Having a meaningful gap year experience abroad will require planning, preparing, and budgeting. Creating a gap year travel itinerary is a great place to start.
This isn’t to say that you have to follow through with every plan you make, as the ability to be spontaneous is a huge advantage of taking a gap year. That said, having a basic itinerary will help you determine what you’d like to see and how much money you’ll need to get there.
Knowing where to start can be challenging, so we've broken down four popular regions, Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, and given regional gap year travel itineraries to help get your gap year wanderlust flowing.
Gap year itinerary ideas for Oceania
Gap year in Oceania highlights:
- Photogenic landscapes
- Low population density countries with lots of wilderness
- Access to world-class adventure sports and activities
- Various English-speaking countries
Oceania refers to several island nations throughout the Pacific ocean. These include Australia, New Zealand, and (parts of) Indonesia. Oceania can be an ideal gap year location for many because countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, have reasonable minimum wages and a friendly working holiday visa scheme permitting up to a year of work and travel.
Consider starting your Oceania gap year off in Australia on a working holiday visa. The East Coast is the most popular stretch to see and allows for plenty of working opportunities in the cities and small towns that line the beaches. Start in Cairns and work your way south (stopping at plenty of adventure destinations along the way), before arriving in Melbourne a few weeks or months later.
Fly out of Melbourne and land in Auckland, New Zealand. The North Island is a better starting point for the Land of the Long White Cloud, and it's all uphill as you head down south. If you fall in love with New Zealand, note that you can get a 1-year working holiday here as well.
Explore even more adventure travel destinations, along with great WWOOFing opportunities and backcountry exploration. End your time in New Zealand by flying out of either Christchurch or Queenstown on the South Island.
Head on over to the South Pacific islands, like Fiji, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa. After so much travel, you can enjoy some relaxing time on the beach, and since these islands are so small, you can take your time and still see what you'd like to see in just a few weeks.
When you're suitably decompressed, fly on over to Indonesia for some more adventure. Soak up the spirituality (and the nightlife) on Bali, go snorkeling with manta rays off Komodo, and see some wildlife on Borneo and Java. Depending on how much time you spend in each place, you can get back to Australia just in time to watch your year run out.
Gap year itinerary ideas for Southeast Asia
Gap year in Southeast Asia highlights
- Low cost of living
- Convenient to travel between countries
- Friendly visa schemes for longer-term travel
- inexpensive transportation options
This region encompasses countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia (a little overlap from our last region... which also means you could combine the two). Many people also find time to stop by the Philippines, India, or Nepal when traveling through here, a well-worn backpacking route often called the Banana Pancake Trail.
There aren’t usually working holiday options in these countries, but the cost of living does make them quite appealing gap year options. Visas are usually easy to acquire and last long enough (a few months at a time) to see everything you’d like to see and more in each country before you have to move on.
If you want to visit the Philippines, do so first. It's the only country off the mainland, and you'll save money by only taking one flight over the South China Sea. You could spend years in the country of 7,000 islands, but if you want to see the rest of the region, you'll have to pick and choose. Boracay is a popular island for tourists that will ease you into the culture before heading off to the likes of Bohol, Cebu, Palawan, and Luzon, where you can hike through rice terraces, go scuba diving among giant black karsts, and fly through hills on motorbikes.
Fly out of Manila into Hanoi, Vietnam. Luckily, this country is essentially one giant line down to Saigon, so utilizing the bus system is the best way to see the country. Trains are also an option but will be more expensive. You'll catch just about every great stop by virtue of heading south.
From Saigon, catch a bus out of the country and into Cambodia. See the somber history of the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, then see Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Stop in Kampot, Kep, and Sihanoukville along the way, and if you brought your malaria tablets, journey into the deep jungle for some epic hikes.
From Siem Reap, catch another bus into Thailand. See the temples and villages of the north or head south to tropical beaches and massive parties. Many visitors start their trip in Thailand, as the tourism industry is much more developed there, so you'll certainly have some stories to tell at this point.
And here the road forks. You could conceivably continue south into Malaysia and Indonesia, or you could head west into Burma and even India. If you've been traveling slowly, your year may even be up, and you could head home. No matter where you go next, you won't be able to step outside on a humid day without nostalgia taking you straight back to that first day in the Philippines.
Gap year itinerary ideas for South America
Gap year in South America highlights
- Convenient to drive to from the US
- Affordable cost of living
- Many options for short-term employment
- World-class nightlife
The continent of South America is similar to Southeast Asia in terms of costs and ease of getting tourist visas. Major cities, like Buenos Aires in Argentina, are popular places to settle in for a bit if you can find work (usually with a teaching job), while WWOOFing in Mendoza, Argentina and Chile are good ways to extend your stay.
If you're coming from North America, getting to South America is even easier -- there's no trans-ocean flight getting in the way and messing up your budget. Adding a Central American driving tour through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras will be an excellent chance for more culturally immersive experiences as you get further away from the US border. Plus, you'll have your own vehicle to take around the continent!
You can go paragliding in Venezuela, celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, go tango dancing in Buenos Aires, and more.
If you're feeling splurgy, stop in Ushuaia, Argentina. It's the civilian's gateway to Antarctica, and while cruises are well out of most travelers gap year budget -- you could get to Antarctica!
Head back up north along the west coast of Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Stop through sites like Salar de Uyuni, the Death Road, and Machu Picchu before winding your way back up to the land from whence you came.
Gap year itinerary ideas for Europe
Gap year in Europe highlights
- Many countries have a large percentage of the population that speaks English
- Comprehensive public transportation options
- Cheap international flights
- Freedom of movement when in the EU
Then there’s Europe, which will likely require the most preparation to have a successful gap year. The cost of living in many European countries will be higher than other options on this list, and obtaining extended travel visas is also challenging. Rules vary by country and region. For example, the Schengen area allows travelers to stay for 90 days during any 180-day period with just a visitors visa, but you cannot work during that stay.
If you do manage to budget appropriately and find ways to keep expenses down while traveling, such as work exchanges and homestays, there is much to see throughout Europe that will expand your perspective and provide incredible immersive cultural experiences. One popular way to do so is through au pairing. Many families throughout Europe hire native English speakers as au pairs to give their kids exposure to English and help them learn the language.
Read more: The Complete Guide to Au Pair Jobs in Europe
Start in Iceland. As a large island to the north of the UK, it's remote enough that you'll want to see it first. Rent a car and drive a big circle around the island, making sure to stop and get out as often as possible to check out all those volcanoes and waterfalls.
Once you're ready, catch a tunnel ride, a ferry, or a flight and head to the mainland. Europe is dense, with a vast system of highways, buses, and trains, making it easy to get around. From here, you're essentially good to go no matter where you want to head. Consider a Eurorail pass; you can cross the continent in a day.
The main obstacle here is making money throughout your gap year. You can still get a working holiday visa for certain countries, but if you’re only staying in a country for 1-3 months, it limits your employment options. This is why so many choose the more affordable Southeast Asian countries to spend a year -- you can make it on only a few thousand dollars if you’re careful. Work trades like WWOOFing is a great way to extend your stay in Europe.
Wherever you go, there will be opportunities for you to grow
Still can't make up your mind? There's good news, no matter where you choose, there will be opportunities to grow as a person, expand your perspective on humanity and the planet, and make genuine connections through culturally immersive experiences.
To get started with your planning process, read our essential guide to taking a gap year. If you need more inspiration, check out our article on the top gap year destinations for 2022, and once you have a destination in mind, follow our gap year planning guide.