Gap Year

What Type of Meaningful Travel is Right for You?

Go Overseas lives for promoting travel with purpose. Learn about working, volunteering, interning, studying, and taking a gap year abroad to decide which type of meaningful travel is right for you.

The world outside your door is calling, but with so many options, it can be hard to choose which way to go.

Here at Go Overseas we’re all about travel with a purpose and believe that the most impactful experiences are immersive. The following experiences surround you with opportunities to learn about the world and its many cultures.

What is meaningful travel?

Chart showing different types of meaningful travel

Meaningful travel can be defined as a perspective-changing experience that teaches you more about the world and other cultures.

Meaningful travel can look like a lot of different things! It could be done in the form of participating in a cultural immersion program, attending a university abroad, becoming an ESL teacher, and more! However, meaningful travel can also be a family trip or a solo travel adventure that includes some form of learning component in the places you visit. If you took a history tour or attended a cultural workshop that taught you something new, that counts as meaningful travel!

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the various types of meaningful travel you can find here on Go Overseas, to help you determine the right type of meaningful travel for you!

Enhance your career by working abroad

Working abroad is an awesome experience. In a way, you get the best of everything. You'll gain unique insight into a culture that many people have never had the chance to experience while making money to support yourself in your new home. Hands down, you’re going to learn a lot.

The other great thing about working abroad is it shows initiative and makes you more marketable for future employment. Whether you taught English abroad, participated in a working holiday, or found a job in your field, you demonstrated your independence and ability to thrive in uncharted territory. You gained useful experiences and skills and surmounted challenges you wouldn't have otherwise encountered with your job back home. Way to go, you!

Speaking of challenges, working abroad isn’t always easy though. You are going to have to do things the other options might not require: open a bank account, get a visa, find a place to live, pay taxes, and more. If you are working abroad on a fellowship or a transfer within your own company, you might receive some help in these areas. Whether you're going it alone or with assistance, the overall challenge is so worth it in the end.

Learn more about working abroad:

Build your resume with an internship abroad

Personally, I think interning abroad is one of the most underrated and underutilized international experiences. Sure, it may require a lot more effort than studying abroad, but it will also make you stand out more!

The experience you gain from an internship abroad is pretty much unbeatable. You'll not only be gaining practical experience in your field, you’ll also be gaining invaluable skills for our increasingly global workplace.

Another great thing about interning abroad is that it can be a great budget option. You can potentially find your own internship, and there’s even a chance you could get paid (and/or get free/subsidized housing and meals). There are also a number of organizations that can help match you with an internship for free or a very low cost.

Interning abroad also allows you more independence and cultural immersion than some of the other options. Like working abroad, you will likely be spending most of your day interacting with locals, not fellow students or expats.

Lastly, in my own (very unscientific) observations, those who intern abroad seem to be the most likely to return to their host country -- whether it’s to go to graduate school, teach or work -- than almost any other option. So if that’s something that interests you, interning abroad might be a good option to consider!

Learn more about internships abroad:

Earn college credit by studying abroad

There’s a reason study abroad is one of the most popular travel adventures, especially for Gen Z!

Studying abroad at an university or taking language classes at a language school abroad can be a perfect mix of all the things you’d want in an international experience, especially if it’s one of your first tastes of going abroad.

With study abroad, you get to spend a significant amount of time abroad, but it’s justified. You’re getting something out of it. You’re getting credit, most likely. You’re learning. You’re experiencing the culture and meeting some locals. You still have enough free time to have fun and really explore your host city and country, and perhaps beyond. Generally speaking, you'll be independent but will probably have some support to lend a hand and help you out if you need it.

But one of the great things about study abroad is that you really can tailor it to your personality and goals.

You can study abroad for two weeks or two years. You can take all your classes in Spanish and learn about history and tango, or take all your classes in English while studying Italian art. You can live with other students from your university and go out on the town every night, or you can opt for a homestay and immerse yourself in your host country’s language and culture.

There really is something for everyone!

Learn more about study abroad:

Make a difference by volunteering abroad

If there is a cause you’re passionate about, volunteering abroad can be a gratifying way to have a truly meaningful experience while traveling.

As a volunteer, your focus point will be the cause you’re supporting. You will have enriching interactions with the locals and other unique experiences and opportunities, whether it’s with wildlife, habitats, or communities. In many ways, your volunteer abroad experience may leave you more changed than any other international experience.

There are other benefits, too. Volunteering abroad can be great for those on a budget, as sometimes you receive room and board in return for your work. Of course, it can also be expensive, depending on the organization or provider you choose.

