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Wilderness Gap Years & Leadership Programs

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If adventure is in your blood, consider signing up for a wilderness or leadership gap year. These courses will help you grow as a person and as a leader and test your mettle in a completely new immersive experience.

If you want to cultivate your knowledge as a leader or learn to survive using your wits and skills, then you're in the right place.

The great news is that there are opportunities nearly all over the world! Below are some of the main regions and countries where you can take a gap year abroad:

Africa

From vibrant Senegal to the vast mix of savannas, cities, and villages of South Africa, you can have the perfect gap year experience in Africa. This is a great destination for wilderness gap years, especially if you've never lived in the savanna!

Asia

Asia is the perfect continent if you're looking for a region both very modern and extremely historical. Two of the most unique gap year destinations in Asia couldn't be more different: Nepal, home of the Himalayas, sherpas, and Buddhist monasteries, and lush, rainforest-filled Borneo.

North America

Whether you are hiking in the stark landscapes of the western United States and Canada or volunteering in a pueblo or city in Mexico, the gap year opportunities in North America are as diverse as the countries and landscapes themselves.

Central and South America

Delve into the rainforests of Panama or the wilds of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina for your next wilderness gap year. If you're searching for leadership opportunities, why not practice your Spanish while you're at it?

Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are popular with international travelers for a reason. With stunning landscapes and diverse cities, you'll discover opportunities for any kind of adventure.

Choosing a Program

As you are evaluating your gap year plans, consider:

  • What do you want to learn? Certain survival skills? More interpersonal leadership skills? Do you want to get a certification of some kind?
  • What is your ideal location -- a desert climate? A cold climate? A tropical one?
  • Do you want to focus on a particular area in addition to developing your leadership skills; for example, survival skills or environmental health?
  • Do you want to attend an official training program? Volunteer? Study abroad? Intern?
  • Is your program only available to current college students?
Costs

The costs vary per program. You'll find that some programs only last a few weeks (1-4, for example), and will cost anywhere from $500-5,000 USD. A lot of other programs last between 1-3 months or one full semester. They can cost $5,000-20,000 USD. For longer programs (a year or a little less), you may need to pay up to $25,000 USD.

Don't fret at the price, though: a lot of programs offer financial aid and scholarship options.

Housing

If you're looking to attend a leadership gap year, you'll likely be set up with more conventional accommodations: a homestay, dorm, volunteer house, or hostel.

However, if you're applying for a wilderness gap year, you'll find that camping is often a major part of your accommodations. In fact, some only offer camping options. But many others provide accommodations in apartments, volunteer houses, guesthouses, hostels, hotels, home stays, and student dorms.

Health & Safety

For destination-specific health and safety precautions, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through the U.S. and the travel health and safety section through the Canadian government's website provide great information. Keep in mind that government websites always lean on the conservative side when giving health and safety precautions.

Overall, keep your vaccinations updated, and consult your doctor for treatment tailored to your itinerary, especially if you're traveling to more than one country with different health regulations.

Before you depart, make copies of important documents in case of emergencies, and always bring extra passport-sized photos with you. In destinations where petty theft is a problem, carry a money belt of some kind to keep your valuables close to your body and out of sight.

Contributed by Michelle Philippon

Showing 67 Programs

United States of America

NOLS
The Wilderness Medicine and Rescue Semester is a unique blend of wilderness skills, medicine, rescue, leadership, and environ...

Panama

Kalu Yala
At Kalu Yala, we are in the process of building the world's most sustainable modern village nestled in the Panamanian rainfor...

Nepal

Where There Be Dragons
The Himalayas. Since time immemorial, these colossal peaks with their vast web of rugged, isolated valleys and distinct ethni...

Cuba

ARCC Programs
ARCC’s New Frontiers: Patagonia & Cuba Spring Gap Program provides access to some of the world’s most intriguing and undiscov...

Canada

Alltracks Academy
The ALLTRACKS backcountry ski course aims to take confident resort skiers from the confines of the pistes to enjoying everyth...

Mexico

NOLS
Flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sea of Cortez on the east, the Baja California Peninsula is a land of extrem...

United States of America

Outward Bound
It takes a special kind of person to become an outdoor educator. They brave the elements, day in and day out. They devote a l...

Canada

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures
The Mountain Skills Semester is designed from the cumulative experience of over 35 years as Canada's top mountain guiding and...

Canada

International School for Earth Studies
You want a Gap Session that increases your environmental literacy; greater understanding of the Planet. You dream of working...

United States of America

High Mountain Institute
During HMI Gap, an 80-day journey through the American West and Patagonia, students pursue outdoor adventures, explore pressi...

New Zealand

Pure Exploration NZ
Get paid to hike, bike and climb in Queenstown! Train + Certify + Work! Our Adventure Guide Internship allows you the chance...
International Peace Park Expeditions
The Balkans Environmental Peacebuilding and Sustainability program facilitates student participants' exploration of a unique...

Germany

Camp Europe
Camp Europe offers specializes in language & adventure sport camps for children & youth throughout Europe. We offer different...

South Africa

iALA Events
The iALA vision is to develop leadership via the medium of adventure for young adults. The importance of emotional intelligen...

Guatemala

LEAPNOW: Transforming Education
An extraordinary alternative year of college designed to assist you in making a powerful and graceful transition from home to...