When it comes to planning a gap year, the possibilities are truly endless. After all, a gap year is simply productive time away from a traditional academic or work setting. While there are certain things that a gap year is not (a gap year is not a year you spend on your couch watching Friends reruns), there aren’t too many rules about what a gap year can be.
This is really exciting. A gap year (or gap time...who says it has to be exactly a year?) can be practically anything you can dream of! Interested in learning how to become a ski instructor? There’s a gap program for that. Want to travel the world via boat? Yep, there’s a gap program for that, too. A gap year is not about what you do—instead, it's about dedicating time to grow as an individual through experiential learning.
All of this variety can make choosing a gap program a little overwhelming. So we’re here to make it easier. We’ve compiled a list of the best gap year programs broken down into popular categories to inspire you to dream big for your next adventure!
Why should you take a gap year in 2023?
There's no denying the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on travel over the last couple of years. Many of us have found ourselves more isolated than ever, and the burnout rate for students and workers is at an all-time high. A gap year is an opportunity for a reset, and a chance to reconnect with the world around us.
While there are new obstacles to travel internationally at the moment, and uncertainty related to health and safety measures still exists, taking a meaningful gap year in 2023 is still entirely possible. To help with your planning process, read about the 10 Best Gap Year Destinations for 2023 and follow the Go Overseas Essential Guide to Taking a Gap Year.
Important: The COVID-19 pandemic has created a dynamic travel landscape. The following programs are hosted in countries that are open to international travelers at the time this article was written. However, it's essential to review travel requirements and stay up to date with regulations in any country you plan to visit as regulations can shift rapidly.
How did we pick these programs?
Lastly, we used our own industry knowledge to ensure we're recommending programs that are vetted both by you, the community members, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the programs included are the best of the best!
Best Adventure Travel Program: Warriors Academy
Length: Four 7-week long seasonal quests
What's included: Accommodation, meals, activities, local transportation, and equipment
This year-long program is broken up into four action-packed adventures corresponding with the seasons. Each quest will combine adventurous activities with soft skill development to prepare participants for university, the corporate world, and life in general. Warriors Academy focuses on community service, self-development, eco-consciousness, and workplace readiness activities, to give students a well-rounded gap year experience. This program is based in South Africa and includes travel around the country and region.
With over 16 years of experience facilitating gap years, Warriors Academy has a proven track record and is highly reviewed by program alum. Participants are signing up for the adventure of a lifetime but will also be challenged to become a more critical thinker, better problem solver, and more confident individual.
✅Pros of Warriors Academy Gap Year Program in South Africa: Great for building social skills, you get a better understanding of the outdoors, you learn how to better yourself by building grit.
❌Cons of Warriors Academy Gap Year Program in South Africa: There are phone rules, not much alone time, the accommodation is not luxury.
"Warriors has given me the opportunity to find myself and figure out what I want out of life. Will never forget the memories made here. -- Warriors caters for every type of person and personality truly a life changing experience. Would recommend to everyone!"
Best for cultural immersion: Irish Gap Year Leadership Program
Length: 79 Days (fall), 80 days (spring)
What's included: Accommodation, meals, activities, local transportation, and equipment
Develop leadership skills, give back through community service, and immerse yourself in the Irish culture through the Irish Gap Year Adventure and Leadership Program. Gappers who partake in this program will be challenged both physically and mentally through adventure in the rugged Irish wilderness.
The Adventure and Leadership program goes far beyond camping in remote areas, surfing the Donegal Bay, and visiting towns across Ireland. Gappers will focus on "4 cornerstones" designed to provide soft skills and build independence throughout the two-and-a-half-month program. These cornerstones are outdoor adventure, leadership skills, cultural immersion, and community volunteering. Participants will ultimately complete 80 hours of volunteering within the local communities to give back between the various excursions.
✅Pros of Irish Gap Year Leadership Program: The ability to have lots of Independence, a good balance of rural and city, and positive accommodation reviews.
❌Cons of Irish Gap Year Leadership Program: There is a good amount of downtime, activity schedules can be subject to change, and bikes are not provided as part of the "all transportation in Ireland" or "outdoor sports equipment" inclusions.
"I absolutely loved Bundoran and I think it’s a truly rare opportunity to be able to spend 3 months in the countryside of Ireland. This program is absolutely amazing for cultural immersion and I feel like I truly lived in Ireland."
Best for volunteering: Plan My Gap Year in Ghana
Length: 2-weeks to 6-months
What's included: Airport pick up and drop off, accommodation, meals, SIM card, on the ground support, certificate of completion
Volunteer in Ghana with Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) facilitates community development projects in the historic city of Kumasi, Ghana ranging from English teaching to childcare and much more. Volunteering abroad can be an expensive endeavor, but PMGY provides access to high-impact projects at an affordable price. Volunteers will go through an orientation with a local team and work on projects either in schools or hospitals.
