Whether you’ve just completed high school or graduated college, a gap year offers a valuable opportunity to step away from academia and pursue personal growth through immersive, cultural adventures. As you dive into this list of gap year ideas, you’ll encounter a plethora of options that may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Planning a gap year can feel formidable, particularly when balancing the numerous responsibilities and pressures faced by students and young adults today. Thankfully, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. We’re here to lend a helping hand by providing compelling ideas to ignite your inspiration for a truly meaningful gap year!
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22 Great Gap Year Ideas, Trips, and Activities for Young Adults
When choosing the perfect gap year opportunity, remember to strike a balance between enjoying yourself and laying the foundation for future success. Choose a destination or trip that piques your curiosity, offers something of value for your future, or gives back to the global community. Let’s find the perfect pursuit for your epic gap year (or gap semester).
1. Volunteer for a conservation project abroad.
Immerse yourself in a rewarding experience by volunteering for a conservation project abroad. This opportunity allows you to make a meaningful impact while exploring the wonders of another country. Engaging in conservation efforts not only helps preserve our planet’s natural beauty but also contributes to the well-being of local communities and wildlife.
By volunteering you can actively participate in activities like wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, environmental education, or marine conservation. These projects provide hands-on experiences, allowing you to work alongside dedicated professionals and fellow volunteers who share your passion for protecting the environment.
From joining a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica, assisting with reforestation efforts in the Amazon Rainforest, or participating in sustainable farming practices in Africa, there are numerous opportunities available to match your interests and skills.
International Volunteer HQ, GoEco, and Projects Abroad are a few of the many great volunteer companies that excel in trips for young adults.
2. Continue your education with EF Tours.
Curated by the renowned Education First (EF) Tours, these gap year programs are like a “greatest hits” collection designed specifically for teenagers. These immersive experiences combine internships, language schools, and service activities across various parts of the world. Students have the flexibility to customize their semester or year-long program to align with their skill development goals before starting university.
The program offers an array of enticing options, such as cultural immersion in vibrant cities like London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris. For those seeking language instruction, there’s the opportunity to learn in the charming city of Nice. Alternatively, students can engage in sustainable development programs in Thailand, pursue internships in bustling Tokyo, or even attend a leadership academy at EF’s executive education campus located in the picturesque Ashridge Castle just outside London. Participating in these experiences empowers you with life-changing experiences and valuable new skills that will help shape your future plans upon returning home.
3. Get out there with Go Abroad Adventure Travels.
Do you believe that travel should be an exhilarating escapade that pushes you out of your comfort zone, immerses you in unfamiliar surroundings, and keeps you on your toes? If you’re nodding along and thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel,” then Go Abroad Adventure Programs are the perfect choice for you! These gap year travel programs offer a structured and hands-on experience, taking the load off your shoulders. There’s no need for extensive planning beforehand—simply pick your poison and let the adventure unfold!
Embark on an extraordinary journey where you’ll find yourself conquering new challenges, embracing the unknown, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Whether it’s trekking through lush rainforests, diving into crystal-clear waters, or scaling towering mountains, these programs are designed to deliver the excitement and thrill you crave. You’ll push your body and mind to the limit and find out just how much you’re capable of!
4. Teach English abroad.
Get paid while living the adventure of a lifetime as a professional English teacher in amazing destinations like Spain, Thailand, or Costa Rica. International TEFL Academy (ITA) can train you and hook you up with the perfect pairing. Since 2010, ITA has been the go-to place for the best TEFL training and job services. They offer the crème de la crème of internationally accredited TEFL courses, both online and in-person, available in 20+ locations across the globe. With ITA, you’ll receive top-notch training that will set you up for success as an English teacher abroad or online.
5. Utilize an international work exchange program.
Calling all budget-conscious travelers and those seeking work experience while fully immersing themselves in local communities! Work exchange programs offer you a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn a new skill and meet incredible people. You will basically trade your labor for a free place to stay (and usually food). It’s a win-win situation!
Picture yourself working in a vineyard in Italy, diving headfirst into the local community, living and working alongside its members. This immersive experience is an incredible chance to fully embrace the culture and language of your chosen destination.
