Gap Year ideas – 15 interesting ideas for your gap year

Written by Maria Aardal

June 9, 2020

A gap year is a great way of exploring the world, and getting to know yourself. But what can you actually do on a gap year? How can you see the world with limited funds and only a year to spend. Do you need some gap year ideas? Keep reading to find out 15 amazing gap year ideas.

Interrail through Europe

If you are looking for gap year ideas that will take you to Europe, Interrail is the perfect fit for you. Interrail is where you travel through Europe using trains. There is a special ticket you buy that you can use in many different countries. It saves you A LOT of money compared to buying each ticket individually.

Interrail is a great way of exploring Europe, especially for a gap year. During a gap year, you are often low on funds, and interrail is probably the cheapest way of traveling around Europe. It lets you visit many destinations in a short time, and it is also great because it is completely customizable. You can make a interrail that fits perfectly with your budget, timeline, and travel-style. You can visit exactly the places you want to, and you can stay as long (or short) as you want to at each destination. Interrail tickets also let you be as spontaneous as you wish. While they still making it possible for those who love to plan to do that.

Explore the snowy mountains of Europe on your gap year with interrail

Backpack around South America

South America is a continent that is highly overlooked, which is sad because it is such a great place. It is a continent filled with so much amazing history, unbelievable nature, and wildlife. Not to mention the culture and the people who live there. Another reason why South America is a great idea for your gap year is that it is very easy to travel there, and it is quite cheap (most places). You can get pretty much anywhere in South America by bus. You can travel through countries, mountains, and jungles all by bus. Most countries are also quite cheap. You can travel much longer for the same amount of money as say Europe or North America.

In South America you can hike Machu Picchu, take a boat through the Amazon river, road trip through Argentina, you can lie on a beach on the Galapagos, or party in the streets during Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous carnival. The possibilities are endless. Get ready for the most amazing nature you have ever seen. South America really does offer something to everyone, no matter what you like.

Gap Year ideas - Backpack around South America

Roadtrip through the US

Traveling around in the US can be a bit difficult, public transport is not the best. Therefore people are often left with the only option of flying, which can be very expensive and you miss out on a lot of the journey. This does not mean that the US needs to be off your list of gap year ideas. If you have your driver’s license and you can rent a car, that is a great way to explore the US. You can also buy a car on one coast, and sell it again on the other coast. This option is surprisingly not as difficult as you might think. You can experience everything from the big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago to small country towns and picturesque nature.

One of the perks about doing a road trip in the USA is that you can do exactly as you want. You can visit exactly the places you want, you decide how long you stay, and you can make the trip fit your budget. If you are low on cash you can stay at hostels or motels. You can even rent a campervan instead of a “normal” car. You can make this trip exactly how you want it. In the US you can go skiing in the mountains in Colorado, tanning on a beach in Florida, and look out over the New York Skyline all in one trip.

Gap year ideas - road trip through the US

Volunteer around the world

If you are looking to do something meaningful for others while broadening your horizons, volunteering is a great gap year idea for you. Volunteering can be anything from helping with farm work, working in a kindergarten, helping giving kids activities to do after school, or working with animals. It is a great way to give something back to the world. If you do decide to volunteer you need to do a lot of research about organizations to make sure it is legit. You also need to make sure volunteering there actually helps (with whatever you decide to volunteer with) and is not just made to make you feel better about your self. Read a lot of reviews and check if they are transparent about where the money goes. Maybe even talk to someone in the travel industry. Especially for volunteering with kids or animals, make sure they are ethical.

You can volunteer in most countries of the world. No matter what your interests are or where you want to go you can make sure you will find something that fits you. You can either stay in one place and really get to know it, or you can travel around and explore multiple destinations while volunteering. You also have the option to volunteer through a big organization like Kilroy, or you can sign up for Workaway or similar sites and volunteer for private people. No matter which you chose you will have the experience of a lifetime.

Spend your gap year volunteering

Working Holiday in Australia

Australia is a great country with a lot to offer, but it can be quite pricy. It is very far away from basically everything making traveling there expensive, as well as the cost of living is pretty high. Many people, therefore, do not think about Australia as part of their gap year ideas. One way you can travel Australia while staying on budget, is to utilize their working holiday visa. The visa creates a possibility for those between 18 and 30 to stay and work in Australia for up to three years.

The visa allows you to work full time, so you can earn money while exploring the country. You can only work at each place for up to six months, which gives you the perfect opportunity to live in different parts of the country. Since you can stay for up to 6 months at each workplace, you can really get to know those places, and they will feel like home to you. Maybe you will fall in love with the country and decide to expand for the maximum of three years.

Gap year ideas - get a working holiday visa fro australia

Teach English in Asia

A great way of exploring the continent of Asia while still feeling like you are giving something back is to go and teach English. A lot of schools, especially in rural areas, take in foreign people to help teach English. You often get free accommodation and other perks like food, tours, or activities in return. In some places, you also stay with a host family. The experience is also great because you really get to know the authentic culture. You will also meet so many amazing locals. There is no need to be educated and be a “proper” teacher to do this. You will often need to take a test to make sure you have the necessary level of English proficiency.

While you are there you will be teaching others, but you might find yourself learning the most. You will learn about other school systems, other cultures, and maybe they will be teaching you some of their languages also. You can do this in different countries, but China and Thailand are amongst the most popular for this purpose.

Teach English in Asia and explore beautiful islands like this

Go on a group tour

If you are looking for a completely hassle-free and very social gap year, a group tour is perfect for you. There are plenty of different companies that create a tour just for this purpose. They offer tours in varying lengths and destinations. Some tours go in-depth exploring one area like Southeast Asia or western Europe, while some tours go all around the world. They also have tours for all different time spans, everything from a few weeks to months. A lot of different companies offer tours like this, some of the most popular are Kilroy and Gapyear.

On these tours you travel with a group and the whole trip is planned and booked ahead of time. This is great because you do not have to worry about booking things as you go, or do research yourself about your destinations. It also feels very safe. Especially if it is your first big trip, you feel secure, and like you have a safety net. You have someone there with you. Someone will notice if you are gone, and someone who you can talk to. This kind of trip is great for social people, and people who do not mind letting go of responsibility. All you need to do is show up, go with the flow, and experience the world with new friends.

Travel Africa overland

Many people write off Africa when they are looking for gap year ideas. They think it is too difficult to travel or too dangerous. This is not true at all. Africa is a wonderful continent that has so much to offer. One day you can be in Cape Town partying, and the next day you can see the big five on a safari. The nature and wildlife here are unlike any other place on the earth. Traveling through a few African countries will change your view of the world forever. Here you can really travel off the beaten path and see places that not many people have sen before you.

If you want to travel through Africa without having to fly from place to place you can travel on your own or take a tour. If you travel on your own you probably need to rent a car. This is great as you have complete freedom and power over what you want to do. A downside is that driving across borders can create some problems as not all rental companies allow it. One option for this is to buy a car and sell it again after your trip. If you go on a tour someone else will have done all the planning for you. You will most likely travel with a group which is great because you do not have to worry about meeting people.

Explore Africa on your gap year

Go Island hopping in Oceania

Oceania or Australia (whatever they thought you that that continent is called in school), is the perfect place to explore remote islands like Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. You will find white beaches, crystal clear water, and experience relaxation like never before. These pacific islands are like paradise, they are what you see pictures in magazines and in movies. You can relax, drink cocktails, and learn yoga, or you can learn to dive, snorkel with sharks, and hike in beautiful jungles. You can do whatever you want to while getting the tan of a lifetime. There is no way you will ever regret traveling to the pacific islands in Oceania.

If you want to combine multiple gap year ideas, you can easily combine this with a working holiday visa in Australia. You can work in Australia for 6 months and save up some money. Then hop on over to the pacific islands and explore them for as long as you want to. That way to can first spend some time in big cities then lay on a beach, drink coconut water and cocktails, and snorkel with exotic fish for as long as you want.

Explore pacific islands like fiji on your gap year

Volunteer at hostels

No matter where in the world you are traveling for your gap year volunteering at hostels is a great way of meeting new people, saving money, and exploring new destinations. There are many different ways you can volunteer at hostels. You can work in the reception, the bar, you can clean or cook, you can organize activities, or you can help with social media. You often get free accommodations, one meal a day, and discounts on activities and in the bar in return for volunteering. Remember that in some countries you might need a working visa to do this, so always check that.

Working in a hostel is a great way of exploring a new destination. You meet people who really know the destination already. You also have the perfect opportunity to meet other travelers and make friends for life. This is also perfect for a gap year because you save a lot of money not paying for accommodation. If you want to volunteer at hostels you can check out different Facebook groups or websites like Workaway and Hosteleer. Those are places where hosts can post available positions and you can contact them.

Learn a new language fluently

We have all at some point dreamt of being able to speak another language fluently. Maybe you took Spanish in high school and you want to travel to South America to actually learn it. Maybe you have a family from Germany and you want to go there and learn the language of your family. Or maybe you want to learn a completely new language, like Chinese, Arabic, or Italian. No matter which language you want to learn, and why this is the perfect opportunity. The undeniably best way of learning a language is to live in the country and hear and speak the language every day.

If it is a completely new language you might want to take a class or course in the language to get you started. If not maybe you just want to dive right into it. Try to stay somewhere where there are not that many tourists (if there are you will probably just end up speaking English the whole time). Couch-surfing or Workaway are great ways to meet locals and to practice the language. You will be surprised by how fast you start picking up the new language. Before you know it you will be able to communicate, and soon speak it properly.

Hike one of the highest mountains in the world

If there is a time in your life to set a crazy goal and go for it is it now, on your gap year. A gap year is the perfect time to do something you might never have the chance to do again. Hiking one of the highest mountains in the world can be a great gap year idea. Set your goal and work towards it. Maybe you want to try to hike Kilimanjaro or Mount Everest Base Camp. Maybe you even want to get to the top of Mount Everest. No matter what your goal is, you can do it!

You can also travel around the world “practicing” for your big goals. Maybe your goal is to climb Everest. Then go to the Andes in South America, hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, climb Kilimanjaro in Africa, explore the Alpes in Europe, before heading to Nepal in Asia and climbing in the Himalayas. You can quite literally climb your way around the world. There is nothing stopping you from living out your dreams, pushing yourself, and reaching those amazing dreams and goals you have.

Mount Everest

Really learn that sport you always wanted to learn

Have you always had a dream to surf huge waves, to dive with sharks, to skate like a pro, or to rock climb in the wild. Why not explore that dream while traveling the world. If you want to learn to surf, what better way than to explore all the top surfing spots in the world. Go to South Africa and Australia, learn to surf from the best. No matter what sport you want to try to learn, or get better at. You can just look for the top spots in the world for the exact sport and go there.

This is a great way of exploring new destinations. It is an easy way to travel because you already know what you are going to do when you get there. Doing sports is also a great way of meeting people, and meeting locals. Through these people, you can again explore the destination you are at. Many people overlook these kinds of things when looking for gap year ideas. Anything can be made into traveling. Traveling does not have to be with a specific destination in mind. You can travel with a sport in mind, and find a destination from there.

Kite surfers in Cape Town

Work as an Au Pair

If you love kids and want to explore other countries on a budget, working as an au pair needs to be on your list of gap year ideas. Working as an au pair means that you live with a family and help watch their children. You might help with schoolwork, playing, or just help around the house. This is especially great for those who want to travel to one place and really get to know that one place. Not only will you see new places and experience the world. You will also make connections with people, that can last a lifetime. You might get a second family in a different country. This is also a great opportunity to learn a new language.

You can either stay in one place for the whole duration, or you can do a few months in different places. Whichever one you chose depends on your personal preferences. You just need to make sure you find someone who will be a good fit for you. There are plenty of companies that do exactly this. You can sign up, and they help you find a family that will be a good fit for you. Working as an au pair will be a memory for life.

Be completely spontaneous

If you are really trying to push yourself and get out of your comfort zone you can always just be completely spontaneous on your gap year. Book a ticket to your dream destination and see where it takes you. Perhaps you love it so much there and decide to stay for a while. Perhaps you meet amazing people and keep on traveling with them. No one knows where it will take you and that is the great part.

Doing this is amazing because you will have the opportunity to do exactly what you want to do. Before you travel you might have a feeling of what you want to do, but that can quickly change when you arrive. This way you can do what you feel like at the moment. Maybe you travel to Thailand, and then you decide that you want to check out South America. Now you can just do that. You have nothing booked, no responsibilities. If you do choose to travel this way be prepared that some countries are not an option because you need to apply for visas beforehand. You also need to think carefully about what you pack, and which vaccines you get before you leave.

Salinas Grande - Saltflats in Argentina

What are your gap year ideas? Have you ever been on a gap year?


I am Maria, a 20 year old student. I am here to show you that traveling is possible for everyone, including you. I belive that traveling can be done in a lot of different ways and that you never have to limit.

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