That said, there are a vast array of volunteer programs and organizations out there. Make sure you do your research to be sure you’ll be volunteering responsibly and making a positive difference. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a few “fun” things as well while you’re abroad, and some of these providers offer side trips or workshops to learn more about the country you're volunteering in.

Spending time abroad can open your eyes to how lucky you are and highlight how many people in the world face hardships. Truthfully, volunteering abroad is one of the most rewarding international experiences you can pursue.

Learn more about volunteering abroad

Explore the world during a gap year

Taking time off to embark on a gap year can be a great way to learn more about the world and even yourself. For many gappers, the time spent during a gap year can be a major period of self-discovery and reflection.

Planning a gap year is ideal for any traveler because it’s so flexible. It can fit any length of time, budget, and goals. There are also many different things to do during a gap year such as taking language classes, volunteering, participating in cultural immersion activities, and more!

Gap years also do not have to be a full year. How long you take a gap year for is all up to you! Whether you sign up for a 2-week gap year program or take a whole year to travel, is totally up to you and your goals!

Learn more about gap years:

Work and travel as a digital nomad

Have a remote job already, but still want to travel? If you’re not looking to find a job overseas but still want to live the expat lifestyle, another option is becoming a digital nomad.

As long as you have strong wifi, a laptop, and a thirst to travel, becoming a digital nomad can be an exciting way to see the world while still making money. There are many countries starting to offer digital nomad visas as the community of remote workers starts to grow.

You can even find places to live or stay while abroad that are packed with other digital nomads – It’s the perfect opportunity to network and make new friends while traveling.

Learn more about digital nomads:

How to decide which type of travel is right for you

The path that is best for you depends on a number of factors.

To figure out what type of meaningful travel is right for you, it's important to understand where you're at currently and identify any time or budget constraints you may be facing.

Try asking yourself the following questions.

What stage of your life are you in?

Are you in school? Studying abroad or interning abroad will probably make the most sense, as you can earn credit and gain great experience, and perhaps even receive some scholarship assistance for your endeavor.

If you’ve recently graduated from school, interning or working abroad might be your best bet. Those settled into a job at home or taking a mid-career break will likely find volunteering or simple travel abroad to be the easiest.

What’s your budget?

Generally speaking, certain experiences cost more than others. If you’re on an incredibly tight budget, working abroad and being able to earn some money just makes more sense.

Volunteering or interning abroad can really run the gamut, but depending on the opportunity you stumble upon, you may be able to at least get free housing and get by with only paying for the cost of your flight and extra spending money.

Studying abroad can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be; there are plenty of ways to study abroad for free. Traveling and gap years can also be a huge money-suck, but like with study abroad, you can find ways to really stretch the money you have on those as well.

If you find one type of international experience that fits you better than the others, money can be found no matter what your budget. Scholarships and fellowships are available for study abroad, volunteering abroad, interning abroad, and even working abroad. These life-changing experiences are inclusive, too. Everyone from high school and college students to young and mid-career professionals can take up one of these meaningful travel options.

How much time can you realistically commit to traveling?

Whether you have a week or a year, there is a meaningful travel option for you. Generally, interning and working abroad tend to be longer-term commitments. This is because it takes some time to become established with a company, learn the ropes, and undertake a project.

Those without a lot of time may consider short-term study abroad or volunteering. Study abroad programs, while commonly offered as a semester or full year in length, can also be as short as a couple of weeks to a month in summer. In terms of volunteering, agencies often suggest that participants stay on for several weeks to make the most impact, but some programs have week-long opportunities for those who can't get away for long due to work or family constraints.

On the flip side, don’t discount an option because you think it will take too much or too little time. Every single one of these options can be flexible in certain circumstances. Some people volunteer for one week, some for six months. Some people intern for a month, some for a year. And travel can last days or years! The point is, don’t box yourself into a category. Be flexible and open yourself up to different opportunities.


Ready to Go Overseas?

If you can't decide on just one, why don't you mix and match your experiences? Work, intern, study, volunteer, travel... they’re not exclusive.

When people study abroad, it’s not uncommon for them to do a lot of traveling. Why not volunteer or do an internship during or after your program? You could easily do a number of these at once while at home, so why not abroad?

Although one adventure might seem overwhelming on its own, it gets easier with time and experience, and you will definitely not regret doing more. Take it from someone who’s done them all, they are all worth doing!

The important thing is to realize that all of these adventures are achievable -- it doesn’t matter your age, your financial situation, or your academic/professional field. There’s an adventure out there waiting for you!