Considering the various gap year ideas can be a good idea when you’re on the verge of graduating high school and you want to see a bit of the world before committing to a college degree program.
A gap year is an increasingly popular way for students and young adults to take several months to grow and develop from high school vs. college through experiences.
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Whether you stick close to home and commit to a local volunteer effort, apply to medical internships for high school students, or you pack a backpack to travel across Europe, a gap year is unique for every person.
75 Gap Year Ideas
There are countless opportunities to create a meaningful gap year that gets you on the right track to your future when you’re wondering what to do in a gap year. We’ve put together the following gap year ideas organized by category for you to explore:
- Skill Building
- Personal Growth
- Athletic and Sports
- Volunteer Work
- Work Experience
While this list of gap year ideas is broken down by category, you can choose to participate in one or many of the opportunities listed below.
If you’re looking for adventure during your gap year and want to experience some new opportunities, the following ideas may suit you.
1. Explore the Beauty of Alaska: Spend your summer adventuring in the heart of Alaska! From trekking glaciers to kayaking in the Prince William Sound, you’re guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime.
2. Become an African Safari Guide: Get a first-hand look at the natural wonders and fascinating animals of the African continent! Over 55 days you will study a variety of topics in Victoria Falls to train for certification as a Level 1 Field Guide.
3. Plan a Cross-Country Road Trip: There is an entire world to see right in the U.S.A., and a gap year is a perfect time to travel across the country and explore the diversity of our nation.
4. Hike the Appalachian Trail: If you want to explore the east coast by foot, there’s no better choice than hiking this beautiful trail that extends from Maine down to Georgia.
5. Sail Into the Adventure of a Lifetime: If the open seas are calling to you, spend your gap year on a voyage with Tall Ships Adventures! Learn what it takes to run a vessel, develop valuable skills, and make new friends on this exciting expedition.
6. Swim in a Sea of Pink: Lake Retba in Senegal is one of the most fascinating bodies of water on the planet, and a trip to its shores will allow you to float along on its bright pink salt waters.
7. Ride a Dune Buggy through Dubai: See the Arabian desert sands in a unique way by blazing a trail in a dune buggy adventure.
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8. Spend a Night in One of the World’s Craziest Hotels: From palaces made of ice to sleeping in a sewage pipe in Austria, you can take your traveling experience to the next level with these out-of-the-box options.
9. Get Your Kicks on Route 66: See America the way it was meant to be by cruising your motorcycle down all 2,448 miles of The Mother Road.
10. Trek Your Way through Central America: Take an unforgettable trip through several Central American cities! From exploring ancient ruins and rainforests to climbing volcanos, you will be hard-pressed to find another expedition with this much adventure.
11. Climb Mt. Everest: Climbing the world’s tallest mountain is at the top of the bucket list for most adventurers, and a gap year is a perfect time to cross it off your list.
12. Stand on the Great Wall of China: As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, a hike along this stunning structure is the best way to get a panoramic view of China’s incredible landscape.
13. Venture into the Wilds of the West: Discover the beauty of America’s backcountry and learn vital skills for survival and conservation within the terrain of Colorado, Utah, and Patagonia.
While most of these adventure-related gap year ideas will require traveling, they will also allow you to learn life skills and networking connections.
Spending your gap year learning more about your chosen career path can be a great way to gain clarity on your future goals.
14. Research in the Galapagos Islands: The Darwin Foundation is an ideal starting point for those interested in scientific research surrounding the natural world and humanity’s impact on vulnerable ecosystems.
15. Take College to a New Country: What if you could travel the world and work on an experiential college curriculum? LeapYear is an innovative program that gives you the chance to adventure around the globe while learning valuable skills to advance your future degree.
16. Become a Leader by Experiencing the World: Within the structure of an academic semester, you will be guided on an overseas adventure that gives you unique insight into community, service, and culture.
17. Spend a Semester in Washington, D.C.: This unique program gives you the chance to have real-world internship experiences and take two college classes while being immersed in the thriving D.C. area.
18. Learn About Culture Through Field-Based Experiences: By immersing yourself in a new culture, you will learn to identify solutions to critical global issues while improving communities alongside local experts.
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19. Study Whales and Dolphins in Italy: Explore the unique beauty of Italy while performing research on various whales and dolphins native to the Mediterranean.
20. Experience the World of Art: See humanity’s greatest accomplishments in art, architecture, and sculpture by traveling through Italy with top art mentors.
