With so many options, 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 on a sailboat? Yep, there’s a gap program for that, too. A gap year is not so much about what you do, but instead, it's about dedicating time to personal growth through experiential learning.
All of this variety can make choosing a gap program a little overwhelming so we’re here to make it a little 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!
What is a gap year program?
A gap year program is a coordinated set of activities that provide experiential learning opportunities as a way of giving participants a break from academia or traditional work. Gap year programs often focus on cultural immersion through travel, and can be specialized in various different ways, including by destination and activities like adventure travel or language immersion.
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 (it’s definitely not a year you spend on your couch watching Friends reruns), there aren’t too many rules about what a gap year can be.
Who can take a gap year?
There are gap year options available for everyone, regardless of age or education. While gap year programs have traditionally been offered for high school graduates and college students, working professionals and older adults can take gap years, too! If you need a break from work or school and want to immerse yourself in experiential learning and travel, then a gap year might be the right move for you.
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!
1. Warriors Academy
Best for adventure travel & personal development
📍 Locations: South Africa
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: adventure travel, community service, sustainability, personal development
💰 Cost: starting at $6,200
📝 What’s included: accommodation, meals, activities, local transportation, and equipment
💫 Age eligibility: 18-23
This year-long program through Warriors Academy is broken up into four action-packed adventures corresponding with the seasons. Each 7-week 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.
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 better critical thinkers and problem solvers, and more confident individuals.
- Each quest is packed full of activities horse riding, fire-walking, and scuba diving.
- Staff-to-student ratios are no larger than 10:1, meaning you’ll have personalized attention.
- Cell phone addicts will need a detox – strict no-phone rules mean you will be truly off the grid!
- Shared accommodation and an active schedule can result in limited personal time.
2. Irish Gap Year Leadership Program
Best for developing leadership skills
📍 Location: Ireland
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: volunteering, outdoor adventure, community building
💰 Cost: $18,309 (€17,000) for 75 days (fall) or 78 days (spring)
📝 What’s included: accommodation, all meals, activities, local transportation, equipment, 24-hour support
💫 Age eligibility: 18-22
Develop leadership skills, give back through community service, and immerse yourself in Irish culture through the Irish Gap Year Adventure and Leadership Program. Gappers who participate in this program will be challenged both physically and mentally through wilderness activities.
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 teach 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.
- Groups are small and capped at 16 participants.
- Up to 80 hours of meaningful volunteering opportunities are included.
- You may feel that privacy is limited due to how much time is spent with the group.
- The packed schedule can be tiring for some – but it’ll be worth it!
3. Plan My Gap Year
Best for volunteering & community development
📍 Location: Ghana
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: youth development, healthcare, teaching, psychology
💰 Cost: starting at $375 for two weeks
📝 What’s included: accommodation, meals, airport pick up and drop off, SIM card, on-the-ground support, certificate of completion
💫 Age eligibility: 17+
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. Projects run from 2 weeks to 5.5 months.
Gappers will share accommodation in a volunteer house outside the city center. This is an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow volunteers and relax after a long day. All prospective volunteers must pass a background check, and those interested in healthcare-related projects will need to provide relevant credentials.
- Past volunteers rave about the strong friendships made while on the program.
- Supportive staff prioritizes safety and is there to help volunteers 24/7.
- Accommodations will be more basic than what you’re probably used to back at home.
- Vegetarians and vegans may have limited meal options.
4. Tico Lingo
Best for Spanish acquisition and cultural immersion
📍 Location: Costa Rica
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: language learning, Spanish immersion, homestays
💰 Cost: starting at $290
📝 What’s included: class materials, airport pickup and drop off, certificate of completion
💫 Age eligibility: 18+
If you aspire 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 by immersing yourself in the local community. Gappers have the option to live with a local family through homestay accommodations and take conversational classes with community members 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. If you opt for group classes, they are small enough so that you receive personal attention and plenty of opportunities to speak. Go for as few as one week up to 24 weeks!
- Extra activities like yoga, water rafting, zip lining, and ATV riding are offered through the school.
- Classes are small and tailored to your abilities and interests.
- A personal tutor may be needed for beginner-level Spanish speakers.
- Homestay accommodation is available but at an extra weekly charge.
5. High Mountain Institute
Best for sustainable tourism and development
📍 Location: US (Arizona, Utah, Colorado) and Chile
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: sustainable tourism and development, conservation, trekking, rock climbing, backpacking, language learning
💰 Cost: $17,490 for fall and spring programs
📝 What’s included: accommodation, meals, group gear, transportation
💫 Age eligibility: 18-22
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.
Gappers can choose from three semester-long programs: Traverse, Rock, and Trek. While Rock and Trek combine US destinations with a portion of the program in Chile, Traverse is based entirely stateside.
