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Most people have considered a gap year at some point in their life and everyone has different ideas of what one should include. Although the most common age to take a gap trip is between 18 and 25, more and more people are taking an extended trip later in life too.
You can take a gap trip at any time as it’s simply a break away from your everyday life while exploring another culture (or 10). But how should you spend your time away from home? With so many destinations and ways to travel, it’s almost impossible to know what the best gap year route would be for you.
If you have goals you’d like to reach during your gap year or have a dream destination in mind, you can put those ideas to paper and start planning the perfect itinerary. Of course, there are disadvantages to taking a year abroad just as there are advantages. It all depends on your outlook.
But what if you don’t have anything in mind yet? Well, that’s what this post aims to do. I want to help give you some ideas by getting the inspirational juices flowing. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have your dream trip in mind or at least have a starting point in which to start making your plan.
Let’s dive in.
If you’re not looking to get a work visa anywhere but instead just a tourist visa, see if you need to apply or buy a visa in advance here for your passport nationality.
Plus, if you need to transfer money internationally or keep different currencies on hand in a virtual wallet, check out Wise (formerly Transferwise). I’ve used them for all my money transfers between every country I have lived in since 2015!
Working Abroad to Afford Your Trip
Since travelling for an entire year can get expensive, working abroad or going on a working holiday (WHV) can save you a lot of money. Depending on your nationality, you will have different countries you’d qualify for within the WHV scheme.
For example, British citizens like myself, are only able to participate in working holidays in 8 countries. However, some other countries can work in many more destinations due to reciprocal agreements.
When you embark on a working holiday you can live in a destination while working locally to supplement your travels for the duration of the year. You’ll be able to step out of your comfort zone, get work experience, and most importantly earn money to continue exploring.
Follow these guides to see how you can apply for the working holiday visas:
Studying Abroad: Best of Both Worlds
When considering gap year ideas you shouldn’t forget about the option to study abroad. Although it seems like the opposite of a typical “gap year” where you’d travel, it’s actually one of the most common ways to experience a gap trip away from home.
You can enjoy the culture and way of life in a new country while working towards your qualifications. This is a great way to travel and step out of your comfort zone without needing to put a stop to your studies, meaning you can still finish your degree on time.
You’ll be able to experience the education system in your country of choice and will likely meet others very easily through your international course.
Looking For Landmarks
This is a great choice for those who wish to see some of the great wonders of the world. You could travel to different destinations to see the stunning landmarks that attract visitors from all over. Typically that would mean you’re likely to be in the places with high tourist foot traffic, but that’s not always a bad thing.
You could go to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty, China to see the Great Wall or London to see Big Ben. But that’s not all, you also have the world-famous Opera House in Sydney, The Taj Mahal in India and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Almost any city you can think of will have at least one landmark that represents the destination. That means you can easily travel from place to place visiting each of these attractions while having the experience of a lifetime.
What’s On Your Bucket List?
Many people have a list of things they simply must do in their lifetime before they become unable to. And that’s where the “bucket list” comes in. What one person has on their bucket list could be completely different to someone else as these lists are personal to you.
Lots of people use a gap year as their one opportunity to live life to the fullest and use their bucket list ideas to create the trip of a lifetime. I have created a bucket list of activities for each destination I’ve been to so I can try not to miss anything!
You could use your trip to do lots of things that terrify you by getting you out of your comfort zone. Or maybe you have multiple goals you’d like to reach during your time away from home. Either way, your time abroad is the best time to try and complete your list.
What About Natural beauty?
We’ve so far listed working, studying and visiting man-made landmarks for a gap year but if we need more ideas I’d recommend looking for natural wonders too. This could be anything from waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, lakes and more.
For example, you could visit the USA during your gap year and visit the Grand Canyon or the stunning National Parks. Or perhaps you go to swim in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, watch volcanic eruptions in Guatemala, or visit unique natural landmarks like Milford Sound in New Zealand.
With countless waterfalls around the world (check the best in Okinawa or Taiwan’s Niagara Falls) you can enjoy the beauty that comes with rushing water. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even add jungle trekking to your journey to admire the dense forests (or in the case of Pinaisara Falls and Ta-Taki, find jaw-dropping waterfalls at the end).
What about Being Musical Fangirls?
Are you a diehard fan of any music artists and do you want to attend their concerts? Well, some people do exactly that when planning their gap year itinerary and following their favourite bands on tour.
If you’re a country music fan you can do a southern USA trip hitting cities like Memphis along the way. If you’re into KPop then Korea is your best bet (check out BTS attractions and the K Star road).
Or maybe you’re trying to visit multiple music festivals throughout the year such as Ultra Europe in Croatia, Coachella on the California coast or Stereosonic in multiple venues in Australia.
Even if you’re just interested in going to a destination that is well-known for a specific musical genre, you can do that too. New Zealanders (like us Brits) love Drum and bass and New Orleans is well-known for having an amazing jazz selection throughout the city.
Does Dark Tourism Appeal To You?
Dark tourism (like dark humour) isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. With many people taking an interest in dark tourism practices, there has been a huge rise in this type of travel.
As grim as it might sound, humans are curious and drawn to places that remind them of disaster and death. I couldn’t even tell you why.
Locations where disasters struck, haunted buildings with an interesting history, abandoned places no longer used by the public and some sites that are simply deemed too dangerous to be generally accessed. All of these are destinations that people want to explore.
More and more people are choosing to incorporate destinations with dark undertones into their trips, and some people base their entire gap trip around these places.
Gap Year Ideas: Language Learning
If, like me, you were not brought up in a multilingual household, the thought of learning another language fluently is exciting. It’s such an underrated skill to have!
Many gap trippers want to learn another language due to an interest in a culture or to improve on a language they already have a basic understanding of. So, it makes sense to head over to a country where your target language is fluently spoken since that’s the best way to learn.
By throwing yourself in at the deep end where you can’t communicate easily, you’ll actually find you’re able to pick up the local language much quicker. It’s an extremely popular way to enjoy a year abroad and is the perfect excuse to get out of your home country for a while.
Food & Drink Flavours of The World
This one’s for all you foodies out there. Why not set out on a food & drink tour? There are so many people I’ve met around the world who travel to a new country JUST so they can say they ate their favourite food in the country it originated from.
Fan of pasta? Head to Italy. Want some sushi? Why not fly to Japan? Eat pad thai in Thailand. Or what about chicken tikka masala in the heart of India? The possibilities and food choices are endless. With so many people eager to try cuisines from around the world, you could do just that. It’s completely possible to take an entire year off to please your taste buds.
What could be better than exploring the world and keeping your belly full of delicious food? If it wasn’t for the fact I have so many allergies, I’d do the same thing.
Understand Your Religious Beliefs
Do you follow a particular faith? Millions of people worldwide believe in one religion or another and there are many places that have become sacred to those of certain faiths. One way you could incorporate religion into a gap year trip is to follow the pilgrimage routes taken by those who practised the faith before you.
Some examples include the Lourdes route for Christians or the journey to Mecca for Muslims. Maybe you could head over to Bethlehem or (as we mentioned in the Ancestry section) those who follow the Jewish faith could spend some time exploring the famous site in Israel.
On the other hand, if you’re not intuned to a religion already, you could go on a journey to explore a religion that resonates with you more.
Spending time inside Buddhist temples, exploring the spirituality of Hinduism, experiencing the summer solstice with Wiccans or simply visiting the stunning religious buildings around the world can make you feel closer to a higher being if that’s what you’re looking for.
Are You The Outdoorsy Type?
Some gap trip ideas include lots of outdoor adventures and activities. Whether that means hiking to mountain viewpoints in Switzerland that overlook postcard-perfect views or cycling through popular trails in France. Anything that keeps you outside and enjoying the fresh air would tick all the right boxes for the perfect trip.
Are you a fan of water sports? Because this could help make your trip all the more fun too. Maybe you want to spend your days enjoying beaches and the evening chasing sunsets and stars. You could complete your diving course and explore the coral reefs around the world and maybe even spot manatees, sharks or rays!
With so many hiking trails including those in the Canadian Rockies, in Busan in Korea and up volcanoes in Guatemala, you can walk a different route every day and still experience breathtaking scenery that leaves you in awe.
Go on, get your hiking boots on and get outside!
Could Living The Boat Life Be For You?
Have you heard of Yacht Week? Or what about those people who sailed around the world in a tiny boat? Well, you could make this a reality – albeit a little less extreme. There are so many ways to live and work on the seas that could allow you to travel the world for up to a year from the comfort of – you guessed it – a boat.
How does travelling from port to port sound? As long as you don’t get seasick, this could be an amazing opportunity to see different places without having to deal with flights or long road trips. Plus, how interesting is it to say you travelled the world by sea?
What if cruises and multiple boat tours are out of budget or too expensive?
You could get a job working on a huge cruise liner where your accommodation and food costs are included as staff, or you could work as part of the crew for a small yacht. These are surefire ways to save some money but still allow you to “sea” the world (see what I did there?) during your time away from home. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
Step Back In Time To Ancient Civilizations
Do you have an interest in ancient civilizations? Although history itself is such a broad topic and no two countries have the same exact historical timeline, there are different time periods to explore.
If you prefer history from thousands of years ago, this could be perfect for you. Some examples of ancient civilizations and lost empires include ancient Rome in Italy, Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, Mayan communities in Tikal, Guatemala, the great pyramids of Egypt and Peru’s Machu Picchu.
Each of these ancient places is bursting with history and waiting for us to explore so why don’t you check some out?
Some of these destinations have structures that are so old archaeologists don’t even know how they are still so structurally sound. You could even take it a step further and head to destinations that have dinosaur fossils like Badlands National Park in the USA ancient cave paintings in Kakadu National Park in Australia.
Gap Year Ideas: What about Spiritual Trips?
Do you classify yourself as a spiritual person? Well, you could base your gap trip around exploring your spiritual beliefs. Whether you want to learn new ways to reconnect with yourself or loved ones, or whether you want to answer some questions you’ve longed for the answers to, a spiritual trip could be exactly what you need.
There are so many ways to connect with your spirituality. You could head to a yoga retreat in Indonesia and learn all the ways you can meditate and let go of your thoughts.
Or maybe you decide to enjoy a quiet temple stay with some monks in Cambodia. You could even join a retreat with other like-minded individuals who also want to find new ways to connect with themselves and the world.
Either way, all options sound like excellent ways to expand your mind where your inner thoughts are concerned.
Military Personnel or Interested in War?
This one is certainly more of a niche for specific people, but there are so many places that you could include on a gap trip relating to military and wars. For a recent war (or technically one that is still going on) there’s the DMZ between North and South Korea that you can visit.
If you’ve ever seen Hacksaw Ridge you could visit the original location in Japan’s Okinawa. There’s also the site of the Hiroshima explosion in Japan. You could even head to Hawaii to see the tribute for the famous Pearl Harbour incident. If you are interested in learning about the Vietnam War you can head to Ho Chi Minh to visit the large museum dedicated to it.
If you’d like to visit Europe, you can visit the concentration camps and memorials from the World Wars or the many museums set up to teach you about the events that took place during each war.
Gap Year ideas: Other Historical Trips
Around the world, many people travel to destinations that are bursting with historical stories for you to learn about which are much more recent than the ancient civilizations we already spoke about.
Some examples of historical destinations that are popular on itineraries include Poland to visit Auschwitz (also deemed a dark tourism destination), Cuba to admire all the vintage vehicles still riding through the streets, or even head down to South Africa to learn about the apartheid.
If you spend some time in the USA you can visit the sites of the underground railroad and the abandoned mining towns from the goldrush.
If the Pacific region is more up your street, you could visit the location where the treaty was signed between British explorers and the Maori of New Zealand. There is history in every destination you visit, you just need to look for it.
History of the Arts
If you’re a bookworm or a lover of the arts then these are the gap year ideas for you. With so many famous names in literature, painting, sculpting or music, you could base your trip around the destinations relating to each person.
Head over to world-famous writer Shakespeare’s house in the UK, visit Salzburg where Mozart was born, or even Vienna where Beethoven created his most famous musical pieces,
When you consider how broad the arts are, you could travel throughout Europe hitting all the museums that hold famous art pieces. Some world-renowned artworks include the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Starry Night in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Frida Kahlo’s painting of the Two Frida’s at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City and the Statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
With so many artworks around the world, you could create an around-the-world trip that visits some of the best-known pieces on the planet.
Exploring Your Ancestry
Everyone has a unique ancestry, but not everyone grows up knowing all about their own. Many families emigrated to different countries and continents over the years. This means many people may not be aware of where they came from or might be physically detached from some of their heritage.
That’s where DNA testing made a huge change. It allowed people to see the science behind their lineage and want to explore the places their families had come from. Learning about your ancestry is one of the top growing gap year ideas in the present day!
I’ve even considered looking a little into my Irish heritage but I can’t say I’ve taken a gap year to Ireland yet.
Are you an Adrenaline Junkie?
When thinking of ideas for a gap year, only the bravest people consider this type of trip. The adrenaline junkie is someone who chases the thrill of the next terrifying adventure.
Although not as popular as other ideas on this list, those who get a taste for adrenaline-inducing activities, normally make it their mission to find the biggest bungee jumps and best views for skydiving.
There are some hikes with insanely high rope bridges and so many stunning locations to jump out of a plane. So when these travellers embark on their year overseas they’re generally hitting each destination with death-defying heights and anything that gets their blood pumping.
When you think of festivals there could be any number of events that pop into your mind. When thinking of ideas for your own gap year, you might want to visit a huge festival in another country or 10!
Some gap trippers opt to visit different festivals throughout their year overseas and base their entire year on chasing events. Some hugely popular examples include the Holi Festival in India, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the Songkran Festival in Thailand, and La Tomatina in Spain (or a smaller version in Korea).
Regardless of where you are in the world, there is bound to be a festival celebrating something. even if it’s not a national event but instead a musical event, (we covered these in the music section above) there is always something going on. Every destination I head to, I try and find out what events are happening locally so I give myself the best chance to plan ahead.
Will I see you at New Orleans Mardi Gras or Day of the Dead in Mexico? Who knows.
Check out some of Korea’s most popular festivals too!
Do you Enjoy Wildlife Spotting?
Okay, I’ll be completely honest. My very first solo trip abroad was loosely based on the wildlife I wanted to see and spend time with. I headed to Thailand to volunteer with elephants and it is still one of my favourite trips to date (I have been back multiple times!)
With so many unique animals that can only be found in certain parts of the world, it’s surprisingly easy to plan an entire overseas trip around the wildlife you want to see. If you head over to Australia for example, you’ll get to see kangaroos and wombats. In Costa Rica, you can see sloths. Not to mention Okinawa, Japan has sea turtles on Tokashiku & Ama Beach but also has a lot of dangerous animals to be aware of.
Maybe you want to see Alpacas in New Zealand (although they’re not native here), or whales and reindeer in Norway. Then you have countless destinations across other continents like African safaris and Trekking through the Amazon rainforest in South America.
With so many animal species, you have countless places to explore if you put all your gap year ideas into animal experiences.
This idea isn’t as popular as some of the others but it does happen. If you’re a fan of a particular brand you could easily make a trip using just them. Take the airlines for example. If you are part of a loyalty program for a particular airline you could plan your trip around the destinations they fly to. Not only would this allow you to earn points with them, but also spend any existing points you may already have.
There are other loyalty schemes outside of airlines that you could incorporate into your trip too such as visiting all the Starbucks around the world or staying in particular hotel chains.
Take the Marriott or the Hilton hotels for example. They are found in over 100 countries worldwide and although they can be deemed expensive accommodations, they have really good loyalty schemes for repeat guests. You could visit some amazing destinations on almost all continents by chasing your favourite brands.
If you have any specific interests (outside of those already on our list) you could make your gap trip all about them. For example, I met two American tourists who were travelling to various conventions around the world. They said they had tickets to a few small-sized events throughout Europe relating to video games and were working their way to their trip’s main event of the San Diego Comic-Con.
But interests are not all the same. Someone who is a huge transportation fan might want to experience a specific train route on a tourist train. Hey, even those who loved Pokemon in childhood might decide to visit all of the Pokemon-related destinations around Japan. Or Hello Kitty-themed places like the 711 in Taiwan or the Sanrio Friends aeroplane.
Whatever your interests are, there are bound to be things you can travel to around the world. The ways to travel are endless.
When you travel for the purpose of cultural exchange, you’re immersing yourself into the local culture and way of life while also teaching others about your own.
This could be done via meetup groups or official exchange programs. Sometimes just making local friends can give you the same benefits.
When you relocate to a new place and live as the locals do, you will learn customs, traditions and more about the general way of life a lot easier than you ever could just by reading books. If you want to learn everything there is about living in your chosen destination, embarking on a cultural experience will help you do just that.
Just make sure you share things about your life and customs with your hosts.
Around The World As Disney Nerds
Huge Disney nerd alert. If like me, you just love Disney, you’ll be pleased to know you too have many ways to incorporate this hugely popular brand into your trip! There are 6 main Disney parks around the world (Orlando & Anaheim in the USA, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong & Shanghai). Plus parks such as Epcot, and Animal Kingdom among others.
There are also 5 Universal Studios Parks including Hollywood & Orlando in the USA, Japan, Singapore & Beijing. Now I know what you’re thinking. How can you spend an entire year in just these parks? Well, Disney is more than just that. When you consider how many movies are under the Disney brand name, you understand that most of those places are loosely based on a real destination.
Take the town of Arendelle in Frozen for example. The inspiration for the castle by the lake with the small village is based on the stunning village of Hallstatt in Austria (go on, take a look online!) and the movie Turning Red is based on Canada’s Toronto. These are all destinations that you could explore during your Disney World tour and I’m sure you’ll love it.
You could even merge Disney & boat life and get a ticket to the world-famous Disney Cruise Line!
Gap Trip Ideas for Research Purposes
Have you ever dreamt of permanently making the move to another country or taking a high-stakes job in a far-off land? Well, that’s what many people want to do but are often too afraid to without researching first. By taking a gap year where you check out the destination before making the permanent move, you can see if it’s the right place for you.
Could you see yourself living there long term? Will you enjoy working in this city even if they have a different work culture to the one you’re used to? Could you imagine raising a family here? Is the salary for your chosen career enough to live on with the average living costs?
By spending an extended – but not permanent – time in a destination you can understand more than a tourist could. You’ll be able to network, meet the locals and see if this is the place you could see yourself emigrating to.
Are You A Fan Of TV & Movies?
I’m sure you’ve watched a TV show or movie and dreamt about visiting those places yourself. Well, that’s why heading out on a TV or movie-related gap year is one of our top ideas.
Maybe you’re a fantasy fanatic and want to walk the path to Mordor like the characters in LOTR (in which case I have a great New Zealand road trip doing exactly that for you to check out). There is even a Hobbiton tribute in Guatemala if you can believe that.
Or what if you visit Dubrovnik in Croatia to live out your Game of Thrones fantasy?
Maybe you’re a huge K Drama fan who wants to live out your Korean romance on the peninsula. If so, heading out to Korea to visit the K Drama filming locations could be the perfect gap year for you. With so much of our lives being filled with watchable media, there are endless destinations you can explore that remind you of your favourite shows.
Sports Fan & Game Chasing
I’ll be totally honest, I am not a sports fan in any way. But, I know that sports are very important to many people around the world.
When I was in Tromso, Norway, I met a guy who was on a gap year before starting his studies and he was simply following his country (Mexico) through the World Cup at as many of their football (or soccer for non-brits) games as he could get tickets for!
There are plenty of other sports that you can follow too. Whether you follow your favourite team to multiple destinations during a tournament or maybe you have a favourite sport and just want to visit different cities’ stadiums for matches. Either way, if you’re a sports fan, this is another one of our gap year ideas to consider for something a little different.
Gap Year Ideas: Volunteering Opportunities
As a volunteer two things happen. You get to offer help and assistance to those who may need it worldwide, and you can often enjoy a unique and authentic experience with locals in that destination. Voluntourism is one of the top ways gap-trippers can afford to enjoy a long-term trip so you should certainly consider this an option.
There are so many platforms and ways to get connected with people looking for volunteers so it can feel like you are inundated with options. Sites like WorkAway, WorldPackers and Wwoofing are 3 of the world’s largest networks, all of which I have used myself!
If you’re happy to trade your time to help a local they often give you a place to stay, so not only are you spending time with those who know your destination best, but it’s a more unique experience than just spending time in hotels with other tourists. In some cases, you can pay for your accommodation and volunteer for a good cause like my elephant experience above.
If you like doing things for good and living like the locals do then this should be at the top of your ideas list for your own gap year.
To Follow A Common Route
Some people who have ideas about taking a gap year, don’t necessarily know where or why they want to go. They just do. These are the people who tend to choose a common route that many travellers have taken before them. It’s one way to minimize travel planning too if the thought of creating a route overwhelms you.
Of course, there are other common journeys to take that might be better suited to a road trip, for example, the Canadian Rockies and the USA’s Route 66.
This final addition to our gap trip ideas list is not for the faint-hearted. Have you ever seen those people who train extremely hard to reach a goal that the average person might struggle with? Well, these people go on gap trips too.
Maybe they travel an extremely far distance on foot like Levison Wood did when he walked the entire length of the Nile. Or perhaps riding motorbikes from London to New York City without taking planes or boats like Ewan McGregor on the TV show “Long Way Round”.
What if you have a goal of climbing the tallest peak of Mt Everest, reaching the most difficult continent of Antarctica, or visiting the hottest place on Earth?