Deciding whether to focus on adventure travel, gap year internships or a working holiday is just the start - explore your gap year ideas to see where they could lead you
From spending a few weeks or months undertaking voluntary work in the UK, to devoting an entire year to pursuits in another country, it's worth spending time planning what you'll do. However, it's reassuring to know there are plenty of resources on the subject.
So if you're a first-time traveller in need of guidance, you can read Rough Guides' On a Budget and First-Time series, as well as our gap year advice to help you navigate through the wealth of information to be found online.
Gap year destinations
Each year, the UK's travel trade association ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) asks its members to report back on the places school and college leavers are visiting before starting their undergraduate degrees.
These are the top ten gap year destinations for 2017/18:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
You can also find out more about working abroad.
Once you've decided where you want to go, discover the 7 steps to the ultimate gap year.
What to do in a gap year
If you've only just started to look into the possibility of taking a gap year, you'll find there's an overwhelming amount of options out there. Research is crucial if you want to ensure the experience is everything you hoped for. Here are some of the things you could do on your gap year, along with information on how to take these ideas further.
These projects are popular with those interested in a career working with animals. The programmes typically involve working in shelters, surgeries and centres alongside vets and rehabilitation staff.
Whether you're caring for elephants and monkeys at a wildlife park in Malaysia, rescuing street animals such as dogs and donkeys in India or volunteering to work with lions and tigers in Africa, you'll gain experience of local wildlife and learn skills from resident professionals.
If you'd relish the chance to work with animals abroad, visit the following specialist websites:
- A Broader View volunteers - Sea Turtle Conservation
- African Conservation Experience
- Gapyear.com - Volunteering with animals
- Global Vision International
- Pod Volunteer - Animal volunteer work
Read more about volunteering with animals.
Care and community
Care volunteering includes social and youth work, childcare, au-pairing and spending time in schools and orphanages. Community work covers everything from agriculture to building projects. You will get the chance to make a difference to someone else's life as well as gaining self-sufficiency with such work.
Opportunities can be found at:
- A Broader View volunteers - Community Development Building
- Gap 360 - Children and community
- Gapforce - Social care abroad
- International Volunteer HQ
- Project Trust - Social care
- Yipiyap - In-school tutorial support
Are you passionate about saving the planet? If so, then conservation work may be for you. A gap year conservation project will give you the chance to work with endangered wildlife, protect rainforests and conserve marine life, all while learning about the issues affecting local communities.
To help save endangered species and support natural habitats both at home and abroad, your conservation volunteering options include:
- A Broader View volunteers - Conservation Environmental
- Gap 360 - Conservation
- Gapyear.com - Conservation volunteering abroad
- Pod Volunteer - Conservation
- The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)
For those with a love of culture - particularly art, dance, drama or music - there's a specialist gap year route for you. Indeed, you can select from a number of travel destinations and get involved with pursuits including teaching arts and crafts to young women, or drama and music to children in underprivileged schools. For example, the cultural courses offered by Travellers Worldwide can help you to develop your communication skills, as well as a greater self-confidence in your creative abilities.
Fruit-picking and farm work
If physical work and getting your hands dirty in the countryside doesn't faze you, you may wish to consider the agricultural projects available in countries such as New Zealand where seasonal work is plentiful.
Opportunities range from harvesting crops to assisting farmers, and you'll get to work outdoors and learn about rural life while gaining fulfilment in helping local communities. For further details, see organisations such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Gap Year 360 - Farm work abroad.
In addition to developing skills relevant to your chosen career, an internship also has the capability of making your CV stand out from other jobseekers. You could consider undertaking a gap year internship in a range of areas including business, journalism and marketing. They usually last from a couple of weeks to a year. You'll gain industry experience, make new s and improve your chances of employment.
Find out about the latest international internships at:
- BUNAC - Intern abroad
- Gapyear.com - Internships
- Pave - Internships
- Real Gap Experience
- Student Ladder
Also, international student organisation The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) has launched a website where students are put in touch with internship providers based across the globe. Find out about the latest opportunities available at ErasmusIntern.org.
Learning a foreign language gives you a new skill, the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, and it can improve your employability on your return home. There are lots of languages to choose from, so if you want to learn Spanish, German, Chinese or French, there are plenty of courses waiting.
The following sites are good places to start your search:
- CESA Languages Abroad
- Education First (EF) - Learn a language abroad
- Language Courses Abroad
When it comes to healthcare careers, Europe, Africa and Thailand all offer opportunities to work or volunteer in hospitals, clinics and immunisation centres. You will gain first-hand experience of the medical profession and an understanding of healthcare issues in developing countries. If you're planning to, or are already studying medicine, midwifery, nursing or dentistry, then check out Gap Medics and Plan My Gap Year.
Sports and adventure travel
If you're into sports and fitness, how does coaching football in Ghana, cricket in India or rugby in New Zealand sound? Alternatively, adventure thrill-seekers can take on a trekking expedition, safari or adrenalin challenge. You'll gain teamwork and leadership skills while getting to test your commitment capabilities. Both options are well covered, so be sure to visit:
- Africa & Asia Venture (AV)
- GapYear.com - Expeditions
- Go Overseas - Adventure travel
- Oasis Overland
- Sport Lived
- Sporting Opportunities
Summer schools and exchange programmes
A gap year doesn't have to involve a full year's activities. Some programmes, such as summer schools and camps in the United States, offer gap year travellers the opportunity to spend a few weeks or months working at camp, followed by another month exploring the country.
There are a number of operators, including BUNAC and Camp America that specialise in placing students in camps at various locations across America.
For those students specialising in a science, engineering, technology or applied arts subject, IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) runs paid industry traineeships of between six and 52 weeks in any one of its 80 eligible countries. To explore this further, visit the British Council.
Teaching English abroad
As there's such a high global demand for English teachers, teaching English abroad has become a popular gap year option. You'll be able to earn money as you travel, with programmes possibly taking you as far afield as Thailand, China, Korea or Vietnam. Even if you don't always need to have prior teaching experience, many employers do expect you to hold a Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) qualification - for which short courses are available. Working in schools and learning institutions, you'll gain organisation and communication skills in addition to teaching experience and independence.
Search TEFL courses and opportunities at:
- BUNAC - Teaching
- i-to-i TEFL
Many gap year programmes may be unpaid, but they provide you with the chance to gain experience in your chosen area through volunteering. For example, you could choose to volunteer with animals, work with children, or get involved with any number of conservation, community, education, medical or sports projects. If you're interested in making a lasting impact on others and benefiting from such a rewarding experience, find out more at GoAbroad.com or Global Vision International.
Another option is to gain new skills through an Erasmus+ Volunteering project, which can last from two weeks to 12 months. You could be involved in sports and outdoor activities, education, arts and music or cultural associations.