While many people think gap years are either a study abroad program or international party opportunity, your year overseas can actually be customized to fit your educational, professional, and personal growth as you see fit. That includes your wellness.
You might be interested in strengthening your yoga and meditation practice, improving your agricultural and nutrition knowledge, or studying traditional plant-based medicine. With a variety of program curriculums and itineraries, a wellness or yoga gap year program would be a unique way to experience a year overseas.
Here are some ideas on how to spend your upcoming gap year. These programs can be as short as a few weeks or last a few months -- you decide what duration is the best fit for you. Feel free to mix and match programs to best suit your needs and make for an even more transformative adventure.
Wellness Gap Year Itineraries to Consider
1. Volunteer with Local Communities in India or Nepal
If you’d like to spend part of your gap year exploring the other side of the world (literally) and giving back to the community, a volunteer experience in India or Nepal would be perfect. You can balance wellness with nature and philanthropy by joining a program that honors all of the above.
An intensive program would offer 15-hour weekly teaching opportunities; English transcriptions projects; as well as child, elderly, and health care service volunteering.
Ekno Experience, for example, provides opportunities for Gappers who seek healthy meals, comfortable accommodations, and daily yoga in their homestay life combined with educational, medical, and social responsibility. Volunteers can go to destinations like India or Nepal and use their free time to explore the culture, traditions, history, and scenery that South Asia has to offer.
2. Catch a Break in Sri Lanka
During your time traveling you’ll probably want to kick back and enjoy the sand, sun, and sea. Keep a healthy adventure balance during your gap year with a couple of weeks doing yoga and surfing in the Indian Ocean.
On a mini surf trip you can still join community projects and wildlife excursions in addition to receiving tailored yoga sessions and surf instruction. You’ll leave refreshed and fit, and feel proud of your new or improved skills.
With beach barbecues and curries, beachfront accommodations, and shared dorms with equally awesome Gappers, an experience with a worldwide surfing adventure program like Ticket to Ride even offers access to National Parks, jungle parties, local village tours, and more.
3. Relax and Rejuvenate in Indonesia
Surfing might not be your thing… or you may just feel the need to fully focus on your physical yoga practice. If that’s the case, a 10-day yoga retreat is an essential addition to your gap year itinerary. And where else should you go but one of the top yoga destinations in the world?
Yogis flock to Ubud, Bali to enjoy the magazine-perfect beaches, temples, and impressive nature. Surrounded by volcanoes, hot springs, and a thick jungle, such a retreat will help you become one with nature, your practice, and yourself. You will also have plenty of opportunities to explore the surroundings, learn to cook traditional meals, and meet new, like-minded friends.
If you don’t know where to begin, Yoga Travel Tree is a known yoga retreat provider who arranges yoga adventures around the world, year round.
4. Deepen your Asana in Kenya
If you love yoga and are thinking of taking it on the road with you to strengthen your gap year experience in a unique way, consider joining a philanthropic yoga program overseas. While there are many yoga programs to choose from (including yoga resorts, classes, and retreats) going beyond traditionally marketed yoga destinations can also be special experience.
Ambassador programs like Africa Yoga Project take volunteering to the next level by fusing service with wellness in Kenya. If you can rally friends, family, and supporters to help you raise money for the required pre-departure fundraising commitment, you’ll have the opportunity to spend 2-4 weeks supporting the arts, health and women’s rights, and community development through movement.
Learn more about how you can bring the moving arts across the sea to empower underserved youth with this yoga volunteer opportunity in Kenya.
5. Study and Research the Healing Arts in Guatemala
It is possible to take wellness beyond your mat and fitness and into the wild. If you are looking for a way to get creative with nature, spend one or two months embracing the rainforests of Guatemala with a healing arts internship.
From researching herbal medicine and master plants to studying Shamanism and sacred teachings, an experience like this is ideal for someone seeking self-reflection, healing, and personal development.
A natural sanctuary like Alquima Centre of Healing Arts is a great starting point. Besides an introduction to (or strengthening of) your own herbalism practice, your days are intertwined with daily wellness activities like meditation and breathing exercises, community service, and homemade meals. The center will become a sacred place for you to learn and grow towards a related career track or improved way of life, with the benefit of an experienced guide by your side.
Learn more about herbal medicine and healing internships for your gap year.
6. Join an Educational Retreat in Bali
Educational retreats are a unique approach to gap year programs. A hybrid between studying overseas, 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 1-3 months using a tranquil retreat center as your classroom. You can advise with experienced guides to create a custom syllabus and internship program that leverages natural (local) resources and begin building professional relationships with industry experts.
Some study projects include: bio-agriculture, permaculture, and environmental research, in addition to business, marketing, and hospitality.
But it’s not all studying: you can still participate in daily meditation and yoga instruction to further your physical and spiritual growth. Read more about programs like this educational retreat in Bali with Jiwa Damai, located right outside of Ubud.
7. Go Backpacking with a Purpose in Peru
Maybe you’ve done the tourist backpacker thing already or try to avoid tourist traps like the plague. If so, spending this gap year “backpacking with a purpose” is a concept you’ll likely enjoy embracing.
Help weave wellness into everyday life by improving your meditation and prana practice, and joining community projects that offer opportunities to learn about agriculture and plant-based medicine, environmental conservation, and community development.
Besides spending your days eating local cuisine and learning Spanish and Inca history, you’ll still get to participate in excursions like visiting Machu Picchu and Wakra Pukara -- just without the party hostel-hopping.
Afraid “backpacking with a purpose” will take the cheap out of backpacking? Operation Groundswell’s Peru: Mind and Body volunteer program actually offers need-based financial aid to cover up to 25% of the cost.
Are You Excited About Taking a Gap Year in Wellness, Yet?
Which aspect of your wellness journey will you grow first? Remember, your gap year is yours alone. There’s nothing wrong with combining your priorities for health and wellness to make for an unforgettable experience unique to you and your journey.