If you've been waiting to close the textbooks and open the door to adventure, a gap year might be the perfect solution. After years of studying, listening to lectures, and learning theory, it's no wonder why you might be itching to get out of the classroom for some real-world experiences. A gap year does exactly that: provides a break between two stages of life (commonly between high school and college or college and a job) to travel, see the world, and learn new skills.
Your life-changing year of travel will likely involve a blend of experiences. Snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef, observing lions in Kruger National Park, or hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu are all possible when you have a planned 365 days lying ahead of you.
However, don’t let leisure activities dominate your whole year. You can find just as meaningful and adventurous gap year experiences by being a volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, or teaching English in Spain or working the ski season in New Zealand (to round-out your time overseas, and, in some cases, replenish your wallet). With the right balance, a gap year abroad inspires a fresh perspective that will resonate with you throughout your life.
Uprooting your life to take a gap year overseas is no small endeavor, so keep reading to answer all your burning questions. What are the best destinations for adventure travel? What kind of adventures are out there? And, how to do I make it become a reality?
Thankfully, gap year travel programs can be found in almost any corner of the world. From hiking in the Outback to zip-lining through the cloud forests in Costa Rica, your gap year can be full of overseas travel adventures.
From trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal to scuba diving off remote islands in Indonesia, adventurous souls will find no shortage of things to do for a year in Asia. Additionally, Asia is also a wonderful destination for professional and personal development. Urban hubs in China are the site of many global business internships, and volunteer programs in Cambodia tackle big issues like homelessness.
For a travel gap year in Europe, the possibilities are endless. Work as an au pair in Ireland and take advantage of weekends to explore other countries. Volunteer opportunities exist across the continent, with Scandinavian nations like Finland popular for teaching English or working with sled dogs. Alternatively, European travel programs can also take you to language courses in Germany and Mediterranean cruises departing from Croatia.
Navigate island life on a gap year through the water-locked countries of Oceania. Most travelers under the age of 30 can obtain working holiday visas for Australia and New Zealand, allowing them to pick up casual gigs as they travel around. These are also terrific destinations for overseas adventure programs, some of which will have you acquiring a scuba diving license in Fiji or skiing down slopes in Queenstown, New Zealand.
An array of exciting travel experiences await you during your gap year in Africa. With an abundance of unique wildlife, Africa’s gap year travel programs may include volunteering with great white sharks in South Africa or taking a multi-day safari through the Serengeti in Tanzania. If you’re looking for overseas programs that will help you grow as a professional, explore sports coaching or teaching English in Kenya or medical internships in Ghana.
A gap year traveling in South America mixes immersive experiences with outdoor getaways. Spend your days engaging in cultural activities, like Spanish language learning in Guatemala or soccer coaching in Brazil. Adventurous-minded travelers will love escaping to the Patagonia region of Chile, where they can hike amongst jagged peaks and view massive ice fields.
Don't forget that you don't have to go far to have an eye-opening gap year experience. The United States has many gap year programs with opportunities to travel to different areas in the country while expanding your world view, like by volunteering with the Blackfeet community in Montana or backpacking through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. You can also spend a winter hitting the slopes in Canada while helping children and adults learn to ski and snowboard
General Tips for Your Gap Year Travels
First things first, how do you pack for a year of travel? If you’re traveling through multiple climates during your gap year, this will be tough. Of course, versatile pieces and clothing that can be layered will be helpful as you leave warm weather for cold. Additionally, try packing attire that you don’t mind donating along the way and turning to thrift shops rather than retail stores if you ditched something too soon.
Some odd items you might find useful during your year-long travels include:
- Earplugs (For when hostel roommates snore and get up at 5am to catch flights)
- Flashlight (Because sometimes you’re the one up at 5am and it’s dark.)
- Needle & thread (Your clothes will rip, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.)
- Dryer sheets (They trick your clothes into smelling clean, further delaying laundry day.)
- Packing cubes (Emptying your bag to find one loose item gets old after a day. You have a whole year.)
- First aid kit (In case you have to self-stitch a shark bite, or just need a bandaid.)
Costs for Gap Year Travel Programs
Travel gap years are, unsurprisingly, on the pricier side of overseas experiences. Especially if you want to take part in adventure activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, skiing, or scuba diving, each of these activities has their own materials, props, and program fees to cover. Many gap year travel programs have all-inclusive program fees that include adventure activities, education, housing, meals, visas, and transportation costs (not flights). Additional costs to consider include airfare, travel insurance, and other entertainment.
Even if you’re jetting off to a place with a lower cost of living, there will be 365 days of transportation, accommodation, food, experience, souvenir, and toothpaste costs to cover. While there’s no better way to spend your savings, you can work abroad for a portion of the year to offset some of your travel expenses. Learn more about how to budget your gap year travels.
With each country having its own visa rules, you’ll have some homework to do if you plan on entering multiple countries during your gap year overseas. Luckily, traveling as a tourist usually requires no permits, or ones that can be acquired a few days in advance if not upon entry. Work programs and long-term stays are a different story. However, there are plenty of countries that provide working holiday visas that can be taken advantage of during your gap year travels.
Your housing situation will likely change over the course of your year of travel. Gap year travel programs generally provide shared housing with fellow participants or help you look for your own accommodation. If you’re working overseas, you might be able to support yourself in an apartment. Foreign volunteers will likely be placed in dormitory accommodations, while nomadic travelers will find similar living arrangements in hostels. Other housing options to look into as you travel are Airbnb and Couchsurfing.
Health & Safety
Like many aspects of planning a gap year, health and safety risks will need to be assessed on a regional basis. You’ll always need to be up-to-date on immunizations, but additional shots or medications may be recommended based on the countries you’re visiting. If possible, it’s best to sort this out beforehand with your doctor at home, rather than trying to book an appointment in a foreign healthcare system.
Risks to traveler safety will also vary by destination. With pickpockets roaming big cities, earthquakes shaking countries that lie in the Ring of Fire, and civil unrest in unstable regions, there’s a lot to look out for on the road. As such, purchasing travel insurance would be wise, no matter where your travels take you. A lot can happen in a year, but with the right preparation, you’ll be able to handle anything.