3 meals a day, airport pickup, 24 hour support
- Low program rates with all meals and housing included mean you can volunteer for nearly half a year for a low cost
- Past participants highly praise both the organizational support and the ease of making friends.
- Volunteering with vulnerable children can initially be overwhelming both physically and emotionally.
- Participants will need to obtain background checks on their own.
Volunteering abroad during your gap year can be very affordable and Plan My Gap Year's (PMGY) Ghana programs are no different. You can choose from several fields such as teaching, childcare, medical, and mental healthcare. All programs include full support and everything you need for day-to-day life.
There can be concerns regarding volunteering with orphanages but PMGY collaborates with the Kumasi Children's Home, which is a government-run social services organization that cares for kids with and without disabilities. All participants must present a clean and recent criminal background check, which is an important step toward ensuring the safety of the children.
"I went as a solo traveler/volunteer but I met some of the most amazing people, made friends for life, and made some of the most amazing memories."
2. Volunteer in India with Volunteering Solutions
- Cost: starting at $250 for 1 week; $990 for 8 weeks with $110 for each additional week
- Duration: between 1 to 24 weeks depending on program
- What's included: accommodation, breakfast and dinner, airport pickup, 24 hour support
- Each volunteer program fits in meaningful tourism opportunities around India.
- Volunteering Solutions alumni have cited the top-notch support as a major pro to this program.
- Healthcare programs require volunteers to be pre-med, nursing, or dental students or Certified Nursing Assistants
- The elephant volunteer program only lasts two weeks.
Choose from a number of different volunteer projects in India with Volunteering Solutions and spend between 2 to 24 weeks abroad. Options range from medical, dental, and nursing projects within healthcare to female empowerment and education programs. If your interests lie in volunteering with children, you can choose from teaching or childcare working with children with and without disabilities.
Past volunteers enjoyed the visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites during downtime as well as the quality accommodations included with the volunteer fees.
"It was the first time in my life that I volunteered away from home! It was a wonderful and very enriching experience. My goal was to teach children in need but they are the ones who taught me a lot."
3. Learn with Carpe Diem Education in Central America
- Cost: $15,700
- Duration: semester
- What's included: accomodation in homestays, all meals, activities, international travel insurance, PADI open water certification, possibility of college credit
- Earning a PADI certification, as well as college credit, makes this program a good investment for the perks offered.
- The activities and learning opportunities offered are varied and likely to keep things fresh and interesting.
- Homestays can be difficult for introverts or those who want to come and go freely.
- Outside of homestays, accommodation during travel and trekking can be rustic and lacking Western amenities.
Get both affordable and quality programming with top-rated Carpe Diem. Their semester gap year in Central America takes you through Guatemala and Costa Rica. Improve your Spanish as you travel through these fascinating countries and engage in activities like meeting with traditional Mayan healers, learning about sustainable agriculture in the Lago Atitlan region, and earning a PADI Open Water Scuba Certification on the coast of Costa Rica.
If you're interested in sustainability, the protection of indigenous people and culture, and the connection we as people have to the land, this semester abroad program might be right for you.
Looking for funding opportunities? Apply to Carpe Diem's scholarships.
"We were also challenged to be reflective and think deeply about ourselves. The program gave us a structured way to think about concepts like what is love, what goals or values to I have, how can I function in a community and in new and different cultures, ect."
4. Learn and travel in Southeast Asia with Pacific Discovery
- Cost: $13,750
- Duration: 12 weeks
- What's included: accommodation, all meals, in-country transportation, visas, all expeditions and activities, expert lectures
- The close-knit nature of the program means you will become close with other participants, potentially leading to lifelong friendships.
- With the amount of travel, activities, and excursion, you will never be bored.
- Packed itinerary could be tiring for some and does not leave a lot of free time.
- Wifi connection may be spotty or nonexistent on excursions and in mountain communities.
With Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia Gap Semester, spend a little over 2 months traveling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia. This program fuses volunteering, service learning, adventure travel, cultural immersion, and personal development -- you're in for an exciting and busy gap semester!
This gap year program is designed to keep you moving and would be ideal for those interested in ecotourism, wildlife conservation, and community development, or those who are enthusiastic about the outdoors and are looking for a challenge.
"I can genuinely say this program was everything I hoped for and more. I would recommend this program to any graduating high school student, I feel much more prepared for life and future travel after completing this program."
5. Immerse yourself in Spanish with Tico Lingo in Costa Rica
- Cost: starting at $290 for 1 week; $1150 for 4 weeks with $245 for each additional week
- Duration: 1 to 24 weeks
- What's included: 20 hours of Spanish classes a week, class materials, airport pickup, conversation classes with local residents, tours and activities
- Small class sizes of 2-6 students ensure personal attention and plenty of opportunities to practice your speaking.
- Students will receive a calendar of free activities which includes things like dance classes, yoga, and tours -- make friends and explore!
- Accommodation is not included and must be arranged separately. For an extra cost, Tico Lingo offers a homestay with a local family.
- Prices for extra weeks are set so the course does not get cheaper the longer you stay.
Located in quaint Heredia, Costa Rico, Tico Lingo offers intensive and immersive Spanish classes to supercharge your language skills during your gap year. With classes no bigger than 6 students and all materials included, you'll have everything you need to succeed and reach your Spanish goals.
Free events and conversation exchanges with local residents outside of class are the perfect way to both unwind and put your Spanish to good use in a natural setting. You'll be sure to make tons of friends -- both classmates and native Costa Ricans (Ticos)!
A homestay option is extra starting at $195 a week which includes a private room, breakfast and dinner, and access to wifi. If you chose the homestay, you'll have extra time to practice Spanish at home with your host family during meals and in the evenings.
"This is my second time visiting Tico Lingo, and I had an even better time than before! I highly recommend this school to anyone that wants to learn Spanish, meets lots of people, explore a cool city, stay with a great homestay family, and even learn how to cook traditional Costa Rican Foods!"
6. Volunteer and learn Arabic with The Excellence Center in Palestine
- Cost: starting at $224 a week; $678 a month
- Duration: between 1-13 weeks
- What's included: homestay or dorm, breakfast, 3 hours of intensive Arabic classes a week, trips and activities
- Pairing volunteering with language learning makes this program a much more immersive experience.
- Homestays allow you to see Palestinian culture through the eyes of local residents.
- Learning and volunteering in conflict zones can be stressful and/or distressing.
- Women volunteers will need to follow extra rules such as not staying out alone after dark.
If you've always been interested in learning Arabic, why not pair language study with volunteering through The Excellence Center? Based in Hebron, participants can stay for between 1 to 13 weeks learning Arabic with skilled teachers for 3 hours a week while also teaching English to local Palestinian residents. You will also have opportunities to get involved in lectures and projects related to human rights and law in the West Bank.
In your free time, you can spend time with your host family or travel with fellow volunteers to places like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Bethlehem. The Excellence Center puts safety above all else and will be there to advise on what to do and where to go to ensure your trip is smooth.
7. Intern in Chile with Adelante Abroad
- Cost: $2,745 for 1 month; $6,345 for 6 months
- Duration: 1-6 months
- What's included: guaranteed placement, the option of academic credit, housing, 3 weeks of intensive Spanish classes, excursions like wine tasting and trekking
- Internships are four hours a day, giving you time outside of work to explore and immerse yourself in the city.
- Enjoy living in a private room in a shared apartment or house by the beach.
- The 1-month program is expensive but the price gets cheaper the longer you stay.
- Those with a high level of Spanish may not benefit from the intensive lessons.
Adelante Abroad internships give you the chance to live and work by the beach in either Viña Del Mar or Valparaiso. Guaranteed placements are available in nearly every field from architecture to zoology. Adelante Abroad works with you to find the best fit for your future. Academic credit is also offered if your degree requires an internship component. According to Adelante Abroad, a three-month internship program is equal to 240 contact hours.
Once accepted to the internship program, you will be informed of where you will be living and interning before you arrive which is priceless in terms of peace of mind and the ability to research the areas around your future home ahead of time.
"My coworkers were extremely welcoming and made a strong effort to help me navigate Chilean culture and traveling as well as spending time with me outside of work! I learned a lot with their help and improved my Spanish exponentially..."