Gappers will share accommodation in a volunteer house outside the city center. This is an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow volunteers in safe and (relatively) comfortable living quarters. All prospective volunteers must pass a background check, and those interested in healthcare-related projects will need to provide relevant credentials.
✅Pros of Plan My Gap Year Ghana: Providing much-needed support to those in need, safety is prioritized, extensive around the clock service provided.
❌Cons of Plan My Gap Year Ghana: The cost of living is high, you’ll have to travel to the airport on your own, and it can be overwhelming or hard to accept the everyday struggles people face.
"I cannot thank the PMGY staff enough for their endless work in keeping us fed, comfortable and happy for the duration of our stay. Whether it be first thing in the morning, or late at night, they are always there to help us and answer any and all questions we have. Without these wonderful, beautiful people my experience here wouldn't have been the same."
Best for language immersion: Tico Lingo in Heredia, Costa Rica
Length: 1-24 weeks
What's included: Homestay accomadations, class materials, airport pickup and drop off, certificate of completion
If you inspire to improve your Spanish speaking skills during your gap year abroad, Tico Lingo offers an Intensive Spanish Immersion Program in Costa Rica designed to improve your linguistic fluency through immersing you in the local community. Gappers will live with a local family through homestay accommodations and take conversational classes to provide an authentic and meaningful experience in Costa Rica.
Gappers can choose between either group or private class options, depending on their budget and goals. Outside of class, students will enjoy tours and activities, including volcano hiking, dance and cooking classes, and white water rafting. In addition, living with a family will provide a truly immersive experience as you learn Costa Rican customs and home life.
✅ Pros of Intensive Spanish Immersion Program: Supportive social environment, extra activities like yoga, water rafting, zip lining, and ATV riding, and small tailored classes.
❌Cons of Intensive Spanish Immersion Program: May not be best suited for high school students, may want to sign up for a personal tutor if at a beginner level, may need to ask to get an orientation tour of Heredia and surrounding area.
“Choosing Tico Lingo is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My Spanish improved immensely and I found a home away from home. – Tico Lingo is a rarity, a collection of genuine people who run a remarkable business. The teachers, administrators, and staff... there are no words. #puravida”
Best for domestic (US-based) experiences: High Mountain Institute Adventure
Length: 4-24 weeks
What's included: Accomodation, group gear, group meals, transportation
The High Mountain Institute (HMI) Adventure, Conservation & Leadership in Wild Places program combines outdoor adventure with environmentalism and leadership experience. As a participant, you’ll get to explore beautiful natural destinations while learning about yourself and your surroundings. Destinations include the Canyonlands of Utah, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and the deserts of Arizona.
HMI provides US citizens looking to avoid international travel during their gap year with an incredible experience filled with experiential learning. That said, their programs also extend past the US, as gappers can choose to travel through Chilean, Patagonia if they participate in the Rock or Trek Semesters.
✅Pros of High Mountain Institute Adventure Program: Spanish language learning, rock climbing, backpacking, backcountry skiing, rafting, or canyoneering, and college credit.
❌Cons of High Mountain Institute Adventure Program: It can be physically challenging, there is limited free time, the weather can be harsh.
"I’m so happy I chose HMI for my gap semester. It was such an amazing experience and I got to visit beautiful places with a great group of people. My group got to backpack through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. We went through mountains, canyons, and deserts. I had never backpacked before coming to HMI and I did not feel held back at all."
Best for studying art and creativity: Art History Abroad in Italy
Length: 6 weeks
What's included: Accomodation, transport, breakfasts, museum fees
Travel throughout Italy while studying each city's history, art, architecture, politics, and culture with Art History Abroad on a 6-week gap year course. Enjoy local food, literature, and music while completing hands-on workshops and visiting historical sites throughout the country.
Gappers will gain an authentic experience and attain an in-depth understanding of Italy, Italian culture, and some of the great artistic masterpieces to come out of the region. Participants will be pushed to improve their creative approach and gain international experience that will stick with them far after the program has ended.
✅Pros of Art History Abroad in Italy program: Private viewings to some of Italy's most extraordinary sites, enthusiastic and friendly experts for instructors, and demonstrations and workshops in traditional crafts.
❌Cons of Art History Abroad in Italy program: Accommodation is not always centrally located, you’ll be staying in hotels, and it is a shorter program.
"Having the opportunity to immerse yourself into Italian culture, food, art and history is something that is beyond incredible. And to have a group of tutors/leaders who are so passionate about providing you with a top quality experience only furthers how incredible it is."