21. Help Protect the Reefs in Belize: Work with researchers to monitor coral reefs and contribute to efforts that combat the unsustainable spread of the lionfish in the waters of Belize.
22. Rhythms of Senegal: Explore various issues of West Africa while learning and joining in their artistic and musical traditions. Experience a culture that is renowned for its hospitality.
23. Learn from Teachers in a Global Setting: If you are taking a gap year while enrolled in a teaching degree program, this experience gives you the chance to work alongside educators in private schools abroad.
Not only will you continue to foster your educational goals and learn new skills, but you’ll also likely be able to use this newfound knowledge and skills when earning your degree.
Skill building can be a productive way to use your gap year, especially if you are planning to use your skill in your degree program, such as photography.
24. Take the Ultimate Skill-Building Challenge: Travel to 10 countries and learn 100 real-world skills that cover everything from scuba diving to entrepreneurship and Thai massage.
25. Learn to Survive in the Wild: Take on an outdoor expedition that ranges from dog sledding to mountaineering, and learn essential tools for survival along the way!
26. Combine Leadership with Outdoor Survival: Journey to the world’s most beautiful places and learn vital survival and leadership skills through a field- and classroom-based courses.
27. Channel the Spirit of Julia Child: There’s nothing like French cuisine, and you can learn the intricate skills needed to master this art by taking on-site classes at Le Cordon Bleu’s Paris or US locations.
28. Train to be a DJ: The island of Ibiza is a global hub of musical talent, and its international training center is the ideal place to escape and master the art of live electronic production. Learn to become a DJ at the Point Blank Music School of Ibiza. The school offers courses in music production, singing, and DJing.
29. Learn Kung Fu from the Masters: If you’ve always wanted to perfect the ancient art of Kung Fu, head to Pai, Thailand! At the Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat, you will spend time learning skills and wisdom from experts in Chinese martial arts.
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30. Build Your Photography Skills through Traveling: Work alongside a National Geographic photographer and receive intensive photography instruction by spending a week at a workshop.
31. Care for Elephants in Thailand: Learn the skills of banana ball making and caring for rescued Asian elephants at this premier wildlife protection center.
32. Become a Ranch Hand: Step back into the Old West on a working ranch in the Rocky Mountains where you’ll bond with a horse, ride through the scenic landscapes, and work around the farm to help keep it up and running.
Skill-building gap years can help push you in the right direction. Or, perhaps you are just interested in learning a new skill as a hobby before committing to your degree program.
If you’re interested in other cultures and want to open your world up to include those cultures, consider the following inspiring gap year ideas:
33. Immerse Yourself in the Himalayas: India and Nepal are fascinating countries, and over the course of this 90-day program you will have the chance to dive into the culture, religion, and ancient history of the area.
34. Foster a Cross-Cultural Community: Spend three months Centro-Caribbean, Hawaii, East Africa, Nepal and India, Pacific Islands, South America, Southeast Asia, or the Western U.S. to work and live side-by-side with locals and develop a deeper cultural understanding and world perspective.
35. Hunt for Dragons: Choose to travel through the heart of India, China, Africa, and more by immersing yourself in the language, culture, and the magical mythology of each region.
36. Master the Chinese Language: Take a trip to the Mandarin Capital in Hangzhou, China to gather with students from around the world that want to learn the Chinese language through an immersion experience.
37. Volunteer on a Native American Reservation: Get a first-hand look at Native American culture by living and working with the Blackfeet Community in Montana.
38. Hop a Train through Europe: With one Eurail pass, you can travel through 28 European countries and take your time exploring the diversity of culture, language, and adventure along the way.
39. Hear the Music of Mozart in Salzburg: Explore Mozart’s birthplace and see this fascinating city in a new way by enjoying concerts, scenic tours, and more.
40. Learn from Indigenous Cultures in the Amazon: The goal of this expedition is to help local Amerindian communities set up a sustainable, eco-friendly infrastructure within the jungles of Guyana.
Learning from other cultures can foster your personal growth, offer new skills, and give you an overall perspective on life.
If you are looking to recharge during your gap year, personal growth ideas may be best suited for you.
41. Discover Your Life’s Purpose: Work with an experienced mentor to take a journey into self-exploration! Throughout the program, you will discover the tools you need to live a life of purpose, passion, and adventure.
42. Foster Your Community Spirit: This experience takes place on a 250-acre campus in New Hampshire where you will live, work, and commune with nature through skill-building and community development.
43. Practice Yoga in Paradise: If you love the art of yoga, there’s nothing better than practicing your craft on the pristine beaches of the Bahamas, and the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat is your ticket to inner peace and tranquility.
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44. Take a Spiritual Journey Through India: India is one of the global centers for spiritual seekers, and a pilgrimage through the country’s sacred sites is a life-changing way to connect with your divinity.
45. Learn Buddhism in Nepal: Disconnect from the outside world and travel inward by learning and living amongst Nepal’s spiritual teachers in a Buddhist monastery.
46. Relax in a Bali Luxury Spa: Beauty and serenity will surround you when you take time out of your gap year to enjoy the relaxation and mystery of Bali.
These personal growth gap year ideas can offer relaxation, peace of mind, and overall balance in your life before you begin your next chapter.
Athletic and Sports
A gap year focused on athletics and sports can be a great way to recharge your mind and body.
47. Tackle a Mountain: For athletes with a passion for mountain sports, there’s no better way to train, learn new skills, and push yourself to your greatest potential.
48. Coach Rugby Abroad: Help students learn about the sport of rugby and take part in a variety of volunteering opportunities in countries around the world.
49. Become a Global Ninja: Take your martial arts training to the next level by coaching in Africa! Whatever art you have mastered, you’ll have the chance to teach others and learn new skills while inspiring young people in Ghana.
50. Play Hockey in Australia: Join up with a local hockey club Down Under, and help lead them to victory through a Mini Season hockey program!
51. Plan a Worldwide Sports Tour: All around the world major sporting events are taking place, so why not center your gap year adventure around hitting some of the top destinations?
52. Jump Out of a Plane in New Zealand: Skydiving is a thrill in itself, but you can take your experience to the next level by flying above the stunning landscapes of New Zealand.
53. Challenge Yourself through Cycling: Whether you want a weekend of training or a challenging mountain trek, there are countless international biking adventures waiting for you during your gap year travels.
54. Become a Surf Instructor in Australia: The Mojosurf Academy offers a three-month surf instructor course that teaches you all the skills you need to hang ten with the best of the best!
55. Climb a Glacier in Iceland: Iceland lives up to its name in this adventurous expedition where you will spend days hiking, trekking, and climbing some of the world’s most pristine glaciers.
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56. Make a Difference through Sports in South Africa: By teaching young South African children sporting skills, you can help them build healthy habits, gain confidence, and explore their passions.
57. Dog Sled through Canada: Take a month out of your gap year to spend time volunteering at a husky ranch in Canada! You’ll work with the dogs, take guided trips, and learn about roughing it in the great outdoors.
58. Get Fit on the Beach: Spend 10 days on an epic Bali adventure filled with excursions, health workshops, and exciting nightlife.
59. 11-Day Yucatan Experience: Touch down in Cancun to get ready to explore the crystal Caribbean sea via an island boat trip, before chilling out on the pristine, white sandy beaches. Dive into the culture at the ancient Mayan site of Chichen Itza and cool off in cenotes.
These athletic and sports gap year ideas can allow you to pursue these physical activities while you’re still young and energetic before settling down into a degree program.
Volunteering during your gap year can offer new skills, give you insight, and also allow you to make an impact on various communities.
60. Make a Difference around the World: Over the course of nine months, you will travel to India, Guatemala, and Costa Rica to serve local communities and gain a broader understanding of world culture.
61. Support Social and Environmental Causes: With a focus on giving back to the world through volunteerism, you can choose from 245 different programs that focus on global social issues and environmental conservation.
62. Learn about Marine Conservation: From professional dive training to international marine conservation internships, this program gives you the chance to develop valuable skills and make a difference for marine life in exotic locations around the world.
63. Make an Impact on Mexican Youth: Team up with United Planet and spend up to a year living in Mexico and volunteering for community projects that support street children, orphans, and underprivileged youth.
64. Volunteer with African Orphans: Make a difference for one of Africa’s most vulnerable populations the orphan children of Kenya. During your time there you will support the efforts of local orphanages while gaining valuable work and life experience.
65. Give Back to American Communities: Civic responsibility is a core American value, and through the support of AmeriCorps, you can work with local communities around the country to address their most pressing needs.
66. Walk With Pumas in Bolivia: By volunteering with the rescued wildlife of this center, you will work with beautiful exotic species that include big cats, monkeys, and birds.
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67. Build Homes in Malawi: Through Habitat for Humanity, you can change the life of a family in Malawi by providing the manpower needed to build safe, comfortable homes.
