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
The following programs offer unique opportunities to enhance your life through gap year exploration. Focusing on wellness means different things to different people but each of these programs can help build your self-awareness and self-understanding. Take a look at how participating in one or more of these diverse gap year opportunities could change your worldview.
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 to transcribe Tibetan Buddhist texts into English.
Previous volunteers have had these things to say about the program:
- "Teaching English at L.I.T was a very gratifying experience. Monday to Friday was spent immersed in the Tibetan culture as dedicated Monks, Nuns and other Tibetans would enthusiastically come to class with their pen and writing book ready to soak up whatever knowledge I was able to pass on. Their eagerness to educate themselves in order to better themselves and their country is inspirational." -- Pauline
- "I had an amazing time on the tour and made some friends that I know I’ll have for years to come. I learned more about Buddhism in 17 days than I had in the two years preceding it…and I can’t wait to get back to Dharamsala to pick up where I left off." -- Jules
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.
Past participants had these glowing reviews for their summer in Scotland:
- "From the classroom, to the stable, to nights out at the pubs, this program is the ultimate description of work hard play hard; a perfect blend of classwork with weekday and weekend excursions. Oatridge College is a small, tight knit community where you’ll definitely feel at home." -- Meghan
- "You learn so much in such a short amount of time, it's amazing to see how far everyone advances in their riding skills. It really helps that the groups are kept small so the learning atmosphere is still personal between you, the rider, and the trainer, as well as being a comfortable group environment." -- Alina
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.”
Good Life Gap Term in Maine participants had this positive feedback for the program:
- "One of the things I really appreciated the first time around going on the trip is the amount of diversity the trip has to offer for everybody. There are a number of people living on the peninsula who have different expertise in so many different fields, which makes it good because there's something for everybody to fall in love with and someone to look up to." -- David
- "The course material has a focus on the natural environment that is rooted in Transcendentalist and Taoist philosophy which allows one to take a much-needed break from modern living." -- Ryan
4. Experience personal growth in multiple countries
The High Desert Center Gap Year is an immersive growth-focused gap year opportunity that emphasizes cultivating life skills, building strong interpersonal relationships, and fostering self-awareness and independence among participants.
The High Desert Center Gap Year lasts from the beginning of September through late April. It's broken up into three phases:
- The Simply Living Semester: The program starts in rural Colorado where you'll learn sustainable living. You will spend your time hiking, camping, canning fruit, making bread, and generally learning how to live simply and communally.
- The Winternship: During your Winternship, you will be supported to design your own experiential learning experience. The High Desert Center has links in Australia, Spain, and Thailand or you can stay in Colorado or travel closer to home.
- The Wanderlust Semester The last phase takes place in Guatemala and Mexico where you can choose how to spend your spring. Ideas include language learning, volunteering, and nature exploration.
HDC alumni loved the close bonds they formed with their fellow gap year participants. You'll learn and grow with your new friends and will no doubt come away with life-long, meaningful relationships with like-minded people. Here's what some happy participants have said about their experience:
- "I am not the same person I was when I started at the High Desert Center. None of my friends there are either. I have experienced us all grow together in so many ways: physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and energetically." -- Samuel
- "I have never encountered an organization so dedicated to authenticity and creativity, where the teachers respect the students as much as the students respect the teachers, where spontaneity and adventure is met with enthusiasm rather than restriction, and where all opinions and identities are not only welcomed, but cherished." -- Seraya
5. Explore sustainable living in South America
Although wellness typically focuses on your own health, it can also encompass the health of communities and cultures around you. Through opening your mind to another country’s culture, you can learn their wellness practices. In return, you can 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.
Carpe Diem Education alumni have said this about their time in Ecuador:
- "My experience in this South America Carpe Diem program was incredible. My Spanish language skills improved drastically, and so did the skills of everyone in the group. We had students who had never spoken Spanish before and by the end of the trip they were conversational!" -- Ava
- "Taking this semester abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made. During my time in South America, my life was changed forever. I experienced things that are now motivating me to discover what truly makes me happy in life." -- Marco
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.
Those who attended the Jiwa Damai educational retreat were transformed by their experience:
- "I am greatly satisfied with my internship. I didn't expect such deep personal growth to take place and I feel that this internship has been a great opportunity to expand my horizon and will be a huge benefit for my future." -- Natalie
- "Another benefit that Jiwa Damai offers: yoga in the morning and heart meditation in the evening. It kept me fit during the time of the internship and stabilised/supported my mind by adapting and processing that which had confronted me." -- Andreas
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 September 2021.