Gap Year

6 Opportunities for a Wellness Gap Year

Sarah Bence

Sarah is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and occupational therapist. In addition to her travel blog Endless Distances, her writing can be seen in...

A gap year is a year-long break from typical education or employment. While many people think of gap years as one long opportunity to party or travel, your gap year can be whatever you want it to be. You can customize your gap year to fit your own personal, professional, and educational needs. That includes focusing on your wellbeing through a gap year program.

In fact, your gap year is the perfect time to focus on wellness. As a break between education and more education (or employment), you might be feeling burnt out. Maybe you feel the urge to learn more about yourself, and where you want your next steps to take you.

A wellness gap year can do that in so many ways. You might go on a meditation retreat, or a yoga teacher training program. There are also gap year programs where you learn about nutrition, plant-based medicine, ayurveda, or sustainable living.

There are so many creative ways to have a wellness gap year, whether you choose one year-long program or you mix-and-match multiple shorter programs. Here are six wellness gap year programs that are highly rated, and will help you get started planning your own year of personal exploration.

Wellness Gap Year Itineraries to Consider

1. Volunteer with Local Communities in India

There is no better destination for a wellness gap year than India. India is the birthplace of yoga, a physical and spiritual practice that was developed over 5,000 years ago. It is a place of pilgrimage for many people from across the world who want to deepen their connection with themselves and the world around them.

Ekno Experience provides gap year programs for those who seek healthy vegetarian meals, comfortable accommodations, and daily yoga. Their volunteer program in India combines education, wellness, and social responsibility into one highly rated program.

Gappers with Ekno Experience have the opportunity to volunteer with Tibetan Refugees through teaching or childcare. There’s also the opportunity to volunteer transcribing Tibetan Buddhist texts into English. One previous volunteer said “I learned so much about Buddhism, and as a result, myself. An incredible journey.”

2. Spend the Summer with Horses in Scotland

Scotland is another ideal destination for a wellness gap year thanks to its rolling green hills, fairytale villages, and gorgeous scenery. Wellness doesn’t have to revolve around yoga, though. There are many physical activities that can help you feel invigorated, and at one with yourself and nature around you. It just so happens that Scotland is known for two of these pursuits: golfing and horseback riding.

Join the Adelante Abroad Golf and Equine Summer Study Abroad program if a summer spent riding horses or golfing on world-class courses sounds perfect to you. The program is four weeks long, and is held at Oatridge college campus close to Edinburgh.

The program combines academic work, which can count as college credit, with golfing and riding. You’ll learn about various riding styles, including classical and English, as well as have the opportunity to golf at the famous Gleneagles course. If you’re looking to get hands-on experience and truly immerse yourself in both exercise and the land around you, this program is the perfect match for you.

3. Embrace Outdoor Living in Maine

With the Good Life Gap Term in Maine through the Seguinland Institute, you can immerse yourself in nature, explore your desires and priorities in life, and commune with others who share your interest in wellness.

The Good Life program operates on a simple premise courtesy of the poet Mary Oliver: what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? This semester-long program was designed to give people the opportunity to think about what a “good life” means to them, and how they can pursue this in a way that benefits the whole world.

From the program’s home base on the scenic and wild coast of Maine, you’ll have the opportunity to explore this question through experiential learning. One day you may paddle along the river, or sleep in a treehouse. Another day will have you climbing Mount Katahdin, learning homesteading skills, or reading classic literature. Through outdoor adventures, good books, mentorship, community, and two college-level courses, you will truly learn what makes a “good life.”

4. Contribute to Social Change with a Virtual Gap Semester

Your gap year doesn’t have to take you to the other side of the world. There are many benefits to taking a gap year close to home, and a virtual option like the Amigos de las Americas Civic Action Gap Semester can make this possible. This program is designed for changemakers who dream of a better world. Sometimes wellness can be found in giving back to others, or fighting for needed change. For those who dream of social change as a form of self care, this is a perfect virtual gap year program.

The Civic Action Gap Semester lasts six to twelve weeks, and can be done from home (or anywhere in the world that you can bring your laptop). Even though the program doesn’t involve travel, it is still focused on connecting with cultures around the world. Your small group may be stationed in different countries, and part of the program is sharing your local culture.

You’ll also learn about leadership, cultural humility, and how to play a respectful role in community action and civic engagement. This is done through group Zoom meetings, virtual cooking and exercise classes, Spanish language lessons, remote presentations, a volunteership placement, and more. In a time when you might not be able to travel, this gap year can fulfill your need to connect with others, and continue learning about how to help the world around you.

5. Explore Sustainable Living in South America

Wellness is about more than your own health, but also the health of communities and cultures around you. Through opening your mind to another country’s culture, you can learn their wellness practices. You can also contribute to the wellbeing of that community through education, volunteer work, and conservation.

With Carpe Diem Education, participants are given a full semester to immerse themselves in the culture of South America, from Peru to Ecuador and beyond. The program embraces personal wellness through activities like yoga, meditation, and ayurveda instruction in Peru’s Sacred Valley. You will also trek to Machu Picchu, which can be a spiritual experience in and of itself.

The program goes beyond personal wellness to also embrace learning about the wellness of communities. Gappers with Carpe Diem get the chance to stay in homestays, learn about sustainable agriculture and organic coffee farming, volunteer in local schools through English instruction, and more. This program has rave reviews from participants who felt it has had a lasting impact on their lives. One participant said “I had no idea the immense effect this trip would have on the rest of my life, and the amount of joy it would give me.”

6. Join an Educational Retreat in Bali

Participating in an educational retreat is a unique way to approach your gap year. A hybrid between studying abroad, interning, and volunteering, this opportunity gives travelers the chance to pursue their passions with much less restriction.

If your passion is wellness and permaculture, head to Bali and spend one to three months with the Jiwa Damai educational retreat, located just outside Ubud. Jiwa Damai is a unique and tranquil retreat center, specifically designed for students who are interested in wellness and sustainable living topics. There is a focus on freedom and self-led studies, and your experienced guides will help create a customized syllabus for your time.

Suggested areas of study include permaculture, holistic medicine, psychology, yoga, environmental research, and even marketing and business management. In between your studies, you are encouraged to join in for daily meditation and yoga classes to further your spiritual and physical growth.

Ready to take a Wellness Gap Year?

Remember, your gap year is yours to design. It certainly doesn’t have to fit the stereotypical mold as a year of partying. Instead, you should feel confident using your gap year as a year of internal searching, learning, and wellbeing. Choosing to focus your gap year on health and wellness can make for an unforgettable experience unique to you and your journey.

This post was originally published in May 2017, and it was updated in October 2020.