Best for interning: VACorps Internships in Cape Town
Length: 4-12 weeks
What's included: Accomodation, regular check-ins, optional weekly excursions
VACorps offers internship placements in Cape Town, South Africa, in various career fields, including Finance, Clean Energy, Engineering, Media, Technology, Law, Public Health, and many more. Internships will provide gappers with relevant professional experiences and the opportunity to expand their professional network. The internship options also include a more generalized gap year specific program.
The gap year internship program is designed to give participants a preview into their desired career path or studies while immersing them in the South African culture through social engagement. Gappers will learn to expand their comfort zone, become more independent, and develop crucial time management skills while enjoying life in the beautiful city of Cape Town.
✅Pros of Internships in Cape Town with VACorps program: Pre-arrival and in-country staff support, weekly social excursions to help you explore Cape Town, and weekly in-house culture series.
❌Cons of Internships in Cape Town with VACorps program: Not a lot of accommodation options, limited as to what therapies you can lead if you aren’t licensed, and the orientation process is long.
“My experience in Cape Town was unforgettable. The staff at VACorps was so supportive and responsive to anything I needed. – Even on the days when I felt alone or homesick, I knew I was never alone because I had a community at VAC to support me."
Best for Eco Conservation: Pacific Discovery
Length: 4-12 weeks
What's included: A three-week-long service-learning conservation project in diverse national parks and marine reserves; five multi-day outdoor expeditions including backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, and surfing.
New Zealand and Australia are two of the most ecologically intact and diverse countries in the world, and this experiential travel gap semester offers an amazing immersion during the temperate southern hemisphere spring and summer months.
It combines week-long conservation volunteer projects in diverse national parks and marine reserves; multi-day outdoor expeditions including backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, and surfing; and educational adventure travel through New Zealand and Australia’s stunning mountain, forest, and beach environments!
✅Pros of Pacific Discovery's Australia & NZ GAP Semester Programs: Rewarding volunteer conservation projects in National Parks and wildlife reserves, camping, backpacking, canoeing, and biking.
❌Cons of Pacific Discovery's Australia & NZ GAP Semester Programs: May not be for you if you prefer ample free time, need lots of autonomy, or have a restrictive diet.
"Visiting Australia and New Zealand had always been on my bucket list, and I couldn't be happier that I got the opportunity to experience it with Pacific Discovery. You can tell how much meticulous planning they put into curating each program's itinerary and making sure that you'll see as much of Australia and New Zealand as possible in your 70 days there."
Best for customization: EF Gap Year
Length: 24 weeks
What's included: Guided exploration, language & culture learning, service & sustainability projects, business & internship opportunities
EF Gap Year facilitates this ideal by immersing you in a new culture, connecting you with people from around the world, and giving you the opportunity to explore your own talents.
Your gap year begins with a two-week cultural immersion in Europe, followed by embarking on your own personalized gap experiences, including a language learning course, service learning, and internship modules. Later, regroup for an in-depth tour of Australia & New Zealand, EF Leadership Academy, and a gala at an English castle to wrap up the program.
✅Pros of EF Gap Year programs: Learn a language at a fully-accredited EF Campus, help a community in need through service learning, find an internship that prepares you for your career, and reflect at Leadership Academy in an English castle.
❌Cons of EF Gap Year programs: Can be an expensive 24-week program if you do not apply for scholarships, attendance of events can be strict, and accommodation options are limited.
This program is unlike any other, and it made me into the best possible version of myself! I chose Costa Rica, Peru, and Madrid for my 3 modules because I wanted to improve my Spanish, and I am nearly fluent now! I did some of the coolest things I’ve done in my whole life, all throughout my gap year.
A life changing adventure awaits
Choosing a gap year is a very personal process. There are many factors to consider, such as timeframe, budget, and interests, and what works for one person might not work for another. Consider reading up on Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year and our 10 Steps to Planning a Gap Year Before College to get a better sense of what goes into the planning process.
Most importantly, remember to seek out the advice of those who have already taken gap years, as this first-hand knowledge will provide so much insight into what your year could hold. The reviews here at Go Overseas are a great place to start, and we encourage you to ask questions and get involved. You can also find expert advice, answers to frequently asked questions, and upcoming gap year planning events on the gap year counselors page.
A gap year is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about the world in an immersive and engaging way. Take advantage of this time, and have fun! No matter the program you choose or the destination decide to immerse yourself in, a gap year is a life-changing experience that will push you to grow, expand your perspective, and build your global network.
Still haven't found the perfect gap year program? Use the Go Overseas Program Search Feature to explore hundreds of other gap year programs and read real alum reviews.