By participating in a work exchange program, you’ll gain much more than just a place to stay. You’ll acquire practical skills, broaden your perspective, and forge connections with people from all walks of life. It’s a fantastic way to grow personally and professionally while embarking on a memorable adventure. Work Away is a great platform to find work exchange programs all around the world.
6. Get a seasonal job.
Unlike work exchanges, seasonal jobs offer gappers a fantastic opportunity to earn money while traveling. It’s quite common for young adults on a gap year to seek employment in the tourism sector during peak seasons, like working at a ski resort in winter or serving as a receptionist in a hostel. Seasonal work allows you to strike a balance between immersing yourself in international work culture and relishing the freedom and independence of traveling. It’s a wonderful way to experience the best of both worlds. Not only can you earn some extra cash to supplement your travel budget, but seasonal jobs also provide a chance to extend your gap year. By working during the season, you have the opportunity to rebuild your savings to rack up more adventures!
When working for money in a foreign country, you will have to jump through some extra hoops. You cannot enter on a tourist visa and will need to acquire the appropriate working or student visa. Each country differs on these regulations, so be sure you know the rules for your intended destination if you intend to participate in that country’s economy.
7. Do a domestic gap year.
While gap years often revolve around international travel, exploring more of your own home country can be just as fulfilling! Plus, there aren’t piles of paperwork to fill out. A domestic gap year offers a unique experience that doesn’t require visas, immunizations, or expensive international airfare. It’s still an opportunity to challenge yourself, become more independent, and prepare for the next exciting chapter in your life.
If you decide to stay domestic, choose an area that is foreign to you. Work on a dude ranch in Wyoming, live in a surf village in California, or do a road trip in an RV or campervan. Learn to wild camp. Work on your friend-making skills, or spend some time on a Native American reservation. The options are endless!
8. Become an au pair.
Working as an au pair abroad is a fun and engaging way to fully immerse yourself in a new culture without breaking the bank. Not only will you have an incredible adventure, but you’ll also make a positive impact on the lives of children. Say goodbye to the stress of paying rent and searching for a place to live.
Being a nanny abroad means living and working with a host family, allowing you to truly experience the local culture firsthand. You’ll have the opportunity to help the kids learn English, engage in entertaining activities with them, and create lifelong memories together. Not to mention, you’ll also get a healthy dose of their native language and traditions, enriching your understanding of the country you’re in.
9. Get an internship abroad in your area of study.
If you’re looking to gain valuable work experience, explore potential career paths, or simply test the waters in a specific field, an international internship might be the perfect fit for your gap year aspirations. By embarking on a gap year internship, you can take a break from academia while still working directly towards your future career.
Interning abroad offers a unique opportunity to acquire essential life skills without long-term professional consequences. These gap year internships come in various shapes and sizes, tailored to meet your specific needs. You’ll find options that are paid, as well as internships that can earn you college credits. Remember, gap years don’t have to be a full year in length—college students often pursue internships abroad during their summer breaks, allowing them to avoid deferring scholarships or financial aid. You’ll have the chance to work alongside experts in your chosen field, learning from their knowledge and expertise. This real-world exposure will help you make informed decisions about your future career path.
10. Join the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps offers a fulfilling and enriching experience that extends beyond its two-year commitment, providing volunteers with valuable opportunities for future career prospects. Placed in diverse locations worldwide, volunteers engage in service projects spanning various sectors, such as agriculture, environment, community economic development, health, education, and youth development. A past participant eloquently describes the Peace Corps as the pivotal and life-altering moment that shaped their personal growth and transformation.
11. Join WorldStrides.
WorldStrides, a leading provider of educational travel and experiential learning, offers an array of comprehensive gap year programs. These programs encompass a range of enriching experiences, including performing arts, language immersion, career exploration, service learning, study abroad, and sports. By participating in these programs, students transcend the traditional classroom setting, gaining a broader perspective of the world and discovering new facets of their own identity and potential.
12. Join Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity presents several opportunities for young adults who are eager to volunteer and make a meaningful impact in the lives of others through their youth programs. For those seeking a comprehensive experience during their gap year, the joint program between Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps offers an immersive option. This program provides full-year service positions at local Habitat organizations throughout the United States. Participants in this program have the chance to acquire new skills, contribute significantly to Habitat’s mission of providing homes for those in need, and play a vital role in their communities. Qualifying individuals may also receive a modest living allowance as part of their participation in the program.
13. Consider AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps is a highly regarded program that offers a wide range of service opportunities for individuals seeking to make a difference. It presents various options for service, including short-term state and national programs designed for individuals aged 17 and above. Additionally, there are full-year Vista programs available for individuals aged 18 and above, where participants work in nonprofit offices or engage in physical projects with the NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). Participants in the Vista programs receive valuable benefits, such as free room and board, as well as living stipends. These programs provide an avenue for individuals to engage in meaningful service and contribute to the betterment of communities across the nation.
14. Get college credits with Where There Be Dragons.
Where There Be Dragons, despite its evocative name, offers immersive and extensive foreign travel programs specifically tailored for gap year students. This organization provides in-depth experiences in various disciplines such as political science, history, sustainability, economics, and language immersion. Their programs take place in captivating destinations including remote locations like Madagascar or Nepal, as well as closer to home in places like the Colorado Basin.
A notable feature of Dragons’ programs is the opportunity to earn college credits, although it is advisable to confirm with the desired college whether these credits are transferable. While this program may be on the higher end of the price spectrum, financial aid options are available to make it more accessible for interested participants. Dragons’ commitment to combining academic rigor with transformative travel experiences sets it apart as an exceptional choice for those seeking a comprehensive and impactful gap year program.
15. Learn new skills with WWOOF.
Originally known as “Working Weekends On Organic Farms,” WWOOF has evolved into a global platform offering a wide range of opportunities. Participants in WWOOF programs contribute their time and effort to organic farms and, in return, receive benefits such as food, accommodation, and the chance to acquire new skills.
If you have the desire to engage in hands-on work outdoors and experience living in another country affordably, WWOOF can be an excellent choice. It provides a unique avenue to learn about sustainability, renewable energy, winemaking, organic gardening, and other related fields. By immersing yourself in these experiences, you can deepen your knowledge while enjoying the rewards of a culturally enriching and cost-effective international adventure.
16. Learn a new language by immersion.
If your goal is to learn a new language or enhance your existing language skills, an in-country immersion program is the optimal choice. By surrounding yourself with the target language and culture on a full-time basis, you are much more likely to make substantial progress in your fluency. Being immersed in the language means that you communicate, listen, read, and think in the language throughout your daily activities. This constant firsthand exposure to the language helps you develop a deeper understanding of its nuances, vocabulary, grammar, and cultural context.
Language Vacation is an excellent platform for language immersion in countries all over the world.
17. Get a working holiday visa.
The financial aspect of taking a gap year often poses a significant hurdle for high school graduates. However, several countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, offer working holiday visas specifically designed for young adults holding certain passports. This visa allows gappers to engage in short-term employment to support their travels within the country.
Commonly, gap year participants find work in restaurants, bars, hostels, or other service-oriented positions in towns that offer broader access to the country’s attractions. Taking on short-term employment, akin to seasonal work in the tourism sector, provides multiple benefits. These visas are much easier to acquire than traditional working visas and are specifically made for young adults.
18. Go remote with Raleigh International.
Raleigh International, a highly regarded gap year association, is a top choice. It’s a student-led volunteer program that offers impactful opportunities worldwide, with a particular focus on sustainable development in remote regions like Nepal and Costa Rica. It’s important to note that there is an extensive application process involved to participate in Raleigh International.
19. Explore the “Mother Continent” with African Impact.
African Impact is a highly reputable and responsible volunteer travel organization that has garnered numerous accolades, including being voted the world’s “Top Volunteer Abroad Organization” by volunteers on GoAbroad for four consecutive years. Since its establishment in 2004, African Impact has hosted over 35,000 participants across 20 projects in seven countries. The organization firmly believes in the spirit of Africa and recognizes the significance of the volunteer experience alongside the impact made.
One of the key strengths of African Impact is its ability to manage its own projects, resulting in tangible and meaningful achievements on an ongoing basis. The organization places great emphasis on child protection, ensuring that volunteers undergo a criminal record check before participating. Experienced staff members are present on-site to offer continuous support to volunteers, and the organization does not substitute local personnel with volunteer support, making sure not to damage the local economy.
In addition to creating a positive impact, African Impact believes that volunteering abroad should be enjoyable. The organization offers a diverse range of activities for volunteers, including teaching children in South Africa, contributing to wildlife conservation efforts in Zimbabwe, assisting in hospitals or clinics in Kenya, and conducting dolphin and marine research in Zanzibar.
20. Take an expedition with Earth Watch.
Earthwatch Teen Expeditions provide high school students between the ages of 15 and 18 with extraordinary and life-defining experiences. Designed for those with a keen interest in science and a deep passion for the environment, these expeditions offer much more than just exciting travel opportunities.
On an Earthwatch Teen Expedition, participants have the incredible opportunity to witness breathtaking natural beauty while actively contributing to hands-on research projects alongside scientists. By engaging in field research, they play a vital role in understanding and protecting threatened wildlife and habitats. This immersive experience allows teens to gain firsthand insight into what a career in conservation truly entails, providing a glimpse into the world of college-level scientific exploration. Beyond the scientific aspect, Earthwatch expeditions also allow students to work closely with like-minded individuals, build lasting friendships, and develop a sense of camaraderie.
21. Set sail with Sea Mester.
Take an educational voyage of discovery and adventure that will leave a lasting impact on your life with Sea Mester. Spend your college semester or gap year at sea, fully immersed in life aboard a sailing vessel. While sailing across oceans, you will have the chance to study abroad and explore diverse cultures alongside newfound friends who will quickly become like family. Embrace the opportunity to earn college credits in marine sciences and seamanship, while also gaining sailing and scuba diving certifications.
22. Pack a backpack and enjoy.
Another option for spending a gap year abroad is to embark on a spontaneous backpacking adventure with no specific plans for work or volunteering. Simply embrace the freedom to explore the world and see where the journey takes you. Working or volunteering during your gap year experience is not a requirement. If you’ve saved enough money, you can treat yourself to an incredible experience of traveling and discovering new places before returning to the responsibilities of work or study back home.
The nature of your backpacking experience will depend on the amount of money you have saved. If you’re on a budget, traveling affordably can be an exciting and enjoyable challenge. Opt for staying in hostels, trying local street food, and connecting with fellow travelers along the way. To make your abroad adventure unforgettable, avoid overplanning. Instead, leave room for spontaneity. As you meet fellow travelers, you’ll stumble upon new destinations and experiences that you had not previously considered. It’s the ultimate life of freedom.
Let the planning begin!
Now that you’ve explored and discovered some of the best gap year ideas, it’s time to take proactive steps and bring your plan to life. Remember, the most valuable education often comes from real-life experiences. Whether you decide to embark on volunteer opportunities, backpack across Europe or Southeast Asia, or immerse yourself in a foreign language learning program, you will inevitably come back changed.
Embrace the opportunities that await you during your gap year and approach them with enthusiasm and an open mind. Engage in activities that broaden your horizons, challenge your perspectives, and help you grow as an individual. Embrace the richness of diverse cultures, connect with people from different backgrounds, and thoroughly enjoy the adventure and excitement that comes with exploring the world.
Looking for more ideas for your teen’s gap year? Check out our “The Top 12 Service Trips For Teens,” and “The Most Unforgettable Trips For Teens.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Life aboard a sailing vessel with Sea Mester is a unique gap year idea. Go Abroad Adventure Travels offers adrenaline-pumping trips trekking through lush rainforests or diving into crystal-clear waters.
Some of the most meaningful gap years are spent volunteering. Organizations like African Impact, Raleigh International, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Habitat for Humanity offer awesome opportunities.
Volunteering with an organization and working with like-minded peers will help you make friends. Pack a copy of Adventures From Scratch: Friend Edition so you’re never short on unique adventure ideas!
Work exchange, being an Au Pair, getting a seasonal job, WWOOF, teaching English, and backpacking are good budget-friendly gap year ideas.
The best way to have a good gap year is to find a project that gives you purpose! Focus on cultural immersion, cultivating new, deep friendships, and giving back to the global community.