68. Renovate Temples in Sri Lanka: Learn about unique Sri Lankan construction methods and help local villagers rebuild and restore ancient temples to their former glory.
69. Help Rebuild Nepal: After being hit with a devastating earthquake in 2015, Nepal is still in need of volunteers to help them rebuild. Take part in this global humanitarian effort to make a difference for thousands of families.
The social aspect of volunteering can give you a purpose, and maybe even help you choose a career path, all while helping others and building a better world.
Work experience gap years can offer you the chance to earn and save money, but also give you clarity on a specific career path.
70. Help the Youth of Peru: Travel to the beautiful city of Cusco and immerse yourself in the culture and language of the region by working with disadvantaged youth.
71. Work as an Au Pair: If you love children and travel, becoming an au pair gives you the best of both worlds! You will gain valuable work experience by living with a host family and immersing yourself in a new culture.
72. Teach English in a Foreign Country: Teach English in another country and learn valuable cultural and leadership skills in the process! This is ideal for teachers that wish to earn certification as English teachers abroad.
73. Try Your Hand at Farming: If you believe in a sustainable, global community, this is the opportunity for you! Join together with like-minded people to support the organic movement by working on organic farms around the world.
74. Support Women through Midwifery: Projects Abroad offers an exciting experience for those interested in Midwifery to take part in global internships. Not only will you help bring life into the local communities, but you will also learn valuable work and cultural skills along the way.
75. Study Journalism in Africa: Work with Internews a non-profit organization that covers vital issues around the world and supports the voices of those who are often left unheard.
Once you finish your gap year, you may now realize that a career path is your true passion, or perhaps you have found a new passion through your work experiences. Either way, work experiences can help you decide the right future for you.
What is a Gap Year?
A gap year is typically taken the year after graduating high school. Instead of starting college the following fall semester, you decide to take an entire year off. However, some also take a gap year after college before entering the workforce.
Choosing among various gap year opportunities can serve as a stepping stone to your future goals. For example, you can tailor your gap year to the subject area you plan to study by working in the field during your gap year or applying for an internship. This can offer clarity on your possible career choices.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your gap year, it can serve as a year to recharge and motivate you to achieve your goals.
Gap Year Pros and Cons
It’s important to consider the pros and cons when choosing the best gap year programs for you.
Is a gap year a good idea? After considering the pros and cons, you may have a better idea if taking a gap year fits in with your aspirations, it’s helpful to create a plan for the gap year and your return to school.
Gap Year Tips
Choosing a gap year plan, and considering what to do during a gap year, can be difficult depending on your situation, finances, and overall career goals. There are some tips to keep in mind when planning your gap year:
- Do Your Research: Research the possible gap year ideas that would interest you. You may want to choose a gap year idea, such as an internship, that will boost your career goals.
- Decide on Your Goals: Consider your goals and aspirations when choosing a gap year. If you are looking to volunteer but plan to go into the medical field, you could volunteer for a medical clinic.
- Consider Time Away: It’s important to consider if your gap year plans will require traveling. If so, consider how much time you are comfortable being away from your daily life.
- Consider Travel Insurance: If your gap year plan requires travel, it can be a good idea to invest in travel insurance. If you are hurt while traveling or incur a loss such as luggage or personal belongings, travel insurance can help.
- Research Visa Requirements: Visa requirements are vital if you plan to travel to other countries. To prevent delays while traveling, it’s important to understand Visa requirements and ensure you meet those requirements before leaving.
- Create a Budget: Taking a gap year can be expensive depending on your plan. It’s helpful to create a budget to live by during your gap year. This can help ensure when you are ready to return to college, you are financially able to.
- Get Advice: Taking a gap year is a big decision. You can seek advice from peers who have taken a gap year and returned, career advisors, family and friends. Each one may have a different perspective along with helpful tips and advice for you.
- Apply in Advance: If you’re applying to work during your gap year, volunteer, or intern, you will want to make plans and apply far in advance. This allows for acceptance time and also time for you to prepare travel, budget, and make other plans.
While these tips may help you have a successful gap year, it can be a good idea to create a checklist for your gap year, and create a plan for transitioning back to college after the gap year is finished.
Taking a Gap Year
Education is essential in the modern world, but learning can take place in many places besides the classroom.
Much like taking the initiative to apply for scholarships for sophomores in high school, embarking on a gap year journey gives you the tools you need to learn about who you are and get a greater understanding of the diverse world that we live in.
Wherever your future takes you, a gap year will likely give you new experiences and skills to use for your future goals.