8. Intern in Thailand with Asia Internship Program
- Cost: $2,100 for one month basic placement; $7,450 for six month standard package with accomodation
- Duration: between 1 to 6 months
- What's included: depends on package but all include 24 hour support, personalized placement, visa assistance, career consulation
- All packages include visa support.
- Furnished accommodation for the standard package is high quality.
- The cheapest placement support option doesn't include accommodation.
- Although placements are guaranteed, you will need to interview with companies before you are offered a position.
Asia Internship Program, also known as AIP, places interns around the world in workplaces relevant to their interests or field of study. Their Thailand program is especially popular and highly rated.
Choose between Phuket, Chiang Mai, or Bangkok where you can intern in 25 fields. Even if your field is not listed, AIP encourages interested future interns to contact them to see what they can do.
Outside of work, AIP organizes networking events and activities where you can get to know fellow interns and make friends. This will help you make the most of your time in Thailand. At the end of your experience, you can request a recommendation letter from your employer. Career guidance is also available to help you seek out opportunities available to you after your internship.
AIP offers ample opportunities for scholarships to help offset the cost of your internship.
"The experience of working at a news company really opened my eyes. I was lucky enough to be able to write articles about travel and lifestyle, which is something I am so deeply passionate about. I got to travel around Bangkok to cover news, interview people and really immerse myself in the local culture by trying all sorts of things."
Consider a work exchange or working holiday
You’ll hear from many world travelers, gappers, and nomads that one of the ways they take a gap year for cheap is by bartering their skills in exchange for room and board. Whether it is through laborious jobs like farm work or more administrative roles like a hostel front desk clerk or office assistant, you’ll find a range of barter options available.
Programs like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, better known by its acronym WWOOF are free to participate in (aside from a small fee paid to the country website to access listings). You simply pay for transportation fees to get to the opportunity in the location you choose. Generally, accommodation and meals are free in exchange for your work on an organic farm. You could find yourself doing anything from caring for animals, weeding gardens, or building or mending structures on the property. WWOOF opportunities are located all over the world.
Alternatively, you may want to take a working holiday during your gap year. This will allow you to earn money for travel by working, usually in the hospitality industry although your visa gives you the ability to seek work in any sector you're qualified in. Most working holiday visas allow you to stay in the country up to 12 or 18 months, depending on the destination.
Tips for funding your gap year
There are several ways that you can cut costs when planning your gap year. In fact, you may want to try a combination of a few of these tips to maximize your savings!
Read more: How to Budget for Your Gap Year
Apply for scholarships or fellowships
If you started researching ways to travel on a gap year with a group, then you’ve probably begun sifting through the many travel and tour operators offering special gap year programs. While they’ll all support your dream of seeing the world on a sabbatical, those services are often accompanied by a higher price tag.
It may seem like a financial roadblock, but don’t give up hope yet. Many gap year programs also provide reduced rates, payment plans, and grants! You might even score a full scholarship (or collect numerous scholarships to cover all of your expenses).
Wondering how to go about locating gap year financial aid? Head to the travel program’s financial office or call their financial advisor first. They can help guide you along the way and even recommend third-party aid received by previous guests.
Gap Year Crash Course: Scholarships & Funding
Start a fundraiser
If you find yourself short on cash to fund your gap year, fundraising is a viable option to cover costs. Fundraisers are especially well received for gap years that focus on or incorporate volunteering.
Sites like GoFundMe allow you to start a free, shareable campaign where you can detail your project and update your progress for anyone following. Unlike other fundraising sites, you do not have to reach your goal to withdraw the funds you've raised so far.
In addition to raising money to cover the program fee, you can set a higher goal to buy needed supplies for your chosen project. You may choose to start a blog or website to chronicle your journey and show your donors all the wonderful things you're doing with their donations. They'll appreciate it!
Take your 2023 gap year on the cheap
Gap years can give you a much-needed break from studies, enhance your resume, give you a chance to learn something new, or make a difference in the lives of others. Even though gap years aren't free, you can definitely find affordable options that fit your plan and your budget.
More gap year articles to supercharge your research: