Planning a gap year is as mind-boggling as it is exciting. With such a huge world out there to explore and a million and one opportunities to seize, there’s always the worry that you’re not going to make the most of your time away. Spending extra days in one place means fewer days in a new and different one. Comparing notes with travelers you meet along the way may even lead to a severe case of travel envy.
Beat them to the punch! If you're having trouble coming up with a game plan for your awesome #RTWtrip, look no further. We’ve got over 80 awesome ideas right here to make sure that every minute of your gap year is well spent. Whether you want to chill out or change the world, you’ll find inspiration in every nook of the world.
Learn New Skills
Your gap year is a prime opportunity to learn new skills since it's a chance to try anything and everything that you want but have never had time to do before. Here is some inspiration:
1. Get your PADI Open Water certificate.
Dive anywhere around the world to explore crystal clear, aquamarine waters and the rainbow of wildlife below it and it’ll be a gap year well spent.
2. Find an outdoor yoga class in a city you're visiting -- and join in!
Once the practice of yoga became more common in western countries, classes and retreats started popping up everywhere. No matter where you go, there will surely be someone teaching yoga.
3. Take a puma for a walk in Bolivia.
Bolivia has volunteer programs in animal refuges where you can care for and walk puma rescues in the jungle. Good luck!
4. Learn the art of film at a summer school in New York.
The NY Film Academy has a popular summer intensive that allows you to enjoy the Big Apple while perfecting your craft.
5. Tap into your inner "qi" and learn the ancient art of Kung Fu.
If boxing isn’t your thing, try Kung Fu instead. While the sport is believed to have various influences, it is widely considered a Chinese sport and courses can be found in many countries.
Learning a new language can be both socially and professionally beneficial. You’ll be able to explore more off the beaten path while bringing home unique skills to build your resume.
- Go Overseas Tip: We have tons of Language Programs listed in our directory. Study Chinese in Beijing & Shanghai with the Hutong School.
7. Learn how to make the perfect gelato by taking an ice cream course in Sorrento, Italy.
You can’t go to Italy without eating Gelato every moment possible. Why not learn how to make it yourself?
8. Take a course on the Spanish island of Ibiza to learn how to DJ.
Why else would you visit Ibiza if not to return home and be the best DJ your parents believed you could be? Shoot for the stars.
9. Relish in history by studying art in Italy’s most beautiful cities.
From Rome to Florence, Verona and Venice, tour Italy to admire art, architecture, and sculpture across the country.
10. Try your hand at tango in one of the many plazas in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
You can stroll down La Boca during the day to see live tango or take a beginner Tango class in San Telmo.
11. Train for the coolest career in the world: surfing.
Do a three-month surfing teacher qualification. Perfect weather, check. Perfect waves, check. Surfing form perfect enough to teach someone else, check!
12. Learn how to build a floating island on Peru's Lake Titicaca.
The Uros islands, homes, and boats are made of reeds found in the lake.
Try New Foods & Drinks
There are loads of foods and drinks that you just can't find at home, so be sure to enjoy the new flavors of each destination you visit during your gap year.
13. Eat your way through Vietnam’s street markets.
There's plenty more phở where that came from! On top of Vietnam’s bustling cities and jaw dropping nature, the food is delicious -- and cheap!
- Go Overseas Tip: The Experiment’s Ecology & Conservation program in Vietnam will have you traveling through jungles and forests, and tasting the best of Vietnam’s food.
14. Eat waffles in Belgium.
Eating waffles in Belgium isn’t like a traditional breakfast routine in North America. There is often more toppings to choose from, waffle trucks to enjoy on the go, and permission to indulge all day -- even as dessert!
15. Have breakfast & lunch in two different countries.
Grab an English breakfast complete with stewed tomatoes and baked beans before taking the Eurostar to France for a Croque Madame-fueled lunch.
16. Get sophisticated about wine.
Head to Haro, Spain on in late June to participate in an epic wine battle that involves super soaker water guns and delicious red wine everywhere.
Experience New Things
If you travel with an open mind and open eyes, you'll be surprised how much you can discover on your gap year. Here are just a few of literally countless new experiences to try and fit into your gap year.
17. Witness a sea of pink flamingoes gathering at Lake Nakuru in Kenya.
Though not as abundant as years ago, Lake Nakuru is still a gem for people looking to spot flamingos at one of the world’s most famous national parks.
18. Rock on at a music festival.
Glastonbury tops the list in England, but there are so many to enjoy around the world. Besides, apparently going to music festivals actually makes you a happier person.
- Go Overseas Tip: Here are places you should definitely visit if you love music festivals.
19. Float in the Dead Sea.
Take advantage of the Dead Sea’s high salt concentration and savor buoyancy to your heart’s content. You’ll love the way your skin feels afterward too.
- Go Overseas Tip: You can visit the Dead Sea from either Jordan or Israel.
20. Watch the sunrise on the Pacific island of Kiribati.
Thanks to its geographic positioning, a visit to this Polynesian island will have you continuously ahead of the game -- literally. Watch the sunrise over the southern Line Islands at UTC+14 and you won’t regret it.
21. Get splattered with tomatoes at the world's biggest food fight.
If you never thought you’d feel a need to get hit with a tomato, think again. People flock from around the world to participate in this messy summer festival and you should too!
- Go Overseas Tip: Join Stoke Travel’s “Tasty Times at la Tomatina” tomato fight tour for a guided experience.
22. Visit all 58 national parks in the USA.
Explore some of the United States’ most breathtaking wonders with free admission on these days or an annual pass for under $100 -- the best investment you'll make.
23. Visit the driest desert on earth.
The Atacama desert in Chile feels like a trip to the moon and is likely nothing like you’ve ever seen before.
24. Tackle the world's tallest sand dunes at Sossusvlei in Namibia.
Anyone who’s been to Namibia will praise this breathtaking sight as a landmark you can’t miss. You can visit it at Namib-Naukluft National Park.
25. Go shopping in Morocco.
Haggle for sparkly slippers, ornate rugs, and detailed pottery, among other souvenirs in the colorful markets of Marrakesh.
26. Hang out in some of the world’s most iconic pools.
Swim in an infinity pool on the rooftop of a skyscraper in downtown Singapore, for instance. You won’t be the only one taking selfies.
27. Experience biodiversity in the wild.
Head to Ecuador and visit or volunteer on the Galapagos Islands.
- Go Overseas Tip: You can join a Galapagos program for 1-6 weeks and learn about sustainable farming and conservation while practicing your Spanish.
28. Channel your inner witch or wizard.
Try your Muggle luck at Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross station in London.
- Go Overseas Tip: If you are really Potter-obsessed, be sure to extend your gap year in England for a bit longer and visit Alnwick Castle: the filming location for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone", as well as "The Chamber of Secrets".
29. Experience a winter wonderland.
Spend time with husky sled dogs in Finnish Lapland and see the Northern Lights.
30. Become an explorer on less traveled terrain.
Visit the world’s newest islands: the Zubair Islands, in Yemen.
31. Treat yourself to a spa.
Detox and relax at a luxury spa in Bali, everyone's favorite place for R&R.
- Go Overseas Tip: If you love massages that much, you might want to learn how provide traditional balinese massages yourself, with this local massage course from Jamu Spa School.
32. Become a celebrity… kind of.
Check out listings on Craigslist to become a Hollywood film extra, or join a Bollywood film in India.
33. Tap into your inner turtle power.
Join conservation efforts and help save the sea turtles in Costa Rica.
34. Celebrate the festival of lights.
Light a candle to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with new friends in India; it's one of the best holiday celebrations to experience abroad.
Travel in a New Way
Planes, trains, and automobiles... but also boats, rickshaws, bicycles, hot air balloons, and your own two feet! Consider trying a new mode of transport on your gap year and you'll automatically see the world in a different way.
35. See Central Asia like never before.
Take a motorbike along the Silk Road, Eurasias’ historical trade link.
36. Trek the entire Appalachian Trail
Okay, even hiking part of it would be amazing. Spanning from Georgia to Maine in the United States, there is no shortage of scenic treks along this bucket list trail.
37. Make friends while riding the Trans-Siberian Railway through Russia.
Prices on the Trans-Siberian Railway vary depending on the route you choose, though the main route links Moscow and Vladivostok.
38. Walk along the Great Wall of China
During your gap year, be sure to explore China's historical landmarks -- including the Great Wall of China.
- Go Overseas Tip: The Dragon Trip hosts a fun 25-day tour through the tropics, rural areas, and historic regions of China.
39. Grab a Eurail pass and hop between trains around historic cities in Europe.
Though not as inexpensive as previous years, Eurail is still a popular way to traverse the European continent. Don’t forget to look into student discounts when booking your ticket.
40. One word: safari.
Don’t miss out on an African safari expedition to view the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo) in person. Better yet, book a tour that’ll take you to a few of the best parks in the region.
- Go Overseas Tip: A safari tour, like this Budget Safari in Northern Tanzania, will take you through Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and Serengeti National Park.
With scenic vistas and amazing beaches, it is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t forget your helmet!
42. Cruise down historic Route 66 on a motorcycle.
Be sure to plan a pit stop for chocolate malts at any diner along the way.
43. Catch sunrise from a hot air balloon in Turkey.
Cappadocia has become internet-famous for the stunning hot air balloon rides you can enjoy basically every day of the year. It's a splurge for your gap year itinerary, but affordable costs for other expenses in Turkey will make up for it.
Sleep Somewhere New
44. Set up camp in a yurt in Mongolia.
Known as a “ger” in Mongolia, this type of dwelling may be seen as glamping to Westerners, but is ancient tradition to Mongolians.
45. Stay overnight in a temple in Asia.
Surprisingly, there are a number of countries that allow you to stay overnight in select temples. From Thailand to Korea or Japan, take your pick.
46. Hire a camper van and drive across the Australian outback to Uluru.
This sandstone formation is taller than the Eiffel Tower and sacred to Anangu, who own it (and for 35 years campaigned to be recognized as the national park’s traditional owners).
- Go Overseas Tip: GapForce offers immersive experiences in Australia with loads of adventure.
47. Sleep on the side of a mountain.
If you are an avid rock climber you might love the idea of sleeping in a tent that hangs off the edge of a cliff. Yes, it's a real thing!
48. Get local insight on the next destination you visit through a homestay.
Participate in a homestay for full immersion and you find your perspective and understanding of a country may shift.
49. Splurge on a unique hotel stay.
Sleep in an ice hotel in Sweden, a cave in Turkey, or a sewage pipe in Austria. The world is full of interesting places to sleep!
Work to Fund Your Gap Year
Once you get started on your gap year, you may just want to keep going forever. If so, you can earn an income -- or just room and board -- with one of these ideas.
50. Work as a summer camp counselor in Europe.
It is pretty common to visit another country and work as a camp counselor. You may not have full control of your schedule, but you’ll make tons of friends and some money on the side!
51. Volunteer at the Olympic Games, FIFA, or a similar sporting event.
Keep an eye on your favorite sport's schedule. Sports competitions and tournaments are always looking for volunteers to help out in exchange for views of the game.
52. Go on assignment with a travel photography course.
If you love taking photos, a photography course is just what you’ll need during your gap year. Let your tour guide scout ideal locations for the best shot and receive expert tips on how to improve your work.
53. Earn free rent by becoming an au pair in Europe.
Au Pairs are a popular means of getting to know a country the local way. You’ll earn free room and board... but be prepared to be a full-time caretaker.
54. Volunteer at a lion sanctuary in South Africa.
Fulfill your childhood “Lion King” dreams and experience wildlife conservation projects firsthand.
- Go Overseas Tip: The Lion Whisperer is a real thing and signing up for Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary and Game Reserve will get you there.
55. Become a boxing coach in Ghana
Did you know you can sign up for a five-day coaching workshop in Accra? Okay, it’s part of a longer training program but still totally worth looking into.
56. Work a ski season in Canada.
If you love to ski or snowboard, don’t miss a winter season at Whistler.
57. Help conserve populations of orangutans in Malaysia.
Orangutans are endangered globally and you should take part in contributing to their conservation.
- Go Overseas Tip: You can join a Travellers Worldwide program to volunteer with these intelligent creatures.
58. WWOOF around the world to receive free food and lodging.
If you are tight on money and open to fresh experiences, receive free or low-cost room and board in exchange for helping out on a local farm.
59. Sail the seven seas as a boat crew member or cruise ship employee.
Not only can you make extra money, you’ll learn the inner workings of life at sea and gain a whole new network of friends and colleagues.
60. Make some extra money teaching English.
Native English speakers might enjoy a higher salary while teaching English in Korea.
- Go Overseas Tip: There are a number of teaching jobs listed on our "Teach English in South Korea" guide. Be sure to review our tips on everything you need to know before applying.
61. Work with Habitat for Humanity.
Help build a home for people in underserved areas.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
The ideas on this part of the list are a bit more adventurous, shall we say? If you want to get your heart pumping on your gap year, consider adding a few of these to your itinerary.
62. Take a helicopter over Sao Paolo, Brazil.
It might sound crazy but Sao Paulo is so congested that helicopter taxis are totally a thing! Beat the crowds and commute in the air but know that the convenience will cost you double.
63. Explore sea caves while kayaking off the coast of Hawaii, USA.
There are a number of sea caves to explore in Hawaii, including Na Pali’s popular open ceiling cave.
64. High-five a stranger in every city you visit.
Because why not!?
65. Couchsurf wherever you can.
Meet locals and bond with other traveling folks through the couch surfing community. It is the perfect way to save a few bucks on accommodations, see what it is like to live like a local and make new friends.
66. Find and take part in a flash mob.
Itching for a bit of song and dance? Make your gap year memorable with a flash mob performance. You can practice the routines online in preparation.
67. Catch the waves while surfing on Bondi Beach.
Head to one of Australia’s most popular beaches in Sydney. Perfect for surfing, dining, and sunbathing.
68. If you’ve got $60k to spare, visit the Titanic via submarine.
There’s something for everyone… especially if you have the money. If you are lucky enough to have $60k to spend on a trip to see the Titanic, then enjoy!
69. Sky dive in the home of adrenaline sports.
People love visiting New Zealand for adventure -- one of which is skydiving. Sign up for a tandem dive (where you’re strapped to an instructor) and fly free as they coordinate the fall.
70. Get Arabian sand in your pants on a dune buggy adventure in Dubai, UAE.
Yes, it is absolutely as fun as it sounds. Don’t forget your water and sunscreen!
71. Slip on your warmest parka and hike through Nepal to Everest Base Camp.
- Go Overseas Tip: No need to take on the journey alone. Choose a program like Encounters Travel for group tour options perfect for your gap year.
72. Slip into the 'Cage of Death' in Australia and come face to face with saltwater crocodiles.
Eek! You might be protected by this cage but the crocodile dive is still equally terrifying. Would you try it?
73. Track polar bears in the ice and snow of Norway.
Join a Nordic polar bear expedition and study these snow-white creatures and their habitats.
74. If the North Pole doesn't tickle your fancy, head south.
When we say south, we mean way south. Take an Antarctic cruise and see penguins in the wild.
- Go Overseas Tip: Explore the Antarctic Peninsula’s region with World Expeditions for kayaking, snowshoeing, and wildlife viewing.
75. Experience a lunar rainbow.
Stay up late to see this “moonbow” form across Victoria Falls, Zambia (then wake up early and hang over the edge of them).
76. Climb above the clouds.
Reach the summit of the African continent, Kilimanjaro, at sunrise.
77. Reach new heights -- on ice.
Scale glaciers while ice climbing in Iceland!
78. Get in touch with your wild side.
Be the first of your friends to zip line over rumbling volcanoes in Costa Rica.
Document Your Gap Year
Lastly, don't forget about documenting your experience so that you can look back fondly on your gap year for years to come. Here are some creative ways to record your gap year for posterity.
79. Write a novel about your travels and publish it as an ebook.
Once you get through this gap year list, you’ll have so much to share. If a novel sounds like too much, a book of poems might be good too.
80. Take a photo per day on Instagram and collage your images at the end of your trip.
We obviously couldn’t make this list without mention of an adventurously curated Insta-album. You won’t regret it!
81. Get your parents to record your travels in a notebook as they follow your journey on social media.
Whether collecting postcards, posts, and emails or taking screenshots of your envious check-ins, it would be so fun to have a reminder of your adventure when you return home.
82. Go viral with your best moves.
Create a dance and record yourself reciting it in every country in front of a landmark (remember to be respectful if it is a religious institution or sacred site).
Where will you go first?
These 80+ gap year ideas should help you get the ball rolling, but remember that with a gap year, anything goes! The most important thing to remember: do what you want but don't be afraid to explore beyond your comfort zone. Chase your own dreams while respecting the traditions and cultures of the places you visit.
This article was originally published in December 2012, and was updated in April 2018.