- Spanish language learning is included in Rock and Trek programs.
- Gappers can earn up to 6 college credits.
- Participants should be ready for rustic camping accommodations, with 3-4 people sharing a tent.
- You may be required to brave harsh weather conditions.
6. Art History Abroad
Best for authentic Italian experience
📍 Location: 9 cities across Italy including Rome, Florence, and Venice
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: art, architecture, museums
💰 Cost: ~$16,000 (£12,840) for 6 weeks
📝 What’s included: accommodation, all transport across Italy, breakfasts, museum fees
💫 Age eligibility: 18-24
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.
- Private viewings of some of Italy's most extraordinary sites.
- Demonstrations and workshops for traditional crafts are included.
- Lunch and dinner are not included in the price.
- No college credit is offered despite the intensive course structure.
7. VACorps Internships
Best for professional development
📍 Location: South Africa
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: working abroad, healthcare, psychology, human rights, media studies, politics
💰 Cost: $3,475 for three months
📝 What’s included: personalized placement, regular check-ins, optional weekly excursions
💫 Age eligibility: 18+
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 experience and the opportunity to grow their professional network.
The gap year internship program is designed to give participants a preview into their desired career path or studies while immersing themselves in South African culture through social engagement. Gappers will learn to step outside of their comfort zone, become more independent, and develop crucial time management skills while enjoying life in the beautiful city of Cape Town.
- Pre-arrival and in-country staff support included.
- Weekly social excursions help you explore Cape Town with other interns.
- Accommodation isn’t included in the fee but is available at an extra cost.
- The maximum amount of time to intern is 12 weeks.
8. Pacific Discovery
Best for physical activities
📍 Location: Australia and New Zealand
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: human rights, conservation, indigenous cultures, adventure travel, volunteering
💰 Cost: $16,495 for 70 days
📝 What’s included: accommodation, all meals, transportation in-country, excursion and activities, certificate of completion
💫 Age eligibility: 17-22
New Zealand and Australia are two of the most ecologically intact and diverse countries in the world, and this experiential travel gap semester through Pacific Discovery 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 with multi-day outdoor expeditions including backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, and surfing. You’ll also engage in educational adventure travel through New Zealand and Australia’s stunning mountain, forest, and beach environments!
- You’ll work in national parks and wildlife reserves.
- You’ll never be bored with a range of outdoor activities such as camping, backpacking, canoeing, and biking.
- Packed schedules may limit your amount of independent free time.
- You should have a high level of physical fitness to keep up with the rigorous activities, volunteer work, and hikes.
9. EF Gap Year
Best for language learning
📍 Location: multi-country including Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, and England
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: leadership training, sustainability, tourism, language learning, internships, volunteering
💰 Cost: $39,500 for 25 weeks
📝 What’s included: flights and transportation, accommodation, meals, language course, activities and excursions, 24/7 support
💫 Age eligibility: 18-22
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 at select locations around the world. Later, regroup for an in-depth tour of Australia & New Zealand before jetting back to Europe to end the trip with an EF Leadership Academy in London, England.
- Learn a language at a fully-accredited EF Campus with your choice of Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Italian, or German.
- Flights and transportation between all countries and destinations are covered in the price.
- It’s pricey compared to typical gap year program prices.
- Accommodation options are limited.
Best for marine and wildlife conservation
📍 Location: Thailand
🗺️ Great for travelers interested in: marine and wildlife conservation, teaching, public health, youth development, volunteering, interning
💰 Cost: starting at around $3,700 for one week
📝 What’s included: accommodation, all meals, airport pickup, in-country 24-hour support, equipment
💫 Age eligibility: 18+
GVI in Thailand offers both volunteering and internship opportunities for your gap year in Phang Nga and Chiang Mai provinces. Whether you want to contribute to wildlife conservation by working with monkeys, elephants, or sea turtles, or preserve the coasts by protecting coral reefs, GVI has a highly hands-on and impact-driven program for you.
GVI volunteer and internship programs focus on supporting specific UN Sustainable Development Goals in order to make the biggest difference. You’ll have ample opportunities for professional enrichment through specialized courses and training. It’s not all work with GVI, though. Cultural activities like cooking and music classes and outdoor adventures such as hiking and boating mean you have a well-rounded experience during your gap year in Thailand.
- Nightly homecooked Thai meals allow you to try new foods while getting a break from cooking.
- You can earn certificates from the University of Richmond in subjects like sustainability, leadership, and conservation.
- The strict modesty dress code (covering shoulders and knees while in the local community) can get hot in the humid climate.
- Monsoon rains occur from August to October so going during these months means you’ll need extra rain gear!
A life-changing adventure awaits
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 you 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.
Continue planning your ultimate gap year: